Project time again! This year, we've moved the restaurant to a new location, which is more spacious and central, and now houses our book exchange. The old location for the restaurant is being converted into a house for me (as the new restaurant location is where our kitchen, living room and dining room used to be), and we'll have a few new rooms added on the floor above the restaurant, where it used to be part of our house. Then the hostel will be very close to the completion of the plan I had laid out :)
We've been busy at the hostel lately. This last week, we pulled out the projector and set up the screen right next to the pool, to enjoy movie night under the stars. It was a great new location for outdoor movie night, as guests could relax in the pool to watch, or make use of the lounge chairs. We had a BBQ before movie night started, so it was a great evening.
We also arranged a van trip up to the beautiful beach of Camp Bay with a stop at Punta Gorda on the way back for their Settlement Day Celebration.
We've had several hostel guests busy with dive courses, with Bill and Calli both coming to the completion of their divemaster training, and Ben is almost done his instructor course, and David's just started in on his DM training.
My kids have been out collecting cashews, and on Sat morning, they'll be offering a cashew roasting lesson :)
We have an onsite restaurant for breakfasts and dinners (non-hostel guests are also welcome), but it's nice to know options available for eating out around the neighbourhood. Recently, there have been several new additions to the restaurant options in Sandy Bay, all within a short walk of the hostel. Sandy Bay is a pretty long, stretched out area, so I prefer to think of it in two directions: east Sandy Bay (anything east of Anthony's Key Resort) and west Sandy Bay (west of Anthony's Key). If you're staying at the hostel, make sure to ask about how you can get a hostel discount at many of the nearby restaurants.
There are several inexpensive comedores in the area that serve typical local food, but if you'd prefer a sit-down dining experience, there are also a few restaurants.
Ellen's Place - located inside of Pirate's Den, which is about a 5 min walk from the hostel (turning right on the main road, following the curve, and on the other side of the street, just before the paved turn off to the beach). Vietnamese food, closed Sundays. They have a lovely spacious seating area with an oceanview.
The Jolly Octopus- located along the beach about a 10-15 min walk from the hostel. Go right along the main road until you reach the paved beach turn off on the other side of the road, turn down it, and then go right along the beachfront until you see their sign. Burritos, burgers, nachos. They have great live music Sunday afternoons, bonfires on Wednesdays, and also do kayak and snorkel tours. Closed on Mondays.
The Real Kings- The newest addition to the Sandy Bay community, the Real Kings is located on the beach just past the Jolly Octopus, so turning down the paved beach turn off east of the hostel, and then going right along the water. They have a dock with tables and chairs over the water, as well as a seating area by the beach. Apparently they're doing some nightlife there as well (karaoke night this last Friday, not sure if they're having that on a regular basis). I haven't had the chance to try this one out, but I walked by to get a few pics, and also have their menu to post.
Bambu Sushi and Fusion- A favourite of many island residents, Bambu is located on the upper floor of the building called Coral Stone, about a 10 min walk east of the hostel along the main road (in the same building as Core Pilates). Pricing is a bit of a splurge, but the food is excellent, and preparation very artistic. I don't have any photos or a menu to post, but will try to update that shortly.
There's lots of fun stuff to do in Sandy Bay, including Mayan Jungle Zipline and Monkey Park. It's located about a 30 min walk from the hostel, and they give $10 off for hostel guests, so it works out to just $35 per person, which includes the canopy tour as well as interaction with the animals, including monkeys, parrots, sloths, and deer, so it's a great value. One of my sons said it was his favourite zipline, which is high praise, as he's tested out several. He was allowed to hang upside down, and to do a flip- he's a total thrill seeker, so he loved it. The staff were very attentive and friendly, and gave us lots of time to make friends with all the animals after everyone was done ziplining.
If ziplining isn't your thing, the entrance just to see the animals is $10, and hostel guests get $1 off of that (it's been my mission this year to try to line up savings for hostel guests at various businesses near us, so staying at the hostel can save you some $$ and make you feel like a VIP :) ).
Mayan Jungle is closed on Saturdays, and any other day, you should plan to arrive before 3pm.
Every year, a fundraiser concert is held for 2 great non-profits on the island- Clinica Esperanza, a health care clinic, and SOL Foundation, which has kids programs. The concert is outdoors on the lawn at Lawson Rock in Sandy Bay, from 3-10 pm. Various musicians from around the island perform, and there are food vendors with stalls set up. You can rent out a lounge chair or bring along a blanket to relax and enjoy the afternoon and evening entertainment. The cost is $20 per person ($5 for kids, under 6yr are free). A free shuttle service runs from West End and West Bay. This year, the festival will take place this Saturday, March 10, 2018. Come out and support this great event!
A Caribbean paradise- lush tropical vegetation, palm trees, sandy beach, turquoise water, warm sunshine. If rain isn't in your vision of your tropical vacation, it might be time to adjust your vision. All those beautiful tropical blooms and vivid green plants need water, so the rain is bound to come from time to time, and if you've been here in the last few weeks, you'll have learned that sometimes, it comes in abundance. We're coming to the end (hopefully!) of our rainy season, and this year has been very, very wet. Investing in some rain gear (an umbrella or rain coat, maybe even getting some rain boots) makes rainy days way more enjoyable- yes, there can be enjoyment in the rain! Let your inner child come out, and get out to splash in the puddles! So other than dancing in the rain, what's there to do when it's wet outside?
1. Tour the island. Sometimes it's rainy in one area, and not in the other, and chances are, if you're driving around, you'll have a few lulls in the weather to get out and check out some sites (pose by the 'ROATAN' sign, sample jams at Marble Hill Farms, see the mangrove channels up by Oakridge and Jonesville)
2. Visit Carambola Botanical Gardens. Maybe not if it's teeming down, but a light drizzle or overcast day shouldn't deter from the natural beauty of the gardens, and there's a great view at the top
3. Take a dive course- you'll be spending some time in the classroom and doing confined water training, so the rain won't interfere with that, and when it's time for your dives, if it's choppy on one side of the island, it's usually flat on the other side, so you'll still get to dive (and you're getting wet anyway, so the rain won't matter)
4. Get creative and do some art. Sip and Dip Roatan offers paint nights at a few different spots around the island (we've done one at the hostel, it was lots of fun). Waves of Art has been hosting stained glass workshops.
5. Volunteer- the SOL Foundation has a community center in Sandy Bay, or help out at the Sand Castle Library or Care 4 Communities: all 3 have indoor facilities that you can help out in.
6. Enjoy some down time: read a book, catch up on your travel blog, organize photos, play a board game, do a puzzle
7. Practice making new cocktails :)
For getting out exploring short distances, a car rental isn't needed in Roatan. We have great, efficient bus and taxi systems that are inexpensive, with one route running between West End, Sandy Bay and Coxen Hole, and another going eastwards from Coxen Hole to French Harbour (with the bus continuing as far as Oakridge), and a 3rd route going from Coxen Hole to Flowers Bay. However, to explore the far east side of the island, on the dirt road to the beautiful beach of Camp Bay, a car rental is an excellent idea, as buses don't run that far, and taxis generally want a lot to go that distance.
Car rentals start around $35-$40/day. If you're staying at the hostel, I have a contact that does drop offs and pick ups at the hostel included in his rate, and charges $45/day, without security deposit, rather than a freeze on a credit card. If you're traveling on your own, the hostel's a great spot to meet other travelers to split on the cost of a rental vehicle, which can make exploring the east end very cost effective. I also have a couple of coolers that I'm happy to lend out, if anyone wants to take a picnic lunch along.
So what's worth seeing while you're out exploring? Definitely check out Camp Bay- you might be the only ones on the beach, so it's a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of West Bay (no one selling you massages, bracelets or hair braiding).
While you have the car to adventure with, you might also want to check out Oakridge, with all the houses set on stilts over the water, and where the mangrove tours depart from. Along the main road, you'll see a huge pirate ship replica, which was (very briefly) a night club, until the owner was apprehended by the DEA, he was money laundering and part of a Mexican drug cartel.
There are some beautiful views as you drive along the east side. If you need a food stop, there are a few good restaurant choices. At Camp Bay, a bit east of the main public beach (a bit of a walk, you might want to drive further up), there's La Sirena, right on the water at the end of a dock. If you do the mangrove tour in Oakridge, you could ask for a stop at Hole in the Wall, a quirky bar/restaurant on the water frequented by yachties, that you can only access by boat (if you don't do the mangrove tour, drive into Jonesville to the very end, and ask someone to call them for you, and they'll send a skiff to pick you up). The Blue Mermaid Cafe is another option that's just accessible by boat- it recently opened, so I haven't had a chance to check it out, but it's on my list the next time I'm up that direction.
On the road heading out to Camp Bay, you'll pass Marble Hill Farms, where they sell a variety of tropical jams and jellies. If you're out exploring on a Sunday, check out Punta Gorda in the afternoon: it's the Garifuna village, and on Sundays, they do their dancing and drumming and sell some of their traditional dishes.
The Daniel Johnson Monkey and Sloth Hangout in French Cay is a fun stop (closed Sundays), and The Buccaneer in French Harbour is a great place to spend a few hours, in one of their hammocks over the water.
On the road connecting Coxen Hole to Flowers Bay (a road that runs parallel to the Sandy Bay road), there's the 'ROATAN' sign that you can pose by, as well as a cameo factory, and Steel Pan Alley is in that area, if you'd like to do a steel drum lesson.
On the road between West Bay and West End, you'll pass by the Roatan Rum Factory, and just across the road, the Lighthouse is a lookout tower with a beautiful view, costs a couple of bucks to go up and take a look.
Searching for eggs- 'Must be Easter' you must be thinking. No, we're just having a shortage of eggs on the island. And tomatoes. And refills for propane tanks. Sometimes we get shortages when the weather's been rough and boats aren't coming over to bring supplies. At the moment, we've got some shortages due to the political situation on the mainland, where road blocks from protests regarding the presidential election are preventing the flow of commerce. Does that mean that people who come to Roatan will starve? Only if you're normally on a vegetable omelette diet, then you could be in rough shape. This morning I went for a wander through 4 grocery stores in town. I found potatoes, onions, lettuce, pineapple, strawberries, lots and lots of apples, milk, cheese, flour, rice etc. Not available from my list were tomatoes (I bought some canned ones), broccoli (I bought frozen), green pepper and eggs, both of which I'm just doing without for now. I guess it's good for my cholesterol :)
Fortunately, we've got propane for cooking (most people use propane stoves here), with a back-up tank. Others aren't so lucky and don't have a back up tank: I saw one funny conversation on Facebook. People posting to see if there was propane anywhere, someone suggesting to cook with wood, and a reply that all the wood was wet (due to all the rain we've been having). Another reply suggested he might auction off his spare tank, someone asked if it would come with a dozen eggs :) I guess there will be a run on electric cooktops!
The airport also had a different demographic than normal. Usually, everyone is lined up checking in with their rollerbags. Instead, today was all backpackers- travelers that would normally leave Utila and go through the mainland to their next destination were instead coming over to Roatan (as there's no international airport in Utila) to go to their next stop with a flight.
At the hostel, all is good. Our road has been so eroded by the recent rains that I couldn't get my car out of the driveway, but I had someone out there with a pickax this morning, so I got out just fine, and now a few neighbours have chipped in together to get the digger to straighten things out, so our road will be looking a bit better. The garbage hasn't been picked up in almost a month, so I guess we'll need to arrange that too. Island life with its hiccups :) The sun is shining, and the pool is looking tempting! It's a beautiful day to head out exploring.
Sometimes when people think of hostels, they think of crowded dorms with a bunch of 20 year olds. That may be a portrait of some hostels, but there's a wide range of styles of hostels and the accommodations they offer. At our place, we have privates as well as dorm beds: tiny single rooms for travelers on their own, rooms for couples, and apartment-style units with their own kitchens. The diversity of the room types gives us a greater diversity of guests, so we have guests anywhere from 18 through to guests in their 70s. There are travelers from all over the world: at the moment, Brazil, Nicaragua, United States, England, Spain. Occasionally a guest just spends a night (usually passing through Roatan on their way to Utila or on their way back from there), but more commonly guests spend at least a week on Roatan, sometimes a few months. Sometimes they're doing dive courses, sometimes just relaxing on the beach and checking out all the great activities that Roatan has to offer. And sometimes, they're doing volunteer work.
I have a couple in at the moment who are in their 70s and have rented out the casita. They're a really wonderful couple to get to know (one of the best things about owning a hostel is the people that you meet!). Retired teacher and principal, they've been married 45 years and are a beautiful example of a loving, respectful partnership. They travel a few months out of the year to areas where they volunteer. While they're in Roatan, they go off every day to volunteer at a couple of the schools here. How they've chosen to spend their retirement is inspiring.
I'm glad I've met you, Linda and Frank, and happy you've chosen our hostel as your home away from home!
Life has highs and lows, and the hostel industry is no exception. There are very definitive seasons here, with our busy months running from mid-December to end of April and picking up again in July and August, and the off months being May-June, and then really, really slow in Sept-Oct, starting to get a little momentum again in November.
What does low season mean for potential visitors to Roatan? No crowds, no needing to reserve anything well in advance, sometimes better pricing, especially if you're staying around for a few weeks. The downside? Water taxis that go between West End and West Bay need a few people to make it worthwhile, so if you're trying to get down to the beach, you might be waiting awhile (sometimes it's more worthwhile to negotiate an expresso taxi fare with a land taxi), some restaurants close for the slow season, and if you're looking for lots of nightlife, you might find things on the quiet side.
Weather-wise, it's still sunny and hot (very, very hot) in September and the start part of October. Mid-October, our rainy season begins, with the rainiest months being November and December. Rain can be just a brief, heavy dousing, or can be an all-day affair for a few days in a row.
What does low season mean for business owners? Other than tightening up their personal budgets to get through the quiet times with greatly reduced income (some resorts shut down and lay off their employees for a few months), low season also usually is the time to get properties ready for high season, repainting rooms, doing repairs, maintenance and expansion projects. At Roatan Backpackers' Hostel, we've opted to stay open even during the slowest weeks so that backpackers who arrive without a reservation will always find a place to stay, but we spend this period doing lots of projects. Currently, we've been repainting rooms, exterior of the front building, deep cleaning interiors and patio furniture, and working on our latest project, the second cando jr. Low season requires a change in gears to get used to the slower pace, but it's a good time to recharge batteries and get ready for when things go into full swing.
Mel is a Canadian who's been living in Roatan for over a decade. Before being a single mom of 2, she used to travel around the world as a dive instructor. She looks forward to the opportunity to meet many other travelers in her hostel.