Guanaja and her Characters

The flight started off with the smell of fuel coming through the front open windows in the cockpit. But fortunately, just before we left the ground the pilots closed their windows and the smell subsided, and as we took off the views started.

We probably woouldn’t have gone to Guanaja if it weren’t for a friend needing someone to pay their property tax. The taxes must be paid, and they must be paid in person. Now Guanaja is not your run of the mill island tourist destination. First, it is not easy or cheap to get there unless you sail. The ferry is not running, at least at the moment, and there is only one airline that goes there now. You might be able to hop a fishing or cargo boat to and fro, but that is always risky business given their less than desireable safety record. So, the only people there are a few sailors passing through and the locals and most of them are crammed onto one small island called The Key, but officially named Bonacca. You do not even see any land on this key, just concrete walk ways, some with narrow waterways beside for boats to pull in next to houses, meandering every which way and lots and lots of buildings. A good part of those buildings are built right over the water making the island seem bigger than it really is. The Key is where most of the shopping is done by the people of Guanaja, and everyone knows to come on the day the cargo boat comes in….which is also known as Gringo Fridays.

CLICK ON THE PHOTO BELOW FOR THE BONACCA ALBUM:

Bonacca, Guanaja

That leads me into talking about the large gringo community on the mainland of Guanaja. Within minutes after paying the property tax for our friend’s land, we were invited to a gathering at Manati the next day by Sharon, from Sharon’s Blog, a blog about life on Guanaja, and her harmonica playing husband Mike. They also offered us a boat ride there. Over the course of a few beers at Fifi’s we met at least a dozen others, natives and expats from all over the world. We met Jim the deep sea diving, hang gliding, noni drinking, bridge blowing up good looking 71 year old and his young wife of 62 years, Cathy. And we met George, the good old boy from Austin Texas and his red headed fireball of a wife, Ginger who are building an eight room resort near Mangrove Bight, Clearwater Paradise. And the Swiss couple, he was a Swiss bank President and just up and quit one day, and they have been sailing ever since. Then there is Captain Al, an 80-something year old weathered grandfather, former deep sea diver, walking around with headphones on holding an amplifier to everyone’s mouth so he could hear. And from Germany, the sweetest people ever, Claus and Annetta, who run the Manati. There is also Bavarian Hans another octogenarian who has so much gusto I could not stop talking to him. He is from Munich and used to own a 5000 seat restaurant. Hofbrau House anyone? And now cooks 3 meals a day for his three no so good at security Rottweiler’s. How could I forget birthday boy Hancito. The youngest of the Tres Hans’ on the island. The man is as crazy as the bunny eared eagle beast tattooed on his chest. Okay, I did not see the whole tattoo, but you look at the photo we have and tell me that does not describe what you can see! I could go on talking about more people we met, but I will stop there and actually tell you a bit more about the ones we did get to know better.

After spending an afternoon trying to keep up with the retirees drinking their Salva Vida’s, Jim and I needed a nap, and nap we did at our not so luxurious, but priced perfectly for us, hotel. Hotel Alexander is actually built on what little land there is on the island, right on the edge of the island. We had waves lapping against shore not more than 20 feet from our window and back porch. A nice sound to take an evening nap to. We woke up hungry and it was late, but we found a dive bar / restaurant on the key. It was called Pirate’s Den, perfect! Arrrrrr Matey! Behind the bar was a small place to eat, so I got a couple of baleadas and Jim went with the fried chicken. After that there was not much else to do on the island, but go back and watch a little TV. Yes, we had a TV!

The next morning we got out of the hotel casually, a nice way to say we slept in late, and then went in search for a breakfast. We got a good one just down the walkway on the corner headed to the main pier and by the way also particularly close to the police station and the one room jail house with an iron door. The door as a little cut out with bars over it and it was odd to walk by and see a face up close to the bars. Anyways, back to breakfast, we had eggs, refried beans, cheese, and tortillas “tipico”, what more could anyone ask for, oh yes, and coffee too. We took a roam around the island. If there are tourists on Guanaja, they mostly stick to the small resorts that are tucked away in little individual paradises all over the island, they probably do not even go to the Key “Bonacca.” So I am sure we looked like an odd couple walking hand in hand, which is not what couples seem to do in Honduras, down tight little walkways sometimes ending up in people’s backyards, docks or yards. We wiled away the day until the 2:00pm pick up time for the party at Manati’s came. On the way to the dock, we were stopped by Barry, the owner of our hotel and he offered to take us out on a ride and then to Manati’s too. Such nice people everywhere. We told him if our ride did not show up, we were sure to come back for his offer. We were on time and so were Sharon and Mike! Oh, the only way to get anywhere on Guanaja or the keys is by boat, as there is only one small 2 mile long road on mainland Guanaja. So, boating we went. We passed Dunbar Rock, a large rock island with a big white hotel stuck on the top. I called it little Alcatraz. The party had not yet started yet, so we got a soda, met the people that were there and had ourselves a look see around the place and property. The building was a nice big wooden open air structure, wonderfully island style. We found a path and walked around the woods that went right up to the water. After awhile people starting drifting in and it was pretty crowded at one point. The main event, was the music. Leech, a local who now lives on mainland Honduras was back in “town” and he can pick a mean guitar. Guanaja is where all the old musicians go to play. Mike, played harmonica and percussion, Claus was on base guitar, Barry was on keyboard and Leech was lead guitar and singer. They played oldies, but gosh darn goodies! Who does not like Johnny Cash’s “I walk the Line?” The afternoon went on into the evening, we were meeting more people, having another Salva Vida, listening to music and laughing a lot. We decided to finally have some of the great looking stuffed chicken we had seen being served. It was delicious as well was the accompanying salad and scalloped potatoes, only a good German women would serve scalloped potatoes on a tropical island!

We heard stories of finding great Hungarian wine from Bavarian Hans, what it feels like to get caught in a warm air draft while hang gliding from Jim, and how Lawrence the Swiss Banker stopped telling his friends and family where he was going and just told them where he had gone. If most people think they have to wrinkle up and dry out as they get older, these people did not get that memo! They are going to have fun and not age quietly! Mind you, they only get together with people a couple times a week and the rest of the time they are off in their own little paradise havens usually far away from everyone else, so social time IS party time!

We grew fond of a couple of the folks, such as Jim and Cathy. Did not quite get Cathy’s story, although I know she grew up in upstate New York. Now her husband Jim, he was an open book. A southern boy from Georgia who worked as a very young man in the military in the Navy deep water diver crew as well as his life and work got even more interesting after that, for example, he worked with explosives blowing up bridges, hang glided for the National team, he lived under water for deep sea diving oil platform gigs, and there was also something in there about arms dealing as well. With that said, I think at some point in time his name was on FBI and ATF lists, and am not surprised as he had even mentioned something about the Sandinistas and the 5 Gs. You ask, “What are the 5 Gs?” I asked too! The 5 Gs are and this in Jim’s words, “God, if you are into that, guns, groceries, gold and guts. That peaked my interest, I have not met too many “the world is going to go crazy and we need to be ready for it” type of people. Not a bad group of people to know and place to be if the world is going to go to hell in a hand basket. But I just had to google 5 Gs to be a more informed citizen. Some guy came up with two more Gs, which in my opinion are more important than guts, gasoline and generator! Who wants to live in the dark down in some left over from the World War II bomb shelter without microwave popcorn and ice for a good soothing gin and tonic? It had been all fun and games until Cathy spoke up about Ron Paul, libertarianism and some kind of conspiracy theory about Obama not being born in the United States of America. I am all for free thought, but I had not even heard of the African birth theory of Obama before. Google once again enlightened me and now I know what some other people are thinking about in their spare time. Maybe they have too much time on their hands? My response to Jim and Cathy about this theory was if it is true, where were the Republicans at to prove this and if they could, why didn’t they? I think the conversation changed to Noni after that. Noni, according to Jim is the end all be all of natural remedies. Heck if it is their thing to drink moldy smelling/tasting polynesian fruits, I support them. But although I really really really enjoyed meeting Jim and Cathy, I was a bit scared when Cathy said, “I like you two, you are our kind of people,” like she was going to indoctrinate us into some kind of secret doomsday society or recruite us to start selling Noni. I jest, if we were all alike, would this world be as interesting as I find it?

ClICK PHOTO BELOW TO VIEW FAMOUS EVERYTHING HEALING NONI:

Noni Photos

Now on the other hand, although their Texas background may have them loving guns and all as well, is George and Ginger. Fortunately, we did not talk politics or any other controversial topic. We were just about good times. Great couple who I will talk more about more later.

Back to Manati’s, people danced, more showed up, some ate, more drank, it was a gringo / local celebration and we were oh so happy to be part of it, until we could not drink anymore and the yawns started to creep in. We had a ride home with Sharon and Mike, but we made sure we had a back up plan with a ride home with the owner of our hotel, Barry. Sharon and Mike left first, and we are glad we did not wait for Barry as he told us later they were there until 3:00am! We feel asleep really easily with the sound and wind from the sea blowing in our windows, okay the Salva Vidas helped too.

Jim woke up the next morning with around 26 bites on one of his legs. The one downfall of island hopping is the mosquitoes and worse, the sand flies. It looks like the sand flies got Jim, even with DEET on him. But I think he did not put enough on his legs because I did not get bit that bad. We slowly made our way to breakfast and tried to decide what we would do that day, and after a lot of laying about, hemming and hawing we just went to the end of the municipal dock and got on the first water taxi. We ended up in Savannah Bight (Bay) and walked a bit there, but in such a small village we could not go very far. We then hitched a ride in the taxi that drives down the 2 mile road to Mangrove Bight. We again walked a bit, but ran out of town fast. We knew we were near where George and Ginger lived, so we called them. We were told by locals that we could not walk there, so since we did not hear back from them we decided to walk down the beach toward a place called Bo Bush’s Island House, a resort and bar. We were enjoying our walk picking up shells, looking at sea and land life, taking pictures and getting our feet wet. Just a bit of information on what to do on Guanaja, sun bathe and swim of course, but there are also hikes, one to a waterfall, fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Since there are not a lot of tourists on Guanaja, you have to search and find a dive shop or even a boat tour around the island. This is not an island where people rush to you to market their services, hotels, shops and so on. You are on an island and doing nothing much at all is also highly recommended. We did a bit of both. Not too far from Bo’s place, we noticed a boat coming up to us on the beach and there they were, George and Ginger! They came right up to the beach and we hopped on, while their two dogs hopped off. It seems their dogs wanted to visit old freinds at the house we just walked past. Took a bit of time and a ride to the nearest dock to get the dogs back, but once we did that we all went to Bo’s for a beer. Nice place, right on the water. We also got a glimpse of our friend’s sea side property that we paid the taxes for. Que Bonito! After that we took off back to George and Gingers to have a look see at their resort creation. On the way there we passed, Susan Hendrickson’s huge spread. Like you I did not know who she was, but learned quickly she is the archaeologist that found the largest T-rex fossil ever. She is also quite the conch pearl collector!

Before I tell you about their place, let me tell you about them. George is lovable in his rough around the edges good ole boy way. He is also a conundrum, who would know a Harley cut-off-sleeve-t-shirt wearing redneck-humored funny guy could cook so well? He not only can cook like a fiend, when he was talking about his soon to be open resort he mentioned wanting 800 thread count sheets. Damn, shebang, and the whole nine yards! We got to see Clearwater Paradise Resort and I have to say, this couple has taste. Loved loved loved the handmade stone floor showers and loved even more the handmade shell floor shower in their master suite. It will be an awesome place to stay, but unfortunately, way out of our budget traveler budget. Maybe they will need some help in the kitchen, which will be open to the dinning area so guests can sit around at a bar watching them cook and talk to them. Their philosophy is that at parties, everyone ends up in the kitchen and if that is where their guests will be most comfortable, they are welcome in their kitchen as well. Before I go on, I have to tell you about Ginger, a red headed freckled girl. I have to say girl…because freckles never age! She not only has a mean hand in the kitchen as well, but she has such great ideas for their garden, and I am not only talking about a flower bed here and there (although there will be plenty of those), I am talking about all kinds of vegetables and herbs, fruit even too. They already have tomatoes, peppers, and parsley. And also there are some papaya and banana trees coming up! Until the construction is all done on the resort, they are living in a thatched roof wood building at the end of the dock. They have this dream resort in mind, but to me living in a thatched roof building at the end of a dock on an island in the Caribbean Sea is a dream in itself. Their current living space will one day be the bar at Clearwater Paradise Resort. Man oh man, paradise is right! And we hope they like and remember Jim’s now signature drink to make as one of their own for their bar. Hey barkeep, I will another HenderBalz please!

We had a wonderful dinner of lobster and pasta with an awesome garlic, onion, spices, olive oil, rum and who knows what else sauce, and as a fun side dish, beer batter shark bites. Yes, fresh shark cut up into chunks dunked in a homemade batter and fried. Oh, Momma! And let me not forget the Caesar salad with homemade dressing. I had to laugh when Ginger told George, “We are down to our second to last tin of sardines.” Ha, like I have sardines sitting around just in case I was going to make some Caesar dressing from scratch! Yeah, right! Jim and I love to cook, and I do make dressing from scratch, but Caesar, no sirree! We had a wonderful time with lots of laughter. It was such a lovely surprise for this hard working resort building couple to go out of their way to make us such a nice dinner and to top it all off to share the last bit of Sharon’s (yes, the same Sharon I mentioned above) secret recipe of actually good tasting Guifity with us! And it did not end there, they had to give us a ride all the way back to the Key on the other side of the island, but I have to say it was a wonderful night out. Not a complete full moon but close, and the water was perfectly flat. A nice end to a perfect night. Thanks G&G!

CLICK THE PHOTO BELOW FOR THE REST OF OUR GUANAJA PHOTOS:

Guanaja – March 2009

Our last day on Guanaja was all about sitting back and letting life pass us by, literally. We sat on our porch and watched boats go by one after the other as we did not move. Even a hawk went by time after time, diving about 15 feet from us, closer and closer looking for food. Well, we did move some to go explore the shoreline a bit. We saw crabs and these prehistoric looking things stuck to rocks, and cool rocks, shells and coral. The shoreline is quite tight and filled in with rocks, its once sandy beach is gone due to the much damaging Hurricane Mitch. Mitch is still hugely in the minds of all people living on the island. It hit 10 years ago, but no one will ever forget the 53 hours it just sat over their small island. Corrugated fiberglass used as roofing still sits sliced through a palm tree here and there, posts sticking out of the water where houses once were, and even an island is gone that once sat right off the shore from our hotel. The island was devastated, some people left, some people moved to different parts of the island, but most were strong and after making it through the 100 miles an hour wind they built it back up again.

While we sat on the porch, one young boy told us stories of the hurricane and his experiences living on an island. Found out later, he is quite the story teller and good stories he told. There was the one about the time he caught a shark even pointing out the scars he had from the rope burning him. They had a rope tied to the shark. Hmmm…a rope on a shark? He told us about being out on big fishing boats on the banks (an area way off shore where fishing is done) with the boats swaying side to side, how hard the work is and that he was gone for days at a time. Everyone has a story on Guanaja and we have enjoyed each and every one of them!

Barry, the owner of our hotel, offered us a ride to the airport as he had to pick up his father anyway. We learned his story and what seems like the story of many that are from the Bay Islands. As we have found from meeting many people, merchant marines and other maritime occupations are popular with a lot of the island men. They go all over the world with their work and sometimes only come back for a month before they are off again for several more months. This is similar to Barry’s life, his work area is the Persian Gulf. His wife works for American Airlines out of New York, but she spends her off days in Miami. They do not get to the island as much as they would like anymore, but for now they are out making money so one day they can settle down on the island in style and in security. Not a bad plan and not a bad place at all to make it happen

Barry and his wife took us on a last ride across the bay, taking in the local beauty, then brought us to the airport. We had a drink at The Thirst and Last Place Snack Hut and settled in to wait for our flight. We boarded our little 17 seat plane and off we were once again to the smell of fuel, but also the grand final view of Guanaja and its surrounding reefs from 1000 feet up.

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~ by HenderBalz on March 13, 2009.

3 Responses to “Guanaja and her Characters”

  1. Hey There, Fantastic little description of the place and people. You sound like a very nice person. I just came back and know all the people you talk about. You should read my book!!
    thx Peace Danny

  2. Sorry. It’s called chronicles of a dream, ebook. Daniel t demetris , just noticed your reply. My bad oh well hope this gets to you

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