One day when you least expect it, the great adventure finds you.
For the last 5- 6 years my wife Laurie and I have talked about how it would be nice to buy or build a small winter vacation home somewhere in the Caribbean. Never seriously, especially since Maria, our youngest, would not be out of college for quite some time. We talked about it mostly in the winter because we really do hate cold weather.
Then in 2020 COVID showed up and it nailed me a couple weeks before Christmas. I’ve had nearly perfect health my whole life so I thought I probably wouldn’t get it or if I did it would be mild. Wrong! Boy, was I wrong. It put me down for almost a month, and two and half years later it still hasn’t left me. I continue to deal with fatigue, and I still only have about 50-60 percent of my taste and smell back.
What got me through that next year was potato chips, 99 cent chicken pot pies (I could kinda taste them) and binge-watching reality TV. First, I watched Caribbean Life (all 20 seasons). Then I went on to The Zoo, then Island Life, Bahama Life, Mexico Life (are you picking up on a theme here?). I veered off onto Mountain Men then came back and watched Caribbean Life again (all 20 seasons). My supportive wife kept me supplied with chicken pot pies (the cheap ones please) and potato chips even when I occasionally yelled at the TV, “Look you idiot, you’re moving to a tropical island. Who gives a f*k if the appliances aren’t stainless steel?”
Caribbean Life has quite a few episode on 2 Honduran islands: Roatan and Utila. At the beginning of every episode, the announcer says, “Roatan (or Utila), one of the three Honduran Bay Islands.” Being contrary by nature, I would wonder, what is the third Bay Island? What is its story? It took a while, but I finally googled that third island. Guanaja. There’s not much available information about it and all I remember taking away from that first look-see was that it is very mountainous and sparsely populated.
I wasn’t about to let researching get in the way of my binge watching, but I would occasionally pull the island up on Google Maps and ponder it. And soon (just for fun), I started checking out the real estate. There was very little to look at, but one day I saw a property for sale that was an abandoned, run-down affair. My cup of tea. It piqued my curiosity, and I made my first mention to my wife that I’d like to go check out this Guanaja island.
When I told her my idea, she responded, “I think you absolutely should,” (anything to get me to abandon my potato chips and binge watching I figured).
As time passed, I started saying more and more that I should go (and Laurie kept saying I should) until towards the end of the summer (2022) I finally declared “I’m going.” Naturally, I asked her to go with me and she said absolutely, but she had misplaced her passport and needed to find it. As she started her search, I began looking at how to get there. Several major airlines fly to Roatan and it is an easy trip. You can leave KC early morning and be in Roatan for lunch. There is a ferry that goes from Roatan to Guanaja on Friday and Saturday, but only the Saturday ferry will get you to Guanaja the same day you fly.
Meanwhile, my wife searched and searched for her passport. She finally said that I should just go without her and I decided that’s what I would do until one day, she said to me, “Why don’t you take Elizabeth?”
“She’s in-between jobs and it would be good for her.”
Elizabeth had graduated from college in the spring of 2020—the year of COVID. No classes the last two months of school, no graduation ceremony, and her immediate plans for after graduation never materialized. She had been in a funk since graduating. So yes, it probably would be good for her. I asked her, and she jumped at the chance (and she knew where her passport was).
So, the last week of August, Laurie came home and I announced, “Elizabeth and I are going to Guanaja on Saturday!”
I like to plan ahead.
The trip I planned included a couple of days on Roatan and I contacted a real estate agent on both islands to see some properties. I don’t much care for traveling first class for a variety of reasons, so I booked an Airbnb in Roatan and a private cabin (with a shower) at a hostel on Guanaja. Saturday arrived, and away we went.
Elizabeth and I arrive in Guanaja
The ferry from Roatan to Guanaja is about one and half hours. I knew that Elizabeth liked boats and liked being on the water but I never realized how much. We approached our destination at dusk. Guanaja is about eleven miles long and two to three miles wide, and off the shoreline on the east side of the island are some cays—small islands. They range in size from maybe a half-acre to twenty or more acres. One of the largest cays is very close to the Guanaja shoreline and is called Bonacca, Guanaja, or most commonly by the locals Low Cay. The majority of the inhabitants of Guanaja live on Low Cay and it is a crowded funky place. Approaching Low Cay, all we could see was a mash-up of boats, docks, houses, buildings, fishing vessels and lots of people milling about waiting for the ferry. The place had a small-town everyone knows everyone feel to it.
Elizabeth exclaimed, “I like this island! I really like this island!”
Wow! It wasn’t the words that caught my attention as much as the enthusiasm behind them. We hadn’t even disembarked yet.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not one to travel first-class. And, one caveat for traveling second, third…fourth-class or beyond is never assume anything. Being quite rusty and still somewhat COVID addled I seemed to have forgotten that. I assumed that a private cabin with a shower also included the rest of the bathroom. Nope—just a cabin with a shower—I’m way too old to want to share a communal bathroom. That, notwithstanding, we settled in.
The following day, a real estate agent picked us up in his boat and showed us some properties. The property I initially had interest in was a definite no. We then looked at a couple of houses and some land. Elizabeth and I really liked a particular piece of land and we got excited about it, talking about what we could build and such. We called my wife that evening and excitedly told her about it.
And Elizabeth—I began to wonder if some motivated, enthusiastic alien had taken possession of my daughter. She first started saying, “I want to live here, I want to live on this island, I love it!” Soon after, she changed it to, “I am going to live here.” I was gob-struck. The island is remote. There are virtually no restaurants, no bars or nightlife, no roads, and a large portion of the people don’t speak English.
The next day found me sitting outside our bathroom-less cabin taking in the view. I sat next to the path that went from the hostel down to the main path that, if followed, eventually turned into a wider path that eventually turned into a dirt road that eventually took one to a village (got that?). Seemingly out of nowhere a tall skinny young lady appeared. She stopped, stared at me for a moment and said, “I’m Paizley. Who are you?
“Why are you here?”
“Well….its a nice spot, great view.”
I believe she scowled. “No. Why are you here, on Guanaja?”
Oh… my daughter and I are here just checking out the island. Seeing what its all about. Yesterday we went and looked at some real estate.
She nodded. “I know Sidney.” Later I would learn that she knows everyone. She looked me over, then continued, “You need to meet George.”
“…. Okay. Who’s George?”
“He owns a small dive resort on the north side. Its beautiful. It’s a beautiful spot. He’s wanting to sell but he doesn’t have it listed with an agent or anything.”
I chuckled while shaking my head. “A dive resort! I’m not buying a dive resort. I don’t know anything about dive resorts….no, just thinking about a little place to spend winters.”
Totally undeterred, she said, “I don’t care. You still must go meet George.” I felt like I was being stared down.
“He is a nice guy. You will like him.”
Taking a deep breath, I stared out at the ocean. We had another day left on the island and no plans, so I said, “Okay, sure, why not. We will go meet George.”
We agreed to meet at Paizley’s dock on the north side at 10am. There are no addresses on the island, so she told me to take a tuk-tuk and tell the driver to take us to the tall Gringa’s house. She then asked where my daughter was. I waved towards the hostel and off she went.
Later, Paizley and Elizabeth came walking down from the hostel. They were talking and laughing like two people who’d been friends for years.
“Hey dad, I hear we’re going to meet George tomorrow.”
“Yes we are.”
Paizley, I later discovered, is 31 years old, retired, and thinks she’s old. She was a model. She walked the runways in New York and Paris and at the ripe old age of 30 retired and started getting tattoos. She said she still does occasional photo shoots for industry friends. She has, she told me, 18 outfits. 17 of them are bikinis and I am yet to see the 18th.
Next morning, Elizabeth and I walked the (somewhat treacherous) path from our lodging to the Guanaja Hotel. Here the path turns into a dirt road and we could get a tuk-tuk. After a lovely breakfast at the completely empty hotel, Anita, the tuk-tuk driver, collected us and took us to the tall Gringa’s house on the other side of the island where George picked us up.
Elizabeth and I meet George and Clearwater Paradise Resort
We arrived at his place and George started giving a tour (like I might actually want to buy a resort) and the girls went off, yaking away. George seemed a bit of a sad-sack. He and his wife, Ginger, built the place from the ground up. Two years ago, Ginger got sick, and a year later she passed away and George obviously was still mourning the loss. The place was their dream, built by them, and now with her gone, he just didn’t want to do it anymore. I could totally get it. My wife and I are a team that way.
George is a diver—and I mean he is a diver. He has around 14,000 logged dives and probably a couple thousand more non-logged dives. He holds every dive certification there is, and before building the resort he owned and operated a dive shop in Austin Texas for 22 years. He is also a construction worker—he built the resort—and a pretty damn good mechanic. At one point he said, “Everything stays, everything, that is, except those,” he pointed at a set of chef’s knives. “Those go with me.” George is quite the chef to boot.
After seeing the resort, I got a tour of the dive shop. Wow, maybe 80 tanks or so, BC’s and regulators and 2 compressors, the second one designed to mix Nitrox. I had a sense I should be impressed so I was. Later, I googled: What the hell is nitrox diving? They didn’t have nitrox diving 25 years ago. They didn’t have dive computers either.
Finally, we ended up on the dining-room veranda. Yahaida, the housekeeper made some salsa which she served with fried breadfruit chips, guacamole, avacados, mangos, and bananas, all from trees on the property. Oh, and cold beer. George started talking to Paizley about some island stuff and at some point he said to her, “You know, I make the best hamburgers on the island.”
Not being able to contain myself, I interrupted and said, “You know George, when I hear someone say they make the best hamburgers on the island, my response back is prove it.”
George stared at me with a ‘sizing me’ up kind of look and said, “Okay, I will.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my big mistake, the sealing of my fate. The party was on!
The other factor I had working against me was the moment we set foot on the property, Elizabeth repeatedly said, “Dad, you are going to buy this place and I’m going to move here and run it.” Brainwashing? Maybe.
So, the party lasted all afternoon and well into the night. George and I really hit it off and Elizabeth had made a great new friend in Paizley. In the days to follow I started hearing about how George was different after our impromptu fiesta. People were saying the old George is back. Our visit had gotten him out of his funk. Yay!
Before leaving the island, I told George I am interested in buying, but one very important person is not here and nothing can or will happen without an enthusiastic buy-in from her.
Luckily, that very important person found her passport while Elizabeth and I were on Guanaja.
Coming up next week: I know you’re dying to read the gripping tale of how we (we being Elizabeth, George, and myself) sold this idea to that very important person, but I feel it would be useful to first give some (or a lot) of facts about the island and its surroundings. These are facts as I know them today, totally aware that my knowledge about much of what I am talking about is a work in progress.
By the way, George does make a darn good hamburger.