We Arrive on a Dark and Stormy Night
We Arrive on a Dark and Stormy Night
It is never too late to be who you might have been. (George Eliot)
The night is black and the wind is fierce. The white-capped waves thud against the hull of our water taxi as it plows into the swells. We are in a panga—the ubiquitous Latin American boat. It has a deep bow, slender body and is pushed by an outboard. No shade, no shelter. Driving sheets of rain hit, forcing us to keep our heads down. For brief moments, I can glance up and see distant lights of the island—they look way too distant. The wind and rain force me to keep my head down, eyes almost closed. I’m trying to hold up my pocket flashlight because earlier, when we’d left Low Cay our boat driver had asked if we had a flashlight. He has no light, the panga has no light, and I’m 90% certain there are no lifejackets. In these conditions, my small flashlight is a joke. No one is laughing.
The cold driving rain stings my bare arms because I had opted to cover my suitcase with my rain jacket. I think the suitcase is floating in the bottom of the boat. The jarring of the panga is miserable, and I muster a glance at her, she’s clutching the siderail staring into blackness. I know—and I mean I know—what my wife is thinking. What has he gotten me into now?!
Thus began Laurie’s first visit to Guanaja. We arrived at the exact moment as hurricane Julia.
In the week leading up to our trip I had started watching the forecast. Technically, hurricane season was over but mother nature hadn’t gotten that memo, and being a cheap—you know what– I decided that if the airline is flying we’re flying. I don’t like hurricanes, but I really don’t like losing two non-refundable tickets.
We reached Roatan and had an over-night there, and I kept watching the local reports of the approaching storm and it appeared to be headed straight towards us. We had planned to take the 4:30 ferry to Guanaja the next day and I had scheduled the trip so that we would stay on the east side of the island for the first 3 days before going to the dive resort. I wanted Laurie to see the island as a whole and not just the resort.
While in Roatan, a lady from the hotel’s office in La Cieba called wanting to know if we were still coming. I told her that if the ferry was running, we were coming. I didn’t think it much mattered which island we were on if Julia hit, but I also didn’t figure on the hurricane hitting the very moment we got into our water taxi.
Finally, our intrepid panga reached the Guanaja Resort dock. I don’t know how our driver found it in those black, pitching seas, but thankfully he did. We were water logged but otherwise unharmed. The resort’s dock stood empty—forlorn looking yet stalwart in the midths of the fury. The hotel’s small boats had been pulled out of the water and the big boat safely tucked deep inside the mangroves in anticipation of Julia’s arrival. A young lady followed by two others came running down to the dock.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe you’re here! We didn’t think you were coming! Mios Dios! This is a hurricane, you know! No one told us you were still coming!” She was waving her arms like a windmill (or maybe the wind was waving them for her).
She informed us her name was Gabby and she was the onsite manager. She is from Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Her husband is American and she speaks almost flawless English. It seems the lady running the office didn’t communicate with Gabby here running the empty resort. Nevertheless, they got us settled into a bungalow, brought us chilaquiles and a cooler with a half dozen cold beers and told us we were on our own until daylight.
Miraculously, the rain took a break and the moon poked itself out in a patchy, now you see me, now you don’t sort of way and we sat drinking beer marveling over the surreal sound and beauty of the moonlight dancing on the breakers pounding the beach and seawall. In the course of just a few hours, the frightening ordeal had turned into a night of enchantment.
The wind blew and it rained throughout the night and the next day. The wind was incessant, the rain sporadic but it wasn’t hurricane force. Julia had only given us a glancing blow but she sure messed up my carefully planned schedule designed to show Laurie all the great virtues of Guanaja.
So, we saw what we could in Savanah Bight, then took a tuk-tuk the two miles to Mangrove Bight. And man, what a difference. The beaches were clean, there were some boats out and about, and the only sign of the waning storm was the palm trees bending in the still-strong wind. In that moment, I realized the virtues of being on the west/north side.
The next day, we made our way back to Mangrove Bight to have George pick us up at Paizley’s dock (I should have informed Paizley of that plan—she wasn’t thrilled having us show up unannounced). Laurie and Paizley met and Paizley got invited to dinner the following night.
George had somehow, from our conversations leading up to Laurie coming to Guanaja, reached the conclusion that Laurie is the boss—err decision maker. This was understandable since both Elizabeth and I had talked about how it would not happen without her buy-in. So naturally he intended to do and say everything in his power to make sure she had a great experience. But, George’s assumption is far from true. I can unequivocally say she is not always the boss. Sometimes, she lets me be the boss.
On the second day at George’s place, he took us to Michael’s Rock—the secret weapon. Michael’s Rock is a beautiful little beach with a shallow reef on both sides. The reef is just gorgeous. It’s vivid, colorful and full of marinelife. It is never more than 10 feet deep which makes it perfect for snorkeling. It is as pretty as any reef you will see anywhere. He and Laurie did what he calls a resort course where they spend time learning some scuba diving basics and do a little dive. It’s like snorkeling with tanks. Taking her to Michael’s rock probably wasn’t fair.
So, the trip started with a hurricane and ended with Michael’s Rock. Laurie got to see the island at its worse and at its best. We went home with a decision to make.
And what a decision, a life-altering decision exasperated by the fact we are in our 60’s. It is easy to bounce back from a bad decision in your 20’s, it’s doable in your 40’s. But 61 and 64? We are putting a good portion of our life savings into this adventure and, if things crash, is there any bounce-back at this point? (I’m getting nervous just writing these words)
The hardest part, however, isn’t financial. It’s family. How is this going to affect the family? ………. And, how is it going to affect the family? It’s a million-dollar question that in part is unanswerable. There are wholesale changes in the offing. Elizabeth, of course, is all in, but what about Maria—who’s still in school—and Nicholas? They haven’t even seen the place yet.
Every parent wants their children to grow into happy, independent, successful adults. We tell our children that you can be anything, you can do anything….follow your passion. We tell them this, we tell them that, we tell them…blah, blah, blah.
But, I know this—I know this with every fiber in me. They don’t hear what we say because they’re too busy listening to who we are being! (thanks Landmark Ed.)
I will say it again. Our children don’t listen to what we say, they listen to what/who we are.
So, what are our kids hearing? I hope they’re hearing it’s never too late to strike out on an adventure, to follow a dream, to be passionate about what you’re doing. I hope they’re hearing risk is not a bad thing—it’s a natural part of life to be embraced, not avoided. And, I hope they are saying, mom and dad are chasing their dream—so shall I. Awhile back, I overheard a guy in his mid-twenties saying he wished he’d majored in architecture instead of business and now it was too late. Are you kidding me?
After returning from Guanaja, we spent some time looking, thinking, talking, discussing family impact, asking George a myriad of questions. George said he knew he had us when Laurie finally asked if there was a Catholic church on the island. Laurie later said we had her at Michael’s Rock.
I believe we had her long before she ever set foot on the island. We had her with our excitement and passion. We had her with the prospect of creating a small resort that is fun and welcoming. A place we can share with family, friends and strangers. A place that is a reflection of her and of us. And, if you’re reading this and you know my wife, you know what I’m talking about. Laurie is a natural “hostess with the mostest.” She’s the person who flies on an airplane alone and knows everyone sitting around her by the time the plane lands. She is like a golden retriever who likes everyone and just assumes they like her. She actually says “oopsy” when she drops something. She brings grace and charm to everything.
But there is something about her that most people don’t know. This something answers the 35 year-long question everyone has been asking. My best friends have asked this, my own family has asked this: Why in the world did she marry him? The answer is quite simple.
The girl’s got game!
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