Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We Live And We Learn

I can't believe we have been here over one week and I have no discernible tan lines to show off. Even Pete's first-day farmer burn has disappeared, and we both look as pasty white as we did when we got off the plane. I had expected to already have my name carved into a shady palm tree, marking my spot on a beach for the months to come. I had visions of spending Christmas Day under said palm tree, a fruity drink in hand and the sound of waves permanently ringing in my ears.

It was not to be. Such is life on an island paradise during the tail end of rainy season. There have been more days of cloud and rain then there have been of sun and shine. We have been somewhat house bound, not wanting to get caught out in a torrential downpour. Couple that with the fact that my leg prevents me from much adventuring or exploring, and we are a pretty boring pair indeed.

One of our few ventures out is definitely worth noting though. We were very pleased to be invited to a beautiful Christmas Eve party held by virtual strangers. It all began a couple of months ago with my perusal of the website islandfriendsroatan.com in search of volunteer opportunities. I sent an inquiry to the main contact, Judith - that email was returned with scores of information about what we can do, and later a generous invite to attend a combination Christmas/Birthday shindig at Judith's amazing beachfront house.

Island friends, indeed! We were spoiled with meeting interesting people, enjoying delightful live music, and of course, a Christmas feast. We got our turkey, stuffing and candied yam fix for the festive season, washed down with some potent margaritas! It served as a wonderful introduction to the generosity and friendliness of people in this small island community, of which we are very happy to be a part of.

This is me *trying* to get dressed up for such an occasion. Does the boot match my dress?

Aside from a fabulous party and a few casual road trips to become familiar with the island, we have been entertaining ourselves with games, movies and research on this new place we call home. Having not even known that this island existed prior to being contacted about the house sitting job, the discovery of facts about it's history and diversity has been quite interesting.

Thus, I thought I would take this occasion of uneventful travel reporting to post some lessons in geography and history, so that we all can be enlightened.

Yay! Learning!

Roatán is one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras (circled in red). It is a small island, roughly 33 miles long, and only 4 miles across at it's widest point. It is near the Mesoamerican barrier reef system (second largest in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), making it an important vacation destination for scuba divers. Since cruise ships began stopping on the island, tourism has been boosted to the primary economic industry, followed by fishing.

It inhabits roughly 30,000 people who are quite varied in their ancestry, including: Garifunas (descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people), Caracoles (European and British-Afro-Caribbean descent), spanish speaking Mestizo people from the mainland, and of course the numerous people from more modern countries (US, Canada, Britain, etc.) that have moved to the island and helped lay the tourist infrastructure. We expected to be using and improving our Spanish on a regular basis as it is the official language of Honduras, but we have been shocked by the amount of English that is spoken here.

This island has housed quite a "mixed bag" of people throughout time. After the Spanish invaded to capture slaves, they more devastatingly killed off all of the indigenous locals with their Eurasian diseases, to which the indigenous had no immunity. Since then, the Bay Islands were visited by traders, pirates, various individual settlers, and even military forces involved in the colonizing struggle between mostly Britain and Spain. Roatán was under British rule off-and-on between 1550 and 1700, but as it was largely unprotected, English, Dutch and French pirates used it as a base to raid cargo ships being shipped to Spain with goodies from the "New World".

Through the early 1800s, Roatán became the new home of the defeated and deported Black Carib people as well as settlers from the Cayman Islands following the British abolition of slavery there. For a short while mid-century, Britain declared all of the Bay Islands to be its colony. Within ten years, they formally gave it back to Honduras. In the latter half of the century, settlers came from all over the world and began shaping Roatán's future by developing a successful fruit trading company.

Population growth continued in the 20th century, largely from an influx of Spanish speaking migrants form mainland Honduras. In the last few decades, this influx tripled the resident population. This large movement in people, however, does not compare to the overwhelming flow of the tourists in most recent years. While this new industry has brought some obvious economic benefit to the residents of Roatán, it does not come without its obvious challenges, both culturally and environmentally. Time will tell if this little island and its inhabitants are up for the challenge.

So. Now you know.

Friday, December 24, 2010

House Sitting Resources

You too can be a professional homeless bum! Check out these three websites to get you started:

www.housecarers.com - This website has the most extensive list of opportunities that I've seen. However, the website itself is hard to use.

www.mindmyhouse.com - Much better functionality, but fewer listings. This is the website where we got both of our jobs from.

www.trustedhousesitters.com - Brand new website, and it looks very easy to use, even though I have no experience with it yet.

I have been asked for this information so many times that I thought I should post it for all to see. Just don't go stealing our next job! =)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

¡Bienvenidos a Roatán!

It is awfully hard to believe that just a week ago we were saying goodbye to one home, and braving the icy mountain roads to begin our journey to another. Our few days in between driving and flying south were jam packed with quick goodbyes, long car rides, and a whole lot of swelling in my bum leg. It was a painful journey - to say goodbye once again to our beloved family and friends, and rush rush rush (as fast as my leg would allow) to pull it all together in time.

Once at the airport, the bum leg was actually a bit of a blessing! Being in a wheelchair got us through the airport faster; we were bumped up in security and got to use the fast lane at customs. We were even so lucky as to get better seats on the plane to Houston, thanks to our friend Rina who just happened to be working the counter for our flight. Incompatible flight times meant spending a night in Houston, which actually turned out to be a good thing - it gave my swollen leg a much needed break. All in all, our migration was less excruciating then it probably could have been, and is making me consider keeping the walking cast to whiz through airports for future flights!

Waiting for us at the airport in Roatán was the home owner, Michael. After so much back-and-forth over email the past few months, it felt like meeting an old friend. And like any good old friend would do, he ensured that our first moments on the island were as they should be - sitting on the beach with a fruity, slushy drink in hand! We enjoyed the cool drinks and breeze in the shade while watching a german shepherd play fetch with a coconut in the sand.

Yup. We're not in Canada anymore. Goodbye piles of snow and cuddling by a fire to keep warm. Hello pristine sand and tank tops!

After that initial few moments of island bliss, we spent a lot of the next two days driving around. Michael showed us the ins and outs of the west side of the island - where to find the best beach, the best grocery store, the best gym, and much more. We also experienced many of our
Roatán firsts - our first bug bites (me, of course), our first sun burn (Pete, of course), and our first pasteles (similar to an empanada, but a slightly different Honduran treat). With all our time spent exploring, soaking up all the ambiance and bright sun that this little island has to offer, we developed our first impression as well.

That being: Umm, yeah. This will do nicely. Whether we are spending our time relaxing on a white sand beach or ambling around the gorgeous property Michael has entrusted to us, we can definitely think of worse ways to spend the next six months. It is surreal to think of this tropical paradise as "home", when we were previously only ever exposed to such a place in 1 or 2 week breaks from work - yet always vowing to one day experience day-to-day life as a tropical-islander. What was once seen as an unattainable dream many years ago is now reality. We are living the dream!

Did I mention the ocean views? This is what we will see every morning as we rise from bed:

The next few days will be spent lounging with the above view in order to give my leg a rest - all of this activity has caused a lot of soreness and swelling. It has been agonizing for me to not run and jump in every stretch of blue water we get close to, or explore what view is around the next corner, but I must continue to show restraint in favour of healing. I have begun walking in the house in just shoes, and while this is a big step (pun intended!), being in the unstable outdoors still requires me to wear the walking cast to protect it. Thus, there will be no such running and jumping yet - even casual strolls on soft beaches must be delayed. I am already pushing the limits of what my doctor said was allowable (don't tell him!), and I really don't want to risk re-rupturing and starting over.

So instead, we will enjoy most of our Christmas stretched out on the patio of our new home, in view of the expansive green jungle and crystal blue ocean. Tomorrow we are going to venture into town to find a hotel pool to lounge at, and on Friday we have accepted an invitation to a holiday party by some generous gringo's living on the island. We are excited to make new friends and really begin to enjoy everything that this island has to offer!

Feliz Naviad a todos! We love and miss you all, thanks again for opening your doors to these homeless bums in the past year! xoxo

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ready To Go!

And just like that! Our two months of exploration in the British Columbian wilderness are coming to an end.

Unfortunately, it has included less exploration then we originally hoped, being that I was laid up for more than half of it. The last few weeks have been filled with monotonous days of reading, writing, movie watching, gaming and crafting. Pete has been doing double duty, jamming his days with cooking, cleaning, snow shoveling, and looking after me. I am (very gratefully) one spoiled chica!

I am finally mobile though, and have been walking in an air cast for the past week. It is still slow going, and painful when I push it too much, but I am very thankful to be using both legs again. While I have met my goal of being able to walk on to the plane to Honduras without crutches, I will be stuck in this big, grey, clunky boot for at least another three weeks. My fantasy of casual strolls down the beach and feeling the warm ocean water rush over my toes will have to wait a little while longer.

On Wednesday we make the trek back to Alberta, and board our southbound plane on Saturday. It is with great sadness that we are leaving our cozy existence in the mountains. We have loved every minute of it - the absolute silence, watching deer cross through the backyard almost daily, and getting to know some of the people that live nearby. Most importantly, it has provided us with the stability we needed to recover from our year of wandering.

It has given us our "mojo" back. Estamos listos para ir! We are ready to go!

One important thing that Pete and I have both discovered is that we are not ready to settle down yet. Our desire to explore and experience different locations and cultures is revived and raring to go. Good thing, then, that our next step is allowing us to do just that! While Honduras will be very similar in many ways to what we experienced throughout South America, we are excited to discover what makes it unique. We are anxious to meet new people, do more volunteer work, and continue to improve our Spanish.

It also doesn't hurt that we are trading blustery weather for tropical living! For those of our Canadian friends that loathe living through the dark days of winter, we will try not to rub it in too much.

(Oh wait, how did this forecast get in here?)

(And this? Oops!)

Adios beautiful British Columbia! And thank you, D&V, for this opportunity. We know we will be back.