May 20, 2009
There are a wide variety of places to eat in West End. Near and around Half Moon Bay there are a few I really like. A nice place we hit for the munchies, was the Half Moon Bay Restaurant. It is located right there on the Bay right next to Stanley's Submarines. The restaurant is set on a wooden deck right next to the sea. There are a lot of green areas surrounding the restaurant and the view of the bay is very nice. However, the place was practically empty when we were there, but that's because it was pouring rain. We managed to get there when the rain let down a bit and got us a table near the middle area. The wind was blowing constantly so the drizzle made everything wet and kept us from getting a table near the edge. When it doesn't rain it must be very nice to get the sea breeze while you eat. So once we got our dry table, we ordered the Butterfly Honey Lobster for lunch and it was freaking good. Prices were steep but I recommend you go there at least once for lunch or dinner. These lobster tails were finger licking good. However, as I went into the bathroom of another establishment I saw a poster on the wall saying that lobsters although they are not considered endangered species, should not be eaten on the island because after all, it is a natural preserve park and fishing is prohibited. I guess we didn't do our part in being conservationists here but we really did not know. I just hope they do their fishing elsewhere because this lobster was damn good, but just to make sure you should always ask when ordering.
Another restaurant in the area in opposite direction to Half Moon Bay Restaurant is Mavis & Dixie's Shipwreck Bar & Restaurant. It is quite hidden from plain sight but you can get there by walking down the beach. The locale is very colorful and very lively, also with a view to the bay. Most importantly, prices are very good and they have the most delicious Fish Burgers EVER. This has got to be one of my favorite foods on the island, I just have to have one with a cold beer of course. They also offer a big selection of mixed drinks at very good prices. The service was great too, but I think it was our waiter's first day on the job, so he was being extraordinarily nice. Anyhow, the total experience was very satisfactory therefore I highly recommend it. In fact, from now on, I think I will always visit Mavis & Dixie's every time I'm on the island!!!
The place for breakfast has got to be the Bakery # 2. This restaurant is right in the middle of the Bay on the main road near the main entrance. They appear to cater mostly to North Americans since they offer Canadian and American style cooking. Their chef graduated from the French Culinary Institute and they advertise that they sell USDA approved products. Therefore it can be said that you will be served quality food whenever you visit. We ate there once and we ordered banana pancakes with hash browns and pancakes with bacon. They were both good but the hash browns were specially good, in fact, they were the best tasting hash browns I have Ever tried. They also had a variety of salads, sandwiches, eggs, and crepes among other foods. Prices ranged between 110 to 165 Lempiras. I would not go there every day but for sure I would try it once or twice. You can eat indoors, but you also have the option of eating on a wooden deck area in the back with a great view to the Bay.
May 19, 2009
Some people in this world dislike the beach because its hot and humid and the sand gets all over the place. I guess they would rather spend their time enclosed between four walls and doing the daily routine of life in the city. Frankly, I think these people are insane and I am a simple Son of a BEACH! I personally enjoy the beach BIG time...its like they say, "a bad day at the beach is always better than a good day at the office".
Anyhow, Roatan being an Island, has plenty of beaches to choose from. Most are public yet, some of the hotels have their own private beaches that nobody goes to. Lets face it... you don't want to be rubbing elbows with the beach goers, but you don't want to be all alone either, I personally want some kind of movement. Therefore, if you are already in West End and you do not want to travel far, the beach in Half Moon Bay is the place for you. It is not as spacious as the one in West Bay, but there is plenty of room to spread your towel out and tan and go for the occasional swim every once in a while. You also have the option of relaxing in the bench area of a wooden dock which is perfect for chilling out and taking in the breeze. Its quite convenient that Sundowners is right there too, for the accompanying cooling drink. You might as well have the best time staying there and waiting for the sun to set to enjoy the view.
If you wish to do something a little more vigorous, than you can go ahead and snorkel in this area. There is very shallow water and entry is very easy therefore it can be a good place for beginners who want to explore the underwater world but who can be afraid of wide open spaces. Snorkeling gear can be rented per hour, half a day, or daily right there on the main street. I do not know the costs since I bring my own but I recommend you should have 5.00 or 10.00 USD to spare depending on how long you want to use it. Every time that I have been snorkeling in these waters I have always seen schools of squid and on this trip I saw an octopus. It was very hard to spot, so go slowly and keep your eyes open...you are bound to see something nice!
All that sun and exercise will make you thirsty, and what better way to calm your thirst than by having a cold and refreshing "agua de coco" or in english, a coconut. You will most likely find a guy selling real natural coconuts direct from a palm tree to a cooler, right there on the main road. They go for about 20.00 Lempiras or 1.00 USD each. The coconut will be served with the tip sliced open and with a little straw. DELICIOUS. But you are not done yet... once you drink your juice, take your empty coconut to the seller and have him cut it in half. You will be given a small sharpened edge of the actual peel to be used as a spoon. Now you are ready to eat the coconut fruit. I was quite amazed at how useful this tool could be. I am not a big coconut fan but this tasted great!!!
There are plenty of options to eat around here too. In the next entry, I will go into some details of a few of the restaurants I liked a lot.
May 13, 2009
Anyhow, back to Roatan... I should mention the different shops I have used when diving in Roatan. They are all located in West End. They are the Pura Vida Dive Center, Reef Gliders, and Coconut Tree Divers. The first two were both good but recently I discovered Coconut Tree Divers. I wanted to try a new place and my experience with them was excellent. Their dive boat and equipment is top of the line and in very good conditions, plus their professionalism and attention to safety was right on the money. I had to do a refresher course since the last time I went diving was more than one full year before. I was not so keen on doing it, but it really proved useful since I got a chance to freshen up on the basic skills and to get familiarized with their gear. Their staff was also very friendly and the shop is right there in the main entrance of West End.
There are great diving sites all around the island and many are just around the corner in West End. In fact, on all the trips I have done in Roatan which number about 20, it has taken less than 10 minutes to get there by boat and I have always been able to see the land. Such sites include, Herbie's Place, Half Moon Bay Wall, and I particularly liked Pablos' Place which is near West Bay (Will discuss West Bay later). I saw a lot of sea life there and many of the pictures seen here were taken in that dive site. Mandy's Eel garden was also a very cool because there, I got to see an actual eel garden. The area is on a wide sandy area that slopes into the deep and as you swim towards it, you see a bunch of these little algae like figures sticking out from the sea floor. It turns out they are eels that peek out from the sand and as you get close to them they go back into their holes to hide. As you move away they come back up again. It's quite funny to watch.
I hope I have convinced you to get your Open Water Course, and as soon as you do that, you should get the Advanced Open Water. This course goes farther in your training and allows you to go deeper underwater and to go night diving (Yes, diving in the dark). The deeper you go allows you to see new things, for example two wrecks near West End; The Eagle and The Odyssey. These are boats that were sunk intentionally at about 110-120 feet and serve as artificial coral reef formations which house several inhabitants. I have done both and it's another extraordinary experience. In The Odyssey which is huuuuge, there are places where one can actually go inside the vessel. That's another strange feeling when everything around you is tilted. Another great opportunity that the advanced open water course allows you to do is to go night diving. I've heard many people love this type of diving because you get to see different species that only come out at night, for example octopus and lobsters. It is also great because it allows you to see the real colors of the underwater world. However in my case I did not enjoy it so much. Everything was pitch black and all you have is a flashlight which did not illuminate much. Perhaps the lack of experience did not help me get the most of it. I do very much remember that our entire group had a sit down in a patch of sand where we all pointed our flashlights to our chest so that there was no light at all. That was such a SURREAL sight. The luminous plankton and other organisms lit up into fluorescent white shining objects. It seemed like I was staring at a star lit sky, but the stars were moving in weird trippy patterns. That was FAR OUT indeed!!!
There is another place mentioned as one of the best places to dive in Roatan which I have not been able to visit that is called Mary's Place. You should ask your shop when they are doing this trip because I believe it is not regularly scheduled and you may need a large group of divers that request to go to this dive site for them to take you.
I could keep going on and on about diving but I am forcing myself to stop. After all this blog is about describing places and I was currently on Roatan. Therefore, my next stop will be the beach, where one spends a whole lot of vacation time.
May 12, 2009
A very important aspect I must point out is that when diving or snorkeling one should always be green! We are conservationists here, so everyone should keep in mind not to step or touch the coral or bother the animal life. This is nature watching at its best and there is no need to come in contact with anything but the water down there. Taking souvenirs is a big No No, instead one should collect garbage such as cans or plastic bags which one may occasionally spot on the sea floor.
When diving, buoyancy or your ability to float becomes crucial so that you do not sink to the bottom and crash into coral. These organisms take a lifetime to grow but they can be destroyed in a second. Learn to maintain positive buoyancy to avoid any mishaps. This, as well as other special techniques you will learn when you get certified. You need to know the physics behind diving, how your equipment works, and how to communicate under water just to name a few. I will not get into such detail, but be advised that you will need some time to read your divers manual which you will be tested on afterwards and the whole course may last about 4 - 5 days. Diving is easy but there are just some careful precautions a diver needs to know before submerging in case of an emergency, but which usually never occur. In general, all you need to do is be in good spirits and good health.
I have to mention the extraordinary sensation felt while diving which creates the perception that there is no gravity. Why do you think real astronauts train underwater? This sensation is completely out of the ordinary and can be very mind confusing. You can dive in all directions, vertically, horizontally and even upside down and in diagonal. It can be a lot of fun and if you add the alien like surroundings, you could very well be in outer space!
The pictures seen here I took during 2006 with regular film and a 35 mm underwater camera. In the first picture you see a pretty big grouper which was about 1 meter long. They can be very curious and all of a sudden you may find yourself swimming with one right next to you. If you look closely in the second more colorful picture you can see a green moray eel in the middle left section. You can see its head sticking out between the coral and one of its blue eyes.
It seems like I digressed and got caught up in describing diving in general. That's what happens when you enjoy diving so much. So, please go on to Part III for more info on diving in Roatan.
May 11, 2009
The Bay Islands are all about diving. It is THE must do recreational activity on the islands. If you leave without learning how to dive or at least having snorkeled it is almost like you were never even there. So if you missed out on this activity or just learned about it on your first trip but did not have the time to do it, then that can be your excuse to visit again.
The first time I went to the Bay Islands was in 1998 when I went to Utila, and after many hours of snorkeling and loving it, I saved up and got certified there in 2001. Utila has been widely known as the cheapest place in the world to get certified as a SCUBA diver. When I got my PADI, Open Water Diver certification it cost USD 180.00; now it has gone up to around USD 280.00 with a similar price in Roatan. This is still a great bargain, specially considering that some people in other parts of the world get their diving licenses in dark, cold and murky lakes and rivers at who knows what over the top price.
Here, the bio diversity and colors of the coral reefs and sea life make the experience ever so memorable. Visibility averages about 25-30 meters or about 80-100 feet and with the constant sunlight filtering through, the views underwater can be AMAZING!!! Ive seen tons of sea life with radiant fluorescent colors; everything from green moray eels, spotted eagle rays, green and blue parrot fish, yellow jacks, different types of groupers and schools of angel fish, and squid, among others. My favorite has to be the sea turtle. They are amazing creatures. Once you spot one, you just want to stare at it for ever and watch as it eats coral and stares back at you wondering why you seem so interested in it. The octopus is not far behind. Its chameleon like ability to change colors is a sight for your eyes. There are no words to describe it. And lets not forget the whale shark, the biggest shark out there capable of swallowing you whole, but which is harmless and only eats plankton. Everyone who dives in the Bay Islands hopes one day to spot this giant of the sea and I was fortunate enough to see one. Too bad it was from the boat and not while diving since we were coming back from doing all our dives and had no more tanks left. It was still an awesome thing to watch.
The coral walls are also stunning. These structures are alive with plenty of micro organisms sticking out of them or dwelling within its crevices and they can get to be as tall as 120 feet in some places. As soon as the wall ends the vast ocean appears. Now imagine this scenario... as you are diving parallel to the wall you turn your back towards it and you find yourself staring out to the sea. There is nothing to your left or to your right except for this bluish nothingness as far as the eye can see! Kinda put things in perspective, Huh!
So you see, the underwater world is something you have to experience for yourself. Nothing that I describe here can really prepare you to the actual experience. It has to be one of the greatest things that I have ever decided to do in my life.
May 04, 2009
Upon arrival to West Bay, the taxi dropped us off on a T- intersection, just were the paved road ends and the dirt and sand road begins. We could see the Caribbean Sea which was just 10 meters from where we were standing in an area known as Half Moon Bay. There we turned right and walked parallel to the ocean for about 8 minutes until we reached a place called Posada Las Orquideas. This hotel was also recommended by our dear friend who led us to the Hotel Yaragua in Copan. It is not a centric as the other places I have stayed at in West End, but we got used to it. Almost everything in West End is at walking distance. No need for taxis, motorcycles or Tuk-Tuks for that matter.
This place was beautiful! It is a recently built hotel with all the rooms having a great ocean view from their own balcony. Plus they all come equipped with a complimentary hammock, excellent for catching the sea breeze which seemed quite strong in that part of West End; specially nice on hot and humid days. Even more when the "no see ums" are swarming. What in the world are no see ums you may ask? They are insects, basically gnats which (you can't see / thus they are called no see ums). They can be very annoying cuz they will bite and leave a red mark which itches like crazy. Therefore a bottle of insect repellent such as OFF is a basic need on these islands. You can find it in just about any convenience store in West End. On this particular trip, the no see ums were true to their name considering they really were not to be seen and were not bothering us so much; perhaps because it was kinda cool with a lot of breeze.
The Posada Las Orquideas also has its own private dock where you can chill out and read a book or enjoy a comfortable siesta, where else but on a hammock of course. The rooms are magnificent and are fully loaded with a kitchenette and cooking utensils which we took advantage of to help our budgets. In the main office you can check your email for free which was another great commodity.
The hotel can be a bit pricey compared to the different places I have stayed in before, but considering the awesome view, balcony+ hammock, kitchenette, it's a bargain. I highly recommend it!!!