Author Archives: jgambill21

The Perfect Postscript…

…to my last post, since I have a story that involves early AM, a cruise ship, RECO, and also the space station and UFOs. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Early yesterday morning I was happily asleep when the power went off. I would probably have slept through that if I wasn’t wearing my CPAP mask and suddenly sucking wind (‘being able to breathe’ being one of my minor requirements for staying asleep). I pulled the mask off and quietly sang, “Reeee-co-la” and Ray laughed beside me so I knew he was awake too.

I thought I remembered the pitch black of power outages out on Guam when we were stationed there, but apparently I have since forgotten just how black pitch black really is. So, since I was awake, and since it was DARK, I figured I should get up and have a look at the stars.

We found the flashlight on the wall and got ourselves out to the west porch and Squeek came bounding around, thinking it was chow time – not, actually, too far from it, but that wasn’t the humans’ immediate concern this time.

The stars!!! were amazing. However, I quickly remembered that the porch rail there is lower than normal as I was leaning waaaay out to have a look…yeah, maybe not so much leaning right there. Ray also pointed out at a bright spot on the water and said, “Hey, there’s the cruise ship.” It was still far off and we had a laugh thinking about whoever was steering the ship going “hmm, hmm, WTF happened to that island?!” when all the lights suddenly went out.

I decided I needed more sky to look at and wandered back to the east porch to the spot where there’s an open view. OH. MY. GOD.

My iPhone camera wasn’t going to do it justice, and I’m not even sure the image above does. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen the Milky Way like this. It was amazing. Unreal. Surreal. Add all other synonyms for incredible.

So I had to call to Ray to come around, and he joined me and we just stood there for awhile, awe-inspired. Then I caught something moving out of the corner of my eye and pointed it out: “Space station?” We agreed, watching, that it was way too fast for a plane. As if perfectly planned, a shooting star flared out right ahead of its orbit: “Did you see that?!” And then, just as Ray was heading back to the other porch, I saw another fast-moving light following in the first one’s arc, though just a little slower. He stepped back and we watched it and went, hmm. What. Is. That? Cue the Twilight Zone music. Maybe a satellite. Maybe…not. They both were heading toward the mainland, where they just happen to have Mayan sites, mountains, etc. Just sayin’…

Ray went back to the other side, I stayed awhile picking out Cassiopeia and a few other constellations I could recognize, but noticed it was getting brighter in the east. The crescent moon and Venus were rising, with the sun probably not too far behind them, and their combined light was enough to ruin the pitch black effect that we’d had going for a bit.

I went back to the west porch where it was still nice and dark, and we watched the cruise ship – much closer in now – glide on by like a jeweled bird. And a handful of stars seeming to twinkle like ornaments in the palm trees nearby.

Well, that was wonderful – but 4 AM is still 4 AM to me, so I headed back to bed as Ray and the cat started their normal routine. And – more perfection – just as I laid down, RECO returned the overhead fan and my CPAP to working order. That’s how to start a day. 🙂

Our Typical Day

Ray, as usual, is up early – often before first light. He opens up the house to the breeze and does the AM round of the property, shutting off the night lights, then comes back up to the third level to feed the cat, Squeek (so named because she has barely any voice – doesn’t meow, just squeaks).

He tells me she is pretty feisty at that time of day and wants to play so they’ve become good friends. He turns the satellite radio on low in the kitchen and music drifts through the open window out to the porch where he and the cat watch the world wake up.

By the time I get up and join him – most days between 6-7 AM – he’s ready to report on the latest comings and goings of both humans and animals. The dirt road below is an active one, and anyone from walkers to riders to drivers (sometimes all of the above, making for sometimes interesting negotiations) might be on it at any given time. There are school kids in their white and navy uniforms, some with backpacks bigger than they are; locals off to work on bikes and scooters; the young tanned tourists and divers rolling out of their hostels and other accommodations nearby; taxi drivers heading out to the main road or construction trucks coming up the hill to the project next door (we listen to their hammers and saws all day; when they quit, it’s like heaven).

Roatan Rabbit

In the yards below, mama hens scratch around, with a brood of babies on their butts, and the occasional crowing rooster; the hummingbirds and dragonflies are everywhere performing aerobatics; and the “Roatan rabbits” (aka “agoutis” or “watusis” – because all of those names sound better than a tourist saying “OMG. Did you see the size of that rat?”) might wander through. It’s a regular National Geographic show from the porch.

And that’s not even the birds. Ray has seen the macaws twice (once in the dark but he could ID them from their size and silhouette; and once he caught a brilliant flash of red underwings, though far away). The parrots announce when they’re around and usually come in packs. The resident woodpeckers aren’t as close in as they used to be when the dead tree still stood near the porch (it’s been cut down since our last visit) but they hang out on the phone poles nearby, tapping out their Morse code messages. We appear to be here during the white-headed pigeon mating season. They are so abundant that I figured I could Google them and learn something, but they are apparently not interesting enough for a full-scale investigation. At any rate, there have been a lot of preening and prancing young fellows hanging out in the area, landing beside females even if they’re perched on something awkward like the spine of a palm frond (I think she’s trying to tell you something, dude); but something must be working, because there’s quite a lot of contented cooing going on around us too.

And there’s the water view too: Ray’s the one who sees the cruise ships arrive (early AM) but I have seen them leave (late in the day). We’ve seen the gray Honduran Coast Guard gunboat that patrols the area, and all kinds of dive boats and tour boats and water taxis and skiffs and everything else that heads out over the reef.
Eventually I have to pull myself away from all that compelling entertainment and start my work gig hours – not really such a trial, since the view from ‘my’ (Mike’s) office is blue sky, palm trees, and the water; and Ray usually concocts some delicious breakfast or other to get me started.

For the next few hours, with the tunes turned up, we each retire to our computer corners, occasionally yelling back and forth if we come across something interesting – and taking occasional hammock (me) / smoke (him) breaks to catch some of the breeze outside.

Some days we decide that’s enough and go somewhere. One day last week we caught the collectivo (a 12-seat van that usually packs in 18-20 riders at a time) and enjoyed a ride up to Eldon’s (the supermarket) in Coxen Hole with a side stop at BoJangles. Ray remarked how funny it was that we could feel so much more comfortable jammed into a bus with 18 strangers, most of whom were speaking animated Spanish that we understood none of, than we ever could stuck in Orlando traffic surrounded by “people just like us.” One day we met up with Mark, our old friend from Foster’s circa 2014, and his wife Bonnie and had a bunch of beers at Coconut Tree Divers restaurant here in West End – which seems to be becoming our new hang out.

If we stay put, we may or may not eat lunch. Mostly it’s been not. It’s just too hot to have an appetite. We’ve pretty much acclimated and especially figured out the right hydration dynamic, but even the locals have been complaining that it’s hot, so it’s not just us.

On those days, when the sun shifts over the house to the west side around 3 PM, it’s time to quit. We retire to the east side porch where there’s breeze and shade, and Squeek pads after to join us. Ray brings the speaker along so we have music and we watch the crew building a 2-story structure close by, trying to figure out what they are saying to each other in Spanish.

The afternoon planes fly in (“de plane! de plane!” is de riguer when one comes along – as is the usual refrains to RECO (Roatan Electric Company) whenever we lose power, which has happened several times for several hours: singing “Ricola” like the commercial or muttering, “Come on, RECO suave (suave-ay)”. We watch the clouds build up toward the south and wish it would rain.

Or, we go out. There’s usually a rush on West End Road right around sundown – people out to eat, the dive boats coming in – that sometimes lasts and sometimes doesn’t. One night we headed toward Foster’s and caught this beautiful sundown, but very few people were out and about, so we just went back up. One the other hand, another evening we wandered out and caught some live music at Sundowner’s with a pretty good crowd.IMG_3626-smallIf we aren’t going anywhere, we usually catch the American national news (early here, at 4:30 pm) just to make sure we haven’t gone to war or impeached the President, then Ray cooks. I help if he lets me but most of the time he’s on it. I feed Squeek, and as the sun starts to sink, Ray gets his camera ready in case it’s a good one, and I do the PM property rounds, turning on the lights. We watch the light fade away. A couple of hours of TV and we’re done.

Rise, rinse, and repeat. 🙂

. . . And Here We Are Again On Roatan

Just a little less than a week here now, and this time it’s been quite a different experience – and yet in many ways, everything is so familiarly the same.

For starters, we may have come back to the same physical place, but we’re definitely in a different mental place now than we were in 2014. Back then, we’d been quite isolated in Belize for months, so we felt almost giddy at what amounted to the much-more-comparable “civilization as we knew it” on-island. And we also knew it was our last hurrah before returning to America; with the adventure winding down, we made the most of those six short weeks.

This time, we’re in almost the opposite scenario – coming from just a bit much social stimulation during our stint as motel managers (it goes without saying that I now have a much broader appreciation for customer service employees). Fortunately, we also had a month before our arrival here to decompress, thanks to visits with family and friends, a few re-energizing trips to the beach, and especially because of a gracious offer from Ray’s sister for us to park ourselves at her home in rural north Florida for a few weeks. So we’re generally mellow vs giddy this time; and the fact that I am working remotely this time (ie, a paid gig, not just blogging for myself) and need to establish a new work routine has kept us from more than immediate settling in so far. Seriously: We haven’t even made it to Bojangles yet – what’s up with that?!!

Anyway – even with very limited forays out, some changes in West End are obvious: There’s quite a bit of new construction, and there’s also places that have become different versions of themselves (Foster’s, I’m talking about you). So far, we’ve only briefly re-connected with a few local friends, but already we can tell that their lives have had significant changes (new marriages, different jobs) – whereas I bet to them, we probably seem pretty much the same (all right, except older and fatter).

There’s a time difference this time – we’re two hours ahead of Florida – so that’s been a gradual adjustment, too. But there’s mostly been this very trippy time warp of feeling like we never actually left; both of us feel so completely comfortable, so instantaneously again. We keep having these weird little deja vu moments, like turning to reach for the right light switch before realizing that it IS the right light switch – or our completely inane excitement at the “Happy Days” song blaring from the gas truck this morning (however, we won’t really be in Roatan until the Cintas gas truck comes – Ray is waiting). And the ‘I-remember-this’ feeling of swinging in the hammock while Ray is taking sunset pics from the front porch.

So, what we’ve been doing the most so far is just looking at each other and smiling: Yup. We’re baaack.

So, That Happened.

The condensed version from my last post to now:

In late 2014, we returned from Central America and jumped back into the reality of U.S. life, like it or not: By which I mean that we got jobs and an apartment in Orlando, and we also got smarter — and busier — with college courses (Ray starting in web design, then shifting to tourism and hospitality, while I refreshed my graphic skills).

We got very, very tired of the traffic and the crowds; but we were putting money away, and we were learning useful new things; and whenever one of us got dejected, we reminded each other why we were doing this. In other words, we were on an “anti-sabbatical.”

This is a word I was not familiar with until recently when I read about it in Vagabonding, an excellent book by Rolf Potts: In Generation X, Douglas Coupland defined “anti-sabbatical” as a job approached with the sole intention of staying for a limited period of time (often one year) . . . to raise enough funds to partake in another, more personally meaningful activity.

So, we told each other, just 6 months, maybe 9 months more, and then we’ll be ready to go again. Except we started to suspect that our jobs were maybe not going to last (ultimately they didn’t – the company we were both working for went under). By then, though, we’d applied for a role as resident managers of a motel in Bonita Springs FL, and we got hired. It was a job I think we were very well suited for, and we learned a ton, even though not everything about the situation was ideal.

In March, we said yes to a return housesit on Roatan, and shortly afterward we wound down our stint at the motel. We fly out this week, and we are so ready!

A Dash of Repatriation Blues

We’ve been Stateside again about four and a half months, and it didn’t really occur to me that coming back to America was going to be such a different experience after our time away.

The best part of coming back was, of course, seeing our family and friends again – although we haven’t been able to make all the rounds yet that we want to make (Parrotheads and Pier Crew, I’m talking to you). And yes, there was (and still is) real pleasure at having easy access to things we’re glad to have in our lives again: specific foods we’d been jonesing for, being able to shop at favorite stores, not to mention the security of steady paychecks. At the same time, there’s been alot of open-mouthed gaping at the American way of life we used to take for granted, which now seems vaguely familiar but also foreign – and often too fast, and really wasteful.

Those first days and weeks, though, life was mostly just chaos, since besides re-adjusting to American culture, we had to secure temporary places to live (first a guest room with family, then an extended stay hotel near our new jobs, then an apartment). It was all the upheaval of going away, now in reverse coming back: Changes of address, moving, unpacking, learning the ropes at our new jobs and figuring out how to navigate in a (relatively) big city.

Sigh. And now we’re…settled. Ish.

Half home, that is, and half wishing we were off again. Because things here haven’t changed as much as we have, which is hard to explain if you haven’t been through it. 

So it was good to come across a recent Wall Street Journal blog that gives this half-in, half-out feeling a name: repatriation blues“. When I read this post (and this earlier post on same topic), I thought, yeah, that’s it, and right on time, too.


One last look at West End

Back in America and, a few days in, still suffering from an odd mix of culture shock and deja vu. Here was the last set of panorama shots I took in West End.

west-end-7 west-end-6












We really love this place. Something tells me we’ll be back…


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Last weekend in Roatan

Mike and Sue, the owners of Mariposa Lodge, came back yesterday. We spent some time visiting and turning the place over (we’d moved out of their top-floor apartment into one of the lower rooms earlier), then headed out for our last Saturday night on-island.

As usual, we got stopped on the way to Foster’s by JC at Nova Bar who always insists we have a starter beer there. He’s one of the first people we met here and so much fun, always in a good mood.


Eventually on to Foster’s, which had been hosting a charter on the boat, so most of the crew was around but busy. I took a few photos of some of ‘the boys’ for posterity, though. Here’s Joseph in the kitchen.


Burt Reynolds and David behind the bar.


Ray, who has been sick for the last few days (heavily congested), was feeling better so he wanted to hang around and enjoy the bachata playlist that Wesley (Snipes) had lined up; but since he’d been kind enough to share his crud with me, I was feeling less inclined and eventually we decided we’d just head home.

I like this photo of Christmas lights on the pier and the shoreline behind it. We took many pictures of the evening but most didn’t turn out – not enough light (must have Go Pro before next trip).

xmas-lights-at-fostersDespite ourselves, when JC saw us on our return trip we allowed ourselves to be roped back in for “just one more beer.” More pics of us with JC and the barback, Mario. Nice kid.

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They always have some good dance music going, and JC never stands still, so I started following his lead salsa dancing which was way fun. Ray meanwhile was off in deep conversation with Peter, who owns the place. Anyway, I felt much better once I started dancing, and pretty soon one beer led to another… but the good thing is, if you start getting too drunk, this guy next door always has something good on the grill.


Then the bar’s managers Joaquin and Jennifer showed up and they started playing some percussion instruments while Jorge here manned the drums.


And then Jorge’s friend Leonardo decided to teach me how to really salsa and THAT was a blast. He’s one of those guys that knows how to lead well enough that even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can do okay. Oh my God. I have seriously not had so much fun in a long time.

Well. We left at (gasp) 2:30?! We have not closed a bar in many, many years. And if the way we felt this morning is any indication, there is a good reason for that.

It was lunchtime by the time I got up and we went after breakfast and caffeine – a Bloody Mary for Ray, straight-up Coke for me. That helped some but we still felt awful enough that we walked to Sundowner’s, hoping the exercise would help. However, all that did was convince us not to move for awhile: We got a drink, found a spot on the beach, and enjoyed the great music they were playing.


Eventually  we made it back to Mariposa Lodge for a long nap. Sigh. We really, really don’t want to leave this place. 😦

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Random West End Photos

The Beach House dock took this direct hit from all the wave action with the recent bad weather.


Near and far views of Dix Half Way Inn on Half Moon Bay. Looks like a cool place but haven’t made it there yet, mostly because we keep getting waylaid by the ice cream shop nearby.


Eagle Ray’s over-water bar from the West End Diver‘s dock, with water enthusiasts.


On cruise ship days we can usually hear the Garifuna performances from E.R.’s deck (turtle shells and drums for percussion, conch shells for horns, and much spirited singing). We finally made it down one day to watch some crazy hips-don’t-lie dancing by these women.


Speaking of music drifting our way, the Roatan Oasis, just up the hill from our parrot perch, has been featuring live acoustic music the last few Monday nights. This week we finally trekked along the muddy shortcut to the paved road leading that way and met one of the owners (Loren) as we enjoyed some good tunes with their friendly staff and a group of mostly local patrons – not to mention a few beers, two delicious appetizers, and some incredibly awesome desserts (homemade Snickers bar with ice cream). Ray is already plotting how to make these himself.

Our favorite place in West End by far, though, has been Foster’s, pictured here between Eagle Ray’s deck posts and in a following Facebook page photo. The staff – bartender and manager Mark, “PR Guy” Roland, “Future Manager” David, Wesley (Snipes), Burt (Reynolds), cook Joseph, and boat captain Greg – are all so much fun. We’ve had many a good time there in our six short weeks. Too bad we aren’t able to transport the Pier-ettes and Pier-verts here when the music gets going. Miss you guys!



Here’s one of many gift shops along West End road, typically selling tropical attire, woven bags, brightly colored hammocks and swings, and all kinds of jewelry and trinkets.


This is the intersection of the main road and the dirt track that leads to Mariposa Lodge. Behind this little fence is Splash Inn Dive Center; I was standing in front of their restaurant, see second pic, which makes really good pizza.

west-end-5007Lastly, one night when I was making the rounds of the property and switching on lights, I liked this view and thought I’d experiment. My iPhone camera has definitely been trusty but we must get a GoPro before our next travels. Even so, I kind of like the way this one turned out. 🙂


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Roatan Explore 3, Part 3: Havana Beach Club

Even though the rain was worsening, we had the rental car so we did one more short exploration up the road to Havana Beach Club where we met Jack, a chef from South Carolina who Ray had friended on Facebook while we were still in Belize (he’s the one we were originally trying to find in French Harbor), as well as Doug, one of the owners, and friendly staffers Tasha and Cesar. Very nice folks!

The club is out of the way but it’s a beautiful beach once you get there, even in the rain. Would like to go back on a brighter day for horseback riding in the surf (if not this trip, then maybe the next one).


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Roatan Explore 3, Part 2: Little French Key

So we’re ferrying out to Little French Key and the rain seems to be easing up. 🙂


There were two cruise ships in port on Roatan, but the rain (or threat of it) must have kept many onboard because there were few others with us on the key – though it’s clear the owners and staff can (and I’m sure do) host hundreds at a time.

This aerial image is from the LFK website (if you haven’t checked it out yet, go! Lots of good info and many more beautiful photos). For a small island, there are a lot of structures cubby-holed all over – from the mini-zoo’s animal cages to a variety of fun bars, restaurants and hang-out spots, yet the overall feeling is laid-back and expansive.


Here’s the view looking back to shore from the boat dock (which is the gray rectangle in the water at mid left in pic above).


We started with a right turn from the dock, and our first encounter was with this staff member chatting up an adorable little capuchin monkey…


…and some colorful macaws.


Then, moving down this dock, where we could see out to the reef…


We went up and down this structure, with its jump-off dock.


Which was also home to a pretty cool little bar…


With a view….


to this place (aerial from LFK website again):


And now I’m just going to let the pictures do the talking.



These flow-y benches are everywhere – even in the water alongside the docks, which is pretty fun.


Also loved the swing bar. where you’re sitting in the water.


We took a quick peek in the gift shop, which had lots of fun items for sale…


And we ran back into Foster, who had greeted us first at Frenchy’s and then headed over to the key before we did. He greeted us by happily singing along with the good music playing in the area (Rude, by Magic – bouncy fun if you don’t know it): “Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life? (Say yes, say yes)” so I told him we actually have a single daughter, so I don’t know…but maybe (he said come visit, Kayla).


The island across the way is Big French Key, owned by someone else and not developed (yet?).


Obviously the coolest area on the island (at least in our opinion). However, there was more. Here’s another restaurant/bar a little further along on the reef side of the island.

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The reef is literally this close…


We liked this cool natural planter and the kids’ treehouse.


Surprise: We didn’t get to see a jaguar in Belize, but there’s one here:



And a lion too, with his own platform overlook…

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And more monkeys…


And toucans…

IMG_0701093And parrots…


All too soon, we were back at the boat dock…


And just in time for the rain to resume.



What a wonderful place ~ sigh. I highly recommend a visit if you are ever in Roatan! Thanks, Larissa and Kaveh, for sharing your little piece of paradise with us.

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