Dazzling white beaches, colorful reefs, cool people, rainforest backdrop. West End was the tropical paradise I was looking for. A small village on the southwest coast of Isla de Roatan, the settlement of West End catered for local fishermen, subsistence farmers and a handful of adventurous travellers. West End boasted a modest tienda, soccer field, church, a small number of tidy wood-framed houses and a few rustic accommodations. And miles and miles of deserted beaches to the south, culminating in the dreamscape West Bay Beach.
It wasn’t easy to get to West End. The only public transport was a rickety bus that ran twice a week. A few of the locals owned beat-up old trucks. The unpaved road north from Coxen Hole runs over the forested central ridge. Rough gravel, steep in places. But fast, only a few kms to Sandy Bay on the north shore. I could see the waves breaking over the off-shore reef, perfect for lobster.
At the beach, by the coconut grove, the road turns left towards the ultra-exclusive dive center, St Anthony’s Key Resort, about three kms. After that the road ends and the track begins. Loose sand and rutted, the track winds along the coast, past Gibson Bight and Half Moon Bay. After a few small fords, the track stops at West End’s soccer field. It’s foot or on horseback from here. Or bicycle. West End is well and truly the end of the road.
Maybe 250 or so people live in the immediate area, descendants of buccaneers and ranging in skin tone from pale white to dark mahogany. Everyone spoke the King’s English with a sing-song lilt and used colorful terms such as ‘cutlass’ for their machetes or ‘dread’ for mean, as in mean dog. The local guys I met, in their late teens and early 20s, worked the family land or fished. They wore gold earrings, bandannas and dreadlocks. They could have been pirates.
But totally cool. West End is a serene place. Food is plentiful, the weather idyllic (except for the odd hurricane). Most everyone was ‘landed’, ie they lived on the extended family holding and there was still plenty of room for growing families. But it wasn’t a backwater. There was money in the family. Many of the men had worked on fishing boats or cruise ships and knew their way around the Caribbean. They were worldly, switched on and totally stoned. The West Enders knew what they had and were proudly independent. Never saw any sign of authority.
I had left most of my spare gear stashed behind the jukebox at Maude’s Hotel and headed off for the week. Across the island, up over the main ridge down to Sandy Bay. Along the beach, past St Anthony’s Key. The added weight of my camping gear makes pedalling in the loose sand real tough. I’m forced to walk a bit. Then inland, over some ups and downs, down to West End.
I would be staying in a modest beach-side palapa with a simple sleeping platform, bench and tin roof. Palm fronds for walls and a fire pit for cooking. Very private, it was the last dwelling in West End. Only beach and jungle to the south. The family who owned the land lived in a house further up the beach, closer to the village.
As I was settling in, Dorado, the owner, came by and we shot the shit for a while. Turns out he knows Lauderdale pretty well. He invited me out fishing the next day. Walked down by West Bay, a beautiful white sandy beach lined with coconuts. Copped a bit of a suntan.
Moseyed on back and looked around a bit. Gathered some firewood, went to the store for a few potatoes and onions and started supper. Built me a little fire and whipped up some stew. Um, um good. Cruised around a bit more then crashed out to the sounds of El Mar Caribe.
The week flew by. Sometimes I’d go fishing with Dorado in his small dory. We’d load a few lines on board and paddle towards West Bay, passing over the reef into the blue. Threw out the lines, but no luck. Nice floating along, though. Water was real still and clear and we could see the reef perfectly. Paddled back to shore, hard work. Didn’t even get a bite the whole time I was there.
Every morning I’d wander over to the tienda and buy the day’s groceries. Eggs, cheese, beans, onions, fruit, and freshly-made platino bread, baked in the wood oven behind the shop. I learned the hard way to secure my food at the campsite. The first day I came back and looked for my cheese all I could find was an empty wrapper and lots of crab tracks. Live and learn.
In the afternoon I’d head to the beach, go for walks along the coast and into the bush or hang-out with the local dudes. We’d play soccer in front of the church, sip refrescos at the tienda or sit around a fire at night and smoke their home-grown. My friends all grew up in West End and came from the local families. They’d fish and farm and go off-shore to earn money.
Because English was the local dialect I could just shoot the shit with them and talk about the island, girls, dope and living in West End. They said a few surveyors had been around. In general they didn’t mind the few tourists but found most of them ‘stuck up’. I got the impression that the gringos kept to themselves. And, of course, I had a bunch of stories to tell.
The locals were all well-shod, no open-toed sandals, with boots and long pants tied around the ankle. Ticks were endemic in the bush and it was the only way to avoid them. I’d been lucky so far.
Just before dark I’d cook up a tasty rice or bean stew over the fire and then check out the scene around town. No place to buy beer, but I’d usually run into someone to relax with. A few other tourists in town, always fun to catch up and compare journeys.