Just When We Thought We Were Done
April 9th, 2012 by Mark & Lori
Chapter 20Mark Writes:
It has been a while since you have heard from us here on Roatan. This past year found us busy turning everything we had set out to accomplish into reality. We have also put energy into some enterprises we never thought we would consider. To start with, Lori has declared the house done, yes done. After spending a lot of time finishing up the guest bath and her storage/laundry area, and all the interior walls, the house is entirely constructed of pressure treated Southern Pine planks called “machimbre” (the name given to the tongue and groove boards available in Honduras). I have to admit that the outcome exceeded my expectations and it is a wonderful home.
Almost the final board on the last wall of the house
Then we (well maybe it was me) came up with this brilliant idea of opening a café of sorts; a little place where cruisers could gather and enjoy time together and we could open up a couple of times a week. After talking about it for a few weeks and Lori sketched out a floor plan, I began construction. We went through a year of building, outfitting, and stocking, (and many distractions in between)and we opened up on the 12th of January and never looked back. It has been interesting to say the least. Doing something we have never done before and trying our best to be a success is quite challenging. I feel it is presumptuous to say at this early stage that we are successful, but Lori and I continue to be amazed as our little café flourishes. There have been a couple of slow days but we made the best of it and enjoyed the company of the folks who did come out. We knew at the start that this would be a tough business and it is tons of work, but the enjoyment we have experienced has far outweighed the negative aspects of this new venture.
As in earlier years, this most recent one has been filled with transient events. We dealt with the loss of a few friends who passed away which is always difficult. And as to be expected, we had cruisers who arrived to say hello, only to sail off once again. These cruisers, from all walks of life, and different parts of the world, have become an integral part of our life here. They quickly become our extended family and it is hard to say goodbye. While the boats are visiting Roatan, I offer a less expensive alternative for shipping boat parts to the island and also set them up with local services they request. Occasionally, these services I provide are frustrating as there is always that one customer who has trouble accepting the slow process of importing goods into a third world country. No matter how many times I patiently explain the procedures here, unreasonable demands and complaints are sometimes directed at me. Lori listens as I blow off steam and then helps me to uphold a business like image when dealing with these few irrational people. For the most part though, the cruising community is very appreciative of my efforts to help and overall, it is a gratifying occupation. For boats staying in Calabash Bight, I invite them to tag along on my trips into French Harbor when I go for café restocking and package pickup and delivery. This gives the cruisers an opportunity to shop and I thoroughly enjoy their company along the way.
Taking visiting cruisers on a road trip
Another recent happening is related to the actions of the Mayor of Roatan Municipal. The island is divided into two districts, or municipals, one east and one west, and Roatan Municipal is the west half of the island. This mayor had a law passed that requires all of the moorings installed by the Roatan Marine Park to be removed and for all of the sailboats on these moorings to vacate West End and West Bay. One has to wonder why the board would have approved such a decree. The West End businesses have already incurred losses this year due to the main road being torn up for months during high tourist season. Chasing off the visiting sailboats will significantly contribute to this loss of revenue for West End stores, restaurants, and dive shops. As a consequence of this illogical edict, many boats have left Roatan and more will follow suit, with the profits of the business owners leaving with them. Rumor has it that the officials in charge of the east end municipal will continue to encourage visiting boats and do not plan to pass a similar law. For now we remain optimistic. But one never knows how the irrational politics will play out on the island as it changes every day. And if the cruisers decide to avoid Roatan in the future, we only have the island politicians to thank. It will be interesting to watch as the drama unfolds.
This season is coming to a close and we will be shutting down the café since most of the locals who support us and the cruisers will be off island until next October/November, when the cycle will resume once again. To my ocean bound family and to my extended family abroad, I wave my hand in hopes that we see each other once again…
Life is never dull in Bizarro World and Mark and I continue to strive and thrive. As Mark said, our house is finally done and we are successfully operating our own little café. Also, our furry family has grown once again. I sometimes feel as if I am mentally and physically jogging to keep up with my husband’s latest and greatest scheme. It is exhilarating and frightening, but never boring!
It took four years to complete the construction of our house and it is an amazing accomplishment. We are flattered by visitors who praise our grand achievement. However, I get the sense that most do not fully realize how phenomenal a feat it is. We managed to complete a functional, energy saving, and well-designed home that is situated on a water access only location, in a third world country. And that is okay because Mark and I lived it, and yes, I may be “tooting my own horn” but we are very proud of our beautiful home. I don’t want to bore you with all the gory details, but watching Mark suspended at dangerous heights to finish the interior walls was terrifying to witness. I watched and worried, but stood well out of the way, aware that I was incapable of catching his 200 pounds of flesh if he happened to come crashing down. The best way to sum up this project is to say that it was mentally challenging for me and physically grueling for Mark. By the end, he could barely walk up a ladder without hurting. I recall saying in the beginning that I thought we might kill each other arguing over the process, but I did not foresee that we might just kill ourselves getting it done. One funny anecdote I want to share pertains to our windows. In an earlier chapter, I shared my disappointment about the windows we purchased at Home Depot six years ago. At the time, we requested that the wrapping be removed before they were stored in our container. There were large warning labels plastered all over the plastic explaining the likelihood of the vinyl frames out gassing and damaging the glass. Unfortunately we were ignored, and a year later when Mark installed the windows, most were so fogged over you could not see through them. I think I have previously described our futile attempts to clean the glass. The substandard quality of our windows was a constant disappointment for me, so I made a desperate plea to Mark that finishing the house meant replacing the windows. He found a window company on mainland Honduras and we paid half the price as a down payment and ordered our new windows. Two weeks later, the company called to notify us that they were ready to be shipped over to Roatan by boat. Mark made the final payment by online bank transfer and we excitedly waited as the boat came in a few days later. We shouldn’t have been upset to learn that our windows were not on board, but we tend to be optimistic. Feeling agitated, Mark called the window company. When he got off the phone and relayed the story to me, I burst out laughing. Supposedly, the truck carrying our windows to the dock crashed and all our windows were broken and it was going to be manana, manana (another week or so) before they would ship new ones. Of course we didn’t believe this outlandish tale and automatically assumed we were being ripped off, or speculated that the company used our money to fill a previous order. However, we did eventually receive our windows and there actually were bits of broken glass in the window frames. I believe this is one of the few true stories we have heard from businesses we deal with here. Now I have beautiful windows you can see through. The downside is now that they are not all fogged over you can really tell when they are dirty, UGH! I still haven’t hired house cleaning help but definitely considering it.
Turtlegrass - House, Mini Marina, and Turtle Shack Cafe
Mark always has several schemes in different stages of formation. In other words, many projects happening simultaneously. Once the house was finished, he was suddenly free to focus on new prospects and I cringed at the sight of the smoke pouring out of his ears. I don’t know where I find the energy to keep up with him. We mentioned in the last chapter that we were beginning construction of the Turtle Shack café. It was challenging to transform a studio apartment into a functional restaurant. Mark started by extending the existing screened porch and adding an open deck that is entirely over the water.
Beginning of the dining room extension
Looking in at the restaruant
He actually had that stage completed over a year ago, just in time for a cruising season we will never forget. A group of boats with amazing people came into Calabash Bight. We had so many visiting at one time that they needed a land based gathering place. So we offered up our newly constructed deck. But, they needed a place to sit. While Mark banged away completing our house, these crazy people built a huge picnic table and the daily domino tournaments commenced. Then they hung all the new ceiling fans, wired them up, and even decorated the place. At the end of our work day up at the house, we would go down to our partially built shack for happy hour or dinner. The food was delicious, the conversation stimulating, and the nonstop laughter resonated into the night. Mark declared that these were the best times we have had since moving here.
Beautiful picnic table built by our generous friends
Happy Hour at the unfinished Turtle Shack
First official cruiser party at the Shack
We stay in touch with most of these cruisers and still crossing our fingers that some of them will come back this year. We partied all spring, so it was summer before we got back to work. We ripped out the shower in the shack bathroom and replaced it with a sink. We most likely have one of the cleanest public restrooms on the island (I could write an entire chapter on the horrors of the bathrooms I have visited here), but the layout is awkward and if I could have started from scratch, it would be so much better. It works though and that’s what counts. Probably the biggest challenge, and what caused many heated discussions between Mark and I, was the redesign of the kitchen. We both agreed we needed a bigger sink, so we bought one. The crux of the conflict was our difference of opinion regarding the necessary appliances. I fought for a decent stove/oven and freezer space. It reminded me of years ago when we were refitting our sailboat and he wanted to take out my freezer for more space in the engine room. That was quite a battle. It did end in compromise as I gave him his precious space in the engine room, but only after he agreed to modify our salon table and put a freezer underneath it. Anyway, I have gotten off track, but my point is that some things never change and I always have to fight for ice cubes and long term meat storage, UGH. Our options are very limited here but they do sell a very efficient chest freezer in different sizes. What is also great about these units is you can turn down the thermostat and it becomes a refrigerator. We spent a day going store to store with a tape measure and after a lot of looking and haggling, we bought two of these. One large one to use as a frig to stock all the drinks, and a smaller one to use as a freezer (which is usually packed full, I have to say). They fit perfectly and left just enough room for the stove. I was thrilled. Mark built a nice counter and a bunch of shelves. Mark also closed in the space underneath the restaurant that I now refer to as the dungeon. He did put in lights and a bunch of shelves for storage but you have to walk around bent over as the ceiling is very low. Mark refers to it as “gnomesville”. Also in the dungeon is a generator that has sat gathering dust for the past five years. Mark was able to resuscitate it which was awesome as we were concerned about the new draw on electricity with all the new appliances ( the price for power here is fifty cents per kilowatt hour). Unfortunately, it requires a larger radiator, so Mark is on the hunt for one now. He also re-plumbed the toilet and bought a new pump so it uses sea water instead of our limited supply of fresh water.
Sink & mirror where the shower used to be
Necessary dock extension for boat parking
Mark constructing sliding screen doors
View of the finished open deck
While Mark was working on the construction, I made a trip to the States and bought all the dishes, pots, pans, and furniture for the dining room. Once I had all of that on its way, I began stressing over menu ideas. I am not a great cook. I do a couple things well but you can’t serve the same thing every day. I asked friends for recipes and I found stuff online. I cooked new meals for Mark and I to try. Some were great and some were awful. I have never attempted a food service business and I was freaking out. I was challenged with coming up with some good meals that called for ingredients I could hopefully purchase here. I felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and Mark was very supportive and gave a lot of input.
With the construction complete, we began stocking in December. We set the grand opening date for January 12th and although this endeavor was originally motivated by the visiting sailboats, it was our local friends who came out and supported us on opening day. I don’t know if I have bragged enough about how amazing Mark’s home brew is. The dark ale he produces is consistent (a difficult achievement in our hostile island environment), and applauded by those who appreciate a full bodied dark beer. After some discussion, we branded it “Mark’s Mojo” and he now kegs it and we serve it on draft in frosty mugs. I also discovered that it is wonderful to cook with. It adds a unique flavor to marinades and batter. For opening day, we served Mojo beer battered fried shrimp and chicken fingers. Our friends raved about it and although I almost burnt the place down frying the food, it was great fun and a remarkable success. As I splattered the kitchen with hot oil, my daughter who was visiting, worked as our waitress, and Mark managed to keep it all together by dividing his time between putting out my fires, serving drinks, and socializing with our guests.
Sign at the main entrance
Our wonderful friends who came out for the Grand Opening
Mark and my daughter, Savannah, making sure everyone has a cold drink
The Turtle Shack Crew
One of our entrees, Tropical Curry Salad, with Mark's home made bread
Since we are water access only, we also made arrangements with a reliable young man in Oak Ridge who greets land based folks at our parking lot and ferries them over. Many of our visitors who arrive this way comment that the boat ride to the Turtle Shack is an added benefit to the overall experience. As I write this, it is the beginning of April and we have consistently been open for business during the hours posted on our sign at the dock, “Open Tuesdays & Thursdays & Special Events”. We chose those days for two reasons. First, we don’t want to work THAT hard. I couldn’t imagine being open every day. Secondly, we are not in conflict with the establishments in Oak Ridge and Jonesville. One offers live music on Saturdays and the others have Sunday barbecues. As Mark points out, we have never been “skunked”. Mostly due to bad weather, we have had a couple of slow days, but even in the pouring rain people have showed up. As for “Special Events”, we had quite a crowd for Super Bowl Sunday. However, the opening of the Shack for the Daytona 500 didn’t turn out as expected since the race was cancelled on account of rain. It wasn’t a total loss as we served up some delicious seafood gumbo and enjoyed the wonderful company of Jim and Laura, who were anchored in Calabash Bight on their sailboat, Nilaya.
Our good friends, Jim & Laura
Speaking of visiting cruisers, Mark participates in the Northwest Caribbean net each morning that is broadcast over our SSB radio. This is a network created by cruisers to track boats as they travel, share useful information, and stay in touch with one another. With his short little blurbs on the radio about the menu for the day, he has attracted many boats to our place. And, as we did last year, when we are not scheduled to be open, we offer up the facility for people to gather. It’s a rough life when a bunch of boaters come over to the Turtle Shack with food and drink for happy hour and we are invited down to a party on our own property. To try and sum up, this restaurant enterprise has been a remarkable experience. It continues to be a huge learning curve in every aspect. Mark and I still stress and sometimes feel overwhelmed. But the enjoyment far outweighs all our anxiety. A young local girl agreed to work for us in February and I don’t know how we would do without her. We even went so far as to consider being open in the off season when most of the boats are gone. Roatan has cruise ships daily and there is an opportunity there. But after weighing all the pros and cons, we think it is best to close down the operation at the end of April. We will reopen at the end of the year, when boats and tourists will once again be abundant on our little island. Mark already has a zillion ideas of ways to fill the gap between now and then. I am prepared to put on my jogging shoes and hope I have the strength. To wrap up the café experience I feel it is important to mention the loss of a good friend. The “Hole in the Wall” restaurant in Jonesville was put on the map by its proprietor, Bob. He somehow made his restaurant world famous and visitors to Roatan consider it a “must stop” on their vacation itineraries. We met Bob six years ago, before we moved here. Right from the start, he was generous, straight forward, and kind. He quickly became a fast friend. When we shared our crazy notion of starting a restaurant, he was exceptionally supportive. I was especially impressed since we might possibly be in conflict with his restaurant. Bob went out of his way to share his knowledge and experience and offered to help us be successful in any way possible. The last time Mark and I spoke to him was January 11th. We ran into him at a grocery store where Mark and I were scrambling to purchase last minute items for our grand opening the following day. Bob promised to make a showing and wished us well. Sadly, he passed away that same afternoon. In hindsight, I feel fortunate to have had that last conversation with him, but he is definitely missed by us and everyone that had the good fortune to have met him.
We love you and miss you Bob!
It is difficult to believe how quickly time flies, but the newest addition to our family turned a year old on April 6, 2012. When Maggie went into heat last year, I was against breeding her and committing to the time consuming responsibility of raising puppies during the house and restaurant construction. Mark agreed, but somehow Ziggy found a chance to have his way with Maggie even though she was wearing a diaper. A friend joked that he must have thought the diaper was a negligee. So, I resigned myself to the inevitable, and nervously sat by as Maggie gave birth to eight pups under our bathroom vanity. Mark had commitments down island that morning so I called Pat, on S/V Mobetah, who came up to provide moral support through the birthing process. Incidentally, it was Pat and her husband, Bill, who initiated and managed the building, wiring, and decorating of the Turtle Shack last year. We arbitrarily named six of the eight puppies after the boats that were anchored in Calabash Bight at the time. When we found homes for these pups, the new owners kept the original names. So our cruising friends “live on” in dog names. The baby we decided to keep we named Yogi, and unfortunately, the runt of the litter didn’t survive. Mark called her “Ivy” short for “Ivonna Live” but after three days and nights of hand feeding her, she just didn’t have the energy to carry on. We both cried as he dug her grave in the backyard.
Maggie gives birth to eight pups
Pups named for boats in Calabash Bight the day they were born: Susie Q - Sue on New Horizons, Connie - Consort, Moby - Mobetah
Misty - Southern Mist, Jinksy - Upjinks, Angie - Angelina
The puppies playing with the "Big Dog"
I opened this chapter by saying, “Life is never dull in Bizarro World”. Along those lines, Mark and I were originally motivated to publish our story for two reasons. First, we hoped to provide useful information for like minded people, and secondly, to amuse readers with some of our far-fetched experiences. We hope we have been successful on both counts as we have certainly enjoyed writing “The Roatan Story”. One of the main reasons we chose to move here is because Roatan is the perfect “jumping off” point for sailing the Western Caribbean. During the planning stages of our big move several years ago, we agreed the first priority was to settle in Calabash Bight and shortly thereafter, travel for extended periods on our sailboat. We did not anticipate becoming so ensconced in day to day life that our second highest priority would go out the window.
Our CSY 44, Aeolus, freed from her dock lines for a couple of days last summer.....
......when Mark, my son, Alex, and his friends, Jake & Matt, sailed us over to Port Royal for snorkeling and shenanigans
Mark and I are now discussing the steps required to pursue our goal of cruising. If the right buyer comes along, we would be willing to sell Turtlegrass and move back on our boat. Who knows when that might happen? Until then, we will remain content to live, work, and prosper here. Our time on Roatan has also taught us that “Bizarro World” is not a geographical location, but a state of mind. If and when the opportunity arises, we hope to explore other avenues of “Bizarro World”. Or, is it more accurate to say, “Bizarro Life?
Yogi says, "Life is perfect. It's these people I live with who are a bit "bizarre".
Jump to the top
- Chapter 1
Our Little Slice of Paradise Found
- Chapter 2
Offer Accepted & Reality Check Time
- Chapter 3
The Fun Begins
- Chapter 4
The "Guest House" Turtlegrass Pequeño
- Chapter 5
Our Sailing Adventures or "Aeolus Goes Home"
- Chapter 6
We Start Our Life In Roatan Together
- Chapter 7
Lori On The Social Scene & Mark's Ups and Downs
- Chapter 8
Beware The Dangers of Dingo's Drop
- Chapter 9
O.O.R. (Only On Roatan)
- Chapter 10
Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
Is It Done Yet?
- Chapter 13
Enjoying The Process
- Chapter 14
Rain, Riots and Reproduction
- Chapter 15
The Daring Dangling Mark Show
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
Steps Forward on Shaky Ground
- Chapter 18
Drama, Duppies & Doggies
- Chapter 19
When the Bizarre Becomes the Norm
- Chapter 20
Just When We Thought We Were Done