Being a Tourist on Another Island is Weird

Written by: RIKA


“No thanks, I’m not a tourist.”

The words fly out of my mouth on auto-pilot as the shaggy beach vendor registers a look of bewilderment on his face, his shell necklaces clacking around his hands. He cocks his head, studying me for a second, and finally shakes his head and decides to move on.

I know what he’s thinking: Of course you’re a tourist, lady!  You’re white, and I’ve never seen you before, you clearly don’t live here, so you are a tourist. And you know what? He’s right.

I wasn’t on my home rock of Roatan during this exchange, although you can hear me uttering that phrase once in awhile there too. I recently visited Ambergris Caye in Belize which is very similar to Roatan in a lot of ways, and it was strange to be treated as a tourist in a place so close to home. When you are used to life on a Caribbean island, it can be easy to assume you can transition from one to another very easily. I was quickly reminded on Ambergris Caye that I AM a tourist there, whether I like it or not!

Can you tell the difference?

roatan vs ambergris_WWLOR

Did you guess correctly? Ambergris Caye is on the left, Roatan is on the right!

Here are the top 5 ways that the locals in San Pedro could tell I was from an island… just not their island:

1. I greeted people I passed and when I entered a business – but not with the right words.

On Roatan, we say “good morning” in the morning, but “good afternoon” has a pretty short window before being taken over by “good evening” in the late afternoon until it gets dark, then it turns into “good night”. I said “good evening” at 3pm in Ambergris Caye and got some weird stares and watch checking.

2. I could order fry jacks – but I didn’t eat them the right way.

Fry jacks are the same as flitters on Roatan – basically delicious fried pieces of dough, usually served with breakfast. When I got mine, I dipped them in my refried beans as I usually do, and was promptly schooled by the waiter that I should be drizzling them with honey, or cutting them open and stuffing them with the other items on my plate. Oops!

3. I talked to people in Creole – but they couldn’t quite understand me.

I quickly discovered that Bay Island Creole is not the same as Belizean Kriol. Like, at all. I was talking to a lady at a bar, and we switched to Creole and while we could make out each other’s main points, the accent and grammar were tricky for each of us to understand easily. Not the same thing… ya dun know!

*click for image credit

4. I knew to look behind me before turning a corner or crossing the street – but I didn’t know I could go before the vehicles.

On Roatan, you better make damn sure someone has made eye contact with you and waved you across before you cross the street, or you’re gonna end up as a road pancake. In San Pedro, there are a few taxi vans, a few pick-up trucks, a few motorcycles, and everything else is golf carts. Everyone stopped to let me cross the street, and I frantically tried to make eye contact with the drivers but they seemed to be ignoring me and waiting for me to go across, so I just went for it, and no one ran me over. Success.

5. I got excited to find fresh veggies – but didn’t know what they were.

New to me on this trip: chaya, coco yam, and some sort of green and yellow plum that I forgot the name of. Anyone who lives on an island in the Caribbean knows how exciting it is to see fresh green veggies!

–   –   –

So, while I managed to escape the typical tourist behavior we all love to hate, I still didn’t quite blend in. I absolutely LOVED San Pedro though, so I’ll work on these for my next visit!

Have you experienced a similar fish-out-of-water feeling when you’ve traveling to another rock?

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About Rika

Originally from the Great White North, land of the Eskimos and igloos (that’s what’s really up there in Canada, right?), Rika arrived on a Caribbean rock called Roatan in early 2012 on a holiday and learned to SCUBA dive. Then she came back a month later. Then she came back two months later. Then she came back and forgot to leave. Over 1200 dives (and rum punches) later, she is now a PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer and still gets a kick out of her divers being scared of nurse sharks. She’s learned many things from island living including how to live with slow internet, navigating muddy roads on a scooter and a fairly dirty dance move called the “wine”. She can now understand Spanish and speak island English like a local (her parents are very proud). Known around Roatan for being fearless (hacking up tarantulas with a machete when they venture too close to her house, or jumping off the top of a bar into the ocean for free shots), Rika has made many bad decisions on the rock that have turned into great stories…if you ply her with enough rum or a freshly-caught tuna, she’ll share. Follow her adventures and misadventures over on her blog,



ORIGINALLY HAILS FROM: Saskatchewan, Canada

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16 thoughts on “Being a Tourist on Another Island is Weird

  1. Haha, yes, I imagine their would be subtle differences from island to island. Glad that you got to get off your rock for a trip!

  2. I can relate to ” you are a tourist” after 60 years living in a small island I took it upon myself to walk about with my car keys in my hand for all to see and jingle the bunch when approached by sellers, taxi drivers , etc,,,, makes life easier!!!!!

      • The key trick is good and if you have some local business swipe keys in view it is pretty obvious but I will still get stopped and asked if I want an island tour. A friend and I were walking near the cruise ship dock coming from the gym we weren’t looking our best and we were holding our respective car keys. A caravan bus stops to ask if we want an island tour – my friend was born here so even more offended. Without stopping to think she blurts out – what do I look like? A (#(#(*# tourist? We continue to use that phrase to this day whenever we are approached.

  3. This is an especially difficult concept when you have gone back stateside for a year and return to your island without a deep tan. Your friends still recognize you as an islander, but the rest is up for grabs. Until I speak patois on STJ, and then the West Indian men stop asking me where my husband is!

  4. I experienced this when visiting St Martin. It was accentuated by the fact that a hurricane came through while I was there. As locals do you concentrate on the preparation beforehand and really just don’t have time to deal with tourists and being there for them. The aftermath is even worse because unlike being home on my own rock and knowing where to go and what to do to get through the mess you instead become the outsider who just is in the way.

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