Unlike some islands in the Caribbean, Roatan does not offer a Home Depot, Walgreens, Sears, TJ Maxx, or anything even remotely close. Even then, the places that do offer household goods, home repair/improvement items, or toiletries are in Coxen Hole (Yes, read it again – aloud this time) about an hour (RT) cab ride to “the city” (and I use that term very loosely). One-stop shopping is simply a dream of a very distant future. The small town I live in boasts about six mini-marts which each offer many of the same items but have also managed to find a way to distinguish themselves from one another as well.
When you just can’t (and won’t) justify a trip to “the city” for just one item is when the mini mart crawl (MMC) begins…
When you’re new to town, this seems like a simple enough endeavor. After you get a few MMCs under your belt, you get a pretty good idea of if or where you will find what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for booze, don’t head to Woody’s – they don’t sell it. I think it’s against their religion, which would also explain why they are closed on Saturdays for Sabbath. It’s inevitable that if you do need something from Woody’s, it will ALWAYS be on a Saturday. Fortunately, Coconut Tree is the next stop on the Crawl, which keeps a healthy stock of rum, wine, and more rum, consistently. Jackson’s has you covered if you can stomach the local dairy brand (Sula) or are desperate for it in a pinch, while Golden Star is tightly packed in a corner store with shelves that continusously grow higher and higher with every visit. Their shelves are spilling over with stock, but if you have the patience and don’t have claustrophobic tendencies WHATSOEVER, chances are they carry at least one item on your list. Just don’t count on finding it there again – it’s like roulette; you just never know. There are a few more stores on down the line, but I won’t bore you with the intricacies of their stock. Plus, if you ever visit Roatan, I’d hate to spoil all the fun!
When it comes to finding things more obscure than booze, plungers, and antibiotics, is when things really get interesting. There isn’t much of a phone book on this island; well, there is, but phone numbers change faster than ice melts around here, so that’s out. Websites are another “dream for the future”. Facebook can prove to be helpful on some occasions, but at the end of the day, it’s more about who you know. Chances are, you’re heading out on a scavenger hunt – though one without instructions or directions of any kind.
Recently, I was looking for some lemongrass for a coconut soup I’d been wanting to make, but I discovered there was no lemongrass to be found in any of the mini-marts on the island OR in any of the grocery stores. So my next move was to try asking around. SURELY somewhere amidst the recent census’ popluation count of “60k-100k” someone must grow, import, or hoard lemongrass. I skip questioning most of my expat friends and head straight to the nearest local I see, inquiring where I may find some lemongrass. The man I’ve chosen stares back at me blankly, not uttering a word, blinks twice, and stares some more. My guess is he’s either never heard of lemongrass or thinks I’m crazy… or both. In his defense, there is no such thing as a lemon in Roatan. There are only limes, or limon – both of which are green. Green limes, yellow lemons – they tell me it’s all the same.
Suddenly, a voice chimes in. In a sweet but confident island dialect, a woman informs me, “Yougon pass by CoxenHole for dat.”
She’s kind enough, as most everyone is on this island, to stop and explain that the butcher’s wife’s mother that lives above the old shoe store on the main road, next to the Cerveceria, used to grow lemongrass for her medicine. Apparently, this butcher’s wife’s mother, also known as Ms. May, walks to meet her grandkids every afternoon, so I’m instructed to stop by and try and catch her between 3-5pm. Hope is renewed! And the hunt forges on!
Timing is good, as I’ve got to go into the “city” to the bank and the municipality anyway, so I figure I’ll kill three birds with one stone. SAID NO ONE EVER IN THE HISTORY OF ROATAN. Not thinking clearly, I arrive at 12:52pm only to find the bank taking a new pro-active approach to lunch breaks, and the municipality across the road following suit. I decide to try and catch Ms. May before she heads off to get the kids. I look right before crossing traffic, look back left, and without warning a giant pop-up parade swallows me whole, whirling and twirling my poor naive self to the beat of a drum and the intermittent horn honks and music blasts. Kids, dogs, marching bands, and other randoms march on like it’s their job.
I flail a bit before the parade spits me out, confronted with a woman selling lychees and mop attachments. I don’t know where I’m going anymore and certainly don’t know where I just came from. What I do know is limes are really similar to lemons. I resign to my fate. If the island has survived the test of time without lemongrass, I’m confident I will too. And really, it’s all the same… ish.