“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 and his shell necklaces clack around in 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 Roatan during this exchange, although you can hear me uttering that phrase once in awhile on the island I call home. 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 that you can transition from one to another very easily. I was quickly reminded here on Ambergris Caye that I am a tourist here, whether I like it or not!
Can you tell the difference?
|Did you guess correctly? Ambergris Caye is on the left, and Roatan is on the right!|
Here are the top 5 ways that the locals in San Pedro could tell I was from an island… but not theirs:
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 here 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 at Belizean Kriol. Like, at all. I was talking to a lady in a bar and we switched to creole and while we could make out each other’s main points, the accent and grammar was tricky for each other to understand easily. Not the same thing…ya dun know!
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 across 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 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!
Bruce Campbell says
very funny road pancakes; I will have to remember to watch traffic when in Roatan. 🙂 can't be as bad as dallas. at least I hope not.
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
Thank goodness for Instagram 😉
David MacLaurin says
Thank you for providing 2 weeks of fueling my escapist fantasies while at the same time allowing for a trip down memory lane. Reading your blog has been like binge-watching my favourite Netflix show.
Currently a cubicle dweller. Being able to shirk my daily responsibilities and read your blog from beginning to it's current end while pretending to do reports and other fun things has been a great way to spend my work days.
The escapist fantasies come from my current fascination with Roatan and trying to find everything I can on the subject. A lot of information out there seems to be either misleading or not quite accurate or simply scrubbed free of all negatives aspects. Your blog has been refreshing in that until recently it included a less filtered view. I was disappointed to hear that you had to start filtering your posts due to local problems. Although I still want to visit Roatan I am even more unsure as I would be bringing my family ( i have two young boys <5} with me and the potential safety issues weigh on my mind as do the amount of mosquitos and sand fleas not too mention the Dengue fever that you suffered through. Those items are my biggest concern as they could all ruin a vacation that I am trying to make as perfect as possible. [ good luck with that]. I eventually just need to make a decision and am close. Trying to decide between Belize ( Ambergis Caye/Caye Caulker}, Dominican Republic or Roatan. I'd love to visit them all but I only get so much time off a year and only so much money to spend.
The memory lane trip was very personal and entirely enjoyable as I worked in Grand Cayman as an instructor and on a cruise ship in my early twenties. I also am Canadian and lived/worked/trained in Vancouver prior to my dive career. Some of your early stories reminded me distinctly of those days and a lot of aspects of the expat life haven't changed. Your blog was also extremely helpful in reminding me that not all aspects of Island life are idyllic and awesome and every job can become tedious over time. Something I conveniently forget when thinking back on my time in the sun.
I look forward to checking in on your blog and your journey and if/when visiting Roatan I ll send a drink your way!
Lights Camera Travel says
Hahaha I'm still not sure what these "fry jacks" are you speak of! You're a true Islander now!
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
Definitely! Even the ones right next to Roatan (there a total of 3 in the chain of Bay Islands) are all VERY different from each other. Everywhere definitely still has 'island time' though – that's universal I think!
Rika - Cubicle Throwdown says
I'd like to think so haha!
Hey the fact you can blend in that closely is still pretty impressive! But yes wearing the "I'm not a tourist" badge is defniitely something to be proud of!
Candice Walsh says
This is why I LOVE islands…they're all so different, even if they're next to each other! Love it.