When you drive around Guanaja in your boat (which is the only way to "drive" around Guanaja), you are struck by how there all these beautiful hills, and nobody lives up there. Pretty much everyone lives at water level, save for a few hardy souls who managed to lug construction equipment and material up a ways. But literally, there are no roads going up into the interior of the island, and no one lives there. It's odd - almost disconcerting. Such a pretty place yet so undeveloped. Not really all that far from the U.S. mainland as the crow (or in our case, the King Air) flies. But Guanaja might as well be a million miles and a hundred years away from Houston, not 800 and in the same time zone.
The lack of tourism here has some amusing effects. For one thing, stores and businesses do not feel the need to put up a lot of signage. With only about 12,000 people, this is not a big place. Everyone knows which business is which, so why bother? Bars, in particular may have no sign outside at all. Local custom is that you cannot see into bars from the outside. So if you didn't know where the place was, you might not find it. Again, not a problem for the locals.
I was told to go to, "Angie's place," an internet cafe on the Cay. "Is that the name of the store?" I asked. The guy looked puzzled. The name? He didn't know. "It's just...Angie's place," he repeated, looking exasperated. There are only four telephone/internet stores on the Cay. And everybody knows which store is Angie's store. Everybody but the new gringo, that is. Needless to say I went into two of the wrong ones before I found Angie's.
Another amusing aspect of living here are the restaurants. There may be menus, but they're typically superfluous. What usually happens is this: They've got either fish or chicken. (Not a lot of red meat here.) Once you've decided on that, then the only other option is whether you want a baked/boiled potato or papas fritas (what we Americans used to call french fries). There will probably be a small green salad that may or may not contain pieces of tomato. There may or may not be a choice of salad dressing; usually it's Thousand Island. It's best not to quibble or expect too much. You want food? This is what they've got. It's usually more than you can eat, and it never costs a lot of money.
The simplicity of life itself in Guanaja is refreshing. The simplicity of the eating experience here is especially nice compared to those aggravating American restaurants where every item must be special-ordered. You know, the ones with the laminated eight-page, multi-fold menus (and extra "drink" and "dessert" menus on the table buttressed by the salt/pepper shakers). I get through the ninety-nine different types of beer (but ohhhh sorry, no Killian's Red draft - bastards!), the eighteen ways they can cook my steak, and the twelve different ways they serve potatoes. I just want to eat, not play twenty-friggin'-questions with "Todd," my server tonight. But wait! We're not done.
Waiter/Todd: "And for your vegetable?"
Me: Mmmph...Broccoli, I guess.
Waiter/Todd: "The broccoli, very good. Now, would you like that steamed or boi-"
Me: LOOK, 'TODD,' JUST BRING ME SOME GODDAM BROCCOLI AND I DON'T CARE HOW YOU COOK IT!
I know, "Chill, dude!" But man, I get frustrated! Look, I like fine food as much as anyone. But I'm not a "foodie." I don't like to think too much. And I'm not picky. I just love to eat, and will eat everything on the plate (including the plate on the right night). I don't care so much about the overall quality of the food or having umpteen-thousand options as long as it's cooked well and tastes good and/or if it happens to be accompanied by a good red wine from Chile or Argentina.
I know some people for whom dining out is never a pleasant experience. They whine incessantly about the food - that it's not right or it's this or that... And I'm, like, "Who cares? We didn't have to cook it and they even bring it to our table for us!" For me, it's as much about the whole dining experience as the food itself.
On the other hand..! Couple of nights ago I went to Graham's Place, a bar/restaurant one cay up from ours. "Casual" doesn't even begin to describe this joint. I said to the bartender, "I'd like some fish." Usually Graham's has two or three different kinds, depending on if they've gone fishing today and what they've caught. But before Renee could even ask, I said, "Surprise me." They did. I was not disappointed. It was a broiled-something with a white sauce, boiled potatoes and a side-salad. Delicious! Their cook, Reggie is very good.
But I've had similar, simple, satisfying meals at just about every restaurant in Guanaja. Like I said, when it comes to food, I'm easy.