And this friends, is the Bonacca Town (“the Cay”) that I’ve been writing about. There are supposedly 12,000 people or so living in Guanaja (nobody really knows for sure). “Half” of them are said to live on the Cay. Looking at the above picture, it’s hard to imagine though that 6,000 people live down there. 5000, tops, give or take.
It was not always one contiguous island. Maybe one island and just a couple of high spots on the coral. The story is that the sand fleas were so bad on the main island that people escaped to the surrounding coral reef. They built stilt houses, then dropped their garbage out of their windows into the water below. Eventually the “land” filled in underneath and we have what you see now. I’d like to report that the garbage dropping has ceased. If only it were true.
There are no cars down there, and no streets to drive them on anyway. No bicycles either. Narrow, crowded sidewalks are the only way to get around. You can walk from one end to the other in about as long as it took to read down to here.
As you can see, the Cay is pretty built out. No place to go but up. And if you saw the construction techniques in use down here, you would not recommend it. (We are attempting to change that by building a trade school that will teach the locals modern construction techniques. But first we have to teach them how to build the school.)
The Cay is pretty self-sufficient. Everything you’d have in a normal town they have here in bizarro-town…I mean Bonacca Town. There are grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores and a bank, beauty salons, internet cafes, and gas stations. There are two hotels. There are schools and churches and boat repair places. In many ways, it really is a typical small town, just compacted into a shoebox. Recreation-wise, there ain’t much. There’s a basketball court, and there is a pool hall (or two) but that's about it. There are no movie theatres, video arcades, soccer fields or baseball diamonds.
There are bars though. Lord, are there bars. Hey, a man’s gotta drink! The most notorious is a place everyone refers to as the “Silver Dollar,” although the sign outside says “Pirate’s Den.” It is an…interesting place. The boss refers to it as the “cut-your-way-in, shoot-your-way-out” bar. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
There are at least two “discos” on the Cay and yes, they still call them that. I’ve been to one. I’m not exactly sure of the name of it. I’ve heard people call it “The Iquana” but it seems to also go by at least two other names: the “Night’s Inn” and (more recently, I think), “La Cueva” (the cave). Actually, come to think of it, The Iguana may be the other place. It doesn’t matter, especially when there are only two dance clubs on the whole island. The locals all know.
Okay, enough about the night life and seamy side of the Cay.
There are many fine people who live there. One of the pleasant surprises about Guanaja is the friendliness, generosity and warm gentleness of the people. They are unpretentious like you wouldn’t believe. What you see is what you get. Walk around on the Cay and there just isn’t that threatening feeling of malice and impending danger you get in some (most) American city ghettos. In fact, it feels paradoxically quite safe.
Banacca is a poor town, yes. But is no slum. Residents take pride in their homes and their appearance. Generally, after work they go home, bathe and change into clean, nice clothes.
(David Benz/Ty Sawyer/Sport Diver Magazine Photo)
I like this shot of the Cay. Slightly different angle. You can see the airport in the background. To the right of the airport (just above the Cay in the picture) is the town of Pelican, one of the only places on Guanaja where houses are built up on the side of the hill. It’s amazing when you realize that every piece of wood, every bag of cement had to be carried up there by hand.
The Cay is a controversial place. Some say that it is a hindrance to tourist development of Guanaja and should be abandoned, the residents relocated. Hah, fat chance. What will probably happen is that another center of commerce will grow or be created elsewhere on Guanaja. This new town is where the tourists will go. The Cay will become “Old Town,” much like the original part of Las Vegas. It’s quaint, yeah, but everyone wants to stay at the Bellagio or that place with the indoor amusement park.
But until that happens, living here is like taking a step back in time…a BIG step back.
And it's not entirely a bad thing.