I started visiting St. Thomas a lot, and eventually ended up moving there. A friend and I bought a six-seat Cessna seaplane, and we ran tours around the island until we went broke. It took about a year. My standard joke about the experience is: "We lost the shirt off our backs, but we got great tans." Which was all that was important back then. Even though our business ultimately failed, it was an awesome time that I still remember with great fondness. I loved island life, love it still.
So when the opportunity arose to take a job in Guanaja, my first question was: Where in the hell is Guanaja? My second question was, When do I start? This version of "island life" is much different from the Virgin Islands. Even back then, St. Thomas was visited by 1.1 million tourists per year. (Now, it's an astounding two million-plus!) Still, if you didn't mind a little hiking (and I didn't) you could find absolutely deserted tropical beaches, far from where the mainstream tourists would venture and even where the locals didn't go.
By comparison, Guanaja gets far fewer tourists. And by "far fewer" I mean, almost none. You won't find any big, glossy pictures of Guanaja plastered on the wall of your local travel agent's office - although you probably should. It's about as spectacular a place as you could imagine...if you like strikingly beautiful, uncrowded, unspoiled tropical islands. Which I do. But you really, really have to want to come here.
When we have guests come down to Guanaja, we always like to take them snorkeling at Michael's Rock and then over to Bo's for lunch. The snorkeling is always terrific. Bo's is...well...you have to see it to believe it.
After Hurricane Mitch hit the island in 1998, Bo built a little bar/restaurant out on the end of a dock. It is nothing more than a shack-on-stilts with a big u-shaped bar in the middle. There is a kitchen, and they serve up some damn good food (chicken or fish and fried plantains) and ice-cold beer (my favorite: Salva Vida).
The official name of the place is The Island House Bar and Restaurant. But I notice now that there is a sign up calling it the "Green Flash Bar." No matter what Bo will try to name it, everybody will just call it "Bo's," as they always have. Just being there is a wonderful, unique, relaxing experience.
It's a pretty good crowd for a...weekday (apologies to Billy Joel)
In the first place, it is often appears to be unstaffed. Which is okay, because most of the time there's nobody there to serve. Like most places here in Guanaja, you might find yourself being the only customer in the joint. Our friends Mike and Sharon Jones are usually there on Sunday when it's the "busiest," half tending bar/half just being a customer. If nobody is around, you make your own drink or grab your own beer and mark it down under your name in a big notebook by the bar. What the...the Honor System? How cool is that! There is a boombox stereo, usually playing American country music as is the custom down here.
But no glass of any kind seals you in. Huge, hinged wooden panels swing up and out of the way, letting the sun and fresh breeze in. They give the place an open, airy feel and reveal a view like you wouldn't believe - no matter which way you look. The spare decor is nautical, of course, but you can clearly see that these are authentic items that were not bought from some restaurant supply catalog.
If you get tired of the relentless partying upstairs (that's a joke), you can always go down and dive off the dock and into the water for a swim. Or you can ease into one of the hammocks and catch forty winks as the trade winds rock you gently to sleep.
Oops...busted! Our King Air pilot, Mike, engaged in his second-favorite activity.
The thing about Bo's is that it's authentic. It's not pre-fab or pretentious. It is what it is - a stilt-bar out in the middle of nowhere. It is what bars in America only aspire or pretend to be. You've seen them: Buildings with names like "Spinnakers" or the "Salty Dog" with their faux thatched-roofs, shark jaws and rusty anchors and driftwood tacked up on the walls, bamboo tables and chairs. and maybe even the bartender/waiters with matching tropical shirts. It's all designed to emulate a rustic seaside bar...on the outskirts of a suburban mall in a landlocked city, of course.
It's all designed to emulate a place like Bo's.
I have darkened the doorway of my share of bars throughout my life, believe me. But none as authentic as Bo's. There is something incomparable and almost indescribable about hanging out there. I grab my Rum and Coke and sit back and just...and just...just be in the "Oh, wow," moment, savoring that very rare and wonderful otherworldly feeling of being in a magical place and time and knowing that it is about as special as it gets.