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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

2 Aug

I’ve had my fair share the past few weeks, having just returned to Roatan from Ontario, Canada.

While these are typical modes of transportation; the distinct differences and unique qualities between the two areas are notable.

Planes
Obviously, since Roatan is an island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, flying was my best option for getting to Canada in a timely fashion. A friend got me to the airport early enough so I could stand in line with fellow travellers—for an extended period of time. It’s kind of like a game of Poker; will the line move quickly (didn’t have to show up at the airport three hours ahead of my flight) or, if I bluff, will it get down to the wire and risk losing the jackpot of jetting away.

For the most part—call me weird, I don’t mind hanging out at the Roatan Airport—admit it, you’re thinking—she’s weird.

The Roatan Airport is small by most standards; one arrival gate, one exit gate. Well, there are two exit gates, but they are right beside each other, and which one you go to is based on where the most people are lining up. Once you complete your check-in, you have to go to the bank line to pay your exit tax. However, keep in mind that the day you are flying they may have changed the rules and you can pay your exit tax (have the person behind or in front of you in the check in line, shuffle your luggage along, so you don’t loss your spot) while you wait to check in.

Confused yet? Just wing it—haha!

Anyhow, I was saying, I like to hang out at the Roatan Airport. Thing is, Roatan is small town living; chances are I’ll meet many friends there. Some are picking up family, friends, and guests to their resorts; while others are sending off the same. Then there is the time of year (mid-November until after Easter) when Sunwing Charters arrive from Toronto and Montreal. That’s when you will find me at the Roatan Airport saying; Welcome to Roatan! to all my fellow Canadians coming for a visit. Just call me the Walmart Greeter of Roatan!

I’ve shared what it is like when you fly to Roatan and the unique qualities of navigating through immigration and customs; when my dad came for a visit a few months ago, so I’ll let you peruse that story rather than repeat myself.

When you are leaving Roatan, there are some features you should know about. Once you are in the “secure” area (you’ve gone through the metal detector and haven’t set off any alarms) you will find: a souvenir shop, and a lunch counter, but, no Duty Free shop. At this time you might assume that you are done with “security” checks, ah… no. When you line up to exit to the waiting plane, you will once again pass through a “security” check—uhuh! Any and all liquids; bottles of water, sodas, etc. that you purchased will be confiscated, and that half tube of toothpaste that got through the first “security” check will be removed as well—or maybe that was just me.

Trains
No, there are no trains on Roatan, but, there will soon be one that will take you on a tour of the glorious flora and fauna on the Island. Roatan Radio’s own DJ and gardening guru, Helen Murphy, is working on that as you read this.

In Canada, trains have a long history, you could even say, our very existence and evolution was based on them. In recent years (sad to say) rails are being removed and replaced with more highways—I don’t get it. That aside, in my hometown of Waterloo, Ontario (where the Blackberry was born—I know, pretty impressive—eh!) there are still some rails intact, and you can often hear the distinct whistle as one passes through. On one particular evening, my mom and I were enjoying dinner on a restaurant patio, when a train approached (the rail line runs right beside the restaurant.) The train engineer was ready—he blasted the whistle when only a few feet from us. Yah, he got the reaction he was looking for; we all jumped in our seats—I think my poorly timed sip of wine came out my nose. Then he had a water gun ready and shot our waitress in the butt, as she was clearing a table—good clean fun! We could see, and hear him laughing as he guided the train on past!

Automobiles
One of the things I was most looking forward to when visiting Canada was driving fast—I admit it, on the long, straight, stretches of highway. A million years ago in a former life, I drove those highways every day to and from work, it wasn’t uncommon to drive to the office, thirty minutes from my home (on a good day), then from the office, head out to see a customer in another city three hours (on a good day) from there. I got pretty tired of doing that, but, hey, it was part of my job.

Whereas here on Roatan, the entire island is only thirty-five miles long.

Even with keeping in mind; the twists, turns, ups & downs; I’m certainly not doing a three hour commute—and I’m sure as heck not driving fast.

I arrived to the Toronto Airport, and made my way to the rental car area. I had reserved a basic economy car for my two week stay in Ontario, well I got upgraded at no extra charge, and with keys in hand, I headed out to claim the brand new, candy apple red, Ford Focus—I know, doesn’t sound too impressive, but, oh my, they’ve come a long way (according to a friend, these are being raced at the track.) And the most bizarre feature is that I was driving a car that thought it was a computer—really! Not one, but two, touch screen computers booted up when I turned the key in the ignition—oh, oh, where are my reading glasses! Anxious to hit the road, I wasted more than a half hour trying to figure the thing out. Finally, I’m on my way; exit the garage, head for the open road—not! First I have to remember which ramp to take to get to the highway I need to travel, but the choices are extensive—and, damn—now I need my glasses for distance so I can read all the signs!

I made it! I’m now on Highway 401 WEST. Ah, this is what I was looking forward to (it’s Sunday so traffic isn’t too heavy) cruising along a straight stretch of highway; knowing where I am and where I’m going, so I can set aside my two pairs of glasses, and slip on my sunglasses. Three lanes wide in both directions (not including the various exit and entrance ramps) I pass other drivers, and some pass me, I’m listening to music, sipping my half decaf, just milk, Timmy’s (Tim Horton’s coffee, for those of you that aren’t familiar with this Canadian staple.) With at least, an hour of driving ahead of me, I settle in… But, wait, this isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be… it’s pretty boring actually, and I think my backside and legs are going to sleep.

What’s wrong with me? I was looking forward to this moment!

I glanced out the driver’s side window as a fellow roadster passes me in the fast lane—I smile, I wave—my reward—a blank stare, and a quick jerk of their head to face forward again—pretending a stranger didn’t say hello.

That’s what’s wrong—on Roatan driving isn’t just a means to get from point A to point B. It’s like hanging out at the airport; a place to say hi to friends—old and new. Or even to do a little shopping when the fruit & veggie truck is parked next to where you are driving—just lean out the window and buy some oranges, pineapple, perhaps some carrots or a cabbage. Low on phone minutes? No worries, the phone card guy will probably stroll by and you can buy some.

You’ve got time (haha)—you’re probably stuck behind two taxis, facing each other blocking the road–in a standoff, anyway!

This story can also be read at Honduras Weekly.

One Response to “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”

  1. Laurie Hacker 03. Aug, 2011 at 8:02 am #

    Thanks Gen, great story, made me laugh and could picture everything you were saying :)

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