Thursday, November 27, 2014

An Ode to Rainy Season


Nope, not Christmas. Christmas as I used to know it barely exists for me anymore - there is no tree, no family and presents on Christmas morning, no hot chocolate and skating and snowmen. Christmas is just another day that I take people out diving (and I am totally okay with that). So, while that song might evoke images of Christmas in your mind, the most wonderful time of year on Roatan for me is rainy season.

I will take a moment here to be grateful that we have rainy season, not monsoon season like some other places. It does rain a lot, but not in catastrophic ways and we still get quite a few sunny days interspersed in there. Rainy season on Roatan also only lasts 3 months (compared to my Saskatchewan winters in Canada which can be up to 8 months of the year with snow and freezing temperatures).

We do feel terrible when tourists are here and have saved up all year to take their vacation and end up in the rain (although we would like to introduce you guys to a thing called Google, cause the yearly weather patterns here are no secret and you should probably look that kind of stuff up before you spend thousands of dollars on a vacation), most people who live here love rainy season!

Oh, rainy season, I love you so. Let me count the ways:

After 8 months of nearly dying from heatstroke every day, the cooler temperatures are more than welcome.

Even people who swear they love the heat need a respite sometimes from the intensely hot tropical weather we get here. I actually don't love the heat, which is why I try to spend the hot part of the daytime here underwater. I also leave during the hottest two months of the year (August and September) and head back to Canada because I literally cannot take the weather here during that time. So once November rolls around and it starts to rain and the temperature drops to a 'chilly' +25C/77F... I do my happy dance because I can sit at home and type a blog post like this without sweating to death. And sometimes I even get to wear pants. PANTS, people. It's exciting. Also, being able to drink hot tea and cook hot food? So lovely.

Rainy season = slow season.

Now, slow season sucks for reasons such as no one is making any money. But it's also a time for the people who live here to get to enjoy their island and all it has to offer without hordes of cruise shippers crawling all over everything. Prices are also cheaper in low season.

There is a totally legitimate excuse for sitting in your house and watching Netflix for 6 days straight.

No one likes going out when it's pouring (I feel like that's kind of a universal truth). So sometimes we do nothing but sit at home, read, check Facebook every 3 minutes and watch all the hundreds of movies we've all somehow accumulated from the DVD guy... and no one judges.

Less bug bites!

While there are actually more bugs around in rainy season, since you have pants on and are normally not sitting outside at the beach, you get bit less.

Cleaner ants AKA army ants AKA the best/worst thing ever.

These are huge black ants that descend on your home by the thousands all at once. It's super creepy to watch - they pour in around door and window frames, up through cracks in the floor, under the door. The first time they invaded my house I had a complete meltdown because Raid doesn't kill them and no matter how hard I swept them out, more kept coming back in waves. They were in my bed, in my dishes, everywhere! Finally I called an islander friend and managed to shriek out my problem to him, and he (bless his heart) told me to go outside and stand in the street for 5 minutes. Five minutes later he was there, put me on the back of his motorcycle and took me out for a beer. He told me the ants come in and clean your house and then leave in a couple hours. There is nothing to do but wait it out. They bite though, and hard, so if you ever see them go have a beer somewhere else while you wait. Two hours later, I returned to a spotless home - the ants eat EVERYTHING, like crumbs, spiders, other ants, flying bugs, cockroaches (!!), anything they can find. I didn't have to sweep for days! They always seem to come before a rain, and when I see my floor is full of crumbs I always wish for an invasion of ants to come clean it up.

Rain doesn't stop a dive.

High wind might get a dive canceled, but rain? Nope! I have people ask me all the time if you can still dive in the rain. Uh, you know you're going to get wet anyway right?

It's finally quiet.

I think my favorite part of rainy season is that I can actually sleep, enjoy Skype calls, read or watch a movie/TV peacefully or write without distraction. When it's not raining, my neighborhood is an absolute circus. Dogs yelping and howling for hours on end, gangs of tiny kids sent outside to run around and scream all day because their parents don't want to watch them, teenage boys running their no-muffler ATVs up and down the road as fast as they can, neighborhood basketball games outside my bedroom window with boys yelling obscenities you've never even heard of before, roosters crowing at all the wrong hours... the list goes on. (We won't get started on the guy who lives behind me with 4ft tall speakers outside who thinks everyone in a 1-mile radius wants to listen to him blasting reggaeton at 7:30am.) If you were picturing me living in a serene beachside condo, think again. So I love the rain because everyone is inside and I can get a little peace and quiet. It's such a treat once in awhile and I am always trying to savor it, because I know as soon as the rain stops everyone will come out to play again.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start exercising because I can't use the "it's too hot" excuse anymore. So there's that.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Roatan Month 27 Roundup

It never ceases to amaze me how the monthly number just keeps growing and growing! 27 months on this island and counting...

I have been thinking for a few days what I was going to put in this little 'pre-roundup news' part that I usually do, but I can't come up with much. No news is good news I guess? I am feeling much better after my bout with dengue - thank you to all my readers and family & friends who were checking in on me! I'm ready to get diving again and cheeseburgers no longer make me gag, so I guess things are back to normal.

Well, that's the news! Shall we get on to the roundup? (You can see all the past roundups here.)

1. Gratuitous diving photo:

Well ladies and gentlemen, it's finally happened. I am completely out of diving photos and videos. I've been out of the water for almost six weeks, so this isn't a huge surprise. Here is a photo of a lovely evening at Half Moon Bay instead (that's sheets of rain on the right... which poured down on us shortly after this picture was taken):

2. Posts from the last month:

 3. Best thing I've found on the internet this month:

I am super in love with my recent discovery of Nettle's Tale Swimwear. Based out of one of my fave places to live, Vancouver BC, they have changed the game for women's swimwear.

Nettle's Tale Swimwear Inc. creates locally made, thoughtfully designed swimsuits for women from all walks of life. 20-somethings, 50-somethings, students or seniors, lean or athletic, pear-shaped or hourglass, petite or name it, we'll design a suit for it.

In our lookbook, you won't see airbrushed models. You'll see women who look like your friends. 
Our designs grow out of local stories. Each swimsuit is modelled by and named after the woman who inspired its design. As you shop, you can read a profile about each of these uniquely beautiful women. Connect with who she is and what makes her body unique. Every time her suit design is sold, 10% of the profits will go to a charitable cause she's passionate about.

If that's not just the best, I don't know what is. Check out their shop here. I am head over heels in love with the Britney Set... but what I'd love to get is a Rika Set! Next time I'm in Vancouver I will be looking these ladies up.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me try to justify buying a expensive high-quality swimsuit cause it's my work uniform, you guys. So there's that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

{GIVEAWAY} The Dayplanner to End All Dayplanners

Last year I won my first giveaway ever - I was the lucky recipient of a personalized dayplanner from Personal Planner in a contest hosted by the lovely Andi. When I posted about how much I loved my new planner, the company contacted me and offered a giveaway for my readers too! My friend Lise won and she loooooved hers just as much as I did.

Fast forward to this fall... it's 2015 dayplanner time! Take a look at my 2014 planner, then at my 2015 planner below and then make sure to check out the bottom of the post - I have a discount code AND a giveaway AND a contest to win a $600 airline gift card for you guys from the awesome people at Personal Planner.

All about creating my planner: what I love about Personal Planner is that it's even easier the second time around. When I started designing my 2015 planner, I simply signed into my account from last year and all my birthdays and anniversaries that I had added were already there, ready to be printed into my 2015 planner. I added a few more and set off to personalize! You get to choose SO many things, from the size of the planner to the weekly/day layout, to colors, headers, and more.

I chose new (less narcissistic?) photos for my 2015 planner covers. The front is my favorite thing in the world: SUSHI!

The back cover is a shot I took at West Bay Beach here on Roatan. I couldn't stray too far from my underwater theme.

Inside I went with a similar welcome page to last year's:

And I was happy to see a few more options for customizing the bottom of the pages - love that they added a 'This Week's Dinners' box! - and for keeping track of work hours and exercise on a daily basis. Hopefully I'll be using those two a lot!

My favorite part is always deciding what to put in the last 16 pages. I went with world maps, 2016/2017 overview and basic lined note pages:

I'm really pleased with the way this came out and am already itching for December 22 to get here so I can start using it. I am a total stationary/office stuff/organization nerd so yes, I get excited about using a new planner.

I have to say a special thanks to my girl Sarah for doing the 'bring Rika's planner to Roatan for her' duties this year (Amanda took care of it last year for me), and to Lisa at Personal Planner who was probably the most helpful person on the planet when the first planner they sent out got lost in the mail.

Congratulations to Jill on winning a free planner!
Thank you to all who entered, I loved your stories and your under-the-sea jokes. Check back next year to see what's happening for 2016 planners!
For those of you who order, win, or already have a planner, Personal Planner is also sponsoring an Instagram contest for a $600 American Airlines gift card. Just upload a pic of your planner and tag with #personalplanner - contest closes December 1st, 2014.

Many thanks to Personal Planner for hosting the giveaway and discount code. Lisa is the coolest customer service rep ever - after I bought my 2015 planner and contacted her to ask if they'd be interested in collaborating on a giveaway again, she generously gave me a credit for my 2016 planner and granted my request of a giveaway and a discount code (so everybody wins!). Awesome.

You can connect with Personal Planner on their website, Facebook, and Instagram!

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start planning ALL the dinners in those cute little boxes. So there's that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

This Island is Trying to Kill Me (Or: That Time I Got Dengue)

This is not the first time Roatan has tried to kill me.

There was the entire first year that I was here and had allergic reactions to the sandflies and mosquitoes, had several staph infections in the bites on my legs and earned the somewhat unsavory local nickname of 'Sore Legs' from the islanders....

There was the time I fell down a concrete ramp...

There's been a few more I haven't mentioned due to legal issues and/or my mom's sanity.

But this one has been the worst. You guys, I got dengue.

Dengue fever is one of those shitty tropical diseases that you can get in (surprise) tropical countries. It's transmitted through mosquitoes, so I guess I should really just be happy I made it well over two years before getting it.

Here is the list of symptoms that I have officially compiled from all of the internets:
  • sudden onset of high fever/chills
  • joint and muscle pain (dengue is often called 'breakbone fever' due to the pain)
  • headache 
  • pain behind the eyes and when moving eyes
  • nausea/vomiting
  • rash
So all really super cute stuff. After you get bit by an infected mosquito, in 4-10 days you will start to show symptoms. Usually it passes in a week if you don't have complications (like it turning into dengue hemorrhagic fever which to me kind of sounds like Ebola and I'm pretty sure you die). But it's the worst week ever. And you get all kinds of residual goodies to deal with, like being weak and having no energy for months.

I woke up one day with what I'll call just a 'touch' of a hangover... no big deal, I sat on the couch and begged a friend to bring me some soup. After I ate, I was watching TV and felt better by the afternoon. Around 5pm I stood up to make dinner and BAM! My knees gave out and I fell back on the couch and immediately started sweating. Now, sweating is not normally a cause for alarm here since I do it pretty much constantly, but I could actually feel the fever starting and rising, all out of nowhere. I figured I hadn't done a good job of killing the hangover so popped two extra strength Tylenol and went to bed.

Four hours later I woke up, teeth chattering and delirious. I fumbled around in the dark for some towels and sarongs to get under (I don't own a blanket!) and put on basically everything I owned and tried to go back to sleep. I knew I was sick with something, I just didn't know what it was yet.

The next few days were an awful blur of Googling symptoms, whimpering pitifully to myself while contemplating shooting off whatever body part was having a painful moment, ginger pills to help with the nausea, and alternately wearing everything and throwing everything off. I've had a few episodes of fever here on Roatan but nothing like this. It seemed never ending. I realized I was really ill when after 3 days I hadn't eaten anything. ANYTHING. For someone who normally eats 8-10 times a day and can put big football players to shame at the dinner table, this was really disconcerting to me. Also the fact that nothing sounded appealing - every time I saw a restaurant commercial on TV or thought about a cheeseburger I would start to gag. For someone whose world revolves around food, this was a very sad time.

I had zero energy and even had to crawl from my bed to the bathroom for two days. I had to give myself full-on pep talks to get out of bed to get water, and I had to do it with my eyes closed or with sunglasses on because the pain in my eyes was unbearable. If I closed them and put my fingers on my eyelids, I could feel that my eyes were swollen and protruding. It was sexy. I also got terrible dizziness and looked like I was drunk because I couldn't walk straight. If I bent over or got my head underneath my heart somehow, I got vertigo so bad I would black out. It was not a nice time to be living alone with most of your friends off the island visiting their respective homes.

Here's the best part about dengue - there's absolutely nothing you can do for it! Just take Tylenol (acetaminophen) to try to keep the fever down, rest and drink plenty of liquids. And lay around being the most miserable human ever.

My friends who had already had dengue told me I had to wait until the fever was at least on day 5 before I could go to the clinic and get the test done. I finally made it to day 5 and went off wobbling to the clinic. The doctor examined me and said, "yep, dengue" and sent the bloodwork for testing. It came back positive, and thus was the first time I've ever Googled my symptoms, thought I had something terrible and was actually right!

I went home and thankfully my fever started to go down, although I had some interesting new symptoms such as a disgusting red and white rash all over my stomach, chest and tops of my legs, which is apparently a hallmark sign of dengue:

Also the itchiest palms of hands and soles of feet ever. This was soooo uncomfortable and I woke up one night having rubbed my hands raw. I got hungry again but everything I ate made me sick. (Had some serious empathy for pregnant ladies after all this nausea.) I had a day where I threw up everything I ate, but after further investigation that might have been due to chicken salad gone off rather than the dengue. I'll give that one the benefit of the doubt. I was desperate to get some relief from the dengue symptoms so I drank some 'bush medicine'... so whatever this thing below is... and it seemed to help:

Finally after 9-10 days the symptoms all subsided and I felt normal again, although my energy was seriously sapped and any little bit of physical activity left me exhausted. I still can't dive for a few more weeks and I am trying to take it really, really easy on my body so that it can heal properly. I've heard of people who went out on drinking binges or started exercising again too soon after dengue and their symptoms all came back, and I am not interested in finding out if that will happen to me!

If you get dengue: you really do need to go to the doctor. Even though there is no treatment for dengue (just taking acetaminophen to try to keep the fever down) your doctor will need to keep an eye on your platelet levels in your blood. If they dip too low, you'll need to be treated at a hospital ASAP. It can be really dangerous to let them get too low, so make sure you get your blood work done. I was lucky that mine stayed in the normal levels throughout the time I was sick, but the doctor was very surprised about this so I guess that isn't normal.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me wear bug spray more, because subsequent dengue infections are apparently way worse than the first time. So there's that.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bucket List Destination: Portugal

Many of my favorite travel bloggers have raved about traveling through Portugal. The culture, the food, the gorgeous coastline – Portugal is a country that has something for everyone.

Even scuba diving! (I had to check into that, of course. Looks chilly but interesting!)

Portugal has been on my bucket list for a very long time for one huge reason: my grandparents spend the winter months there every year and have been doing so for over a decade. I would love to be able to go over there and see them while they are on their escape from Canadian winter!

Their descriptions over the years about their time in Albufeira has always captivated me – the stories of the kind locals, fresh seafood dishes bursting with flavor, leisurely people-watching over delicious coffee, historical buildings and charming coastline walks have had me sold on Portugal as a travel destination for a very long time. Since then, I’ve become more connected in the travel blogger community and have read about experiences with surfing amazing breaks in the Algarve and chill backpacker beach vibes in Lagos that have made me eager to head over and explore all that Portugal has to offer.

On my dream Portugal itinerary:


The Algarve is a region on Portugal’s southern coast with many towns to visit, but Albufeira is the biggest holiday hotspot in the Algarve. I would definitely be spending some time in Albufeira with my grandparents to experience ‘their’ Portugal. There are miles of beaches, nightclubs to dance the evening away, and restaurants with fresh fish caught that day. While I would take time to enjoy a relaxed morning coffee with my grandparents at a seaside cafe, I would make sure to get in a day trip to the Western Algarve for a surf trip. Many of the surf spots in Portugal are perfect for beginners and are reachable in a day trip from Albufeira.


After visiting my grandparents in Albufeira, I’d make my way west to the stunning Lagos area. An ancient maritime town with a colorful history, Lagos now boasts cobbled streets and beautiful beaches like Meia Praia (Half Beach), and is famous for its moscatel wine and a strong spirit called aguardente de medronho, which they call ‘fire water’. There is a lot of history in Lagos, so before getting into the moscatel I would spend a day checking out the city’s 17th century fortifications and the 15th century slave market. On the food agenda would be trying the local specialties of salted cod and grilled sardines, washed down with local almond liqueur.


After exploring the Algarve, I would head over to the Madeira region. Funchal is the capital city and has both old and new world offerings for tourists. There is modern shopping right next door to old traditional restaurants. I would take the cable car that goes up and over the city to get a birds-eye view of the entire coastal city… and keep my eyes peeled, in case the extremely good-looking (Funchal-born) football star Cristiano Ronaldo was in town! Madeira is known for being a lush and verdant area of Portugal and Funchal is no exception. I would be taking plenty of photos of the outdoor garden areas with the beautiful backdrop of mountains and the ocean. Restaurants range from posh high-end modern to small, family-run local restaurants with a ton of history. I would try the local specialty of espada com banana, which is scabbard fish with banana, fresh salad and potatoes. Then I’d take an after-dinner rest to get ready for going out - with nightlife beginning well after midnight for those ‘in the know’,  Funchal would be my kind of party town.

There are so many other regions of Portugal to explore – the Algarve and Madeira are only two! When I go to Portugal I feel like I will need at least a few weeks to see everything that I want to see… or I could do like my grandparents do and spend the winters there (they are smart people). While my grandparents have their travel arrangements down pat after so many years of doing the same trip, I would use First Choice for my holiday in Portugal since I am less experienced and could use a little help.

This post is brought to you in collaboration with First Choice.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me finally plan a trip to see my grandparents. So there's that.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Two Years as a Scuba Diving Instructor in Paradise

You guys. I've been a dive instructor for two years today. TWO YEARS. What the hell!? Where has all this time gone? I feel like I was just writing about how I wasn't sure I'd even get my other courses done in time to do my instructor course. And now I've been teaching people how to dive for two effin years already!

the first day of my instructor course in october 2012... so happy that i am still in touch with all my fellow candidates!
I have written a few posts about being a dive instructor. I even was interviewed by PADI about trading my cubicle for an underwater office. But I haven't written all that I could about it... mostly because I still find it tough to put into words how I really feel about my job.

I don't think I will ever forget the first day after finishing my instructor course when I led a dive for certified divers and did a Discover Scuba Diving experience (sort of a 'try-dive' half-day thing). The certified divers had no idea it was my first 'real' dive lead. I blustered through a dive briefing and spent the entire dive frantically searching for creatures because I felt like I couldn't find enough cool stuff to show the divers, and I kept going too fast and had to keep reminding myself to slow down. When we came back, all the divers thanked me and had a good time, but I felt like I hadn't done a good job and then the boat captain told me I had done the sites in the wrong order... I made a hasty retreat to the bathroom with my cheeks burning with shame and had to will myself not to cry. The DSD went better but the instructor supervising me made some suggestions (which were valid), and I felt like I had made a horrible mistake in coming to Roatan and that I was going to be a terrible instructor.

Obviously things have changed since then :) It was easy to forget that your first week at any job always sucks and you feel like you're incompetent, no matter what the job is.  I now lead already certified divers with confidence and ease, and have certified nearly 100 new divers. I see new instructors on their first dive lead or certification and am now the instructor offering suggestions! One of the best things about my job is how dynamic it is, and I still take suggestions from much more experienced instructors and incorporate different styles and tricks that I see them using. My teaching style is always evolving as I find what works and what doesn't. I learn something new every day, whether it's new knots for tying the boats out or a new cave system at a dive site.

You can see me teaching at the beginning of this video:

(I'm just doing a refresher with a certified diver, so all you crazies about to jump down my throat for not wearing a snorkel can sit back down.) Also, it's super weird for me to watch this.... I've seen lots of videos of me diving so I know what I look like doing that, but I had no idea what I looked like teaching!

Teaching people how to scuba dive is such a strange thing when you think about it. Like, you read a book and someone shows you how some equipment works and then you GO UNDERWATER AND BREATHE. It's super weird. I have to remind people all the time that it's totally normal to be nervous and feel a bit out of place underwater... that's your brain working properly! Humans aren't designed to be 60 feet underwater breathing and swimming around for an hour.... but I am sure happy that we can.

I find it really, really difficult to get across to you all through writing what my job is like. I wish I was a better writer. Some days it is the most frustrating job in the world. Sometimes I take people on dives and no matter how many rare macro creatures I find, or crazy awesome swimthroughs I take them through, they complain about everything and I can't seem to make them happy. Sometimes I feel like asking my students how they manage to get up every day and feed and clothe themselves when they can't do something basic like clearing their snorkel. But some days it is the best fucking job in the world. Sometimes I feel like a queen who's conquered the world when I find divers their favorite fish, or when I take them through a shipwreck and they say it's the best dive of their life. Sometimes I squeal with happiness and joy when my students nail a skill they are struggling with, or when I take them on their first open water dive and I see their eyes get huge as they get their first glimpse of the coral reef during descent. It's feeling that sense of accomplishment when I certify a diver and they are awesome right away. It's an even better feeling when they fight for it - not everyone is a natural diver, but the tenacious ones who don't give up on themselves make me the proudest. I will never have kids, but I have created many baby divers and I love seeing them progress and improve. I won't forget any of them. They probably don't know it, but each of them have taught me something too, whether it's a new way to explain a skill to someone who isn't understanding the way I'm doing it, or to slow my pacing, or to give them more space to figure things out themselves. My students and my divers help me to become better at my job every day.

taught my best friend to dive, this was a blast!
And sometimes, just sometimes, my job is a little bit selfish and it's about me. It's about me finding my favorite fish (it's a queen triggerfish, in case you were wondering), it's about me nailing my buoyancy through a tight swimthrough where two years ago I was hitting the sides, it's about finding the boat on a night dive at a shitty confusing site...which is the most glorious feeling in the world, FYI. It's about those times where you get really good divers and your job is actually fun and doesn't feel like work, instead the times where you have to turn around every 30 seconds to make sure no one is about to do something stupid and die. It's about being able to say YES YES YES when my divers happen to be guests on a megayacht and they ask me to get on board and finish their trip with them through the Caribbean. It's about getting to tell people (juuuuust a tad smugly) who ask, "I'm a scuba diving instructor on a tropical island". That's not something I ever thought I would be saying in my life. But it feels pretty fucking great to say it.

I didn't jump into this life lightly, although I know it may have seemed like it to other people. But I planned for months, and scrimped and saved. I worked two full time jobs for 6 months to save enough money to do this. If you read back in the archives on this blog, you can see all of this in early 2012. I always said that if I went down to Roatan and become an instructor for even six months, all the planning and work will be worth it. I have such a hard time believing how far past six months I've gone with this. I never planned to still be here well over two years later, but I'm pretty damn happy that I am. No matter what happens going forward, for the rest of my life I will always be able to remember that time where I said fuck you to the corporate grind and became a dive instructor in the Caribbean for a few years. If I make it another year I will be 30 years old and this will be the longest-running job I'll have ever had in my life. Not sure if that's a good thing or not, but I think it says a lot.

Cheers to you all for following along with me on this incredible journey! Let's see where my "Three Years as a Scuba Diving Instructor in Paradise" post comes to you from next year.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me keep on blowing bubbles. So there's that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Tourist Visa Procedures on Roatan

I had mentioned the new-ish Honduran visa procedures in a previous post, but I am getting asked a lot of questions from readers planning to visit, move to, invest in, or retire to Roatan.

Let me first be VERY CLEAR that I am not an expert, a lawyer or any other kind of official. I am simply someone 'on the ground' who has been through the procedures and has seen how it has been working since it's been put in place (late August 2014). I am also not making any sort of statement of what I personally have been doing one way or the other, this post is for informational purposes only. You should consult a Honduran immigration lawyer for advice.

So - here are the changes.

Previously: when you entered Honduras as a tourist you were granted a 90-day tourist visa. While on the record you should have had to leave the country every 90 days for at least 72 hours before re-entering and (maybe) being granted a new 90-day visa, it has been a common practice for years to pay immigration officials around $100 for an extension every 90 days. With residencies and work permits costing $1800-$3000 USD and taking up to a year to complete, they simply were/are not viable options for most tourists wanting to stay longer term on Roatan. (I am not here to debate the legality or ethics of visa or immigration procedures so do not comment on this post or email me if you want to argue about it.) 

Now: the government has implemented fingerprint scanners at airports and some land border crossings and your fingerprints will be scanned at entry and exit. Apparently the info will be shared with the US Department of Homeland Security, which the US expats are in an uproar about but I'm not exactly sure why. Anyway, visa 'extensions' from within the country are no longer permitted and you must leave Honduras for at least 72 hours before re-entering to get a new visa. Overstaying your visa comes with some hefty fines... there is no 'official' number anywhere but I have heard of people 1-5 days over being charged around $160 and up.


Short story: tourists (I'm using that as a general term for those people without residency) are now going to have to do visa runs. You need to stay out of the country for 72 hours every 90 days.

Reality: people are already leaving because of this, especially in the dive instructor community. With wages as low as they are, frequent visa runs or residency applications are out of reach for a lot of people who would like to stay here long term.

With Roatan being an island that's not exactly cheap to get in and out of, the cost of doing visa runs every three months ($400-$600) to neighboring countries like Belize or Guatemala will end up being about the same in a year as a residency or work permit ($1800-$3000). Catch: you still have to do visa runs while residency paperwork is in progress, and there's no guarantee that the government will grant your residency. There is also a ton of paperwork to do for a residency application, and citizens of some countries like Canada are not able to obtain some of the documentation abroad - they will need to factor in the cost of a trip home to get certain documents for the residency application.

I am sure those who are familiar with SE Asia visa runs are feeling very little sympathy, but remember this is a new thing for Roatan. There are no 'visa run' companies set up who take care of all the documentation for you and arrange transportation (although that could be a new niche market here I guess!), and Honduran visa rules state that you need to stay out of the country for at least 72 hours before re-entering... it's not a matter of touching down in another country, getting a stamp and turning around and going back. There are going to be flight costs as well as accommodation & food for 4 days, so it's not a quick cheap trip.

Hopefully Honduras will come up with some sort of extension program again or a realistically-priced work permit that people can apply for. Everyone I know here would prefer to work legally and not have to do visa runs, but when you make $5-$30 a day you're not going to pay $2500 and wait a year for a work permit, especially the current ones that tie you to one employer (if you change jobs, it's another $2500 work permit application) - that's just ridiculous, which is why hardly anyone does it. It would benefit the government to create an easier and cheaper process, so I hope they figure that out before more people leave and dive centers, restaurants and hotels start folding.

I'm still not sure how this will all play out - as with most things in Honduras, you kind of have to sit back when a change happens and take a 'wait and see' approach. I already have questions that no one seems to be able to answer... like how I just entered the country and was fingerprinted at the Roatan airport, so I am in the system as entering the country... but if I leave through Utila and then come back in through Utila, a neighboring island that hasn't received fingerprint scanners yet, I won't be on the record in the system as leaving. So we'll see, but for right now those planning to travel to Honduras for longer than 90 days should be sure to budget for visa runs when planning their trip.

Guys, make sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter ... there's lots of extras posted there that don't make it onto the blog. I also have Google+ if anyone even uses that? And I'm on Bloglovin', so you can follow me there too! Plus it makes me start pinching pennies for a Belize trip pretty soon. So there's that.