Saturday, April 06, 2013

Expat Living in Roatán, Honduras: The Lucky Ones

The truth is, I never plan these things. They just seem to happen. This time, it happened like this:

On February 4, I received a Facebook notification requesting that I "like" the fanpage for Sophie's Ice Cream. The request came as a bit of a shock.

I've known Sophie for a little over 10 years. The older sister of my soul friend Chloé, our paths have intertwined over the last decade. About five years ago, Sophie moved from Edmonton to Toronto with her boyfriend. When it didn't work out, she took an all-inclusive vacation to the island of Roatán, Honduras--much like many jilted single ladies before her. But here's where it gets crazy; a month later, Sophie decided to move to Honduras. (I know, right? Everyone fantasizes about impulsively leaving their lives behind and moving to a tropical island. But Sophie actually did it.)

So maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised to receive the Facebook invite, but I still had to immediately send her a message:

"Wait a second. . .are you the Sophie of Sophie's Ice Cream?" I wrote.

"I sure am! Surprise!" she wrote back. "I'm opening up an ice cream shop. It should be open in two weeks. Don't you want to visit me now?"

Um, of course I did. But with a number of contracts on the go and tax season upon me, it didn't seem like a possibility.

Later that afternoon, I sat in the window of my favourite Toronto coffee shop working. As I looked out onto Dundas Street's bleak sidewalks, I had the sudden realization that there's no point in being a freelance journalist if I'm not taking advantage of the "freelance" part of my job description. Really, I could be sitting on my laptop anywhere in the world. So why not Honduras?

By February 6, I had booked my flights.

Of course, that was the catch. Since becoming a full-time freelancer two years ago, my travels have been largely limited to work contracts (destination staffing and the Go Global Expos, primarily) and vacations. Honduras would be the first time that I actually relocated my office for a week.


On the plane to Roatán, I frantically transcribed interviews. Surrounded by middle-aged couples wearing straw hats and Tommy Bahama shirts, I was the sole solo traveller on the plane--and definitely the only one in work mode.

The lead-up to my departure had been much of the same. In fact I had been so swamped with work that I barely had time to pack. (I actually almost forgot to pack my passport.)

But it wasn't until I arrived at customs, more than an hour late, that I realized I'd made another error that I typically never overlook; I had no contact information for Sophie. I didn't know her phone number or even what part of the island she lived on. 

But sure enough, as I finally made it through immigration (thankfully they didn't ask where I was going to be staying—because I had no idea), I saw Soph standing and waiting for me, an exhausted-looking little girl in her arms. I was exhausted too. Right away, I knew that we would both be taken care of. 

So with my interviews transcribed and my work emails sent, I let my to-do list slip away for the rest of the day and we went down to the beach for pina colodas. Even if it was going to be a week of work, West End Roatán was going to beat the hell out of cold, dreary Toronto.

That evening, after checking into Sophie's jungle house just up the hill from West End's main strip, I went outside to soak up the day's remaining sunlight. "How did I get to be so lucky to live this life?" I thought.

That night, we went to Buena Vida for music trivia. (Trivia, it seems, is the one thing that universally unites expats, regardless of whether they live in Zambia or Chile.)


Although Sophie's Ice Cream had been scheduled to open before my arrival, Sophie was working on island time. So I wasn't surprised when our week was filled with preparations for opening her business, rather than running it.

My office for the afternoon was oceanside.

Although Sophie and I agreed that Roatán's sunsets still have nothing on Alberta Prairie skies, watching this, with a glass of wine in hand, was the perfect way to end the day.


After working all morning from Sophie's house (uh, as this hammock picture clearly does not exemplify), we headed down the main strip to meet the boys. 

By noon, we had already driven halfway around the island, randomly bought rocking chairs for Sophie's house house off the back of a pickup truck, and picked up the patio tables for Sophie's Ice Cream from the shipping docks. So when Sophie invited me to come with her to a business meeting in West Bay, I figured that work was done for the day and readily agreed.

Best story ever: 

After Sophie's meeting was done, we were wading in the water when this guy approached us. Thinking we were tourists (my pasty white skin may have been a contributing factor), he started calling out to us, lobbying hard to get us to go parasailing.

"I live here," Sophie told him. He didn't believe her and even offered to let us pay for parasailing using "other methods of payment," if you catch my drift. (Gross.) 

"See those two girls in the picture on the sign that you're holding?" Sophie asked, laughing. "That's me and my sister."

Dude was embarrassed. But he posed for this picture, so we'll let it slide.

Since the water wasn't running at Sophie's house (jungle living, 'yo), we showered at the resort (and I took pervy pictures of Soph).

See? I actually did work (as better exemplified by this picture of me working).


On Thursday, I set up my office at Earth Mama's, a smoothie bar and yoga centre. (Which also happens to be owned by my Auntie's Bev's friend from Edmonton, Kim.) 

That night, celebrating a day of work done well, we went to Tong's for dinner, where Sophie also works part-time. 


With Sophie's grand opening only a day away, we spent the morning setting up shop after her sign was delivered and installed.


After a week of preparations the day of Sophie's grand opening had finally arrived! There was only one problem: the ice cream hadn't been delivered.

Make that two problems. After a week of beautiful weather, a storm and cold front rolled in on Saturday morning.

We made the best of it by going for brunch at Earth Mama's while we waited for a batch of homemade vanilla mint ice cream to churn.


That night, we celebrated a week of work well done by staying up much later than 9:30, which had been our bedtime all week long. (There are no subsequent photos of this particular event for very good reason.)


Want to know the best way to defeat a hangover?


Add a couple of pina colodas and you're set. 

I miss this girl. And I miss this place.
"What's it been like for you, having me here, and watching me work in on North American time?" I asked Sophie.

"I don't miss it," she told me, smiling.

As I write this now, a month later, I'm staring out onto the bleak Dundas streetscape. The truth is, as much as I admire Sophie, I don't think that I'm meant for island life.  

However, I am meant for the freelance life.

How did I ever get to be so lucky?


  1. I am so envious of your life. Great post Jess!

  2. I simply want to tell you that I am new to web blog and definitely liked this blog site. Very likely I am going to bookmark your blog. You absolutely have wonderful story. Cheers for sharing with us your blog.

  3. Ohhlalalah, i love your pics and description. I don't know much about Honduras but having drooled over your pics and soaked in your words this country is definitely on my radar now. Graciasatis.

  4. Taking advantage of the "freelance" aspect I see ;-)


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