One of the paradoxes of cruising is that while the ships visit beautiful islands, their very presence can detract from what makes the islands beautiful in the first place. Each day we were in Nassau, for instance, there were 5 ships in port, with total passengers of more than 18,000! The entire island of Roatan, Honduras has a population of 50,000. And when there are 3 ships in port, that can add another 8-12,000 people just to the area around the port. Many of those people buy stuff, which is great for the economy, but it can make it hard to enjoy being there.
It’s getting to the point where if you’ve seen one port you’ve seen them all. We joke about it here in the states – every strip mall has a Subway, a dry cleaner, a nail salon and either a CVS or Walgreen’s. Throw in a Chinese restaurant or pizza joint and they are the same everywhere. On cruises – in the event that you have money left over after all the spending opportunities on the ship – you get a “Port & Shopping Map” for every port, which directs you to the so-called “ship recommended” places to buy diamonds, tanzanite (which I think was invented for the cruise passenger!), fancy watches, color changing t-shirts and tote bags, booze, chocolates and on and on. But enough – I want to talk about something fun.
Kathy & I make a point of seeking out places in each port that are off the beaten path, locally-owned & operated and provide a flavor for the place itself. Sometimes it is a nice local restaurant, a beach or just a tour. Where we can, we like to find shops selling things that we are happy to bring home. We found such a place on Roatan, Honduras.
Roatan Island Art is a small craft shop located on the “main drag” of Roatan, about 200 yards from the cruise terminal. I found it on Google Maps and am glad I did, because it isn’t listed on the “Port and Shopping Map.” But it should be! Yeah, you have to walk past all of the “ship recommended” shops and actually leave the port area. Once you say “no, thank you!” to 300 taxi drivers wanting to take you on an island tour, you get to a part of the street with a number of restaurants and the straw market. Directly across the street from the straw market in a colorful and whimsically designed shop is Island Art.
Everything in the store is sourced and hand-crafted by Yourgin Levy, his wife and sons. Yourgin is a native Honduran and is intimately familiar with the indigenous wood, stone, shells and other materials he uses in his work. He speaks passionately about his island, his crafts and his family, and told us that he got his start selling his jewelry on the beach. With encouragement from his wife, family and others he worked hard to get a storefront to sell his goods. The items in the shop and the shop itself reflect the passion he has for his work and his island.
I was especially impressed by the different kinds of wood that Yourgin uses in his work. I don’t remember all the names now, but cedar, mahogany and rosewood were common. These woods are not easy to work with, even with power tools! And the results are just beautiful, with Yourgin’s passion for Roatan showing in each piece, and especially in his descriptions when he tells you about them.
Kathy and I ended up buying a couple small items, a sea jade necklace and a wood wall hanging, mostly because it was the first stop on our cruise and we didn’t want to chance running out of room in our luggage or breaking something on the way home. On a future cruise which stops in Roatan I would definitely plan on buying something larger, like one of the beautiful hand-carved sailboats, a cutting board or serving tray.
Whatever you choose to do on Roatan – and you should do something because it is beautiful – have your driver drop you off at Roatan Island Art. Or just walk there from the ship. And when you get there, take the time to talk with Yourgin and experience the passion and love he has for the island of Roatan and for Honduras. I’ve written this because in my own heart I feel strongly that this man and his shop deserve the publicity. Go there!