By Roger Bjoroy-Karlsen

Roatan, Honduras is a great place to live but there’s quite a different and fascinating culture for a lot of us coming from other parts of the world.

The Island of Roatan is part of Honduras and one could claim it is a part of the Third World in many ways. Because if you take the opportunity to look behind the tourist scenario of white beaches and hotels, the umbrella drinks that are enjoyed after a good dinner at restaurants at sunset, many of the Hondurans here live in sparse accommodations not far from hand to mouth. Small wooden huts with tin roofs cover the hills around the capital of Coxen Hole and spread out over the rest of the landscape. Since the year 2000, the population has more than quadrupled and in 2021 the population passed 100,000 on Roatan. It is difficult to get an exact population count because the archipelago that makes up the Bay Islands is a part of Honduras and therefore a part of the country’s census. But also because there is no border control between mainland Honduras and Roatan and the population can move freely. 

Many a poor person, has decided to try their luck at happiness. Making the  move from the mainland to Roatan, believing that the tourist industry will be the answer to their prayers. The vast majority do not speak English and struggle to find their place in an industry that by majority caters to English speaking tourists and therefore requires it. Through the years many of them have found and squatted on a piece of land and built a shack that they later develop to a simply structured house. These buildings are most often surrounded by all sorts of debris and waste that can come to be useful or nice to have one day. Too many make no attempt to take care of their environment. Waste water and sewer often goes straight into open streams and runoffs along rubbish that has been discarded. They can also usually not afford more than the electricity for a bare light bulb that hangs down from the ceiling giving the family light from sundown as it is pitch black way before seven p.m. most of them will cook on a gas burner, and those who can not afford that commodity, will light a “campfire” to cook over. 

Still, there are many families who have a good life with what most of us from a western country would classify as a sparingly but decent standard. The span and diversity within the island’s population are hard to comprehend. 

We who come from industrialized countries tend to think that because people live under these conditions it will create a hostile environment for us to fear. That these poor people will steal our money and belongings if we have contact with them. But that has not been the case for us nor does it seem to be so for others. Most of the island’s population are genuinely  nice, preferring to have honest work for their income. Although here as in most other places in the world you will run into a beggar from time to time.

The experiences one gets when living on Roatan are very much up to oneself. There are many who move here because they just want to enjoy the sun, warmth and nightlife. Steering clear of the local people, their culture the best they can, making no attempt to learn Spanish. And this is definitely a possibility if you choose it. There is no one who says that living here as an expat should be done in one way or the other.

But our approach has always been to interact with and get to know the locals. By getting to know them and their culture we are slowly getting introduced to their community. Eventually we hope to speak Spanish, being able to have conversations, learning a little day by day. We often stop and shop from the local “pulperias” (small grocery stores), buy fresh chili from the little girl who stands clinging to a bag of it along the road. She is not quite sure how much she should charge for it. But her parents are probably happy that she did the job. We save our aluminum cans for which we deliver to a disabled man who in turn smashes it and sells them to make a living. All of these things contribute to enhance  our experience of living here. We have necessary maintenance work done by well-qualified people from the local community. In this way, we create trust and thus increase our personal security.


Traffic here is a story in itself. The roads are getting better, but it was not that many years ago the only way to get around the island was by boat.  Quite often only a canoe. They also had small tracks and trails for which the children would cross the ridge that goes along the center of the island from east to west, to get to school. In the past twenty or so years, dirt roads have emerged, as the car and motorbike park grew. Today, more and more of these routes are being covered with concrete as the island makes a push into the twenty-first century. There is an ever increasing number of cars with a variety of roadworthiness, I would say the most important thing not to have when driving here is high blood pressure and a short tempe, as you are sure to loose it due to the creative driving done by many locals. There is hardly a stop sign, or a sign that shows speed limits to tell the truth. They are in the midst of building a roundabout, the first on the island but the locals still treat it as an intersection except for the ones who take the shortcuts the wrong way around the roundabout.  Because no one has told them what rules apply, and to be honest many of them have never taken driving lessons or gotten a licence.

And if a taxi or  bus needs to stop for passengers to get on or off, they stop right there in the middle of the road, no pulling to the side or driving onto the shoulder so the passengers can get out safely. And even so the passengers will take their sweet time, finishing a conversation with the driver or whom else they were talking to before the vehicle stopped. With no thought to the rest of the traffic being held up by them stopping. Oh yes they do have their hazard lights blinking when they stop, but so they do all the time while driving also. So hasardlight as such does not signal anything that you or I would recognise from Europe or the US. I have tried to use deduction and reasoning to understand this behavior, and now believe that  driving to the side on the old dearth roads, with extremely soft to no shoulder, especially in the rainy season, meant that the car would slip of the road and down the steep banks into a mud hole and maybe disappeared for good.

I choose to take it slow and easy when driving in Roatan traffic. Waiting for the passengers to get into or out of their means of transportation. Instead of taking risksy by passes and overtakings. Releasing that people will be coming from the right and left into the traffic by foot, bike or on one of the gazillion mopeds. I have done my best to give up my desire to stand on the horn and curse at the people who slip out in front of me or just walk out in front of the car. That would only cause me to get an ulcer. Although, I do at times mutter under my breath and let Angela know what I think of it at times. 


In Honduras and therefore also on Roatan it is not legal for two grown  men to ride one motorcycle. Women and or  children under the age of 12, on the other hand, are fine to have as co riders.

Why you might ask? Well, because this law has been passed in an attempt to prevent robberies that were being carried out by two men on motorcycles. Hardly a Honduran phenomenon, because it can happen over most of the world. But because it was a growing problem, as the tourist industry also grew then especially the Cruise Ship tourists, with their cameras, and bags as easy pickings where they flock in groups down and on narrow streets, taken back by all they see, and not being vigilante to their surroundings.  

So if two men are caught riding on the same motorcycle, the Police confiscate the bike immediately, no explanations accepted.  After 45 days, you can opt to pay a fine of 12,000 Honduran Lempira (HNL) and get the bike and the certificate back. 12,000 HNL amounts to approximately 4,500 Norwegian kroner. But for a Honduran working on Roatan, this amount is quite astonomicall. Given that for many of them 2,500 HNL is a full week’s wages. So what usually happens is also because of the 45 day wait period, the people will have to quit the much-needed job because they have no means of transportation, which again ensures they can not afford to pay the fine and thus lose the opportunity to transport to the workplace, enabling them to work in the future also. Which has resulted in the National police headquarters on Roatan having approximately 300 plus motorcycles stored on their ground, pending being bought out. Something that is not likely to happen.


After almost 40 years in the Armed Forces, my sense of time or better said being on time, is hardwired. When you start officer training, the individual is told that time is time. If you are not there a minute before time, you are late. In my opinion at the time, some of my more creative commanders would spend up to 10 minutes on conveying the importance of meeting precisely and about what would happen if you arrived late. All The time with the endurance and devotion only as the commander can.

Therefore, I have at times been slightly stressed out and trying element to my surroundings, after arriving in a society where agreements are made, with approximate time, not always meaning that day or even week. Punctuality here has gone the way of the Dodo. Sometimes they come a few hours later, other times they do not come at all. Here it is lovingly relaid to as  ‘Iceland time’. The explanations are reasonably simple and widespread. Most people live in the here and now not planning for tomorrow. Therefore if you have made an appointment to meet in two days time, they have often forgotten it by that time, as something new has come on their horizon by then.

I do my best to chip away my need for military precision as it guarantees to be the cause of an ulcer, due to my frustration, if not for me than for Angela, as she often gets the brunt of my frustrations. Slowly I am learning that YOU CAN NOT BEAT THEM so you might as well join them. So I am getting to the beat and rhythm with the population!

More about motocyclists Honduras: