Thursday, we had to be up and out the door by 8am to get to Oakridge in order to catch our boat to the island. The getting up part is easy at this point because all of the little ones are up with the magnificent ball of fire in the sky that we call the sun, at 5:30 AM...We know that one day we will be blessed with sleeping in til noon for all of eternity....simple request. So we packed everything that we could possibly need and headed out to West End to grab Paul (a Texas boy finding his way with an internship through Alternative Missions) and then off to the gas station at French Harbor to meet Jeremy, Melissa, the boys, the parents and another family that was along for the ride. Along our way we ran into a traffic jam, a cow herder was leading his herd of cattle somewhere, it was a great tourist moment and we had to take pictures.
Once at the boat dock I discovered a small surprise, the restrooms are plumbed directly into the ocean, very different method than back at home. I was a little shocked until I learned that they do the same thing with all of the houses in Vancouver, B.C. Imagine that.
Well, our boat ride was uneventful, we got a little wet from some of the waves and the kids thought they were on a water ride at Sea World. The water was so incredibly blue out on the ocean, unbelievable, bright blue and turquoise, hard to imagine that this much beauty exists in the world all in one location. The island of Helene is separated from Roatan by a canal that is cut through mangrove swamps, the only way to get to the island is by boat. The swamps are huge and are infested with goo, bugs and crocs, thankfully we just went down the coast and not through the mangroves. The people of the island are of Afro-Caribbean decent, once were slaves that had been dropped off on the island in an attempt to hide them. Now, they have a whole little community that is very slowly progressing. No power, only generators, no sewers, no public water system, no stores, no cars at all. Yes, we would be hiking across this island with four children in tow, on foot. What were we thinking???
When we arrive we take a short hike up some dirt paths to the ocean view clinic and school that the Alternative Missions teams have built. We get a grand tour, the dental office, the clinic office, the rooms and bunks for the teams to live in while serving this community. This is amazing that these professionals and young and old adults give of their personal time to help out with a people that has no government to help them in any way, no police to monitor them, no nothing, they are existing on their own completely and with the only help that we as Christians can really give without totally interfering, hope.
So, we head out on our first of many hikes for a tour of the island, we had tons of kids tagging along, curious as to who these little people are that we brought with us. They were all so sweet and spoke with the coolest little Caribbean accent, too cute. The children and moms all wanted to touch and hold Laney, they just love 'beautiful babies.' They liked Wiley's mohawk and even commented on Max and Clay's "soft" hair; they were mesmerized with the fact that they are twins. Jeremy and Melissa actually met while serving here on Helene back in '96, so they knew everyone. People would look and take a second look and just come out of the wood works yelling for 'Jeremy' or 'Melissa', 'how long you here?' The bonds that they formed with this community are very deep and they obviously touched many lives, there are friendships there that will last a lifetime and such true respect for the work that they did while here. All of the people that we met were so happy and ready to greet us with open arms.
We hiked through paths next to the ocean front, over little foot bridges and past tiny houses and some giant houses (there is a great suspicion that some of the very successful peoples of the island are so, due to their drug trafficking). We decided to take our hike to the north side of the island and head out for our lunch that would be prepared for us. We went through jungle, up and down hills, through neighborhoods, past ferocious dogs, along the seashore, sweating our pants off. When we made it to the place to eat, we had to wait a bit and so we hit the shore front. We got to hang out with some boys (all 5-12 years in age) that were cleaning their fresh caught grouper. Wiley collected a lobster shell and a couple of dead fish, Anna and Paul found tons of conch shells that had such bright colors that they looked fake. These would fetch $20 easy in the states. We planned to bring a couple back with us, but man they stunk like the dickens. I think we ended up bringing a small one back with us. Anyway, the view was magnificent, the boys that we met probably have no idea what they are surrounded by, the magnitude of how beautiful the ocean is. They see it everyday and know nothing else. It is kind of like always having your health and not knowing what sickness is, it's truly a blessing.
So, our lunch consisted of lobster and conch, cooked island style, fried. A side note, this community fries everything and puts sugar in everything, even the baby bottles. So, needless to say, the clinic sees alot of diabetes and high blood pressure. The food was excellent and we were so full that the hike back to the clinic seemed impossible. Before we left, Parker had to go to the bathroom so we used the lady's house bathroom while we were there. We took a quick snapshot of the inside of their house, very small but all tidied up and in order. They are very proud of the few possessions that they do have and take great care of them.
Along our hike back across the island we saw all kinds of wild plants and fruit trees, even cotton. That seemed a little strange to see cotton plants blooming with cotton on an island, they used to use it for pillows and mattresses but these days those that can afford it, take a boat ride over to Roatan and buy those types of things, along with groceries and other necesseties.
After our hike, we headed to the public boat dock and swam with the local kids. They were in heaven, even on a dock that was half falling apart. It was quite an adventure, we are still not sure that our kids are aware of the fact that not many children get to experience a remote island and its people. Good thing we can show them pictures as they grow up and tell great stories of all of our adventures. We finished swimming and headed back to the boat to make it back to the main island before dark. All the kids were passing out right and left and were just exhausted, as were the adults (not passing out, just exhausted). We got to our cars and headed home. Thank God the power was on and we all got to shower before hitting the hay, at like 7:30!
That was our visit to Santa Helena, we hope to one day visit again and possibly stay a few nights to really check out island life and the gracious people. Thanks to Jeremy and Melissa for letting us tag along.