Everyday we went out to dive in Utila we passed this colorful little island, Pigeon Cay. I took so many pictures of it as we passed it daily because it was so beautiful sitting there by itself in the water. I was intrigued by this little island because our boat captain, Elvis, and several other staff members at Utopia Village lived there, and they were some of the happiest, kindest and most genuine people I had ever met.
I have always envied our dive captains and dive masters on our vacations because I think any life involving being on or in water everyday has a pretty good chance of being fantastic. But Elvis, and his neighbors seemed to have even more figured out about life. They are happier than almost any Americans I know.
Paul, the owner of Utopia Village, graciously offered to give the guests a tour of Pigeon Cay so I jumped at the chance. (I can’t tell you why but I was definitely being called there.) It is a short and beautiful boat ride from the resort, just long enough to let what little bit of stress that may be lingering fly away in the ocean breeze.
Pigeon Cay is primarily a fishing village. As you approach the island there are small fishing boats lining the entire island, as if to proclaim proudly what sustains this charming place. We walked off the dock and through a little restaurant with this great sign hanging above the kitchen:
I immediately believed they were completely correct.
As our very entertaining guide, Paul explained, this little island has 750 inhabitants of which 450 live on the island at any given time. The only water they have is collected in rain barrels and trickles down from the city line once a week or once a month. They have one sidewalk which runs the length of the island, there are no roads and no vehicles. Every house has an ocean view since the island is only wide enough for a house or two on each side of this tiny island. On many of the properties families live with the elderly members living close to the walkway, then in a house behind would be a child of the eldest member and the child’s family and in some cases there might be yet another house behind that where a grandchild would live with their family. I love this. I believe being raised close to our extended family gives us more self-esteem and a better sense of belonging in this world. It also greatly helps the parents to have other family close by-so here could be a clue about the lower stress life they seem to lead.
There is a small school on the island which houses kids from kindergarten through 12th grade. They have a great system where the children attend classes at different times per day, for instance kindergarten-3rd goes from 7:30-12:30, 4th-9th gores from 12:30-5:30 and 10th-12th goes from 5:30-9:30. It is a really creative way to keep class sizes small, kids engaged and manageable on a very landlocked island.
There is a little gazebo on the island where women gather at a certain time each day to discuss soap operas, family life etc. The men come to the gazebo later in the day to discuss politics, sports and religion. I think this is about the coolest thing ever! What a sense of community this creates. I did feel badly for the teenagers when Paul pointed out there really is no place to date so the kids usually hang out at the end of docks to get away and have some privacy.
As we walked through town each person greeted us with a smile as they went about their business. They seemed settled, calm and happy. They live a simple life surrounded by family and friends. While things are hard, with many people surviving from day to day and often being in danger of running out of food, their disposition suggests that they stay focused on the positive things in life and find joy in the beauty surrounding them.
I left the island feeling that in some way it held something more for me. I don’t know what it was about the place but I knew I had been blessed to tour it and to meet several people who live there. I was blown away by the amazing things Paul and Chrisna, the owners of Utopia Village are doing to help the island with education, recycling and more, without disrupting these peoples heritage or culture.
As we walked the dock back to the boat we passed three guys jamming to their radio. Their faces full of bright smiles as they laughed and sang along to the upbeat tunes. I wanted to stay, have a beer and jam with them. I don’t think there are many better ways to spend an afternoon…