“Which hole do you want to start on?” asks the pro-shop attendant. Like Camp Bay Beach, the fairways are wide open. I order the $3 breakfast instead of the $85 golf shirt and slide into the cart with my caddy, Dennest.
When he isn’t looking for my tee shots in ponds and construction sites, Dennest, 20, tells me he hadn’t seen golf until six months ago. He’s never been off the island. Lives in a village where the cow-foot soup is good enough to lick the bowl. When I turn around to find the sunglasses I left on the sixth green, Dennest says, “You didn’t forget,” and hands them to me. I ask if expat dreamers like me ever get on his nerves.
“I love Americans,” he says. “You give us jobs, and opportunities.”
The same thought prevails, unspoken, back at Barefoot Cay. At noon I notice five people working the kitchen and the open-air dining area. There will be three guests for lunch. Away from Roatan’s tourist-heavy West End, the cost of living is so low that every retiree I meet employs an islander, even in the modest homes. Eric Anderson pays 12 people to do things like sweep, or stare at his undeveloped properties.
“It’s an easy way to give back,” says Gary Chamer, who has 80 people working around his Palmetto Bay Plantation Resort. Guest capacity: 88. “What are you going to do, tell someone you can’t pay them $12 a day so they can feed their family?”
Eric’s line about “boredom is the enemy” still teases me as I take Roatan’s only paved road to meet Ted and Cam O’Brien. They bought the first air-conditioned resort in 1994 after moving from Juno Beach, Florida. Thinking they might slow their pace, they closed the resort in early 2010.
“We took a walk out there to talk about what to do next,” says Cam, nodding at their 44 acres. “I said, ‘We can’t retire and watch the palm trees grow.’”
Cam is surrounded by hundreds of books and a dry-erase board. Near us dozens of children ages 5 to 18 are reading Go, Dog. Go! and writing their first full sentences in English. This was once Cam and Ted’s house. It’s now an after-school education center run on donations.
“Most kids on this island don’t go to school,” says Cam, not pausing as the lights flicker and the hum of the AC dies. “The children downstairs know that English means jobs. Ted and I have found a purpose for whatever time is left for us.”
Still wearing a swimsuit, I walk outside with 12 kids and a soccer ball. I have no more questions. This experiment isn’t about retiring anymore. It’s about living. Marcie, 18, kicks the ball through a goal marked by coconut husks. Three boys give chase. The ball bounces through a pavilion where guests once lounged on hammocks, rolls over an empty beach and lands in the Caribbean Sea.