Island Time

I live on the island of Roatan now, and have for the last ten years. Before this I was living in the United States of America, Washington State to be more exact. It was a big change coming to the island, everything is different; weather (warm always), plants, animals, ocean (warm always), people, culture, and believe it or not, time.

Standard time, Daylight Savings time Greenwich time, Pacific, Mountain, Central, and Eastern time, and with all these it is time to go, departure time, arrival time, starting time, quitting time, just in time, and all outta time. Although a heady mix, these times have one thing in common; time. 

Don't give up! What I mean is the actual duration of intervals. Bear with me; it is hard to describe time without using "time" as a reference. In all of the above mentioned "times" there are the same incremented periods of duration such as seconds, minutes, hours, and any period of existence is measured and delineated the same way, so an hour in Mountain time is the same as an hour of Daylight savings time. An hour is an hour, unless it's lunch hour, which is 30 minutes.

If you are not confused enough click here and get your head around some Einstein-ian strings, and a quantum look at a couple of more times.  

For a moment let's reflect on how we in the industrialized first world are brought up with time. Time is money. You must be on time. Appointments, reservations, timetables, trains, buses, flights, classes, meetings, the mechanic, the laundry, and the damn time clock at work; we are subjected to the necessity of being on time all the time. It is what we do, and what we are.

However in the tropics, and more noticeably on small bodies of land surrounded by azure tropical waters, there exists a bizarre and ethereal 4th dimension called Island Time.
Island Time is a bit slower, sort of more relaxed and variable. The hard rules and exact increments rigidly imposed on the planet's other types of time are a little more vague. However there is one little annoying predictable constant here; there is no early.

On tropical islands for centuries there has never really been any reason to hurry (and admittedly doing so causes a bit of perspiration). If you have some food, and a place to sleep everything really can wait until tomorrow, when it will be warm, there will be fruit in the trees, and some fish in the ocean. Should you happen to be overcome with gumption and take it upon yourself to do a project like build a house or boat, there is really no need to hurry about it, as we mentioned it’s warm and et cetera.  This is how it has been done, and this is how it is.

I have developed what I call the "Six Cord Theory"  or perhaps hypothesis, that that attempts to define the causes of this phenomenon. Simply stated; NO one in the tropics has ever had to cut up and store six cords of wood to burn, in order to heat themselves through the winter so they would not die. So lucky, so amazing!

Try to imagine the conflict of views upon being exposed to Island Time fresh out of the industrial corridors of the US, and starting a new unfamiliar business in a foreign country. The learning curve is brutal. As you are trying to hit the ground running, it almost seems as if there is a conspiracy against your every effort, and everywhere it is Island Time.

As mentioned Island Time is a vague and casual concept. If you are used to making two to four business type contacts on schedule in a day such as; meet a bank officer, get the car serviced, meet for lunch and see the dentist, you really need to adjust your personal scheduling on an island. The only part of the above itinerary that can be relatively guaranteed, is lunch.

Having boats in the business requires hiring tradesmen, or specialists on occasion. A conversation with a mechanic to get some work done after he can get around to dropping by, and discussing the water pump that needs to be rebuilt, would go something like this; 

“Are there parts available on the island? We have a lot of guests, and I really need to get the boat running.”  I say expressing my point.

“Well now Mister Gary, I believe I can find those parts here, I have a cousin in French Harbor that has some parts for these old boats” I am assured by the mechanic, Orison, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

“How long will this take? I really need the boat”

“OK Mister Gary, ah, I guess once I get the parts here it’ll take ‘bout couple hours, I guess, yeah, that about right.” says Orison.

“Can you get the parts this afternoon and get started on it in the morning? I’d really like to use the boat for the afternoon dives. You can come in as early as you want, I’ll be here”

“Well OK Mister Gary I’m gonna see what I can do, and we’ll get started on this tomorrow, and be over after breakfast”

About ten the next morning a call to the mechanics cell phone gets the response “I am just down the way, and I’ll be right over”

About 1:30 his truck pulls up out front disgorging three helpers who grab a toolbox and head down the dock towards the boat, as Orison climbs out rubbing his stomach, “Mister Gary I stopped by my cousin’s  to pick up some help and his mamma come out and say that lunch is gonna be ready soon. Nobody can pass up Miss Emilee’s cooking, that some real good island food!”

I’ve been here ten years and I no longer have an argument for this, in fact I’m just a tinge jealous. Miss Emilee can cook!

90 minutes into the two hour job there is a little hitch; “Mister Gary what you got there is a different kinda pump, I have to get some different parts” says Orison.

“From your cousin in French Harbor?”

“No, from my cousin in Coxen Hole. I also have to get this bearing pressed out, my cousin, he can do that“ I am assured

“Your cousin in Coxen Hole?” I ask.

“Oh no, my cousin in Dixon Cove, he has a press.”

“Can his mama cook?”

“Can she cook? Why Mister Gary she taught Miss Emilee!”

About two the next afternoon Orison and his posse show up with the glow of culinary satisfaction in their eyes, and a re-nourished saunter to their step, and the job commences with purpose and alacrity.

As the third sun since we began sets, I am informed of joyous success, and the righting of every wrong in the world! It is the small things that matter.

Certainly we can assume that this is an isolated matter between two small businessmen. Perhaps there were misunderstandings or language problems, maybe interrupted supply lines or equipment failure, perhaps even some overrated people kicking around an underrated ball had to be witnessed, but certainly in the professional and business world on the island there must be timeliness, and punctuality.

It is with these very assumptions that I arrived at the municipal courthouse to offer testimony, if called, in a domestic matter. My summons, rather casually implemented, called for me to be there a 10:00 AM Tuesday. Well aware of the punctuality of the courts from watching Michael Jackson dragged before a scowling Judge (who showed no respect for the King of Pop) in his jammies and sleep in his eyes, I arrived a half an hour early. I sat on the waiting bench and watched people go by, none of whom I recognized like either lawyer or either client in the case, while the appointed hour came and went. Eventually at about 10:15 the defendant’s lawyer comes in and tells me that there would be no court today.

“I don’t understand” I say “I have a summons, and I thought court was scheduled.”

“Correct, but the other side didn’t show up”

“Well, I guess congratulations are in order!” I say.


“Don’t you win your case by default because the other side didn’t show up?”

“Oh no, you get three chances to show up on time.” I’m told.

“That’s ridiculous! All these people coming back and forth, hoping to eventually get together at the same time? That’s a horrible waste of time and energy for everyone involved!” I incredulously exclaim.

“Yes, but that is the Law” says the lawyer.

Who would have guessed, Island Time is THE LAW.