It’s another leisurely morning in paradise for Helen Murphy, as she strolls through the garden of her tropical-island home. She repots her plants and reorganizes her purple orchids. She has all the time in the world to spend, as she plants new seeds in her nursery and takes photos of the latest blooms to post online later.
She meanders through the garden, savoring the sweet scents floating through the salt-air breeze, and she takes her time watering the hundreds of plants that surround her, stopping to pick the ripe bananas off the tree for breakfast.
This is the new life Helen has created for herself. She left the cold winters of North America behind many years ago. On the island of Roatán, in Honduras, she’s found a place where the year-round warmth lets her enjoy the outdoors whenever she wants. Here she can indulge her love of gardening and turn it into a full-time living.
This green island getaway in the heart of the Caribbean is a far cry from the New York cityscape she once called home.
“I grew up in Queens and then lived in Manhattan,” she says. “In October 1986, after establishing myself as a highly sought-after landscape designer in the city, I needed a change. So I headed to the Caribbean, to a series of islands nearly nobody had heard of back home.”
Those islands were the Bay Islands of Honduras, offering some of the world’s best scuba diving, thanks to a healthy coral reef teeming with colorful marine life. “I started off as a dive resort manager for 11 years on the islands,” says Helen. “I didn’t go back to landscaping and garden design for a while. But settling full-time on the island of Roatán over the last decade has given me the opportunity to get back to what I did in New York.
“My family thought I was crazy moving to some unknown place in Central America,” she says. “By now, my family have all been to visit me on Roatán, so they understand.”
“My cousin comes down two or three times a year. My mom, when she was alive, would spend three months here during the winter. She loved it here. I have hosted many friends and family that have arrived for the day on a cruise ship…island tours are my new specialty.”
Roatán retains its Caribbean charm, with locally owned hotels and resorts integrating themselves into the tourism scene. Family-owned businesses abound, with large chain restaurants and stores left back on the mainland.
“I love the diversity of our community here,” says Helen. “On any given day I can be with people from Honduras, Canada, the U.S., the UK, Italy, Australia, Holland, wherever. When I was living in New York City, I was always amazed by the sheer diversity of the people there. Truthfully, it is just as diverse in Roatán.”
And Helen never lacks for things to do. “We seem to have it all on Roatán. I enjoy anything that has to do with being on the water, so diving is still a favorite activity. I also enjoy snorkeling, fishing, sailing, and sometimes just standing in chest-high water on West Bay Beach, with a cold beverage, talking to friends. As the sun sets, I enjoy all the various venues on the island that provide good food and company.
“And I love live music. We are very lucky to have an exceptional group of talented musicians who perform regularly here. Every March, I help organize a committee that brings them all together for an all-day music festival to raise funds for a local medical clinic, Clinica Esperanza.
“I can’t imagine what my life would have been had I stayed in New York City, but I have no regrets about moving here and spending these last 30 years enjoying the natural beauty, climate, and the wonderful people of Roatán.”
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