I hope you enjoy my travelogue!
Written 10/10/16 in Ship’s Library aboard the Norwegian Getaway (at sea).
I really wasn’t sure that we would even get to go on this trip. With Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Nicole threatening the Caribbean Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and the South Eastern coast of the U.S. it seemed inevitable that our Friday morning flight to Miami would never take off. After a few stressful months of work I was more than ready for a holiday. I had also been desperately searching my schedule for an open week in which I could get away and do a final review/edit of my manuscript of Book II of The Adventures of Isabelle: Journey to Orphalese. That opening had not come up until now. I had conducted a women’s writing retreat to the Chesapeake Bay at the end of September but as a facilitator I had not had time for my own writing.
After anxiously watching the weather and obsessively checking Flight Tracker for the past three days by Thursday night it seemed that our plane was actually going to take off and head to Miami Friday morning. I had a speaking gig Thursday afternoon and didn’t dare to start packing until after 10 that night. By the time I headed down to D.C. it was almost midnight.
Bags packed and passport in hand we headed out for National (I never call it Reagan) around 8:30 Friday morning. Still not daring to believe it after the hurricane had closed all FL airports just the day before I more than half expected to reach the airport and find that our flight had been cancelled. I don’t think I breathed a sigh of relief until well after we were airborne. After two nights in Miami we were to board a ship that would take us on a cruise of the Western Caribbean; Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel. Splendidly all places I have never been before!
The white sun shone in a hot blue sky as our taxi raced down the freeway to the little apartment on South Beach which we would call home for two days and two sultry nights. As we drove past the colorful art deco buildings lining Ocean Drive it was clear that Hurricane Matthew had not touched one frond on the head of the palm trees that swayed above our heads in the humid air. I felt very grateful for this but at the same time wondered at it hitting Haiti, a country that can ill afford another disaster. I was reminded of how blessed my life is and acutely aware that I should take none of this for granted (link to Haitian relief fund).
Our time in Miami was a lovely time to go on the beach and swim in the warm water, take walks, people watch and have dinner with my cousin on Lincoln Rd at one of my favorite Cuban restaurants; Havana 1957.
We boarded the ship yesterday around 1:00 in the afternoon in preparation for our 4:00 departure. We spent the day getting oriented to this gargantuan vessel with its million eateries, bars and entertainment. Really it’s too much. I quickly realized I’d be spending a great deal of my time trying to avoid the crush of humanity and seeking out peaceful spots from which to actually enjoy moving through this gorgeous ocean. This brings me to my current situation on this couch in the ship’s library looking out this large window watching the cobalt sea drift by as the ship gently rocks from side to side. I’m sleepy after waking early this morning for “sunrise yoga” at 8:00 in the gym but I’m determined to make a start on a “final” edit of my manuscript. My two writing goals for this trip are A) review/edit the first 100 pages of my manuscript and B) keep up with my travel blog.
DAY 2: ROATAN, HONDURAS
10/11/16 Ship’s Library 7:15 p.m.
I’m not sure we weren’t drugged last night! It was a beautiful day at sea, just relaxing and sunning that culminated in a couple’s massage that evening in the ship’s spa. We stumbled out of the spa then ate a ton of food at the buffet then returned to our state room. There we lay down and there was talk of a nap. I awoke around 3:00 a.m. in the morning, went out on the balcony and admired the amazing clouds in the sky before going back in and back to sleep. I awoke groggily again after 8:00 a.m. to find us approaching Roatan an island about 40 miles from the mainland of Honduras. We entered the port around 10:00. Low hanging clouds hung over low lying lush green hills ringing the port with its crystal clear water like glass. After coffee and a lovely breakfast we went ashore for our planned excursion; a tour of the island via bus, a stop at the iguana farm then on to the beach. The rain started as we left the parking area and entered the little town which looked much like any Caribbean seaside town if not a bit more bedraggled.
As the bus splashed through the streets our guide pointed out mundane sights like the bank and the airport and the energy plant. Believe it or not I still found it of interest. It was just kind of nice to be seeing a new place. The iguana farm was pretty much what you would expect, but because it was rainy the large scaly creatures stayed up in the trees. I always enjoy wildlife so it was cool to me. After this we drove to the beach at the Las Palmas “resort” where there was a restaurant and bar at the end of a series of wooden walkways. A typical seaside eatery serving semi local fare. A nice touch here where the hummingbird feeders around which buzzed the amazing little emerald and gold creatures. After a quick lunch; half a grouper sandwich I went for a swim.
The day was still overcast but no longer raining. The water was very calm and a bit chilly as I entered it. I dove into the quite shallow water and swam out to a little lone mangrove tree to examine its roots. Tiny tiger fish swam around it and under the floating blue wooden sunbed that was anchored to the tree. Not much to see here. I kept swimming out past the rock ringed fish enclosure. The bottom was now covered in all manner of interesting coral and the fish were more interesting. The water was deeper here but still only about 15 feet. Bright blue parrot fish swam among the coral and rocks along with other sizable fish. I was a long way from the shore now and the water was only a bit deeper. Suddenly I encountered a drop off into murky bright blue water. The visibility wasn’t great but it was clear enough to realize how deep the bottom now went. Seeing such a deep bottom and not being able to see too far out ahead of me I decided it was time to turn back. It was a lovely long way back and I enjoyed cutting easily through the calm water stretching my arms as far ahead of me as I could and keeping up a steady strong kick to give my arms a break. It was good exercise and I was breathing hard as I walked up out of the water onto the beach.
After another quick trip out into the blue and back it was time to go so we boarded the bus that took us back through the humid streets to the port. After boarding and changing into dryer clothes we went back out to walk around the town. We had lunch at a little rundown local place on the water’s edge. Our server, an older man named Wellington made us feel very welcome and wasn’t shy to express his gratitude for tourists. The lunch was nice; cracked conch in garlic sauce with onions and grouper prepared pretty much the same way but with sides of rice and peas and pieces of fried green plantain. I tried their local banana soda which was bright orange and tasted an awful lot like Kola Champagne. Wellington agreed but pointed out that Kola Champagne isn’t banana flavored. Indeed I could read “Hecho en Honduras” printed right on the side of the bottle. Oh well there is enough room in the world for two yummy tropical sodas that taste an awful lot alike.
After this we walked back toward the ship and walked around the little souvenir shops ringing the harbor in the shadow of our behemoth of a ship. We stopped at a little coffee stand serving Honduran coffee and I got a double espresso. We sipped our coffee on the water’s edge admiring the quiet harbor and dark green mountains before boarding the ship for the evening and the overnight journey to Belize. We dock early and will be on a long tour so I plan to make it an early night after a bit of time editing here in the library.
DAY 3: BELIZE
10/12/16 Aboard Ship 8:30 p.m. Belize and Cozumel
Today was a long hot day in Belize. We awoke around 6:45, had a hasty breakfast and coffee then headed ashore for our excursion to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. The ship can’t dock at Belize City so we boarded tenders for the 20 minute boat ride to the shore. The sky was slightly overcast as we boarded a bus to take us along the Northern Highway to Tower Hill. Here we boarded a river boat to take us to the ruins. The hour trip took us past mangroves and many little creeks. The sun stayed behind the clouds and the air was not yet hot as we took this lovely ride south. We saw very little fauna save for one iguana, about four bats and a few jacanas walking atop the broad lily pads. We did see an interesting epiphyte or air borne cactus that wrapped its plump light green arms around the trees earning its name; snake cactus a.k.a. devil’s cactus.
The sun had made her full appearance as we docked at the small rickety pier at Lamanai and the day was hot and unbelievably humid! Following our guide along a gravel path on the forest floor we made our way to the first site a small pyramid to the Maya Sun God also known as the Mask Temple. Huffing and puffing and sweating not just a little bit we climbed the steep steps on the pyramid’s face to the top. From here we looked down the three story face that we had just climbed and into the trees. After climbing down we stood sweating in the shade while our guide Adrian told us the history of this particular pyramid, how it had been built and rebuilt over the centuries. Visiting the following pyramids would follow the same protocol. After traversing through the forest we came to the second temple of the day which stood three times the height of the Maya Sun God. It was aptly named the High Temple and when I looked at its steep face had no intention of climbing it. However after being challenged by my partner I had to. To reach the top one did not climb the face but instead took several long flights of wooden stairs built around the back part of the edifice. This was some relief but not much! After catching my breath at the top of the stairs I followed him to the top of the pyramid climbing up the steep uneven rocky steps. From the top the panorama was pretty amazing. To the left we would see the river up which we had come and to the right nothing but lush trees and land. The view and the sheer drop off reminded me of a pivotal scene in Journey to Orphalese (that I can’t tell you about).
Last we visited the largest temple at Lamanai, the Jaguar Temple. It was lovely but after the first two temples I was quite content to admire it from the shade of the trees while our guide told us of its history. After this, exhausted and drenched in sweat we walked about eight mins back to the starting area. A quick visit to the sparse museum then back to the boat for a fast forty minute ride back to the palapa where we had begun the river boat tour. The wind on our wet bodies felt delicious and the sound of the boat cutting through the water and the motion threatened to lull me to sleep.
Back at the palapa we were treated to a Belizian lunch of chicken, rice and peas cooked in coconut milk and coleslaw. It was delicious and I ate too much. The bus ride back was hotter than the ride there I was sticky and uncomfortable. This however did not stop me from taking a little nap. After this back at the pier we joined the line to board a tender to return us to the ship. After this 20 min ride which seemed interminable in the hot crowded boat we made it back to the ship where I practically ran to our stateroom to undress and take a lovely shower. Recovered, I’m enjoying the rocking of the boat while I write this while my partner is gently snoring away.