Click on an photo to view the slide show.
MY BIG FAT CARIBBEAN VACATION, a set on Flickr.
Click on an photo to view the slide show.
MY BIG FAT CARIBBEAN VACATION, a set on Flickr.
Departure was uneventful except for long lines at the terminal. There were fairly long lines at the airport, too, but they weren’t too bad. The lines moved.
The drive from Galveston to the airport was the same: strip malls, restaurants, car dealerships; hotels; motels and the Greek Orthodox Church which our driver called “beautiful.” She also wore a rhinestone pin which spelled out the word “Texas.”
She was our unofficial tour guide on our way to George Bush Airport. Texas, she said, has the tallest building in the world that is not located in a city. The Texans football team is one of the hottest in the country, according to her, so she got into sports.
She also told us that the cost of gas inTexas is $3.05 in spite of the many oil refineries there. I wanted to laugh when I think of the cost of gas in Pittsburgh.
It’s hard to imagine that earlier today we were on the Mariner of the Seas and earlier than that we were in the warm beautiful western Caribbean. I heard that it was still cold inPittsburghand that the snow from the week before hadn’t melted as yet.
For one of the few winters of my life, I experienced summer during the cold winter months. I recommend it.
Goodbye the pampered life.
It was fitting that we landed in Roatan, Honduras on Andrea’s birthday. The sky was bright blue and the sun shone warming the earth to 82 degrees. We ran to the pool to watch the ship as it reached the port after breakfast. I got choked up thinking of the time 18 years ago when Mike, Jeff and I went toTegucigalpa, the capital, to adopt Andrea. The port looked like a quaint picture post card which is not what I expected.
I expected it to look like Galveston harbor but I think wiser business-oriented minds decided a port on an island which is a tourist destination should look nicer. The shops’ façades were painted blue, green and yellow and lined the length of the harbor. Native dancers and singers greeted us and posed for photos with whoever was interested in a photo opportunity.
There was a large Christmas tree and a large picturesque “Welcome to Roatan” sign that everyone posed in front of, too. We walked around and browsed the shops until it was time to meet our tour guide.
It wasn’t hard to find her. She held a large sign that read, “Glass Bottom Boat” and we all lined up behind her.
Her name was Jazlyn but asked everyone to call her Jazzy. She loaded us into an air conditioned bus and held our interest talking about Honduras and the Bay Islands of which Roatan is a part.
“What language do you think is the official language of the Bay Islands?” she asked us.
Sensing that this was a trick question, I answered, “Not Spanish.”
The Bay Islands were originally a British not a Spanish possession. So, English was spoken before Spanish although many people speak both and some know one language better than the other. Some speak and understand one and understand but don’t speak the other. Jazzy didn’t say how many knew which language better. I think she said children learn both languages in school. On the mainland, Spanish is the official language.
When she found out that Andrea was born in Honduras, she gave her a fist bump.
Our first stop was the Village of West End where we witnessed another performance by native dancers. These people like the ones who greeted us at the port are members of the Garifuna tribe. The have their own language (Arawakan) in addition to the English and Spanish languages of the Bay Islands. The Garifuna tribe traveled to Honduras from the Caribbeanin 1797.
They performed dances that their ancestors brought to the New World. The lead dancer got Andrea to dance with her (and I have the photo to prove it).
We had time to browse the shops for handmade dolls; jewelry; woven hammocks; clothing; painting; wooden bowls and vases; shell art; and more.
I asked the clerk in English if I could use my card. (I know they take American cash.) She didn’t understand me and had a young woman I guessed was her daughter answer my question (which was that they credit card company would add 12% to the bill). So I found someone who knew more Spanish than English and another person who knew both. Not a scientific survey of Honduran languages, I admit.
Restaurants were scattered among the shops including a Thai Restaurant called Tong’s Thai Island Cuisine. (There’s a Pizza Hut and a Bojangles somewhere on the island but no McDonald’s.) At the end of the main drag is a small white frame Baptist Church complete with steeple just like many rural churches from long ago.
The town’s main road is brand new. However, the local authorities forgot to add stop signs and traffic signals when they finished construction. When we walked down a street and a vehicle zipped by, we jumped on the sidewalk. The sidewalk consisted of an edge made of cement while the sidewalk proper was filled with dirt.
The road ran parallel to the beach which was dotted with small piers. I assume that there is a stretch of beach where you can lay out and get a tan but I didn’t see it or should I say “them” because I understand there are a lot of them.
Divers (and there are a lot of them, too) and fishermen take boats out during the day. There are canoes, sailboats, row boats and motorboats.
Fishing and tourism are the main industries on the islands.
Fresh fish is caught every day and is a feature at all the restaurants. Residents also grow their fresh vegetables. Banana, bread (first time I heard of such a tree), coconut, cashew and other trees grow everywhere. A vegetable peddler drives around with a variety of fresh veggies in back of his truck daily. Cashews are abundant and roasted from April through July.
Our next stop was the Glass Bottom Boat which was waiting for us at one of the piers just beyond the village.
We all squeezed in the bottom of the boat which predictably was surrounded by glass. We watched sea life pass us by: sea grass, scuba divers, turtles, various fish…they all coexist happily many feet under the sea’s surface.
As we drove through rural hilly Roatan, Jazzy gave us more information on the educational system on the islands.
There are several schools including a Seventh Day Adventist college. (There was a Seventh Day Adventist school in back of our hotel inTegucigalpa when we were there for Andrea’s adoption.) There are bilingual schools and uniforms are mandatory. As a result of the school system, almost everyone (except one store clerk) speaks some Spanish and/or English. This only applies to the Bay Islands because of its history as a British possession.
There are no school buses. Students walk or use public transportation or, if they live in a remote area, take a cab to school.
Our last stop was the cameo factory. One of three cameo factories in the world is located in Roatan. The other two are in Milan, Italy and Japan. The setting was veryquaint. The factory/studio was on a street that was parallel to the shore. A small flagstone courtyard and an iron bell bordered the property on one side. The bell hung from a wrought iron arch and was another backdrop for photo opportunities.
The crafts people carved beautiful designs on shells of all shapes and sizes similar to scrimshaw. Some pieces were turned into jewelry.
The rest of the neighborhood was residential. The stucco homes (some of which are built on stilts or blocks); tropical flowers and sunny weather looked just like the photos in travel magazines only this was for real.
We could see the Mariner of the Seas and another ship from Holland America docked at the harbor from the cameo factory. Andrea and I walked along the shore, taking pictures and drinking in the sea, sun, palm trees and beautiful flowers.
When the tour was over and we returned to the harbor, Andrea and I ran to the ship to get the cash we left in our vault on the ship.
We spent the rest of the day shopping at the port. There were the requisite tourist shops including a perfume shop (fairly decent prices for brand names), carts with souvenirs and Honduran fast food. A three piece band consisting of three old men played for our musical enjoyment. (They were very good actually.) We didn’t buy too much because I have a lot of stuff from our previous two trips to Honduras.
Our real objective was lunch and we wanted to eat at a Honduran restaurant not the Windjammer. We found one above the perfume shop. The food was good but the service was very slow. We ate chips and salsa with hot peppers and chicken fajita with rice and beans – typical Central American fare.
By late afternoon it was time to return to the ship. I didn’t want to leave and I don’t think Andrea did, either. The scenery was too sunny, beautiful and relaxing. When we returned to the Mariner, we decided to get some sun by the pool late as it was. The days are warmer in the Caribbean in the winter but they are also shorter just like they are up north. Andrea ordered an alcoholic Mango Tango (Like!) in another souvenir glass as we watched Roatan recede in the distance. (I just drank wine.) We could see cars wind their way on roads that wound through the hills of the town. Lights slowly lit up the harbor as the Mariner made its way toward Belize.
At the Sound of Music, the wait staff greeted us like they were truly glad to see us. Considering what I tipped them at the end of the cruise, I guess I would feel the same wayJ
On this particular evening, I ate Moroccan chicken salad for an appetizer; sirloin steak with string beans and baked potato; low fat key lime pie for dessert; coffee and Pinot Grigio.
Andrea selected a shrimp cocktail for the appetizer; a vegetarian calzone; Coke, a chocolate parfait and was also given a chocolate brownie as the wait staff and Kristin and Paul (who were celebrating their wedding anniversary) sang “Happy Birthday.”
It was time to see what was happening around the ship. We saw a musical variety show and then headed for the casino – another milestone for her to experience upon turning 21. They didn’t ask for her I.D. when she changed her dollars into quarters bit I offered the info that she was celebrating her birthday. Maybe the gambling age is different than the drinking age? That doesn’t make sense; maybe just lax or they figured she was with me.
She played $10 on some kind of coin game and ended up with $20. Not bad for her first try at gambling while sipping on a Pina Colada. (Like!) I had wine as usual.
Tomorrow: Belize and the Mayan Ruins
It’s the last day of 2012 and we’re spending it on the Mariner of the Seas sailing the Western Caribbean. Early in the morning, it feels like any other day on board a cruise ship.
We ate breakfast at the Windjammer and sat by the big picture window watching the sea go by. All we could see was waves of blue sea for miles and miles (and I mean blue).
We couldn’t stay away from the shops before going to the pool. I bought a party dress because tonight is formal night. I promised myself that I wouldn’t but anything for my self but it was a promise I didn’t have to keep. The dress is short, sleeveless, and black with silver sequins at the neck and hem.
The pool was very busy this morning. The upper level has a track for walking and jogging. It was a little cool but it didn’t stop anyone from trying to get a tan, jump in the hot tubs, eat frozen yogurt, swim, drink, and watch the Fab Abs (Females Only) Contest.
About eight women of all ages, sizes and shapes strutted – or tried to strut – their stuff. The one thing they all had in common was guts and in the end, the oldest woman in the group won the cup: a RC mug.
Andrea had never seen an ice show before (hockey games excluded) and so we went to see the4:30show at the Savoy Theatre at one of two theatres on the ship. I wasn’t expecting it but it was a good entertaining show.
The costumes were very colorful. Each skit or set had its own theme and color scheme: black, sliver and white for the Russia Cossack routine and rainbow colors for the Clowin’ Around skit, etc.
Waiters and waitresses took your order for drinks and bring them to your seat. (Please don’t forget to add a tip.) Andrea had to order a CokeJ
Pretty soon, though, she can order something else.
It’s just unofficial observation on my part but there are a lot of families on this cruise as well as the requisite senior adults and/or couples. I don’t know what I expected.
We were riding the elevator after the show when I heard Andrea say, “Aww…”
I looked down and saw a small pink baby carriage. I peered under the hood and saw a long-haired puppy. I’m not sure about its breed but she wore a pink ribbon in her hair.
“How does she like the cruise?” I tried to hide my surprise at the dog’s mode of transportation.
“The first day was an adjustment but she’s getting used to it now,” her owner responded.
Later, I asked Andrea,
“Who would want to bring her dog on a cruise?”
“She just loves her dog,” Andrea said.
Another woman carried a fake dog with her wherever she went. Sometimes her husband/companion held it for her. I assume the dog was battery-operated because it would move its long-haired head slowly. The dog looked like a sheep dog only smaller.
I wondered if this was some kind of therapy for the owner. She was too old to play with toys.
Our attendant dropped off an itinerary of events and other information for us. There were many parties/event scheduled for the evening and of course, a balloon-drop on the Promenade.
At 6:30 we went to dinner at the Sound of Music, true to schedule. My dinner choices included a light mushroom and cheese crepe; a salad of winter greens with walnuts and light vinaigrette; baby rack of lamb with string beans and root vegetables and a hazelnut coffee mousse for dessert with a cup of coffee. I had a glass of Pinot Grigio.
Everything was excellent in taste and presentation and not only on this night but every night. I never had a bad meal there.
Andrea loved her choices, too: beef consommé; herb-encrusted Alaska halibut with side veggies that I can’t remember and a light strawberry banana torte for dessert and a Coke. (The day after tomorrow, she gets to really drink.)
She ate everything so it must have been good.
While we were eating there was a parade in the lower level of the restaurant. I didn’t see it (and Andrea had gone to the restroom) because we were on the upper level and I didn’t feel like running to the railing. It didn’t last long.
A live band played every night in the lower level.
We started talking to a couple from California sitting at the table next to ours. There names were Kristin and Paul. They were surprised that we had come all the way from Pittsburgh. They were from San Diego. They were curious about Pittsburgh.
I told them I loved the city because it has a community-oriented feel to it but I didn’t love the winters. They wanted to know why and I cited the difficulty navigating the hills when the municipal authorities can’t get it together to plow.
Kristin told me a little about the history of California which has a different history from the eastern US, California had originally been founded by Europeans who established missions to help the Native Americans.
They also mentioned how warm the weather was in San Diego. That city doesn’t really experience weather changes.
I have a photo of Mike who grew up inCalifornia and Hawaii until the age of 7 or 8, wearing shorts and a T-shirt on Christmas Day. This was when my father-in-law was in the Navy and stationed in California.)
Of course, we also talked about the Steelers, Chargers and Penguins.
There was down time until the festivities began so we went back to our room. Andrea took the opportunity to re-do her hair for the zillionth time.
There are several bars on some of the decks. We stopped in and listened to the music and moved on to the next one (except Ellington’s because Andrea isn’t into jazz). Some of them allowed smoking so we didn’t linger too long in those. Smoking makes me sick.
We passed the Champagne Bar on the Promenade deck.
“On January 2, we’ll go in there first,” I said to Andrea.
After that we dropped in the Dragon’s Lair (Michael Jackson Tribute); Latin American dance music; Country and Western Music at Studio B and the party on the Promenade deck where the balloons will drop. Fittingly for us, the balloons are in black and gold.
The Promenade consisted of wall-to-wall people – young, old and in-between.
Waiters and waitresses were giving out free glasses of champagne. One underage kid picked one up and the waiter took it right off of him. A jazz band played and they were very good.
The crowd was proportionately as large as aTimes Square crowd although the Promenade is a bit smaller. Now I know how it feels to be sardines or anchovies stuffed in a can. At the count down to midnight the balloons dropped one or two at a time – a malfunction of something or other, I guess.
Clink! Clink! of the champagne glasses. All of a sudden, the remaining balloons dropped all at once. Auld lang syne was over by then. Balloons were batted back and forth or the kids stepped on them. Pop! Pop!
We revisited our previous stops but most of the crowd on the Promenade deck didn’t die out until much later.
A note on the fashions of the evening: there was mostly short evening gowns were prominent although there were long gowns, too, on women of all ages. The color black dominated as did silver and gold sequined attire; white and neutrals like champagne were and beige were favored, too. I didn’t see too many bright colors although I remember a long, yellow gown floating by. I think I saw red, too. I saw some lace and dotted Swiss material, sheer tops, sleeveless gowns, and skinny straps but not too many strapless numbers. Women were wearing platforms, high heels and flats.
I wondered how the puppy in the buggy celebrated New Year’s Eve. Finely ground filet mignon with a magnum of Perrier water? Just wondering.
Tomorrow: New Year’s Day