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Thursday January 2, 2014: Roatan, Honduras
Roatan is a narrow coastal island running East-West about 15-20 miles above the northern coast of Honduras. The Ryndam was stationary a mile or so off the western tip of the island when we awoke and kept that position while we had breakfast and walked around on Deck 12, the Sports Deck, which offered the best views out to see. The island was fairly heavily wooded, and there was no sign of skyscrapers or extensive development, but we could see occasional houses peeking out of the trees or in cleared areas. On the dock we saw a "welcoming committee" of two men playing drums and two women dancing.
We had signed up for a "Jolly Roger" sailing and snorkeling excursion, and I hoped for (1) decently warm water, (2) interesting things to see while snorkeling, and (3) no one getting sick or obnoxious during the "drinking" part of the excursion. Once we had all assembled on the dock, we were put in mini-busses for a maybe a 1/2 hour drive eastward to the place where Carnival Cruise lines has their captive little resort area. Two huge Carnival ships were in that dock, but there was literally nothing else there to see in that area and we were glad our ship had berthed at the Coxen Hole pier where there was a little town alongside the road with what looked like interesting shops.
We embarked onto two of the large sailing catamarans frequently used for these "sail and snorkel" excursions, probably because the big cats are quite stable. Catamarans also draw very little water, and are thus safe to take out onto all but the shallowest parts of the coral reef. We motored out to the reef for maybe 40 minutes past a row of fishing boats moored along the shore plus the occasional metal skeleton of an old sunken ship. The sea was a beautiful deep azure blue with a sprinkling of fluffy white clouds in the deep blue sky, truly a photographer's dream.
There was also almost no swell and very little chop, so no one became seasick during the journey out to a reef area a couple miles East of the Carnival ships but only 200 yards or so off the shoreline. During the journey the crew handed out masks, fins, and snorkels, but we had our own gear and didn't have to take any of theirs. The water temp was 80-82 degrees, which was almost exactly the same temperature as the heated pool we had used the previous week at The Sanctuary! I found it quite refreshing after having the hot tropical sun beating down on us for most of the ride out to the reef. Also, the visibility under the water was great! Truly crystalline blue water.
Our excursion crew had two designated guides for us to follow plus two kayaks that served as safety nets for anyone who had trouble. The equipment they provided was of decent quality, however, and I did not see anyone having problems during the 40-50 minutes we were in the water. Our gear worked really well although Monika had to hold onto me to clear water from her mask. I was wearing my flotation vest almost fully inflated to keep me on the surface as we did have a slight chop and I did not want to get water in the snorkel.
We saw a lot of fish and many different kinds of coral while snorkeling around the reef. Most of the fish were clown fish and some of the fish that actually eat the coral (occasionally I could hear them nibbling away), but some were the neon-blue and other brightly colored tropical fish you can find on a reef if you're lucky. Photographically, the problem was they tended to be down at the base of the coral which was at least 10-15 feet down, and despite the water being clear the photographs came out with a bluish tint.
I had the same problem with pictures of the coral formations, of course, so please consider that what we actually saw was in this case rather more colorful than the photographs with this journal. I could have surface-dived down for closer pictures, used the flash, and possible obtained better color rendition, but that all takes a lot of time and we were supposed to keep up with our dive master so I did not attempt that. Still the strange coral shapes and colors were really quite impressive.
I was getting slightly tired after 45 minutes of steady swimming, but only slightly and I think that is in large part due to the efficiency of my new fins. Also the peripheral vision given by my mask completely eliminated that "looking through a tunnel" effect and made the underwater scene appear much more bright and cheerful. We were both sad to see our dive come to an end--I was ready for another dive, but our ship turned back toward the dock as our scheduled time did not permit it.
On the way back, however, we stopped by a shorefront restaurant with a wharf where the crew brought large cooking trays of food on board, and we all had a quite satisfying meal of chicken, rice, sliced cabbage, pasta, and watermelon. Delicious. So we chatted with the people around us as our Captain guided the ship back to its home dock, and then reboarded the busses for the drive back to the Ryndam.
Once we had showered off the saltwater, however, we were both rarin' to get out and see the little port area a bit. There were a nice set of shops right on the pier, but we walked out of the ship's secure zone to wander down the main street of the town and check out the shops there a bit. I was also hunting for a motorcycle rental place so that next time we came I could rent a bike to drive around the island.
Just across and down (eastward) the main street from the dock about half a block, we found a mini-mini-mall of craft shops with some very nice things. Monika bought a beaded bracelet with amber, citrine, and some type of blue stone stranded together. Very pretty and only $10. I purchased 2 postcards for $1 because they were postcards of paintings of Caribbean scenes, and I really liked the color and composition of those paintings. If the paintings themselves had been available, no doubt I would have been terribly tempted to buy one and then try to get it home.
About a block further eastward on that main street was a Christian missionary shop that sold crafts by local artists to benefit island charities. Well that rang my bell, and I found a nice teak cutting board shaped like a turtle, so I bought that while Monika bought a necklace and pair of earrings with amber beads mixed with silver plated ones. It was hot walking down the street in the afternoon sun, however, and we had apparently run out of shops, so we turned back toward the ship.
But on the way back I stopped to take a picture of a Honda 200cc motorcycle that had a custom-welded frame that converted it to a very miniature pickup truck that would carry two motorcycles in its bed PLUS pull an attached trailer that would carry another two motorcycles. Amazing! I stopped to take pictures of the contraption and was hoping that those were rental motorcycles. Sure enough, "Francis" (Louis?), a nice young man, stepped up to ask me if I wanted to rent one. It was too late to rent it that day as the ship left in an hour, but I told him I would rent one when we returned to Roatan, and he offered me a price of $50 for an all-day rental. That sounded very reasonable as they were either 125cc or 175cc Yamaha motorcycles and would be MUCH safer to carry Monika and I than the 50cc version I had rented in Bermuda on Wanderung 27. Hopefully I will get back to rent a bike from Francis as we could explore the rest of Roatan Island and some of the beaches, which Eugene, one our table mates on the Panama Canal cruise we took the following week, said are stunningly beautiful.
Satisfied with our purchases, we wended our way back to the ship where I backed up pics from the cameras onto the computer and updated the journal before we went to dinner. We had a table for two at the stern window of the Rotterdam Dining Room again, and it was a very pleasant dinner. While we had decaf coffee after the desert course, I gave Monika the topaz earrings I had made for her the month before. She had completely forgotten about all my suspicious behavior back then in the hustle-bustle, hurly-burly of our trip, so she was completely surprised and very pleased, and that was a wonderful way to end the day.
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