Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cruising for birds II

If it’s Thursday, this must be Roatàn. This little island off the coast of Honduras is very lush-looking although the literature told us to expect a third-world country complete with begging children. The island is about 40 miles long and between 1 and 4 miles wide. Its population is about 30,000 and they speak mostly Spanish, however, most people are bilingual due to the amount of tourism on the island.

The weather started out bad and only got worse as a tropical depression turned to Tropical Storm Gamma. The sky was gray, it was raining, and the ocean was a sickly green. We could have cancelled our outing, but I was reluctant to do that as it would be our only time off the ship until Sunday night. We met our tour guide, Carmen, from Roatàn Island Tours and set off in a Mercedes minivan through the streets of Coxen Hole. Carmen is an islander who was very knowledgeable about the flora, fauna, and politics of the island. She also had the patience of a saint. The amount of ignorance shown by some of our fellow travelers was amazing. I hate being associated with the “gringos” who don’t realize that they traveled from one country to another during the night and that people in these two countries do not know each other nor do they know much about the other country. Why would one ask questions about Belìze in Roatàn? One woman asked how much such and such would cost in Belìze. That’s like asking someone here how much something sells for in Canada. How the heck should I know - ARGH!

We made several stops during the trip. The stop at the YUBU included native dances depicting the history of the islanders who are descended from the Black Carib Indians. We also stopped at Marble Hills farms were we found wonderful island jams and jellies made from fruits grown right at the farm. The Mutton Pepper (Habanero) jelly is to die for sweet and hot, hot, hot! The farm was loaded with small iridescent green hummingbirds called Canivet’s Emerald. Carmen was amazed to see my “magazine” of birds.

The juxtaposition of the island’s rich and poor was painfully obvious. The rich are mostly Americans and Canadians who live in opulent houses high up on the hills with fabulous vistas while the majority of inhabitants live in squalor. Small ramshackle houses line the city streets while the unemployed inhabitants sit on the windows or on the door steps. Carmen explained that while most of the people are trained in one or more occupations, most people derive a living from the tourist industry because there are so few jobs in other fields. They also live in trepidation of what the upcoming election will bring for them. The party currently in control has a history of using tax monies for the public good, while the opposition has a history of lining their own pockets. She had little confidence in the outcome of the coming election. She also told us that most children have been sent home from school because the start of the rainy season is coming and so many roads and homes are likely to be washed away, but also the children need to be at home because the upcoming election may trigger violence. It’s hard to imagine living in such unstable conditions. We don’t know how much we take for granted.

Our last stop on the tour was a four mile boat ride to see two shipwrecks. Both ships were abandoned by the companies that owned them. The first sank (I believe) after running aground in a storm and the second caught fire in the harbor. The companies didn’t even bother to pay for the crew to go home and many ended up staying on the island.

The weather got worse as morning turned to noon and we headed back to the ship. Roatàn left me with feelings of despair, yet a desire to help in some way.
We came back to the ship as soon as the tour was over. I needed a respite from the stupid gringos plus it was a good opportunity to watch the many Frigatebirds that were soaring in the skies above the ship. As the afternoon wore on, the weather became increasingly worse. The ship began to really pitch and roll so that it was difficult to stay on one’s feet. After the evening show, one of the passengers lost her footing and ended up on the floor.

I woke up feeling nauseous either from the ship’s constant rolling, the rum I had last night, or maybe both. The crew placed barf bags all along the ship, but fortunately, I haven’t needed one! After breakfast, I went back to sleep, I’m quite sure it’s the rocking of the boat making me ill as the feeling comes and goes on different parts of the ship and eating makes it much better. This afternoon, the sea calmed a bit and we seem to have outrun the storm.

The chocolate buffet this afternoon was worth it if only for the fondue and fruit. Most of the other chocolate pastries were pretty tasteless. Although the food is mostly fabulous, they do have a problem with desserts here, especially the chocolate ones. I can’t believe that I am that spoiled by Hershey’s, Ghirardelli, and Godiva chocolates, but there you are!

No birds today :-(

Spent a wonderful day with calm seas and sun. I hid on the aft deck and enjoyed the warmth I won't feel again until next year. Only one bird today (this is after all a birding blog). A House Sparrow found a respite on the boat. How the heck he got all the way out there, I don't know, but hopefully, he stuck around and got a ride back to shore.

All in all, I enjoyed the trip. I definitely want to revisit Belìze soon!

For more trip pictures, go here:

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