Christmas in Central America.

Written Thursday, December 24 – Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

It’s Christmas Eve! We woke up this morning to Roatan, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. I wanted to lie in bed a bit longer, but my mom insisted on getting out to the port village so we could take a look at plastic things to buy. There was actually a shop with a sign that said, “We have nothing from China!” When he caught our eye, the clerk put his hands up in a gesture of surrender and said that he had nothing to do with it. Anyway, we went out on the pier and looked around at things. We made our way down the main corridor toward where the taxis were and only got a third of the way before six or seven stalls of people began to lean over and shoving signs in our faces about their excellent tour and taxi services. I beat a hasty retreat, my mom in tow, and we headed back. Tourism does have its pitfalls. Our main activity today was a shore excursion today to Maya Key, a small cay right next to our cruise port. The tiny ferry that took us there seated about thirty people. We ended up on this tiny island that you could walk around in ten minutes if you wanted to walk fast. It was pretty charming, actually. There was a beach with many lounge chairs, a long dock to snorkel in the reef, and the day was sunny and breezy.

Maybe too breezy. The wind made the water choppy and reduced some of the visibility. It also made swimming against the current a little bit harder, but overall, snorkeling went all right. The barrier reef that runs along Mexico, Belize, and Honduras is the same – the Mesoamerican Reef, reputed to be the second biggest in the world. We swam out a good deal from the dock, which already extended a good deal out from shore. We followed a trail of ropes, marked by plastic bottles every ten feet that bobbed on the surface, through a path in the coral to the open water. What I like about snorkeling is the ability to see a whole different world, right under the water. Just by putting your face underwater, you open yourself up to that world. Snorkeling can range from the unremarkable – bland tan and brown coral that is more dead than alive and occasionally small white fish – to the extraordinary – large brain coral as big as refrigerators, with schools of hundreds of dark blue or light green fish swirling around. This experience was somewhere in the middle. About a hundred feet out from the dock, there was a sharp drop-off where visibility dwindled to nil, but on the edge of the drop-off, we saw much more vibrant marine life. There was some great brain coral, beautiful large elkhorn coral which is mustard yellow and shaped according to its name, and even large lavender and dark blue leaves that bobbed in the current. We saw a few small schools of fish, dark black and blue, feeding in the coral. It was however a bit frustrating because the current moved with the gusts of wind above, and at times I found myself suspended despite my best efforts to swim in one direction. The drop-off also made me slightly scared. I’m a strong swimmer, and my mom and I have been snorkeling in the Caribbean a dozen times. But occasionally, the open water calls up a little bit of trepidation, and the gusty wind added to it today. My mom was overall unimpressed with the snorkeling, and we called it a day after two trips out.

My mom’s favorite part was the animals, which were the saving grace of this excursion. Maya Key offered a small animal sanctuary with all kinds of tropical animals which the staff was careful to stipulate had all been donated, confiscated, or rescued to end up here. Many of them were on controlled diets and were being nursed back to health. We saw many colorful birds – toucans, macaws, parrots, and parakeets with brightly colored bills and a loud opinion they wanted to share with everyone. There were cats, large and small, from the margay and ocelot to the panther and mountain lion. The margay, which is a type of tree ocelot, was sleeping the second time we went to see it, curled up in its tree house like such a housecat it was disarmingly cute. It could still probably savage your face, though, so don’t be fooled by appearances. There were monkeys galore – large howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins. My mom was so taken by the capuchins that we went by the animal cage to meet them twice. On either side of a wire-fence enclosure, there were two small ante-chambers, allowing someone to come in, and then leave on the other side, and minimizing the chances of animals escaping. Inside, we were introduced to two young capuchins strangely named Coco and Stinky, respectively 3 and 2 years old. They were curious about everything and treated humans like tall pieces of furniture, swinging on their branches and jumping straight to a shoulder and then a head. They loved to pat everything with their long fingers and poke and try to take things off. I watched them part people with eyeglasses and attempt to remove my mother’s earrings. My mom was absolutely so taken with them we had to take multiple photos with them. We were given bowls of vegetables and fruit so that they could eat and sit with us while the staff took our cameras and snapped a few shots. (After leaving, I actually found a few pieces of chopped watermelon on my mom’s shoulder.) When I tried to reach out and grab the bowl my mom was holding, the capuchin she was supporting took exception to my attempt and grabbed my right hand and bit my hand just below the thumb quite efficiently. What a stinker. That one was probably Stinky, come to think of it.

We came back to the ship in the afternoon, and I capped off the day by sitting in the hot tub for a while. I made friends with a Chinese couple I met, who promised to introduce my mom and me to a good snorkeling place tomorrow in Costa Maya. Thank goodness, because I hadn’t found anything online earlier. What I lack for formal research inquiries I make up with my informal networking attempts! We made it off to dinner, and then the Thursday night football game. My mom retired to the room after a while because the renewed swaying of the boat (we’re back on the open sea between Honduras and Mexico now) made her dizzy. I then struck up a conversation with the guy sitting next to me, who turned out to be from San Francisco. We had fun talking about housing prices out there, other cruises, and just shooting the breeze. It turned out he was also on the cruise with his mother, who recently turned 75, so this was her birthday present.

We wrapped up the evening by watching the Dawn Christmas Spectacular, which is the Christmas show they do on the boat. There were some magic tricks, a full-throated rendition of “Let It Go” from Frozen that had absolutely all the kids gasping from the first note, some dances and skits, and even an acrobatic performance. These cruise ship shows are pretty extraordinary when you think about it – in the midst of the tossing and turning, when ordinary folk have trouble just walking around in a straight line, the dancers and performers pull off a great show that manages to be family friendly and fun without being boring and bland. I think the entertainers work really hard for their job, and it shows!

We’re off to bed a bit earlier than usual, and tomorrow, we’ll land in Costa Maya, Mexico for our last port. After that, it’s another day at sea and then back to New Orleans.

Written Friday, December 25 – Christmas in Costa Maya, Mexico

We disembarked today at our last port, Costa Maya. According to the Internet, this is completely a fabricated port that was built purely for the cruise ships. A mile south is the sleepy fishing village of Mahahual, which is not really a sleepy fishing village anymore, but much more of a tourist-filled little town with tons of development going on around it. We met up with these two Chinese couples of my mom’s age. They both have kids around my age; one of the couples lives in Wisconsin, and the other couple lives in Charlotte, actually. The Wisconsin couple had been here before many years ago, and directed us off toward the left to walk to the village. It was a hot and intense day as usual, but we spent a good time walking around and talking.

Our primary aim was snorkeling, but this turned out to be a bad day for it. Though the Wisconsin couple swore up and down that they’d had perfect snorkeling here, the weather today was very windy just like yesterday in Honduras, so we spent most of the time swimming and kayaking around. Along the shore, many restaurants with tables by the beach offered free WIFI, free kayaking, and a bunch of goodies. All you had to do was order drinks or food at the low price of a dollar per beer. So we started off the morning with some Dos Equis and Coronas! My mom and I swam out as far as we could with one of the men in the group, to try to see if we could get to the reef from there. However, it was murky and cloudy the whole way, even though we’d swam out a good hundred yards. Instead, we tried to kayak around a little bit, and had fun. My mom slipped off the kayak at one point, and we laughed ourselves silly trying to get her back on. We ended up back at the pier, and walked around to try to find something else to do. My mom and I ended up getting half hour massages for $10 a person. Pretty decent! I even picked up a few good massage tricks for hands and feet that would be nice to try out.

I think in general it was good for my mom and me to meet another bunch of people and talk with them. We got into some good conversations about things like where to invest in real estate (Chinese expats love talking money and talking investments) and how kids these days don’t hang out with you anymore. My mom in fact lamented the fact that raising kids in the US wasn’t the same as raising kids in China, and another man lamented that raising kids in China didn’t guarantee great results either. I had to insert the dry remark that it seemed like raising kids wasn’t safe to do anywhere. My mom and I split a daiquiri, and having not eaten since breakfast, I actually ended up on the sand at one point when I overbalanced in my gestures. After that, I had to order some chicken tacos and recover a bit of sobriety. On the way back, we even got into the politics, so it was funny to watch.

We made it back to the ship, and after we showered, I ended up having a nice long nap in order to recuperate. This evening, we ended up checking out the evening show, which featured aerialists, magicians, and a lot of fun song and dance numbers. They were really pretty. The magicians on the ship are actually pretty good – David and Abi Haines are a husband-and-wife couple who do all the usual sort of magic tricks. They’re fun and interesting to watch, and make you wonder exactly how they did it. You know it was something about mirrors and the angle and this and that, but the speed and flash to their tricks are pretty remarkable. After the show, we ended up going to the other end of the ship to catch the Second City improv troupe show. It was a family friendly show, which means that kids sit in front and get to volunteer and scream all they want. Pretty hilarious.

We walked around the ship a bit afterwards, and I got to take more photos of the ship so we can document the daily life aboard the ship. I said hi to a few of the Second City troupe members when I saw them in the buffet for lunch. We met a family from Winston-Salem in the casino, who were having lots of fun. Quite a few people we met have taken advantage of the unlimited beverage package that you can opt for – unlimited beers, wine, and even mixed drinks up to $15, which is pretty extraordinary. We ended up opting for the cash toward shore excursions, which is more our cup of tea, no pun intended.

Finally, we finished the puzzle that we had started on the first day of the trip. Hooray! The last bits of the picture to be put into place were the grass and water pieces, which took absolutely-freaking-forever. But somehow my mom managed the last bits on her own. Tomorrow, we have one more day at sea, which means many more shows and things like that. There’s a Second City improv class for example, as well as a lecture on what happens backstage on the boat – you can learn about exactly how much food is required, and how they deal with docking and waste management and things like that. It’s funny, but I kind of started off the cruise kind of dreading it a bit, because it’s like mandatory fun, but it’s ended up being pretty good, and I really like talking to strangers and making conversation. So there you are. One more day here!

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