A CRUISE TO REMEMBER. PART 2

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

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Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras, Belize City, Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico.

On Thursday, January 10th, after a single day at sea, the ship docks in beautiful Roatán, the largest of Hondura's Bay Islands. It is located near the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest reef in the Caribbean Sea and the second largest barrier reef in the world, following Australia's Great Barrier Reef. This is important, since the small island, which is about 40 miles long and 2 and a half miles wide, is the most populous of the Bay Islands around Honduras. Coxan Hole, the capital city in the easternmost part of the Island, is the only place with modern facilities, such as an airport and supermarkets, plus some infrastructure.  The proximity to the world famous Barrier Reef is a major economic bonus: the majority of locals make their living off of tourism the Reef attracts.  With the influx of cruise ships, scuba diving and eco-tourism, the economy is built around it, combined with the abundant fishing resource it provides, it creates a stable income for the residents of the island. Blue skies, turquoise water all around, temperatures of 70-80 degrees all year around, all of which make the island highly desirable as a vacation and retirement spot.
In Roatán traffic lights don't exist, and you can hail a taxi on the water. The remote island boasts white-sand beaches, pristine bays and spectacular coral reefs.

Roatan is a true melting pot. Its 40,000 people are a mix of Spanish, British, Paya Indian and African, the result of a stormy history that includes conquistadors, buccaneers, ex slaves and and slave-traders. After Christopher Columbus landed there on his fourth voyage (1502-1504), the residents of the Bay Islands became subject to a Spanish onslaught, raiding the area for slave labour and devastating the Native American population with exposure to Eurasian infectious diseases. Since the natives had no immunity to these infections, the entire indigenous community perished in the consequent epidemics, from smallpox and measles.

Later, the island was taken over by buccaneers, looking to raid Spanish cargo vessels, and the period between the 1550-1797 was a constant political struggle, wherein the island kept changing hand, became dilapidated and mostly vacant. In the latter half of the 19th century, the island's population grew rapidly and became the main location for freed slaves from the Cayman Islands, and Jamaica, as soon as the British abolished slavery 1838.

The term 'Banana Republic' was coined here, due to the fact that the islanders started a fruit trade industry, selling fruit to the US and Europe.

In the mid-17th century, the Spanish relocated the Paya Indians in an unsuccessful attempt to rid the island of British pirates. In the late 18th century, the island was repopulated when British troops deported thousands of Black Caribs who had sided with the French during a battle over St. Vincent.

Today, tourism has overtaken commercial fishing as Roatan's top industry. Part of the world's second-largest barrier reef system, Roatan's waters are teeming with colorful coral and sponges. Divers and snorkelers swim alongside schools of fish, as well as whale sharks, barracudas, mantas, dolphins and turtles. The water feels like what you'd find in a bathtub, averaging 80 to 84 degrees, and snorkeling there is like watching high-definition television, with visibility a fantastic 80 to 120 feet.

Dozens of world-class diving and snorkeling sites are accessible from sandy white beaches around the island and through numerous operators, congregated on West End village, the hub of the island's activity. It's a mecca for marlin, tuna and wahoo lure anglers and all variety of water sports: kayaking, water-skiing, sailing and wake-boarding scuba diving and snorkeling.

The former pirate haven offers travelers unspoiled charm and exceptional marine life. Like many of its Caribbean neighbors, the island is in transition. Expensive new homes and resorts stand in sharp contrast to clapboard tin-roofed houses.

In the recent past developments in sanitation and infrastructure have improved somewhat, but on the whole, the island of Roatán is world famous for it's marine life, swimming and playing and swimming with dolphins and being blown away by the beauty of the reef. It's a haven for water sports, horseback riding or exploring the lush tropical scenery.

There was a thriving, long history of pre-Columbian indigenous peoples, believed to have been related to the Mayans.  After Christopher Columbus landed there on his fourth voyage (1502-1504), the residents of the Bay Islands became subject to a Spanish onslaught, raiding the area for slave labour and devastating the Native American population with exposure to Eurasian infectious diseases. Since the natives had no immunity to these infections, the entire indigenous community perished in the consequent epidemics, from smallpox and measles.

Later, the island was taken over by buccaneers, looking to raid Spanish cargo vessels, and the period between the 1550-1797 was a constant political struggle, wherein the island kept changing hand, became dilapidated and mostly vacant. In the latter half of the 19th century, the island's population grew rapidly and was the place for freed slaves from the Cayman Islands and Jamaica, as soon as the British abolished slavery 1838.

The term 'Banana Republic' was coined here, due to the fact that the islanders started a fruit trade industry, selling fruit to the US and Europe.

So a day in Roatán can be highly satisfying, energizing and filling one's soul with gratitude for the beauty of Nature.

Next day is Belize City, Belize, the second smallest country in Central America after El Salvador.

Again, here are some of the best diving sites with reefs that run for 150 miles along it's coast, with cays and the second longest unbroken reef in the world. It is unique for its very high concentration of authentic Mayan sites, the highest of all the countries in Central America of Mayan sites. Most famous are Altun Ha and Xunantunich, all of which are included in many shore excursions.

Belize City's downtown has some colonial charm but can be too seedy a place to walk after dark but for cruise passengers this is a mute point, since the tours and shore excursions avoid downtown and explore safely its many natural and historical attractions.

The next and last stop is on Shabbat: the ship docks in its last port of call: Costa Maya, Mexico. Beautiful Mayan ruins, yet they are a bit too far to walk to.  

Still, if you wish, a stroll on the beach to stretch your legs after the chulent, will give you a chance to absorb the beautiful clean air, see palm trees and blue sky.  Some of the sights are visible in the distance but you can still consider yourself a visitor to Costa Maya, especially if you fill in the gaps by reading about it.

The ship takes off at 5:00 pm and heads back to Miami, where you'll arrive the following morning, filled with incomparable memories and stories, which will last you a very long time.

Sarity Gervais





Disclaimer: Cruise Kosher suggests the top Kosher Cruise Agents and is not responsible for bookings made with those companies.

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