Generally speaking, cars dominate the “mobile life” in Central America, too. I was well aware of it. And yet I was surprised when I saw the number and frequency of congestions in the big and small cities. The same is true for the (probably only imagined) dependency on all kinds of combustion motors.

Let me first say something about cruises:

Well, we did an entire round through the Caribbean on the huge TUI ship “MeinSchiff 4“ – with four days at sea and ten days on shore. This ship does the same route several times between December and February, another “MeinSchiff“  does another round in the same area with other destinations. Then they go to new waters and cruise those. Cruises have become a sort of “regular service”, which certainly facilitates the logistics. But it also makes the travelling experience a little more “convenient”. And, of course, there are ships from many shipping companies doing business in the Caribbean.

World tours individually designed, for instance from Hamburg back to Hamburg stretching over a time frame of nine months with new routes, have become scarce. That is true for all the shipping companies I know, such as Costa, Celebrity or MeinSchiff (TUI) – and the same is true for the small ones.

However, this is not bad news, because travelling on a ship has a huge advantage. Throughout the day, you will see many places in various countries and you can actually structure your day quite intensely and individually. The often inconvenient transport happens at night and is very comfortable. That means a ship is basically a mobile hotel where you wake up at a new location every morning.

I am well aware of the problem of cruises (and far-away vacations in general). As a general rule, only flying long distance will take you there – and a ship is definitely a strong “environmental sinner”. That means one cruise every year will destroy all the efforts I make towards getting a more environment-friendly carbon dioxide footprint. Even the fact that I no longer drive a car or go by bike or public transport in Germany is little help.

Let me explain step by step:

During our two-week cruise through Central America, the people check in and out of the ship at one of two harbours: La Romana and Montego Bay, both of which have a harbour and an airport in Jamaica.

As a general rule, you leave the ship where you boarded it. That means that these convenient cruises expect you to return to the place where you originally arrived. Consequently, you will not need an open jaw ticket. We boarded our ship in La Romana in the Dominican Republic (R.D.), where we also left the ship. Luckily, that meant the shortest flight from Munich to the Caribbean.

We wanted to see as much as possible of the country, rather than just collect impressions through car and bus windows. What we wanted was get into contact with “the country and the people”. And that is what we also accomplished. We often went places on foot and – unfortunately – only once rode bikes. We used cars (taxis) three times. We took four organized tours, for which purpose we often used a bus and various-sized boats. Once, a cable car was our means of transportation.

How it started:

On December, 9th, around 4 p.m. and after more than ten hours on board, our plane landed at the airport of La Romana in the Dominican Republic. From the landing strip, the bus took us to the harbour, which was about ten minutes for the few kilometres. The luggage was delivered directly from the plane to the ship cabin – which means that, in terms of logistics, the transfer from home to the ship was really optimal.

However, the check-in at the ship took rather long. On this route, the ship only has two “change days” (they used to call them arrival and departure days) and that means that around 1,000 new passengers will arrive from their own charter flights in a short time interval. We were just about the last. That means it took some time before we were on board, even though the check-in, too, was rather well organized with many desks. But, as I said before: the good news was that the luggage was sitting right in front of our cabin.

The voyage starts!

We arrived on December , 9th. The 10th of December was a day at sea en route to Jamaica. That was quite well, because it was a needed day of leisure after the long flight. We arrived at Ocho Rios harbour in the morning of December, 11th.

December, 11th – Ocho Rios – Jamaica – – ON FOOT
Departure time around 7:00 / arrival time 20:00

This is the first mainland day on our trip and my first time in Jamaica, the country of Bob Marley!

One of Ocho Rios’ attractions is the Dunn’s River Falls. They are “waterfalls” where the water flows down on a plateau-like descent. You can climb up through the flood of water from down on the ocean for around fifty metres. It looks spectacular – in fact it looks a lot more dangerous than it actually is. .The sweet water is pleasantly warm, which makes the entire adventure a nice joke. Finding the shallow places is no problem, which means you can easily do it without a guide.

Barbara at the Dunn’s River Waterfalls on her way up!

On board the ship, there is a “day’s itinerary” for each day (printed in paper, too) and, with the exception of days at sea, there is also “harbour information”. It contains useful information and a map of the harbour. On the map, we can see that, apparently, it is not too far from where our ship is docked in Ocho Rios to the Dunn’s River Falls. Our estimation is that it might be between five and ten kilometres.

Consequently, we set out to hike the way. It is a little cloudy, which is naturally good news for our December paleness. Again and again, it rains. But that is not a problem for us, because the rain is warm. In fact, we consider it nice refreshment. Once in a while, we seek shelter and thus have our first chance to get in touch with the local population.

For us tourists, the admission fee for the Dunn’s River Falls is 20 USD per person. There is no discount for retired persons. Many families who live in the country with their numerous offspring are also standing in the queue. In their faces, you can see how they are looking forward to the experience. They pay half. The organized trip from the ship to the waterfalls would have cost us around 50 USD, but that would not have been hiking. Instead, we would have had a bus and a guide.

Early in the afternoon, we are back on board. On the whole, we hiked perhaps around 15 kilometres, which is not bad, is it? Later in the afternoon, we go to the “village”. Most of the shops are closed. After all, it is the Third Advent Sunday. I would like to buy a Bob Marley T-shirt. Actually, due to the Sunday, many shops are closed, but there are still enough open.

Bob Marley is truly worshipped here. He is the national hero of Jamaica. In general, T-shirts are cheap, only buying Bob Marley comes at a higher price. After having looked in several shops, we find an official T-shirt I rather like. However, depending on the shop, it costs between 20 and 36 USD. As opposed to this, a “normal” T-shirt can be bought for five or even (considerably) fewer US dollars. The salespersons strictly refuse to sell the Bob Marley shirt for less than 18 USD. It seems to me that selling the national hero for little money is definitely sacrilegious.

Our ship takes off after darkness has fallen and continues to drive along the coast of Jamaica to Montego Bay (Mo Bay). And a nice red original Bob Marley t-shirt is sitting in my “suite”. I will wear it on Silvester Eve at home.

December, 12th – Montego Bay – Jamaica – – ON FOOT, Taxi
Departure time 7:00 / arrival time 22:00; doing our own tour

This is how a Christmas Tree looks in Jamaica. The one you see here is being erected in the centre of Montega Bay.

Incidentally, the second change day of this route was in Montego Bay. This means that around 1,000 persons leave the ship and 1,000 new arrivals board. However, this does not concern us. After all, we want to go back to the mainland.

The “harbour information” map shows us that the way to the centre should be around seven kilometres, which means that it is definitely possible to hike.

So we start: first along the Southern Cros Blvd, then turning left onto Howard Cooke Hwy. This time, there are hardly any clouds and practically no shadow. Regardless, we arrive at Montega Bay Market after little more than an hour.

Our Mo Bay amusement tour is rather long. The return trip seems to be longer than the way out when we are half way. Perhaps it is a good idea to take a taxi? At this very moment, a taxi driver sitting at the kerb asks us if he can take us to the ship. He will drive us for free, because then he can enter the harbour taxi area. If you are parked there, you can earn real good money. Later, we will learn that going by taxi from the ship at the harbour to diverse destinations will always be several times as much as is normally charged. We are a little exhausted and gladly accept the generous offer.

Late in the evening, the journey continues to Mexico. Between Mo Bay and Cozumel, however, there is the second day at sea on December, 13th.

December, 14th – San Miguel/Cozumel – Mexico – – RIDING OUR BIKES
Departure time 6:30 / arrival time 20:00; doing our own tour

Cozumel is an island sitting before the eastern coast of the Mexican peninsula Yucatán. We leave the ship rather early and first stroll towards the centre of the small village San Miguel. On the harbour information map, the way looks considerably shorter than the one to Montega Bay (and that turns out to be true). Regardless, the number of taxi drivers who tell us that it is too far to walk feels like a hundred.

However, we do not manage to get to the centre, because we discover a bike rental next to a motorbike rental (exclusively letting Harley-Davidson machines) on the right side as you walk into the town. The bike rental will close at 4 p.m. (after all, darkness falls early), but since this is early afternoon, there is enough time left.

They offer very simple bikes for 10 USD – only equipped with a brake and lacking both gear shifts and an additional hand brake. For 15 USD, you can get some sort of trekking bike, which has a gear shift and free-wheeling. And then there are some electronically supported “fat boys”. You can hire them for 20 USD. Prices are for one bike and one day.

Well, I rather like the idea of trying an electrical fat boy. However, the salesperson warns us that the batteries are just in the process of being loaded and that this will take some time. Since I feel a little “unfamiliar” with only a pedal brake, we take two “trekking bikes” for 30 USD.

A nice long bike trip brings us to the northern beaches of Cozumel Island on the coast of Mexico.

The bikes are well-oiled, the tyres have enough air. The bottom bracket of my bike seems to have a problem, since it makes strange noises. Regardless, we very much enjoy riding the bikes.

First, we continue on our way to the centre of San Miguel. We look at a few shop windows. As everywhere, there are many jewellery shops, specializing in diamonds. They will continue to haunt us throughout the entire trip.

Then we go back in a northerly direction, passing the bike rental and the ship and then onto a street going north along the eastern coast. We ride along exquisite hotels that look quite expensive and seem to stand sentinel on the way like pearls, except that the distance between two of them is mostly a few hundred metres, occasionally also one or two kilometres. We ride quite a far way along the ocean and we really enjoy it – then we get hungry and thirsty. We turn around, again pass the ship and go to the bike rental, where we hand back our bikes. Then we walk a little more than one kilometre back to the ship. It was a great day. In the evening, we depart for Belize.

I almost forgot:
In Cozumel, shortly before the bike rental, we visit a small bar on a minor road, where we have “free WLAN”. In return for drinking two cups of coffee and one bottle of water for three times three USD, we can use the internet and read and send emails. Answer chats. Download the SZ and do whatever else has accumulated.

December, 15th -– Belize City – Belize – – BUS, BOAT, ON FOOT
Departure time 9:00 / arrival time 20:00; organized trip.

It seems that Belize City does not have a harbour that can be accessed by ships as huge as the MeinSchiff 4. On this one visit of the mainland, the ship does not enter the harbour as usual. Instead, it lies at anchor far out. Consequently, it has to tender. Normally, that is a procedure where the ship’s own lifeboats are launched, and then they have to commute between the ship and the mainland. In Belize, they provide a regular tender service for this. Since we booked an early organized trip that departs early, we can use the second tender to the mainland.

Our trip seems to look quite attractive to many passengers. We need two busses. Everybody wants to see the Maya heritage. We are early, the busses have not yet arrived. Consequently, we wait in the harbour building. It feels a little like when I was in primary school – we stand in rows of two and wait. Then our bus arrives and we are transferred to Tower Hill. This is where, at long last, we get “local treats” – chicken with inlaid onions and delicious vegetables. Along with it, we get the standard “wedding” – that is rice on black beans. I know the “wedding” from our Cuba bike tour two years ago. Since I do not like rice, I pass on it. However, all the other dishes are really tasty – simple and delicious.

Now we are full and content, and thus move into small but very fast boats that are supposed to take us to Laimanai. We are the last to board and consequently sit at the very rear. The boats hurry to Laimanai at tremendous speed. All we can see to the right and left are the water fountains. On or way back, we will apply a different strategy.

At long last: the Lamanai Maya Temples.

This is what we do. On the return trip, our seats are at the front of the ship. And the view is spectacular. Also, the boat no longer seems to go quite so incredibly fast
The Maya city of Laimanai was truly very impressive. On the way back, however, there are some small problems. First, our captain has to help a boat that cannot move on. And then our bus gets stuck in a mega congestion.

This is how the end of the shore trip is as late as 7.30 p.m. .There is no time left for a stroll through Belize City.The only things we can report are those we saw from the bus. To us, Belize looked very British, not just because you drive on the left-hand side. That was something we already knew from Jamaica.

As soon as we arrive back on the ship, it sets out. To be sure, it is not quite as punctual as usual. It is a little after 8 p.m. We had to wait for another tour group that was a little late. Now we set out for Honduras.

December, 16th – Roatán – Honduras – – ON FOOT, Taxi
Arrival time 9:00 / departure time 20:00; by ourselves

View from the ship – looking towards West Bays, which is where we are headed.

Roatán is an island situated half an hour by ship from the mainland of Honduras. Today, we want to go to the “Westbays“. Because they say the beach is particularly nice there. And, if possible, we would also like to ride bikes again.
First we enter the small town east of the harbour and ask the local population where we might rent a bike. The answer is: not on this side, but perhaps on the northern side of the island, that is behind the mountains. That is where you might find a bike rental. We can go there by taxi.

But that would not make sense, would it? Then we try to find out how far it is to the “Westbays“ . We get different answers and eventually agree on the number seven. But we are talking miles. So we start out. And before we leave the town, we discover a very special place. It is a small park area with benches that seem to be dedicated to friends of Honduras from Taiwan. There is pretty good public WLAN. We are online for the second time on this trip and download all we need.

Then we start out on foot. Back to the ship, passing the ship and going towards the “Westbays“. Time and again, it rains. Initially, we take shelter under palms that line the streets. Since that is not much use, we eventually continue hiking even when it rains. After all, the rain is nice and warm.

All the time, taxis stop next to us and offer their service. And they warn us that the way to the “Westbays“ is quite far and also rather arduous. Then we are beyond the half-way point. We take a break and enter a bar. And we drink several bottles of Salva Vida, which is one of the local Honduras beers. And we enjoy the sun of Central America on the pedestrian overpass. If paradise is half as nice …

So far, the street had no inclines and went straight along the southern coast. It was a nice path. Now we will have to turn inland. We wonder if it would be a good idea to turn around. Or should we go to our destination and then let a taxi transfer us home?

Again, it rains. Rather heavily. So far, we were always dry again by the time the next shower came. Now this no longer works. The rain finally drenched all our clothes. Now the path leads into the mountains. The view gets nicer and nicer – the path steeper and steeper. Initially, it is only up, then suddenly first down and then up. Extremely often. And as soon as, after a steep decline, we think that now the way must go down to the ocean, the next incline waits.

On our way, we see many tourist attractions. Several “Flying Dogs““Cool Runnings“, a Monkey-Park and similar things are supposed to lure the hiker. However, all those places seem to be closed – perhaps due to the rain.

Finally, we manage to arrive on the beautiful Westbays beaches. They certainly look nice, but they are also full of reclining chairs. On the water, the boats are sitting nose to nose. This is a little sobering. But then, we managed to get here and reach our destination, didn’t we?

It was a strenuous hike. Now we are really soaking wet. We find a taxi. For 10 USD, it takes us home to our ship. We are cold in the taxi. So the air conditioning is out and the windows are open. This is better. What a great day!

Wet to the bones, a little exhausted but very happy: our arrival at the West Bays Beach in Roatán/Honduras.

This was the first week! In my next post, I will tell you about the second week, which was from December, 17th to December, 23rd. It will start with a day at sea.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

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