Category Archives: Latin America

Monday – Cozumel, Mexico – Changeover Day

Today, we arrived in Cozumel, a small island off the coast of mainland Mexico.

It was changeover day, which means it was the end of the holiday for those passengers who were doing the two-week ‘Contrasts of Latin America’ cruise, and were due to fly home.

I’ve worked on back-to-back cruises before, and they never get any less weird. It’s weird because a large percentage of passengers who you’ve got to know and whose faces have become familiar over the last two weeks suddenly disembark, and a whole new batch of unfamiliar faces take their place.

There’s a brief period of time between the last passenger from the previous cruise disembarking and the the first of the new lot arriving, when the vessel is quiet and sparsely populated. Crew take the opportunity to do extra cleaning, and, of course, all the cabins need to be prepared in readiness for their new occupants. It’s all strangely relaxing.

I took the opportunity to remain on board all day and catch up on some online work. Tracey went aboard briefly to find a pharmacy to buy some factor 300 sun block. Between times, we enjoyed the relative peace and quiet, drinking lots of tea up on deck and looking out across Cozumel (which we intend to explore more fully tomorrow). From about 4pm onwards, the ship started to fill up again with new arrivals, tired and incoherent from their 12-hour flights, and the cruise cycle started all over again. Neil and Louise Bonner left for home today, as did James the Cruise Director. We’re pleased to see that Stephen Smith and Steve Ragnall are joining for the next two weeks (two lecturers who we also know from the Marco Polo), and the new Cruise Director is Emma… who, hopefully will be coming armed with a huge box full of art kits to replace the ones that we didn’t have on the first two weeks… fingers crossed…

Sunday – A Beach Day in Costa Maya, Mexico

Today, we arrived in Costa Maya, in Mexico.

As we hadn’t been assigned any tour escorting duties, we decided it would be a great opportunity to go in search of a beach and perhaps enjoy some swimming that we’d intended to indulge in in Roatan, but missed due to being drafted into escorting duties at the last minute.

The ship was berthed right out on the very end of a long pier, making for a long, hot walk to the port; fortunately, a land train had been laid on to take passengers most of the way, which was rather fun.

The port was a purpose-built tourist haven, with bars and endless shops manned by bored-looking shopkeepers who couldn’t even muster up the energy to harangue us with any conviction, all selling the same brightly coloured Mexican tat and sombreros that probably look great when you’re in Mexico but would a bit daft in North Yorkshire. A small pool by the seafront contained four sad-looking dolphins (which we didn’t see but were told about by another, visibly distraught passenger); frankly, neither of us wanted to see such a tragic and cruel sight. Needless to say, we couldn’t find our way to the exit fast enough.

Once out on the street, Costa Maya became a very different place. We’d obtained a map of the area from Reception, so we knew roughly whereabouts the nearest beach would be, situated about a mile away south of the port in Downtown Mahahual. Taxi drivers with open people carriers haranged us, of course, offering a drive to the beach, with food and drink, and restroom facilities included for a mere $25 each. That would be $50 for the two of us, then. Another taxi driver offered us a lift for $3 each, each way, which would come to $12 in total. We declined, opting to take a walk instead (figuring it couldn’t be more than a 30-minute hike).

On the map, there appeared to be a direct road to the Downtown area, but when we asked someone who appeared to be a policeman, or someone official at least, we were directed the slightly longer way round, down a large, wide avenue, which we took.

We were able to walk down the middle of the wide avenue, were a walkway provided us with welcome shade from the heat of the sun (and, I can tell you that it was extremely hot!). As we walked, we both commented on how quiet, and unfinished the place seemed. Half-built houses and business plots were potted here and there, sandwiched between the scrubby vegetation; long, dusty roads appeared to stretch into infinity, populated only occasionally by the odd car or moped. We passed a few locals along the way, all of whom seemed friendly enough (Olah!), one of whom was carrying large plastic bottle of water somewhere (when in Mexico – don’t drink the water…)

Sure enough, it only took us about half an hour to forty minutes to reach the tall, white lighthouse that signified the start of Downtown Mahahual. Continuing along the coast, we soon came to a beach, which we identified from the map as Tequila Beach, where we were able to buy the use of chairs and loungers, a table shaded by a thatched canopy, use of the restrooms and facilities and a free drink, all for the princely sum of $5 each.

We stayed all day at the beach, swimming, lounging and reading. At lunchtime, we ordered very reasonably-priced hamburgers and chips from the bar before plunging headlong into an afternoon consisting of yet more serious swimming, lounging and reading. It being a Sunday, there were a number of what seemed like locals also enjoying the Blue Kay Beach Club, but there were no passengers from the Voyager to be seen (we can only assume that the taxi drivers took them to a different beach further along). It really doesn’t get much better than this… we were very happy.

All-aboard time was 5:30pm, for sailaway at 6pm so we started to gather out belongings and reluctantly make our way back to the port sometime after 3:30pm. This time, we followed one of the back roads that we could see on the map, which was very leafy but quite exposed to the sun. It was a much shorter route, and we couldn’t quite understand why the bloke that had directed us had pointed us in the direction that he had (maybe we were more likely to be ambushed by Mexican bandits on the back road).

Back at the port, we pottered around the tat shops for a bit before finally heading back to the ship. It had been a memorable day.

Belize – Lamanai

Today, we dropped anchor some distance from the Port of Belize. We didn’t have to use our own tenders from the ship, however, since fast, local boats were available to get everyone ashore in double-quick time.

As Tracey and I were on escorting duty (billed as ‘Lamanai Archaelogical Site and River Safari’), we were ready and waiting by the gangway just after 8am. By 8:30am, we were ashore, and waiting to count passengers onto the coaches. By 8:45am, we were on our way to catch a boat to Lamanai.

After roughly an hour’s journey, through Belize City, a lot of Belizian countryside and a handful of interesting facts imparted to us about Belize life by the guide, we arrived at our first destination; a restaurant by the river. Here, we were given 15 minutes to use the restrooms and have a complementary drink of water or fruit juice, before transferring to a boat for the second leg of our journey.

I think it would be fair to say that the boat trip took most passengers by surprise. For about an hour, we travelled up to speeds of 35-40mph, along narrow river channels with many tight bends, stopping only occasionally to look at snake cacti clinging to tree branches and bats clinging to tree trunks. The trip was exhiharating to say the least; I absolutely loved it – it was like being in a boat chase in a James Bond film. The young boat driver clearly loved his job (he threw the boat around like a manic rally driver) and knew the waterways like the back of his hand

Roughly 25 miles, and an hour, later, we arrived at Lamanai Archaeological site, where everybody stepped off the boat looking like they were all having a particularly bad hair day.

We walked and admired the remains of what used to be the largest Mayan city in the area, with four temples of varying sizes and shapes and howler monkeys in the trees. For me, this was always going to be one of the prime attractions of the whole cruise (along with the Panama Canal). Little is known about the Mayan civilization, or where they came from, which makes visiting their temples a particularly interesting experience. For an hour and a half, we were guided through the site, and allowed to climb to the top of the largest of the temples, from where the views were quite extensive, before making our way back to the boat for the return journey to the restaurant (which I absolutely loved!!)

Back at the restaurant, a buffet lunch consisting of rice and beans with chicken and tortillas had been laid out for us. It was delicious, but slightly rushed, as we were only given half an hour to eat it before being whisked back to the port in the buses.

Most people seemed to enjoy the tour; if there was any criticism at all, however, it was that it all seemed slightly rushed. Despite the fact that I loved the speedboat dash and wanted to go around again, it would have been nice to have spent a little more time on the ‘River Safari’ portion of the trip, looking for wildlife and exotic fauna. 30 minutes for lunch was a ridiculously short time, and definitely felt like we were being hurried along. All of this was compounded by the fact that we arrived back at port at 3:30pm, when the tour wasn’t supposed to arrive back until 5pm.

I’m happy that I’ve seen some Mayan temples, and feel satisfied with having done so… that’s another big thumbs up, and a tick in a box…

Back on board the Voyager, we rounded the day off nicely with this lovely Belize sunset….

Friday – Roatan, Honduras

Today, we arrived in Roatan Island, a long, thin slither of an island, no wider than four miles at its thickest point.

We weren’t down to be escorting a tour and had no particular plans other than checking out the local township and hunting down a nearby beach for a swim. This changed rather suddenly when Karin, from the Shore Excursions desk asked us if we’d kindly help her out by escorting a tour this afternoon. Naturally, we try to get ourselves on tours that particularly interest us, and nothing had really grabbed us when we’d looked at the list for Roatan, but we also make a policy of helping out whenever we can, in the hope of accruing a few Brownie Points.

As it happened, the tour we were asked to escort turned out to be a right belter!

On paper, it didn’t blow us away; we’re not generally mad about tours involving ‘Gardens’, but this one was something a little different.

When we arrived at Carambola Gardens, a horticultural delight, bursting with botanical samples of every kind, in well-organised and well-tended grounds, it seemed like it was going to be just another ‘Botanical Gardens’ excursion. But after being led a short way through the well-manicured bit for a while, the tour took an altogether different turn.

We found ourselves embarking on a hike that actually felt like a ‘hike’. Through dense woodland, and along rough pathways strewn with fallen palms, we followed a trail marked simply as ‘Mountain View’.

The trail was easy to follow, but wild enough to feel like we were really at one with nature. Steep and rough at times, the winding pathway led us gradually up the hill known as Carambola Mountain. The local guide was brilliant; he clearly knew the route well, and understood the needs of the not-so-young, and mostly not-so-fit group, pausing every now and then to insist that we pace ourselves, take a rest and drink water. If I’d known it was going to be as tough as it was, I would have worn my trainers and not my sandals. The hike definitely seemed to surprise most people in the group.

After about an hours hard walking, we finally reached the summit, where the views were more than compensation for the effort required to get up there. Coming down, if anything, was more challenging than going up, but we finally arrived at base camp with everyone feeling that they’d achieved something.

The second half of our tour was a visit to West End village, where folks could swim for an hour if they wished, or spend money in the local shops. We hunted down a bar and enjoyed a cold beer before heading back to the bus.

We’ve decided we rather like Roatan.

At Sea

Today was our last Sea Day for this cruise. To explain; Quiyaquil to Cozumel is a single two-week cruise, and in Cozumel, when the majority of passengers disembark (some will have booked for the two back-to-back), a new cruise begins, when we will be sailing to Cuba and a handful of Caribbean islands on our way to Barbados, where we will also be disembarking and heading towards home. I’m starting to wish I’d left getting my hair cut a little later before leaving home; by the time we get to Barbados, I’m going to be looking like a right scruffy old hippy…

I’m pleased that we’ve managed to grab some time up on deck, just gazing at the waves as they pass by, and marvelling at the sheer scale and expanse of the ocean. Tracey managed to catch a couple of lectures and I managed to get some other work done… all at a very leisurely pace.

My final workshop this afternoon was a Mayan Temple, chosen as a taster for some of the things the trip still has in store for us. As I said in my ‘Meet the Lecturers’ introduction; we can’t come all this way and not paint a Mayan Temple!

Tonight was a formal night (I went semi-formal, with a dark suit and tie), and the entertainment in the Darwin Lounge was a classical concert given by three of the on-board musicians who are collectively referred to as ‘Voyager Strings’. Classical concerts are not really our thing, but as we were duly ‘formalised’ in our attire, it seemed daft not to give it a go (all dressed up and nowhere to go n’ all that). We were both glad we did; the two violinists (one also played an accordian) were particularly impressive. Accompanying them was a young man on the piano who is also clearly very accomplished, and the three of them made forty-five minutes fly by. An excellent, and highly entertaining performance indeed.