When I transformed this blog from a policy and politics focus into a travel blog over seven years ago, I set out with the goal of recounting a short reflection from each of my travels around the world. It took a few years (and is still ongoing), but it was an enjoyable and rewarding project to take on. Ever since, I have found myself more aware when traveling, more in the moment.
I find myself more reflective and thinking about how to describe or remember a place if I were to write about it: the smell of the salt air blowing in from the ocean at Fortaleza do Gunicho in Sintra, the lingering smells of trash co-mingling with the gasoline from the Vespas in downtown Naples, or the way the wind sounded blowing through the leaves of the coconut palms sitting on the beach in French Polynesia.
I’ve found myself thinking of how the world’s best storytellers would have described a place: Hemingway with his brief, unvarnished honesty; or Tolstoy with his sober exploration of the human psyche. Thinking about how a situation could be put into words has often helped places come alive in ways that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.
Cruising into the 26th Country
That being said, I have often felt uninspired, which is how I have felt for over two years now in recounting what will have been my 26th country visited and one which was such a quick jaunt that all I was able to see was a dock, the inside of a cab, and a beach… yes, this was a dreaded cruise stop port of call. In my first and only cruise to date, I set off to the Western Caribbean as the host of a casino tour group of 40, a colleague, and my brother-in-law, with whom I shared my less than spacious cabin.
The cruise was dubbed by some as the COVID cruise, having been delayed by several hours in New Orleans as the ship was disinfected after being the first to carry cases of the new and little understood ‘Omicron’ strain of SARS-CoV-2. As a result, the ship was allowed only 1/3rd capacity, regular safety checks were enforced, including a vaccine requirement, and no children were allowed aboard. What a fantastic time for a cruise, right? It was under this questionable set of circumstances that I set to sea with about 1,500 other passengers to Mexico, Honduras, and Belize.
I can say that I have been to Honduras in the same way that I can say that I’ve been to Hayes, Kansas. On my many drives from Cincinnati to Denver, the place became the final refueling stop before taking the last six-hour leg of the trip. There’s a Chili’s and a few gas stations, and the flatness that surrounds extends to the horizon on all sides. Is there more to Hayes than what lies within a mile of I-70? I am sure that its people have stories to tell, that the beers are cold and the company is rich and down-to-earth at the local bar. But if there is something interesting about the place, I wouldn’t know.
Roatan: Pirates, Palms, and Tony Montana
And so it was with Honduras. The “jewel” of Honduras, Roatan, was once the home to thousands of pirates and at one time to the infamous Captain Henry Morgan (side note, it is still very much home to Captain Morgan, but in a very different way). Lying about 40 miles from the country’s main coast, it is stunningly beautiful for anyone who is actually able to explore. But we did not. The morning that the Norwegian Breakaway docked at the Mahogany Bay cruise terminal, in my typical go-with-the-flow mentality, We ambled off the ship, hopped into the first cab we saw, and were whisked away to a nearby beach. Our cabbie, I’m fairly certain, took us to his family’s restaurant on a nondescript beach filled with other cruise-goers who, like me, had done a poor job at planning.
But to our delight, the beach had everything you could hope for: overpriced drinks, cornrow hair braiding, and a monkey named Tony Montana that would let you take a picture with him for only about $5. My brother-in-law and I lay on the beach in the shade of a few palm trees, if memory serves, nursing a hangover on account of the all-you-can-drink package we had on the ship and just taking in the sun as the hours of the day passed by and the waves gently crashed on the beach.
At some point, we gathered enough energy to have a local take us out snorkeling, where just a few hundred feet from shore there was a surprisingly impressive reef. As the fish darted around us, I was on the lookout for pirate booty in the one-time haven of lawlessness and buccaneer debauchery: surely, they left behind some Spanish gold in the reef that one of Roatan’s 1.9 million annual visitors had not yet found?
Beyond the Beach
On schedule, our cabbie was waiting for us at 3 PM, ready to whisk us back to the Breakaway for a 4 PM sharp departure. On the way back to the port, the road weaved in and out of a rainforest clinging to the hilly island’s coastline. We passed men swinging axes, chopping down trees, pouring cement into foundations to erect houses along the cliffs; the driver explained these men made about $200 a month in exchange for their backbreaking labor. In December as it was on this particular trip, the work was slightly less miserable, but equally as arduous I am sure. The average American made about 30 times that amount for work that almost certainly is less physically demanding.
Farewell to Honduras
I do not know if the Roatan people are thankful for the economic lifeline that cruises have provided their small and idyllic island, or if they have signed a deal with the devil in trading serenity for the fat wallets of American tourists. I do not know because outside of the cab driver, I did not speak to anyone. As if pulling back onto I-70 west from Hayes, Kansas, the ship set sail northward into the Gulf of Mexico, and we left Honduras almost as quickly as we had arrived, waving bye to Tony Montana and heading top deck to enjoy another evening of Big Waves (the beer) and conversations about quantum physics with my super genius brother-in-law.
I now can say that I know and have experienced Honduran “culture” about as much as I know the kitchen staff at that Chili’s in Hayes – maybe I’ll be back one day to find out, but for now, I’ll just settle for the fact that they make a mean fajita trio that hits the spot after 11 hours on the lonely road west through Kansas.