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Caribbean cruising with Mother Nature taking centre stage


Mayan ruins, such as these in Belize, are popular excursion sites on Western Caribbean cruises. Photos: KATHY VAN MULLEKOM

Mayan ruins, such as these in Belize, are popular excursion sites on Western Caribbean cruises. Photos: KATHY VAN MULLEKOM

A cruise in the Caribbean shows a contrast of living standards but the beauty is all the same.

A trip to four ports on a seven-day cruise in the Western Caribbean is a lesson in lean-versus-luxury living.

In Roatan, Honduras, laundry hangs to dry under the protection of stilt-built, stark-looking houses because it’s always raining – 254cm (100 inches) a year – and few people can afford a clothes dryer.

In Cozumel, Mexico, pretty houses painted pastel colours dot the roadways while sunbathers frequent beautiful beaches.

Belize is somewhere in between, economically, thanks to retirees flocking there for upscale homes priced around US$250,000 (RM926,950). In Mexico, Costa Maya is pretty, too, but only along the shoreline where cruise liners dock so tourists can see sights such as ancient Mayan ruins.

Tranquil: A swinging bridge over a small pond at Gumbalimba Park in Roatan, Honduras. Photos: Kathy Van Mullekom/TNS
Tranquil: A swinging bridge over a small pond at Gumbalimba Park in Roatan, Honduras. Photos: Kathy Van Mullekom/TNS

Even so, each port offers beauty among its wildlife and plants, showing how Mother Nature shares her bounty while ignoring the differences in living standards.

Here’s what we saw and experienced on our Royal Caribbean International trip, which left from Tampa, Florida.

Roatan, Honduras: Gumbalimba Park is an 8ha beachfront park that features something for all ages, especially anyone who likes close-up interaction with exotic animals – jump-on-your-shoulder monkeys, hovering metallic-green hummingbirds, free-roaming iguanas, free-flying exotic birds and other animals native to the jungle-like environment. 

A hanging bridge takes you across a lake and past tropical outdoor plants that grow as houseplants in the United States. You also see the park’s namesake, the gumbalimba tree with its red, exfoliating bark and deep-green leaves. Once you finish walking the park, you can enjoy the pool, relax on the beach or eat at a café. 

Belizes national flower, the black orchid, thrives on trees in damp areas throughout the country.
Belizes national flower, the black orchid, thrives on trees in damp areas throughout the country.

Belize: A 35.4km boat ride up the 290km New River takes you past manatees and, if you are lucky, a show-off dolphin or two that leaps and dives around your vessel, much to everyone’s delight. The boat was open, allowing rain and water to splash everyone, but the guide’s entertaining narrative kept everyone tuned to the sights. 

You disembark at the New River Lagoon where you enjoy lunch and laugh at the antics of monkeys in nearby trees. 

The lagoon also showcases Belize’s national flower, the black orchid. From there, it’s a one-hour bumpy bus ride – roads are not good in Roatan or Belize – to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai, fills the afternoon. Remnants of stone buildings, some mere rubble and others reaching several storeys skywards, date back to 1,500BCE. It’s a seven-hour excursion that sounds long but the time actually passes quickly.

Costa Maya, Mexico: Another bus trip to Mayan ruins meant a ride along better but still bumpy roads. These ruins, however, feature their own kind of mystery. 

Shrouded in a dense jungle-like atmosphere, the ruins host moss and small trees growing out of the handmade bricks you can just envision the Mayan people making for their temples and garden edges. 

Everyone on a Mayan ruin excursion talks in low voices, almost out of a respect for the way of life that still seems to permeate the site, and the quietness of the moment allows you to hear the sounds of birds flitting through the jungle.

A gravel pathway takes you through lush greenery in a small botanical garden at Chankanaab Beach Park in Cozumel.
A gravel pathway takes you through lush greenery in a small botanical garden at Chankanaab Beach Park in Cozumel.

Everyone on a Mayan ruin excursion talks in low voices, almost out of a respect for the way of life that still seems to permeate the site, and the quietness of the moment allows you to hear the sounds of birds flitting through the jungle.

Back at the shoreline where cruise ships dock, modern times welcome you – swim-up bars around the rim of a large, waist-deep public pool, dolphin show and shopping at open-air stores where shop owners invite you to visit.

Cozumel, Mexico: A third day of Mayan ruins was possible but not desirable. Chankanaab Beach Park, just minutes away from the pier, was a much better choice. 

The first order of business was a swim with the dolphins. Whereas some dolphin swims can be nothing more than petting the creatures’ silky-smooth skin as they pass by, this outing was far better. For 45 minutes, our guide shared interesting titbits about dolphins – they shed their skin every two hours – and taught us commands the dolphin would respond to. 

At the end of A Swim With Dolphins adventure in Cozumel, Mexico, a dolphin plants a kiss on the writers cheek.
At the end of A Swim With Dolphins adventure in Cozumel, Mexico, a dolphin plants a kiss on the writer's cheek.

Standing in Caribbean-blue water up to our chests, we hung on to the dockside while a dolphin swam back and forth, leaping and diving as she glided effortlessly through the water. Photographers on the dock captured individual images of us as we posed several times with the dolphin. I came home with a US$84 (RM311.50) DVD of images I’ll cherish forever. 

Next time, I’ll swim with the dolphins.

Afterwards, we strolled through the beach park’s botanical garden, walked on the beach and took in a sea lion show. Lunch in a restaurant fronting the Dolphin Discovery area was tasty and priced right, less than US$20 (RM74) for two generous club sandwiches and drinks. – Daily Press/Tribune News Service

Caribbean , cruise , nature , Mayan , Mexico , Belize

   

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