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Unexpected Treasures on the Cruise of a Lifetime
By Melinda Bass
Originally published September 22, 2017
On August 30th we set off on a 3 day drive to Miami to board a ship bound for the Eastern Caribbean, six nights on board the Carnival Glory bound for Puerto Rico, Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay and St. Thomas United States Virgin Islands (USVI). We had no idea what the driving conditions would be like, due to the still-powerful weather Hurricane Harvey was producing between here and our departure port. Rain was heavy from Louisiana to Alabama and began to let up once we reached Florida. Once we arrived in Miami, it was clear and sunny. After boarding the ship, there was an announcement from the Captain on the loud speaker that Hurricane Irma, which had already become a category four hurricane earlier in the week with an unknown path, had settled into a course and our planned itinerary lay directly within that path. Since Irma had chosen it’s path, we changed courses, heading instead to the Western Caribbean. Fortunately, we were travelling with our travel agent, Mary Fogel of Emerald Cruises and Travel, and she had plenty of information to share. She informed us we would be heading to Grand Cayman, Isla Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. My husband and I had been to half of these places, but our children hadn’t seen any of them, so we set off on a new adventure, ready to explore and learn.
First stop: George Town, Cayman Islands. Beautiful, colorful city. The older kids took the younger kids to swim with the stingrays. They had fun petting them, swimming around with them, feeding them…it was definitely something they will remember. Doug and I spent time wandering the town looking at the different pastel colored buildings. With all this color, the one building that caught my eye was white, a beautiful stark white against the caribbean blue sky surrounded by lush green palm trees. This wasn’t just any building, this was a church, a house of God. My favorite picture from here shows the wonder and glory of God’s beautiful sun directly behind the cross on top of the church building.
Our second stop was Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras. Roatan is a small Island off the coast of Honduras, measuring only 44 miles long and 5 miles wide at it’s widest point. The island rests on an exposed part of the ancient coral reef called the Mesoamerican Reef, which is the second largest reef in the world, rising to about 270 meters (890 ft) above sea level. Soon after Columbus’ visit to a nearby island between 1502 and 1504 the Spanish began invading the small group of islands for slave trade. Roatan became home to slave traders, pirates, individual settlers, and military forces. My kids enjoyed the history and my son was excited to step foot where pirates had once trodden. The little trade area was clean and friendly and the beaches were gleaming white sand against the beautiful Caribbean blue ocean. The best part, even though I am afraid of heights myself, was the Magic Flying Chair. This ride is a five minute ride, much like a ski lift that takes you up and over the trees for a breathtaking view of the beach and miles and miles of ocean.
Our third stop was Belize City, Belize. This was truly an unexpected and exciting new treasure in my travel explorations. Belize was a beautiful place coast-side, and charming in the main part of the city. We walked off the ship and were immediately covered in sweat….the humidity was so high! It was 86 degrees, and the heat index brought the temp feel to 101. Our guide said it wasn’t hot that day…it was on the low side for this time of year, and yet due to the humidity, he had sweat pouring down, as well. We took a city tour in an air conditioned van and saw the highlights and received a short history lesson. Belize was originally part of Great Britain and because of this, there are a good number of streets in Belize City named after Prince’s and Princesses from the country. During its time as part of the British Empire, there were many different people from different backgrounds and because of this, as our guide Cardinal said, “Belize is a melting pot of people and cultures rich in God, with a wonderfully colorful history and a promising future.” There are 12 co-ed schools from primaries to high schools.
There are also two all-girl high schools and two all-boy high schools, as well as three Universities. Their prominent goal for education is to raise the literacy rate in the country for every girl and boy. The schools are not air conditioned and everyone wears a uniform. The parents donate fans and toilet paper for their classes. Since they were part of Britian until 1981, Belize is the only Central American country that teaches English as their main language with Spanish as their second language. Lunches are not provided, local food vendors cook all morning, then set up outside the schools. At lunch time children of all ages fill the streets and purchase food from these vendors for $3 to $8 ($6 to $16 USD) depending on what they want…beans and rice with either chicken, pigs feet, pork etc. Chicken is what they consume the most. That coming Sunday was the celebration of The Battle of St. George’s Caye. The Spanish tried several times to invade Belize and during this last invasion they went out and put out markers to mark the areas with sandbars and reefs so they wouldn’t try to sail over them. During the night, the Belizians moved them and waited until the Spanish ships wrecked the next morning on their advance. As they wrecked, they bombarded them with artillery and ran them off. Spain never tried to invade again. September 10th every year is a huge carnival celebration with dancing in the streets and costumes to celebrate this victory.
This next part I found particularly interesting….there was an old building, almost 200 years old, when we passed it he pointed out it’s age. It was one of the older homes on the island and is now a television station on the top floor. Down in the lower part of the building was a place where long ago slaves were held. He said there are still chains on the floors and walls in that room below where they were transported in and held before being transported to their next place. The slave part didn’t intrigue me, I know about the slave trades. Blacks, whites, Hispanics, Irish, Indians, Chinese….so many different people over the course of history have been in a place we would never wish to be. What intrigued and impressed me was this…
Our guide was a young black man. The other passengers on the tour were black. We were the minority on this ride (4 out of 10). Our guide stressed the importance of history, sharing where we have been, how we got there, and how we came out of what held our ancestors back. This doesn’t just hold true for my brothers and sisters of other nationalities, races, creeds, and religions. This is for everyone. This man, who has children ages 10 and eight, said he is glad that pieces of history like these chains remain, as a teaching tool and moment for him, his children, their children, and future generations. Now, the other family in the van were from America, and they said many times how good we have it here in the States…how we take advantage daily, of the things we have that other countries either don’t have, or have to work harder for. They are saddened at the removing of historical figures that served as teaching moments for them, their children, and grandchildren. How their future generations won’t have the same opportunities they had, how it seems the US is trying to water down and sugar coat history. Their ancestors were slaves and they were proud of the fight they fought, the pride they kept, the love they had for a country that eventually released their bonds and set them free as they should have been…of the fights on both sides to stand for what they believed in (which for the South was NOT just slavery) and for those that fought better and smarter and changed the country for the better… increasing our own melting pot. These people believed in history, embraced their history, and looked forward to a brighter future because where you have been, shapes where you will go, and your determination molds future generations to keep history from repeating itself.
Another very interesting fact: I heard a lot about President Trump on this trip, from people on the ship, to people in these other countries. Not one negative thing did I hear from the natives. Trump donates his money to help others, Trump wants to make the U.S. strong like other countries with immigration laws. (Fun fact…you have to go through the proper channels to be in these other countries or it’s JAIL time here before you get sent back to your country.) Trump wants to keep history alive so it doesn’t get repeated and ruin another generation. The media has you fooled if you think countries hate Trump and therefore hate America; even here in Cozumel, Mexico I, heard many good things. What do we teach our kids…hate and division? Distrust? Do we encourage our children to fear History, hate the present and have uncertainty in their future? Or do we teach them to love history, empower their present and mold their future? I prefer the latter. My children will know there were slaves, slave owners, and people who wanted freedom for all. There were people who fought for both sides and because of the prevailing side, our world was forever changed.
Belize is a wonderful place. Full of culture, Christian love, beautiful fun loving people who do not say they are lucky, but that they are blessed. Only 30 percent of the country is developed because they care about the animals, the Mahogany trees (which take 100 years to grow), they care about more than money and power. Their exchange rate is two for every one U.S. dollar. They are a peaceful place; and one I would definitely visit again and again.
Our final stop on this seven day cruise was Cozumel. Cozumel is an island and municipality in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and is Mexico’s third largest island. The Maya are believed to have first settled Cozumel by the early part of the first millennium AD, and older Pre-classic Olmec artifacts have been found on the island as well. Located just a short two-hour car ride from the beach area is, Chichen Itza, Mexico – Mayan City, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This is on my bucket list for our next trip. The most beautiful thing I found in this colorful city was when I looked out of our cabin at night.
With Irma battling the coast of Florida at this time, our seven days extended to 11 and we ended up being on the ship sailing away from Miami, down along the west coast of Cuba, northeast between Cuba and Haita, then north along the east coast of Cuba, essentially following the path that Irma had just taken. Carnival kept us entertained well, the kids enjoyed a Build A Bear at Sea workshop, an increase in activities in their clubs, Lip Sync Battles, well-produced shows and excellent food. The staff was friendly and accommodating and the passengers were, for the most part, happy with their service. Just before docking in Miami we found out about the opportunity Carnival had presented, three more days for free.
Being a homeschool family, we have the freedom with time flexibility, and everything, everyday and every place, is a learning experience. We headed off on another three days, with only 494 other people, finding ourselves in Freeport, Bahamas and Nassau. Freeport was nice, colorful, full of shops and very nice people. There were people who offered prayers for our daughter, Jessica’s healing, free items for her, just to see a smile on her face, and she was placed on a worldwide prayer group of ladies from all walks of life. Nassau was, as it had been on our past trips, an interesting city. However, unlike the other places we visited, we had to keep our children closer. People were more pushy and there was a bigger presence of drugs as we ventured out into the city, past the small vendor area. The vendors inside the area had fair prices and enjoyed some haggling.
No matter where we travel, how many interesting sights we see, or how many beautiful places we visit, there will always be one, more beautiful than the rest. No matter where we are and where we have been, returning home is the best treasure of all. We arrived back into port to a beautiful Miami sunrise 14 days after we had boarded our ship, 7 extra days of adventure and learning. God blessed us in so many ways through this extra time and we praise Him for keeping us safe. Our prayers are with the families who lost their homes and the islands that were devastated due to Irma’s strength, along her chosen path.
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