“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said, to the Honduran waiter. “Four cruise ships? Quatro?”
“Muy bueno day,” he said, turning into Senor Happy, already counting the tips that were sure to come.
My wife stood and grabbed her bags, ready to flee the area. We thought yesterday was bad enough with two ships in port. Passengers swarmed like army ants, hitting the beaches, blocking sunlight from the beautiful reefs as they snorkeled, chasing away my grouper, green turtle, and fat barracuda. Cafes and restaurants overflowed. ATMs and cold beer coolers were quickly emptied. Fruit stands were stripped. Don’t these people get fed on the boat? I sort of understand these boat people don’t really have time or patience to haggle on their rapid fire itineraries, but could they try a little harder? Without these ships Roatan would be a Caribbean backwater. At least the locals love them. The Great Arrival is an almost daily event met with eager anticipation as islanders gear up each day for it.
When no ships docked it was an event for us, a relief. It was getting hot and about to get very crowded in tiny West End. We decided to grab a cab and head back to my friend`s house to hide for a while.
“Twenty U.S. dollars? The cab fare was five yesterday,” I protested, wanting to head back before the six-pack boiled and the pineapple rotted.
“Too many people, not so many taxi,” replied the cab driver with a shrug, his eyes targeting a fresh white body over at a T-shirt rack.
Roatan, particularly its beaches and reef at West End and West Bay, is a quiet, laid back third world island. Its two towns of French Harbor and Coxen’s Hole are shabby ports with little to offer. There was no way my wife and I would be extorted for 20 bucks, so we walked back to West Bay along the beach. The saving grace was that the crisis would only last until about three o’clock when the passengers are herded back to their ship, allowing ice machines to catch up. In the meantime, it was getting hot to walk. Halfway back to West Bay, we took a break and sat under a sea grape.
“Senore, senora ! The ship! It is leaving soon. You must come!” called the Honduran taxi driver, pointing to his watch.
Ahh, music to our ears. We lifted our arms and pointed to our wrists showing him we weren’t ‘tagged’ with the colorful bands cruise passengers wore. We were free range tourists, untagged, who dared blaze our own path.
Many Central America towns have plazas, focal points, for festivals and locals to congregate. Not on this island. Mahogany Bay is a private development at the Coxen’s Hole pier, built by a cruise line and the government to benefit residents–sort of. It’s trying to be the plaza the town never had, a downtown, with all the trappings of shops and cafes. Some passengers head for the chair lift near the pier, which might be the only chair lift in the Caribbean, that transports them to an adjacent island for their Honduran cultural experience. As phoney as it seems, at least passengers are now greeted by something more than third world poverty. But if they all happen to crowd into Mahogany Bay it won’t benefit the locals around the island.
Then again, my wife and I kind of like the concept. Don’t get us wrong, we like the ships. They look magnificent in the early evening with all their lights on–leaving port.
Interested in firefighter novels?