I absolutely love to travel. I didn’t realize how much until March of 2013, when I received possibly the greatest birthday present of my life. Due to work schedule issues, my in laws couldn’t go on the 7 day cruise they’d paid for and had found out two weeks before it was set to sail. Thanks to a technicality, we were able to transfer the reservations and celebrate my 37th birthday in Roatan, Honduras, Belize City, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico. It was a very eye-opening experience that I won’t ever forget.
Out of all of the ports, Roatan was by far, our favorite. We had no itinerary, no excursion booked and no idea what we were in for once we got there. I know it’s terrible, but the only vision I had in my head was that it would be just like an episode of 21 Jump Street I’d seen when I was a teenager. Drug lords with machine guns everywhere. I knew that’s not how it would really be if a cruise line brought tourists there, but it’s truly all I could picture.
I was, of course, completely wrong. We woke up to crystal blue water, beautiful, green scenery and one of the songs that I played in my Z classes. That had to be a sign it was going to be a good day. We got off of the ship and immediately saw a vendor sign that said Coke products were sold there. Being from Atlanta, my husband refuses to drink Pepsi, which is all that is served on the ship. He practically ran to the counter and was amused that his beloved Diet Coke, is called Coke Light in Central America. After buying three to drink throughout the day, we walked to the gate, separating the cruise port from town. My husband is lovingly referred to as Sheldon, by people who know him personally. He has the same OCD, anti-social habits and tendencies as a certain character from a very popular sitcom. Shocking to me, he immediately started talking to some man standing by a bunch of taxis. After a few minutes, they started walking and talking. I quickly followed, waving like a lunatic, trying to get his attention. ¨Where are we going? Who is that?¨ He came back to tell me that his name was Michael and he was a tour guide who was going to take us shopping. Some stranger was going to walk two Americans around an island in Central America. Cue panic attack. At that very moment, I just knew our fate was that we were going to die in a foreign country and nobody would ever find out how. Though I love my dad, he’s no angry Liam Neeson. It did not help that the week before, I’d heard a story on the radio about two people getting kidnapped by a taxi driver in Jamaica. Of course, that’s the scenario I had playing out in my head. Soon, they turned down a small alley. ¨This is it,¨ I thought. Wrong again. He brought us exactly where he said would-his sister’s gift shop, called ¨Yaba Ding Ding.¨ No, I’m not making that up. The name of the shop refers to what the islanders call ancient Mayan pottery and artifacts. I wish there was a way I could fit that term into everyday language because it just makes me smile.
After some souvenir shopping, we walked around the town until we came to the one school on the island. I started to take a picture from across the street and he asked if we wanted to go inside and see it. ¨Are you sure we’re allowed to do that?” He laughed and couldn’t believe it wasn’t a normal thing in America, to just walk in a school and take pictures. We walked through the door and instantly felt like celebrities. The children were all in the their classrooms, but because there were no windows or doors, they saw us and were all laughing, waving and shouting, ¨Hi!¨ One of the teachers welcomed us into a room and the children immediately posed for a picture. I couldn’t believe the difference in cultures at that moment. It gave me a whole range of mixed emotions. Knowing that these children hardly had anything and were so happy. No fear of strangers or need to have it. Thinking that here in America, our children have everything they want or need and there are metal detectors in the doorways. We have to show driver’s licenses just to pick our kids up from school because people are sick and crazy. As we walked out of the building, I had tears in my eyes. We decided that someday, we’d love to come back on a mission trip and bring supplies to those kids. We will. I am sure of it.
After walking around the town some more, Michael asked if we wanted to see his house. I thought he was joking. Before we really even had a chance to respond, he started walking down another alley. Once again, my freaked out, ignorant, too much tv and movie watching brain was sent into overdrive. I just knew someone was going to jump out of a corner, blindfold us and take us into some dark corner of the island. Wrong again. He brought us to a small hut at the end of the alley, almost on a pier leading out to the water. No glass windows, no wooden doors. He smiled as he pulled back the blanket covering the doorway and said, “You are welcome to my home.” We leaned in to look around. A couch, bed, dresser, small antenna tv and a portable stove were all that furnished this tiny house. He was so proud of his home and the beautiful view that he and his wife enjoyed. I’ve never felt more humbled in my entire life. Tears came to my eyes, once again. Americans have more than they know what to do with and it’s still not enough. He was honored to show us what very little he had and we were the ones who left feeling honored.
Sheldon and I tend to eat at the same handful of restaurants and order the same meals at each one. We decided before we left, that we would make the most of the trip and try some new things. Purposefully go out of our comfort zone. Our next stop made us want to rethink that decision. Michael had proved to me that he wasn’t out to take advantage of naive tourists or lead us into a trap of any kind, so I decided to stop worrying and enjoy the rest of our tour. We told him we were getting hungry, so he told us he knew the perfect place. We walked into a small restaurant, that was basically a shack, owned by his aunt. He told us we would be trying the locals’ favorite meal on the island and promised that we would enjoy it so much, we’d ask for more. A few minutes later, his aunt brought us our plate. It smelled really good and looked like shredded chicken with yellow rice. He smiled and said, “This is “Island Chicken.” It’s iguana.” Yes, You read that correctly-iguana. Overgrown lizard. My stomach turned and thought I was going to lose my buffet breakfast from earlier that morning.We both looked at each other and knew if we thought about it too much, we’d lose our nerve. We took a big breath and tasted it. It wasn’t bad. Really did taste like chicken. The thought of what we were eating was just too much for Sheldon, so after one bite, he was finished. I ate about three more until I bit into a piece of tough skin. That was it, I was done too. We knew there would be plenty to eat when we got back on the ship, so we politely asked for more Coke Light to wash it down and moved on, without asking for more.
Michael brought us back to the gate and we said our goodbyes. He was truly a kind and happy man and so glad my crazy husband let down his walls long enough to speak to him. Had that not happened, we’d have walked in and out of a few shops, searched for the only wifi available on the island and not had half the experience we did. We didn’t want to end our day yet, so we made a deal with a scooter rental vendor and hopped on one. We spent the rest of the day riding around the rest of the island we hadn’t seen yet. Just as we’d started the day, we had no idea where were going. All we knew was that we were on an island, so we hoped eventually, we’d end up back at the port on time and before we ran out of gas.
Sheldon drove while I rode on the back, enjoying the scenery. We came to a group of what looked like farm houses and I naively said, “Wow. What is that smell? Someone must be barbecuing.” He laughed and said, “Not unless someone is barbecuing pot and a lot of it.” Obviously there are some things I have not experienced in my 37 years on Earth.
We continued our ride up into the mountains and I tried to take every moment in, thinking of how lucky we were to be there. So many people in my family have never left the state of Florida, let alone the country, yet there we were, riding a scooter down the side of a mountain in Honduras. It was truly hard to believe. Every picture I’d seen of the Caribbean seemed to have been taken there. Children walking with baskets of fruit on their heads, stunning blue water that was so clear, it didn’t look real. Each person we saw had a bright, beautiful smile on his or her face. Not a care in the world. All of the houses were brightly colored shades of pinks, blues, greens and oranges, palm and banana trees everywhere I looked. So many, it was like a jungle. I felt no fear, no more worries about “what ifs.” Pure joy and happiness. We decided we’d better turn around so we wouldn’t miss the boat, but turned down a side road that looked like it led to a town. To our surprise, we’d driven around the entire island and ended up right down the street from where we’d been walking earlier. We turned in our scooter and sadly, got back on the ship. No plans, no itinerary, yet one of the best days of our lives.