Roatan in Honduras is our first bicyclecruising visit of 2009 and served as an eye-opener. The island is pretty if a little bit depressed, but we weren’t yet in shape to ride up all of the hills we encountered and thus the ride took longer than anticipated. Nevertheless, we loved it and took several lessons for future journeys.
That is the NCL Jewel in the background as we were returning from our circle through the town of Coxen Hole across the island to the West Coast, down the coast to West Bay and back to the ship through Flowers Bay and Coxen Hole.
The roads were all paved nicely, except for the strip at West Bay which was a dirt road which we chose to walk rather than ride. The traffic on this Tuesday after Thanksgiving was relatively light and the cars were polite, honking as they approached to pass. They were travelling about 20-40 mph. The weather was great if only a little hotter and more humid than we have been used to in our home in Honolulu. The scenery along the roads was very nice with tropical green plants like palms and ginger dominating but including also bananas, grasses, large trees and shrubs. We passed many small streams and saw and heard birds all over. The birds included high flying frigatebirds, vultures (I think), stilts and egrets, and many smaller birds. Their cries were prevalent wherever we rode.
Although we travelled what looked on the maps like coastal roads, we road along the shore only occasionally because the properties occupy the coastline in most places and the road is up to a quarter mile from the coast. That means you can’t even see the water for most of the trip. It also means that the roads do not skirt sea level but run up and down small hills up to 50-100 feet above sea level. Marilyn was unused to the hills at first and walked her bike up the last part of many of these hills. This discouraged her for a while and slowed down our pace, but eventually we hit a real coastal road region at the end of the big circle and she began to enjoy the ride much more. By the time we finished, she was talking about how beautiful the area was but pleading that we be more careful in the future to choose flatter routes. Right!
We had planned to eat at either Hot Chili restaurant in West Bay or lobster sandwiches at Bite on the Beach in West End. We decided not to go to “tourist” places that probably describes both Hot Chili or Bite on the Beach. So when we got to West Bay we searched for “local” restaurants, selecting Oceanna. For $6.00 we shared three tacos that actually used six tortillas. The vendor carved pork that was speared Argentinian-style. Yummy! We promised to visit again next week, but I doubt it, unless Bob can find a flatter route! The restroom had no running water, so I waited it out, while Bob wasn’t deterred. They used a bucket of water to flush remains that was collected from several people. This place was cash only, and our $20 bill returned twelve lemira and a bunch of American dollars in change.
We’ve been approached by many people both beforethe ride and after with questions about use of bikes in port and working with the cruise line. Several people from our cruise as well as other ships in port, and even locals, approached us with questions about our bicycles. We think many of them will try bicyclecruising in the future. They seemed to like the idea and spoke with admiration about our trek, saying they saw us when we were biking!
It turns out you have two choices to get from Coxen Hole to West Bay. You can take the Carredora Pavimentada Principal north out of Coxen Hole which crosses the spine immediately outside of town and manages the 300-500 foot climb in a series of 50 foot up and down sections all of the way to West Bay (10 miles). Or you can take the Carretere Ms Vecinal which is flat along the coast south east to the town of Flowers Bay before it takes on a single 300-500 foot back and forth climb across the spine. Conversely, to get back to Coxen Hole from West Bay, you have a choice of an immediate long climb along this latter road followed by a long downhill and coastal flat road or the up and down ride along the northwest coast all the way back along the former route. We took the up and down route on the way out and the single climb on the way back. I ended up shuttling the bikes up the hill on the way back as Marilyn made much of the climb on foot. Afterward, she agreed that riding is much easier than walking if you can get your mind in the right setting. Nevertheless, either way can be enjoyable. We met 2 girls walking along our route on the way back and kept up a running conversation with them on the way up the hill before we left them behind on the way down the hill. Marilyn was also joined in her walking trek on the way out by a fiftyish gentleman riding a bike with a somewhat heavy load. He also had trouble with the hills and walked the last portion of many with Marilyn. He provided useful advice on whether we were on the right track and how far we had to go. All of these people we met along the road spoke Spanish, but we managed to communicate well.
We encountered a lot of small home construction activity along the way and received friendly responses from all of the workers as we loudly greeted them as we passed. This kind of friendly response was typical of everyone we passed, from kids and women in Flowers Bay walking along the road to drivers and passengers riding in the back of trucks. I have a good impression of Roatan and Honduras. Honduras had an election for President on this past Sunday and I saw election posters everywhere, but I don’t know if the results are yet available and I don’t know which of the candidates is likely to get more votes in Roatan. Oh! And I did see three or four soldiers in camouflage outfits walking along the road as we were starting our ride out of Coxen Hole—two of them with weapons at the ready.
Marilyn lost the heel of her riding shoe as we approached the last half mile of the ride. We recovered the heel and I was on the lookout for a shoe shop during the last part of the ride through Coxen Hole, but I didn’t see any. As we approached the port security, I asked a vendor and then a security guard if we could reach a repair shop nearby. The security man explained that there was a facility 5 minutes away, but I was having trouble understanding his instructions on how to get there when a guy standing next to him spoke out, took me two parked cars away, pulled out a bottle of superglue and fixed the heel on the spot. That is the kind of memory I’ll take with me until I come back next week on the second of our three Western Caribbean cruises with NCL.
(Here is Marilyn with her frazzled hair in our room after five hours in a helmet during the ride around Roatan. Notice the porthole. I would have been satisfied with an inside room with no view outside, but I find the view out the porthole very nice. We are near the waterline on deck 4 and the ocean sensations are very nice. The room would be a little small if we had to store the bikes inside, but the accommodations are entirely satisfactory. I applaud NCL.
Oh! And I should say something about the NCL support for our bicyclecruising activities. We notified the operations staff a few weeks before our departure that we planned to take bicycles with us. They supported our efforts but things came to a halt when I tried to get an address to which to ship our bikes a week before the departure. Because I had purchased the tickets through a travel agent, NCL reps eventually all bowed out of the planning activity and demanded that I go through the travel agent. This slowed the communications down and I got yanked around a few times when first NCL and then their logistics supplier refused to take shipment of the bikes—I think as a result of 9-11 antiterrorist activities. Eventually, I shipped the bikes to a bicycle store in Miami Beach a few miles from the port. We took our bags to the ship first and then I took a taxi to get the bikes. Both the bike store and the taxi driver were wonderful with their support. Although NCL told me I would have to bring the bikes aboard the ship myself, a baggage handler immediately took and tagged the bikes for my room when I arrived with the bikes at the ship. I expected to find the bikes in the room later that night after we boarded, but they never appeared. NCL told us we would have to keep the bikes in the room when we were doing earlier planning. On Sunday night after we had departed Miami and after we ate dinner, we were walking through the corridor leading to our room when I spotted the bikes in an open area behind a set of curtains. This area was where the ship would connect a gangway when we got to port. This was the perfect place to keep the bikes as far as I was concerned. And that is the way the bikes have been stored so far. This morning when I found out we would not be tying up at a pier but using tenders as we anchored offshore, I questioned whether this would cause a problem getting the bikes to shore. Apparently not!
The desk informed us that the bikes were where I knew they were and that I could pick them up when ready to leave. The gangway crew gave us no problems when we were ready to depart and they made a space for us while we waited for our tender. Then they carried the bikes onto the tender and tied them up conveniently in an open area which did not impede boarding and deboarding. Everything worked out wonderfully. Getting them back on board was just as easy.
I had some trouble with Marilyn’s bike once we got the bikes ashore when the front brake seemed to malfunction slightly. I was fussing with the brakes and the cable unsuccessfully when one of the local persons meeting the ship—a Rastafarian-looking kind of a guy—jumped forward, turned the handlebars 360 degrees to undo the cable problem and then jumped back to doing what he was doing as one of the greeters. What a wonderful way to get the visit underway!