Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cayman Islands stop

Our fourth stop on the cruise was at the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory in the western Caribbean.   Though there is evidence of Indians living on the islands at an earlier time, these islands were largely uninhabited until the 17th century.  England took control of the islands and also Jamaica in a treaty in 1670.
Map on a towel for sale

We were going on a tour to see a turtle hatchery and to go out to a sand bar and interact with sting rays.

Our tour guide had a very heavy Jamacan accent and was very hard to understand.  He also pointed out everything, so we got names of places (when I could understand) but not much in details.  His daughter Brea was with him for the day.  She had turned 7 the day before.  The area is very tourist-driven and is a tax-exempt area..  Everything is imported except for the natural fruit growing there.  Gasoline is over $7 a gallon.  Most local people need to work 2 or 3 jobs to survive.  There are MANY banks and international insurance companies on the island.  Since the country is controlled by the British,  cars are driven on the left side of the street, and drivers sit in the front on the right.

Timna got Jonah a jaw breaker as we were waiting for our tour to begin.  He sucked on it for a long time.
Our first stop was the tiny town of”Hell” and saw a pre-historic rock formation.  There is a post office where people can send cards from “Hell.” 
Opening coconuts next to Hell gift shot

  We also stopped someplace to taste/ buy rum flavored cake. 

Then we went to a turtle education area called the Cayman Turtle Farm and saw some really big turtles.  We also got to hold smaller ones. That was fun.

A Coconut palm at the turtle farm

large turtle looking at us
Turtle traffic jam

 8000 sea turtles ranging from hatchlings to 700 pounds but unfortunately we didn't have a guide there and were not pointed in the direction of the education center so we grabbed a quick bite to eat and lost out on a good opportunity.  I was disappointed.  Here is the website for the place we visited:
A little more hesitant than the rest of us

The Cayman Islands is one of the rare places where turtles are raised for food. Also 4 families have hereditarily been allowed to fish for turtles, eat and sell them.

From there we drove a bit and parked the car to get on a boat and go 5 miles out from the beat to a special Stingray City sand bar called where hundreds of female stingrays make their home. 

David was our main guide on the ride.  He gave us background information on sting rays and how they have made this sandbar their home.  They can get plenty of food here--small fish--and are protected from the sharks that prey on them in the open ocean.    He also was the photographer.  

Unless one had a water proof camera, it was really too difficult to take pictures, so he did and made his living that way.  He was a character--a member of one of the four families who can hunt turtles for food.  He also said that part of his family originally came from Ethiopian and he has Jewish background from them.  I think he was Scottish on his father's side.

We parked on part of the sandbar.  We had to climb down a small ladder to get into the water.  It was colder than I had expected...probably about 80 degrees or so, maybe a bit more.  I got in to get started, then came back to take a few photos.
a few other tourist boats around us....not a whole lot
Timna and boys in the lower right....shallow water with no waves at that moment

Crew member from Cuba showed us how to hold the sting ray underneath

 The people who work with tourists have names for many of the sting rays.  “Betsy 2” came up to our group and we got to hold her.  She was about 20 years old or so.  The males are much smaller than the females.  Zekey had on water wings but Jonah could stand up most of the time. 

We hugged and played in the water awaiting our turns.
Jonah swimming
 Jonah preferred the turtles to the stingrays--saying he was scared of the rays, but he was really a good sport and very adventuresome.  Zekey was more subdued.   I do think the boys were fascinated by them. 

The water was filled with waves, going from above waist depth to shoulder depth for me.  Sometimes Jonah could stand, but often he could not.  We each got to hold the sting ray,

He likes it!
kiss it (for good luck) (except for Zekey)

 and have it give us a "back massage."

SR approaching Timna's back
It was fun for Z...but a bit heavy for Savta
 I was the only one that fed it.  Feeders held pieces of squid in a fist with the thumb down.  We put our fist under the sting ray by its mount, and it suctioned it into its mouth, a unique feeling....gentle but strong!

We ended up getting a disk of all the photos David took plus some extra photos he has taken of rays and sea life.  It was $50 but nice to have the memories.  There were other visits with sting rays on others stops on this cruise, but I think this was the only one in relatively shallow water in an open area for the rays and without a minimum age requirement.

Here are some of the stock pictures of the sting rays and the fish underwater in the area:

Fish among coral

The End  :)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Caribbean Cruise--Stop 3 at Isla Roatan, Honduras

January 1, 2014 was probably our most exciting day.

We stopped at Isla Roatan in the morning.  Roatan, located between the islands of Utila and Guanaja,   is the largest of Honduras' Bay Islands.  "The Bay Islands consist of eight islands and 53 small cays lying some ten to forty miles off the northern coast of Honduras."
 File:Mapa de Islas de la Bahia.JPG
 For more information on them, go to:

  It  was formerly known as Ruatan and Rattan and  is approximately 48 miles long, and less than 5.0 miles across at its widest point.   It has become an important cruise ship and scuba diving center.  In previous centuries, it was a pirate haven, in part because of the many bays along the coast.

The four of us went on another Carnival tour to Gambalimba Park, on the very western end of the island.

 It is named for the tree of the same name.
Double Gambalimba tree
Rudolph was our guide and very personable.  He was fairly young and still lives at home with family.
We went in a van to Gumbalimba Park. It took about 30 minutes along a very windy and hilly road.   One of the first thing that Rudolph showed us was a group of small bats in the ceiling of an open area.
We gathered at the guambalimba tree and Ruldolph put the young kids into the roots of the tree.
Near this tree we saw a number of fast-moving hummingbirds feeding.
There is a very similar bird in Israel called the "Yonek Dvash" (honey sucker) but it is not related to the hummingbird.

Rudolph showed us a citrus tree that did not produce edible fruit but the leaves were used for making a citrus-flavored tea.
Zekey sniffing the citrus leaf
The park is beautiful.  I would have loved to have had more time to stay there.
Variant hibiscus flower
Timna, in pigtails, wearing the flower Rudolph gave her

Rudolph showed us several kinds of fruit.  First was the star fruit.  It is available in the US but usually quite sour.
Zekey tasting the star fruit
Rudolph squeezing juice from star fruit
 Other fruit that Rudolph showed us included:
Breadfruit is cooked to be eaten, and tastes a bit liked cooked potato.
Cannonball fruit
We then walked through the Insectarium at the park.  I was not impressed.  There were a lot of insect samples from many different places in the world.  It was not clearly marked as to which were from the region.
 Then we walked into an exhibit about pirates in the region.

Zekey balancing on a canon replica

 The center of the exhibit with the history of pirates had a map of the island, surrounded by real water.  In the photo you can see Timna holding Zekey. 

The Bay islands were anciently known as Las Guanajas, from Guanaja, which was discovered by Christopher Columbus, in his 4th and last voyage to the New World, on July 30, 1502. The Admiral named it 'Isle of Pines', and claimed it...for Spain
Isla Roatan
Map of Columbus' Voyages
Remnants from older tribes on island
 When Columbus arrived in 1502, these islands were occupied by a large population of Pech Indians, considerably advanced in civilization, who kept up a commerce, through the means of large and well equipped boats, not only with the mainland of Honduras, but also with Yucatan, and, it is alleged, with Jamaica.   To read more about the history of the islands, go to:

 Piracy was big in the 1600s, 1700s, and early 1800s.

The boys were fascinated about pirate stories and also were excited to get pirate "coins."

 We walked on and saw a bunch of iguanas grouped together

Then we crossed a very wobbly "Pirate" Bridge.  Savta helped a little girl cross it.
Jonah led the way
 The highlight of the tour came next.  First we interacted with parrots.

 After the parrots, we came across a group of macaws in the trees and on the fence nearby.



That monkey ("Betty 2") seemed to feel right at home on Jonah's head.

We also saw an agouti and a guinea hen.

We thought we had hit the highlight of the day, but Rudolph arranged for Mommy and Jonah to go zip lining even though Jonah was not yet 8 (or 12??) yet.  


 Zekey was very upset at first  but then had fun in the pool.
There was also a beautiful beach, but we did not have time for it.  
As we returned to the ship, I got this photo--after two guys who had jumped the fence got out of the way.