Yesterday we acted just like tourists and visited Cayos Cuchinos, a beautiful national park made up of a small archipeligo of islands about 15 miles off shore, surrounded by an active reef. We drove to a resort hotel about 40 minutes from La Ceiba where we boarded small, 20-person boats for the trip to the islands which took about 45 minutes. First, we stopped at the welcome/orientation station where we learned about the park and were instructed that we could take anything from the park home with us BUT only in photographs!!
We then reboarded the boats for our first island stop -- where we spent a lovely time peering through our goggles at the rich undersea life. The fish have so many colors -- some of them look like clowns and others looked decked out of a night on the town. The coral comes in every shape and color as well. With our guide we swam out to where the reef ends and witnessed the azure blue ocean with just the light filtering through -- something you can probably only see in tropical seas.
We next boated to another sandy beach which allowed us to take a short hike to see the pink boa constrictor -- native to only these islands. We found one in the trees. While our guide captured it to check for sickening fungus on the snake skin, some of the students had a chance to let the snake crawl on their arm or around their neck. These are much smaller boas than you see on the nature channels on TV -- perhaps 5ft long and about 2 and a half inches in diameter. Their skin does have a distinct pinkish cast. After our hike we had time to enjoy the beach and the luxuriously warm ocean for a while before going to our final stop, a small corral island, the home of some Garifuna people. There we went to a tiny restaurant to enjoy delicious local food -- fish drawn from the ocean specifically for our meal accompanied by rice and plantains. What a treat that turned out to be, though some of us were surprised to find the entire fish, including head and tails on our plates. Again we had some time to enjoy the beach before reboarding the boats for our trip home. We returned to La Ceiba with our eyes full of beauty, our bodies tired from a day in the sun and surf and our spirits ready for another week with the people of Honduras.
In the evening, some of us gathered to celebrate mass. Raphael is our contact here at the Spanish School. His father-in-law died earlier this year, so Raphael´s wife and her siblings came as well. We had an interesting time trying to combine some English and Spanish in our celebration. At our meeting later, we reflected on the juxtaposition of the visiting the dump community one day and Cayos Cuchinos the next -- such contrasting experiences of the same reality.
A note about the Garifuna people. In the late 17 hundreds, a slave ship crashed somewhere in the Carribean. Since the owners were unable to refloat the ship, they released the slaves, putttng them in small boats and set them afloat. They landed all along the coasts of what is now Belize and Honduras and set up small communities which to this day retain their own language, culture, music and dancing. We enjoyed our two experiences of interacting with them -- our dance on Saturday evening and our meal in their restaurant.