Central America

On September 8, 2011, in Fun Stuff, Galleries, Musings, by lisa

Butterfly in Roatan, Honduras.

In April/May 2011, I was a passenger aboard the MV Explorer on a voyage around Central America and through the Panama Canal.  The MV Explorer is the ship usually used for the Semester at Sea college program; I was on an ‘Enrichment Voyage,’ which is a three week trip designed for learners of all ages.

My husband couldn’t come with me, but my aunt Rhoda, and my husband’s mother Neola could.  My aunt got a kick out of telling everyone that her niece (me) was traveling with her mother-in-law.  “Would you have invited your mother-in-law on a three week trip?” she’d ask people, then laugh.  Rhoda and Neola became good friends on the voyage.

green drinks

Rhoda and Neola toast the beginning of the voyage.

We boarded the ship in Ensenada, Mexico, then went to sea.  Our first stop was Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Dawn on deck

Dawn, on the deck of the MV Explorer, outside Cabo San Lucas.

pool, parasailor

A parasailor above the waters of both the bay and the ship’s pool, outside Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Next stop was Guatemala. I didn’t know what to expect, and was surprised by the beauty of the city of Antigua, and of Lake Atitlan.

Downtown Antigua, and the famous archway.

Downtown Antigua, and the famous archway.


A very yellow church. One of our tour guides claimed that people in Guatemala may say they’re Catholic, but most only do it ‘because it’s a social thing. They just pretend to believe.’  Either way, the building is beautiful.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan, with the volcano of San Pedro in the background. ‘Atitlan’ is pronounced something like: ah-teet-LAHN.

Vendors at Lake Atitlan. I can still hear them clearly: “Lady, lady, I give you good price, I give you very good price…” Photo copyright Bill Yeaton, 2011.

Lisa and Neola, parasols

Neola and I are protected from the dangers of both sun and water on our trip across Lake Atitlan. I was determined to make it three weeks without a sunburn.

We were at sea for a little less than half the trip. On sea days, our time was filled with art and writing workshops, and attending lectures on the history, flora, fauna, and geology of the region. This was not your typical cruise ship: the former casino has been converted into a library.

pink cocktail

My aunt, mother-in-law, and I all got into the habit of meeting around 5 pm on the pool deck, to have something icy to drink and to talk about our day.

Nicaragua was another place where I didn’t know what to expect. Unfortunately, we only had a short time there, on a very VERY hot day. I got so screamingly overheated at one point, I threw myself on the bar at a restaurant and begged for juice with ice, despite all the advice to the contrary by ship’s doctor — not to mention old travel buddy and fabulous photographer — Dr. Bill Yeaton. The tingling in my hands and feet was a sign that fluids were more important than stomach upset at that point; and fortunately, my gut survived the unknown ice and juice just fine.

Leon, Nicaragua, basketball court

A basketball court in Leon, Nicaragua, with a mural depicting some turbulent times.

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, Nicaragua, as seen from atop the cathedral in the central square. Those are volcanoes in the distance.

Neola fluffling Rhoda’s hair, in Leon. It was hot, hot, hot!

I’ve been curious about Costa Rica for a while, especially since I did a little bit of research about it for my novella in My Zombie Valentine — the villain, a plastic surgeon, is from Costa Rica. It sounded like a lush and lovely place, and my experiences held true to that.

Paddling an outrigger canoe in Costa Rica. On the way back a lightning storm rolled in, which made us paddle hard for shore, despite being tired. No one wants to be sitting in an open boat when lightning starts striking!

Lisa in snorkel gear

Just call me the blue poison dart frog of Costa Rica! My ridiculous snorkeling outfit is in reality surfer clothing, SPF 50, meant for getting wet. I figured I’d rather wear that than slather on 3/4 of a bottle of sunscreen. The yellow vest in the life preserver the guides required us to wear. It remains deflated unless one decides to inflate it with the little tube attached to the chest.

Artisan painting a tray in Saarchi, Costa Rica. The tradition for the designs started from painting the wheels of ox carts that carried coffee beans to port. The fancier your wheels, the better off you were.

A rainbow above the MV Explorer at sunset, off the coast of Costa Rica.

And then… A man, a plan, a canal, Panama! It took almost a full day to go through the Panama Canal. I never realized that there was a huge, man-made lake between the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Most of the journey is through this lake, whereas I’d always imagined the canal being, well…. a canal, the whole way!

Panama Canal locks.

One of the locks on the Panama Canal.

The Bridge of the Americas, on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal.

Now we were in the Caribbean. We revisited Guatemala and Costa Rica, and also stopped at Roatan, Honduras, and in Belize.

The ruins at Quirigua, Guatemala.

Kids on a school trip to see the ruins at Quirigua. Photo copyright Bill Yeaton, 2011.

One of the Mayan carvings at Quirigua. This is why the place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo copyright Bill Yeaton, 2011

Boy paddling his canoe on the Rio Dulce, in Guatemala.

Rio Dulce Canyon

House and water lilies in the Rio Dulce Canyon, Guatemala.

Rhoda initially didn’t want to bare herself in a swimsuit in front of everyone, but towards the end of the trip she’d become decidedly more free-wheeling.

Rhoda takes a dip in the ship’s pool Would you believe she’s 82?

The MV Explorer in the background, a local in the foreground at Coxen Hole, Roatan, Honduras. Photo copyright Bill Yeaton, 2011.

Boys on a log, Roatan. Photo copyright 2011, Bill Yeaton.

Stopping to enjoy a drink and the breeze at an open air pub on the beach on Roatan. That’s MIL Neola to the far left. Photo by fabulous Spanish teacher, Mary Patricia Moynihan.

Even the locals use umbrellas to keep the sun off them! I’m not so crazy, after all. Photo copyright Bill Yeaton, 2011.

Our final stop was near Cozumel, Mexico. I chose to go to the mainland to see the ruins of Tulum, and to go snorkeling at Xel Ha water park. Tulum had a great location, but it was sweltering. I was grateful to get to Xel Ha and spend the next few hours in the water.

The ruins of Tulum, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Looks like a castle on the coast of a very tropical Scotland, doesn’t it?

After Tulum, we went to a water park for snorkeling. Mary Patricia (on L) and I got burning hot while strolling the grounds, and draped scarves over our faces to keep the sun off. Photo courtesy of Mary Patricia.

So is that the end of my adventure?  Not hardly!  I loved the trip so much, I managed to get hired to teach a writing workshop aboard the December 2011 voyage to the Amazon!  This time, my husband gets to come with me.

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