When we got off the Carnival Dream October 25, it was a dreary day. The rain was coming down fast and hard, but we were on a mission. My friend had a bucket list goal of riding a horse on the beach and I had a fear of horses to conquer. We had booked this excursion with all of this in mind, and we weren’t about to let a rainy day stop us. The slight concern that our tour would be canceled do to inclimate weather was at the back of our minds, but nonetheless, we donned the $3.00 plastic ponchos we purchased before leaving the ship and walked onto the docks of Roatán, Honduras. I’ve done a lot of traveling in my semi-short life but I’ve never felt quite as tourist-y as I did when I put on that poncho. The only other time that rivaled it would be my visit to Niagara Falls; it must be the poncho effect. Our ponchos were bright blue with the Carnival logo splashed across the front and if I had known how our day was going to end up, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with one.
We were waiting patiently for our tour to head out, observing the groups of people huddled under the awning at Mahogany Bay. Across the street, local street performers played drums and danced for passersby. It almost sounded like they were playing to the beat of the rain but that might just be my memory romanticizing the experience. I started chatting with one of the groups next to my friend and I to see if they were also going on our tour. They told us no, they were going ATVing, which essentially would result in mudding with the way the day was going.
My friend looked over at me and asked with a slight laugh, “What if we’re the only ones that showed up?” It had crossed my mind, but the guides for our horse riding adventure had already taken our tickets. We were going if it was just the two of us or not. I decided to find out to curb my curiosity and kill some time. It turned out that we weren’t actually going alone. There was another group of two joining us, but they were nowhere to be found. They also said that we were currently waiting for four more people to show up, but if they weren’t here in the next five minutes we would head to the beach.
Turns out, four out of eight people don’t expect a horseback riding adventure to continue in a torrential downpour, so the four of us were alone. We bonded over our slight insanity and excitement during our bus ride to the beach.
The couple we were with were older, and it turns out they were just married. The husband and wife duo shared the same first name so I’ll be calling them the squared couple from here on out. They were from the South and extremely friendly, telling us about their lives and interests. The husband explained that his wife was a huge animal lover so he finds a way to incorporate animals into all of their trips. They were extremely sweet and a beautiful example of how love knows no bounds.
When we reached the resort, the rain was still going strong but our determination was stronger. There were about six other people on the private beach and probably two tour guides per person. Their excitement to see more people was contagious. The leader of the resort (I unfortunately can’t remember his name) welcomed us to Roatán and proceeded to hand each of us the Honduras version of a dollar. We all looked at him inquisitively and he responded, “Don’t worry, one of these is only 1/23 of your dollar so you can’t buy anything with it. It’s a personal souvenir, courtesy of me.”
He then told us the story of the Honduran Lempira. He started with the first side of the bill, which displayed a Mayan silhouette posed stoically on the right side. Come to find out, this was Honduras’s first national hero: Lempira. He attempted to defend Honduras during the Spanish invasion in 1524. While he ultimately failed, the people of Honduras honor him to this day by naming their currency after him.
The lead guide then flipped the Lempira over to display the back of the bill: Ruinas de Copán. These famous Mayan ruins include the field used for a traditional Mayan game that combines football (soccer) and basketball. The one glaring difference was that players couldn’t use their hands or feet while playing. The guide also told us a pretty wacky Mayan tradition. Whenever the last decedent in a Mayan dynasty died, the Mayans would literally bury their city and start anew. He didn’t go into much detail as to how they managed this, but he did tell us that these particular ruins were buried three times in all.
After the unexpected, yet awesome, history lesson it was time for our trail ride. I hadn’t ridden a horse since middle school during a Girl Scout camp led by the Coach Carr of horseback riding teachers. That experience had deterred me from ever riding a horse again, yet here I was about to get on a horse mid-rainstorm. Here’s a tip for my fellow readers weary of horses if you ever end up in a situation like me: be honest. Tell them if you’re anxious or new to riding horses. The trail guides at these kind of things are here to make it a fun and safe experience and they know what they’re doing. Our trail guide’s name was Clarence, which was fitting because as my friend put it, he was our guardian angel, but honestly more so hers than mine.
Our horses were polar opposite. She was on Rose and I was on Big Black. When looking at the two horses you would have assumed Big Black would be the trouble maker. He was huge. Rose was a medium sized horse, chestnut in color and outside of frequently sighing, she seemed harmless. We quickly discovered that was not the case. Rose was the Regina George of horses, trying to run in front of the squared couple and their guide. She was also petrified of our ponchos, so mid-ride we had to remove them (getting drenched in the process). Big Black, on the other hand, was your quintessential beach bum. He went at his own pace which was about five feet behind everyone else. He also enjoyed stopping at random and needed some encouragement to actually move. I did get some excellent views thanks to his lollygagging, but they are safe-locked in my brain since we couldn’t bring our cameras with us during the ride.
Neither one of us had realized we were going to ride our horses into the ocean until we were told it was happening. The rain had continued to speed up as the day went on and the activity of the ocean had us both a little uneasy. The horses went on their way however, following the trail guides the entire way. While we were wading through the water, Clarence pointed far out to the left and nonchalantly said, “There’s a hurricane over that way. That’s why the weather’s bad.” He guided my friend and Rose, the horse side stepping through the water. This, of course, was an optimal time for Big Black to stop mid-ocean and enjoy the scenery. It was beautiful and all, sitting knee-deep in the warm Caribbean Sea, but once you’ve been told there’s a hurricane in your general vicinity it’s pretty much human nature to want out of the water. That might also just be my inner Midwesterner talking.
We had the opportunity to appreciate the private beach for about an hour and a half after our ride, sitting under our own personal cabana and taking in the beauty of Roatán. The scenery almost rivaled Ireland, but I’m pretty biased. It was just as green, but in a topical way with lush undertones of yellow throughout the trees and a warmth that permeated the air even as it rained. There were local vendors selling handmade items about 300 feet from our cabana and we were able to get some great survivors to take home with us. Remember that when you’re in countries like Honduras, they prefer the American dollar over their own currency. Bring smaller bills (like fives and tens) and be ready to barter if you plan on buying anything. Also expect to tip a lot while you’re there. My friend and I went back and forth with the tipping and that seemed to work out just fine.
Once we were back on the Carnival Dream, we found out how severe the storm we were heading towards actually was. Our captain decided that it was unsafe for us to go to Belize the next day and took us straight to Cozumel. They added a third port to our itinerary as a result and refunded us for any excursions we had booked in Belize. As it turns out, this is a very rare occurrence, but I didn’t realize it since it was my first cruise. Such is life when you cruise at the end of hurricane season, I guess.
If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: do what scares you. If I had talked myself out of going on this excursion I wouldn’t have learned half as much as I did about Honduras. I wouldn’t have met a fantastic couple with a great love story, or found this coconut– which might have actually been the highlight of my day. Facing your fears often results in some pretty great stories that will stick with you forever, so don’t let past experiences or fear of the unknown ever stop you.