Honduras & Belize: Unexpected Encounters and Nature onboard Ponant’s Le Dumont- D’Urville. Part II
Written and Images by Chloe Hambidge
Part II- Cayos Cochinos, La Ceiba, Cayo Grande, Pink Boa, Garifunas of Chuchupate, Cuero y Salado
Friday November 24th 2023, Cayos Cochinos
Lying northeast of La Ceiba, I woke up to find myself amidst another treasure. Afloat on a palette of turquoise. Waking up bright and early to a slightly overcast morning, I was one of few to take on The Pink Boas. Ditching the zodiacs for the morning, we were picked up by local guides on their very own speed boats, we were transported into the lush Cayos Cochinos. Surrounded by emerald green from the mountains tropical forest to the water lapping at our feet I was excited to take on these dense paths to uncover the elusive Pink Boas.
Despite the name, I was slightly disappointed to find these snakes were not in fact bright pink like my imagination conjured, it would’ve made them a lot easier to spot. In safe hands, I was tucked at the back of the group where my tour guide was searching high and low for these sneaky scoundrals. Cayos Chochinos is made up of two islands, we were trekking through Cayo Grande which is meant to be a particular hotspot for the Pink Boa, and we were certainly proved right.
Thanks to our incredible guides searching high and low, we found a few of these beautiful reptiles who were mostly curled up in a peaceful slumber. Wrapped around branches and camouflaged amongst the jungle’s protection it was unbeatable seeing these creatures calm and free amongst their home. Blending in with the jungles furniture, their speckled pattern was their true tell-tale sign. There is something special about seeing so much wildlife and knowing that all your doing is in fact seeing, doing it the right way and causing no harm to the animal or its habitat.
Following this, we were back to the Le Dumont-D’Urville safe and sound reunited with the rest of the group who didn’t quite consider themselves snake lovers. Back onboard the zodiacs, the sun was shining as we powered towards what looked like nothing but a deserted island paradise, but little did we know it held a lot more. This morning we had the delight of discovering The Garifunas of Chuchupate, a vibrant civilization made up of around 50 people. Truly an island paradise with powdered sand, golden and glowing, and ombre waters stretching from turquoise to crystalline blue at your toes. It reminded me of a slice of Thailand as long boats decorated the shoreline which spanned less than half the size of a football pitch. The Garifuna are seafaring people, they manage their daily subsistence by fishing. It’s a simple life they lead as I experienced firsthand whilst wandering their pint sized island, wandering by outside wood ovens where we were offered freshly made rolls as well as other unique gastronomy from fruit to ‘Guiffity’, a mouthwatering concoction of roots and herbs that they mix with rum, it’s a good thing there wasn’t much land to wander off into as these cocktails were going down a treat!
Music seems to run through the blood of these people, this was something we happily celebrated by their side. Performing with drums and maraccas, it was mesmerizing to watch, as the woman sing, something seems to take over them as their hips are swaying, joy emitting from them. Maybe this is the secret to the Garifuna’s upbeat way of life. Getting a sneak peek into the inner working of cultures most don’t even know exist, is truly unforgettable, it became even more precious when finding out this island is getting smaller and smaller as the years go by because of the rising sea levels. Its important when exploring, to gather a true understanding of how we can preserve our world.
Once again, we had the option to spend the afternoon lazing on the beach. It seems by morning we uncover the honey pot of culture around Honduras and its islands, and by sunset we are marveling at its natural beauty, beach hopping our way into the evening.
If for whatever reason you decide you want a break from the zodiac taxis and opt for a lazy afternoon on the charming Le Dumont d’Urville, the landing platform has more than one use… Whilst docked in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, the landing platform is slowly lowered to just below sea level, allowing you to jump off into the depths for a free swimming experience. This is just another appeal of sailing small ship luxury, whilst floating off the back of a ship it feels as if sailing on your own private yacht, and who wouldn’t want a taste of that good life?
Saturday November 25th 2023, Cuero y Salado, Honduras
I originally thought 8am was an early start considering I was on my holidays, but this morning I had to be up and out of the cosy cocoon of my King Size bed and perfectly plush duvet by 6am! (You could say I was fond of my cabin). Although, I whole heartedly trust the experts, and to fully embrace the wildlife at our fingertips, arriving with the sun was the only way.
We were told at the start of our cruise that Honduras is a hotspot for rich biodiversity, especially amongst the mangroves. On this day, we fully embraced this as we slithered through Cuero y Salado National Park, a veritable refuge for wildlife created in 1987. Practically untouched by humans, it’s obvious how this lush forest thrives when left to its own devices, we snuck into the tranquil early morning silence of the estuaries of Cuero, Salado and San Juan rivers; home to a kaleidoscope of birdlife and plant species.
Seemingly cut off from the outside world, we snaked slowly through the maze of mangrove swamps with the back track of birdsong and back drops of mountains as the sun tickles its peak, finally rising to join us as we start our day in the jungle. We observed the luminous plumage that brings the thick chlorophyll forest to life with bursts of colour, spying rare birds such as the much adored toucan high up in the canopy and black vultures circling overhead.
The true spectacle for me was seeing the magical Howler Monkeys dance from tree to tree. Playful and social, they didn’t shy away from the zodiacs as they crept along overhead branches putting on a private spectacle just for us. We heard them before we saw them, we picked up our local tour guide at the start of our journey and he imitated their call perfectly as they called back to us. We had front row seats to an intimate conversation between neighbours, man and monkey. We even saw a mother and its infant high up in the tree snoozing, with the baby snuggled into the mothers back. It was truly once in a lifetime observing these incredible creatures innocent and free amongst their natural habitat, thriving and unbothered.
After a few hours of exploring the mangroves and following the bread crumbs left behind by wildlife, we ended up back at Fusca village. Here we were welcomed with banners and a coconut to sip on, it was like a home away from home as the people had set up food stalls and the local dogs were running rampant excited to meet to the new people on their turf. Whilst indulging on mouthwatering local delicacies such as black bean tacos, we had the pleasure of watching the younger generations dance and sing. Dressed in vibrant outfits, the village green was transported into a dance floor as we were all invited up to dance alongside them. It was a joyous afternoon, tucked away amongst the jungle and the soothing sounds of the Salado river as a distant murmur.
After touring the village and getting a greater understanding of how this quaint village adapts to a life cut off from the built up world we’re used to, we got a true taste of how they provide for themselves. So far during my adventures, cars and roads for that matter are something of a distant memory, with these remote islands and villages having their own methods of getting from A to B. As part of our deep dive into Fusca village we got to ride on the oldest railway line in the country. A far cry from the Central Line, we all sat on a cart eager to be transported when a motorbike revved up by our side. We were pushed all the way down the railway line by the foot of the man on the motorbike as we flew through countryside and grazing animals- this is the villages main form of transport whether that’s for goods or human transportation.
Leaving our newfound civilsation we were back through the jungle and back to Le Dumont d’Urville. With the opportunity of dining in either the delights of The Grill nestled amongst the lantern lit pool deck or Le Nautilus with a new menu every evening (and the usual A la carte options of course), dinner is a lucky dip of dishes. Why not even extend your evening below the sea in the magnificent Submarine Lounge, the Blue Eye is the first of its kind and Ponant make the most of its brilliance by utilising it as a relaxation area by day and an exquisite club by night. Hosting different themed nights and a premium selection of beverages, watch the underwater world fly by with ABBA blasting through the speakers and dancing on the screens before you.