Title- Cruise to Key West, Honduras and Guatemala

M.S. Ryndam of Holland America, loading in Tampa, Florida.

Pat and I were looking for a last minute cruise, and we were attracted to a Holland America cruise leaving Tampa which would include two new ports in Honduras, and Guatemala . The reviews suggested that Trujillo, Honduras and Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, were only just gearing up for tourists, so I hoped that they might provide a more authentic experience than the typical Caribbean tourist destination. The ship's first stop, Key West, is a place I've spent time in the Navy, and sports a lifestyle that does not even rise to "laid back." We decided to go for it.

 

Leaving Tampa Port

The Cruise Ship docks share a canal with oil storage facilities.

 

Norwegian Sea leaves port.

The Norwegian Sea leaves port ahead of us.

 

Pat tours the ship.

Pat goes over the available tours as we ready to leave port.

 

Steel Drum rhytms as we leave.

We enjoy the Reggae rhythms of steel drums as the ship unties.

 

 

Colorful oil storage tanks.

Someone added interest to an oil storage tank.

 

Passengers watch the departure.

We move down the channel in Tampa.

 

 

Yacht basin in South Tampa.

Passing a yacht basin in South Tampa. We look west at the channel islands of Clearwater. It will take three hours to cross the sizeable Tampa Bay and enter the Gulf of Mexico.

 
 

Approaching Key West

The next morning, a pilot boarded the ship and led us northward through the narrow, twisted channel dredged in coral rock to Key West. Most of the water surrounding Key West is less than ten feet deep.

 

Coming into Key West Harbor

Coming into Key West Harbor.

 

Disney Magic ship.

We pass Disney Magic as we approach our berth.

 

Docking part 1

The lineman waits to catch the bowline.

 

Docking part 2

A nice job of parallel parking.

 

 

Don and Pat in front of the Ryndam

We pose in Mallory Square at the end of Duval Street. Here, for years, the hippies, tourists and street performers have assembled at dusk to applaud the sunset.

 

May the power shopping begin.

 

Weaving a palm hat in Ket West

Weaving a palm hat.

 

 

Gaff Rigged sailboat

A replica of the wrecking sloop, "Mary" which worked the reefs in the 1900's. Wreckers were originally sponge boats, but eventually turned to the more profitable trade of savaging the ships which regularly ran aground on the shallow reefs. This boat has a gaff rigged sail, and is somewhat bigger than a wooden gaff rigged boat that I owned with two squadron mates while we were in flight training near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Key West is one of the last of the keys (coral islands) that curve southward and westward from the southeastern tip of Florida. A series of 40 bridges connects the keys, and Key West marks the end of the road, a 160 mile drive from Miami. Ponce de Leon was the first European to visit Key West, in 1521. It became a Spanish fishing settlement. Key West was made famous by Ernest Hemmingway, who called it home for much of his adult life. Captain Tony introduced Hemmingway to deep sea fishing, and a businessman, nicknamed "Sloppy Joe," was a frequent partner in fishing and in drinking in either of their establishments. Key West's invariably warm weather attracted tourists, and in the '60's, hippies moved to Key West, where they could live comfortably with few possessions. Key West and neighboring key, Boca Chica, have long been home to Key West Naval Air Station, due to its close proximity to Cuba. Today, Key West Naval Air Station is home to the "Conch Squadron," which might be considered the Top Gun equivalent for the east coast, training fighter pilots in air combat maneuvers.

As a flight instructor, I flew into Key West often on training flights, and in 1979 I spent two months in Key West, re-qualifying in the A-3 Skywarrior after I had been furloughed from my airline job. It was a delightful, laid-back lifestyle. Flip flops were overdressed for almost any restaurant in town. We would go to the Raw Bar for conch chowder or turtle soup with raw oysters. After work we often snorkeled in the lagoon next to the Bachelor Officer's Quarters and caught langouste (lobster) until we finally grew tired of eating lobster. For more serious diving, a few miles south of the keys is the Great Florida Reef, the third largest barrier reef system in the world.

So, it was something of a homecoming when Pat and I walked through the old town of Key West. With three ships in port, it was crawling with tourists, but Key West likes nothing better than a party and it accommodated the partiers better than most places. After Pat had her fill of shopping and walking, I left her at the ship, and then walked about two miles to the Bachelor Officer's Quarters where I had stayed years ago. Along the way I took pictures of Key West's very recognizable architecture, invariably featuring a covered porch or two, and big leafed tropical plants. I found the BOQ full of fighter pilots and was able to catch up on a bit of news as to what was happening in today's Navy. It was good nostalgia and I left feeling much younger than I looked.

 

Captain Tony's Restaurant, Key West

Ernest Hemmingway's haunt in the mid 1900's.

 

Sloppy Joe's Restaurant, Key West

...and another Hemmingway haunt.

 

 

Key West architecture 1.

A comfortable restaurant on Duval Street.

 

Key West Architecture 2

He cautioned me not to break my camera, but agreed to the photo.

 

 

Key West architecture 3

Key West feel.

 

Key West architecture 4

...and this.

 

 

Key West architecture 5

Simple, but exudes Key West.

 

Raw Bar, Key West

The Raw Bar, for great Conch Chowder, and Oysters. It used to have turtle soup, but appropriately, not now.

 

Key West painter at the yacht harbor.

Key West Bight.

 

Tarpon swimming in the yacht harbor.

Twice before in the Caribbean I've seen this symbiosis: Tarpon on a hook are one of the best fighting fish in the world. Tourists are attracted to tarpon. Restaurants, on the water, like tourists. Tarpon like scraps, flung from the windows of restaurant kitchens. Evolution at work.

 

Schooner Western Union

Schooner Western Union was built in Key West in 1939. Two years later, she was pressed into service to hunt German U Boats off the coast of Florida. During the Bay of Pigs invasion, she was nearly captured by a Cuban patrol. In 1974 she became a tourist pleasure boat, doing mostly sunset cruises and is now looking for funding to keep her as a historical monument.

 

MS Ryndam in Key West.

My time in Key West was over too soon. It was time get on board, with a day at sea before we would reach the north shores of Honduras' Banana Coast.