Tavel to Paradise – a short story

I’m not sure if this is a ‘story’ or if it is more of a narration which attempts to amuse. I’ve  been silent for over two months so I decided to post it to demonstrate that I am still alive and able to type.

Their home is in a secure compound on the side of a tropical mountain overlooking the sea. In many respects, it is a regal site; the sort of place where House Hunters stand and proclaim the view to be worth a million dollars. The downside is that this idyllic place is in remote rural Honduras, itself a country second to Haiti on the bottom of the Latin American poverty scale.  The night is dark illuminated by moon and stars without the light pollution of affluent places. Gull and tropical bird squawks, permeated by an occasional gruesome howl of a howler monkey, herald dawn as light pushes back shadows. The ocean is there in all its majesty; at the house, it appears as a blanket stretched to the horizon. It is silent because the mountainside drops off to the coast with a steep ravine masking the sound of the waves on the shore. At this magical moment, my husband and I, visiting grand-parents, stand on the veranda and gaze across a lawn of yellow daisies to a low bed of tropical plants silhouetted against the misty waters of the Caribbean.  At dusk, we stood in this identical place and witnessed fireflies dancing upon this same lawn. Now the rays of the rising sun highlight the verdant verge and then sunlight creeps slowly across the lawn illuminating everything in sequence with exotic intensity.

At six sharp the peace of the morning is shattered by Madi and Josiah’s cries as they let their adults know that they are awake and wish to rise with the sun. We change diapers and take them for a walk to enjoy the cool morning air. It is pleasant at eighty degrees. We know that the maturing day will become so hot and humid that our hair will drip with perspiration, and our clothes become damp and clammy. Presently, the children’s parents arise and the house fills with activity as breakfasts are eaten and the day’s agenda discussed.

Shortly before eight a bevy of girls climbs the steep road up to the house. They sit in a row on a concrete roadside stoop and discuss their work in hurried Spanish. These are the Honduran maids who will baby-sit the children who live on this compound while their parents work. They came by bus along the dirt pothole-pocked road and climbed the steep compound road up to the houses. At eight, they disperse: each going to her employer. Sandra enters Madi and Josiah’s house in time for their parents to leave for work. Today each parent mounts a motorcycle to take the short drive down the ravine and back up the side of an adjacent ravine to the hospital where expectant patients are waiting. The waiting room will be crowded with people who came by bus, foot, three wheeled ‘taxi” and donkey to see a doctor.

While the doctors work their clinic, a Honduran maid from a home further along the steep road arrives with a three-year-old girl. She is Madi’s age and a good playmate. For a while, the two Honduran maids watch the children play, and then they escort the girls and Josiah up the hill to another house. We, the grand-parents are alone for a hiatus of silence as we finish the various tasks which we have undertaken during our visit. We also pack; for today, we are all going to Paradise Bay on Roatan. By ten thirty, the two maids are back and now there are there little girls. The girls perch on tall stools arranged in a neat row before the kitchen island. Sandra serves them an elaborate ‘snack’ which looks more like lunch. The girls’ chatter as they eat. After their food, the girls go out on the veranda to play and Josiah stays inside to kick a ball.

He kicks the ball across the room and runs after it his face illuminated with pleasure. He is eighteen months old, but he has already mastered an expert kick. He kicks with his bare right foot which he curves as he hits the green ball giving it a lift into air before it hurdles across the floor with the boy running behind. He has not seen professional sports; his kick is innate not imitative. We wonder if one day he might become an NFL kicker. If he does we intend to quote his early start, his prolonged practicing. His concentration is intense and his pleasure obvious as he runs behind his ball anticipating the next kick. We marvel at the length of his play. This child has no attention deficit! We think that this characteristic is an asset but will change our minds later in the day.

At noon, the two additional girls are escorted home. I prepare macaroni and cheese; Madi, and Josiah eat with gusto. We put Josiah down for a nap. He sleeps. By two pm, the children’s parents arrive home. Both are stressed by the problems encountered in the clinic. In particular, Isaac talks about a young man who came in for prostate follow-up visit and manifested an infected eye. Isaac reports that the infection is so acute that the patient will probably lose vision in this eye, and maybe the eye itself. A follow-up visit, after our return to the USA, reveals the problem to be an infestation of Bot-fly parasites. Isaac reports the removal of three live ones from the man’s top and bottom eyelids. Anne’s problem is a small boy for whom she sewed up a lacerated foot while observing that all his infant teeth were gone, and his gums seriously infected. Anne reports that the mother told her that her son wouldn’t let her clean his teeth. Anne tries to develop a strategy for an intervention to save the child’s future prospects for his adult teeth. Stress is contagious; the final packing time is fraught with tension.

At last, bags are packed and placed in the truck; children loaded, and adults seated. We are off. The road to La Ceiba is a winding coastal dirt road full of potholes. Isaac swerves from side to side as he attempts to avoid the deepest indentations and ruts. Josiah is strapped into his car seat American-style. He hates it. Perhaps he cannot understand why he has to be harnessed on this trip when he was given freedom to roam the cab during his ride with his father to the gas station the previous evening. He complains with squirms and wails. Anne attempts to console him without success. It is a pity that he cannot see the beautiful scenery surrounding that treacherous road. Mountains clad in tropical vegetation, brief glimpses of ocean, oil palm groves, sprouting fence stakes, men harvesting with machetes, roadside horses and cows, scrawny dogs and chickens and simply clad Honduran people. We pass through small settlements consisting of tiny Adobe homes with outside plumbing and kitchens. We cross one-lane bridges occasionally having to wait while opposing traffic consisting of laden motorcycles making their crossing. We can see down into the river where women wash their clothes. Josiah screams and sees none of this.

After an hour or so, I try not to count, outside the town of Jutiapa, we encounter another obstacle. The road is cordoned off; uniformed armed men stand on either side. They start to pull the truck over, but then there is a moment of recognition, and we are waved on. I ask myself whether our unhindered passage is in response to the ‘Hospital Loma de Luz” Red Cross sticker on the doors of the truck, or a more subtle reaction to a vehicle full of gringos and vociferously wailing young child. We cross another long narrow bridge and traverse Jutiapa with its open shops and crowded streets. I notice one block-long queue of people. Isaac explains that this is the line waiting to enter the bank. At the corner, I see an armed guard at the bank’s entrance; he is checking someone’s papers. We pass on.

Now the road is paved; there are still potholes, but they are less frequent and Isaac is unable to swerve into the oncoming lane due to an increase in traffic. Josiah still cries. At least, we are over half way, and I hope, nay trust, that Josiah’s worst performance is drawing to a close. Little did I know how vain this hope would proove. The ferry crossing between La Ceiba and Roatan is notoriously rough and so Isaac and Anne prepare by administering  dramamine to their children and themselves. Indeed, Anne, pale and exhausted, possibly in response to Josiah’s crying, or maybe swerving road and potholes, says that she is already nauseous.

At the ferry pier in La Ceiba, we unload. Dan buys tickets. We treat ourselves to first class; for an additional five dollars, this luxury promises an air-conditioned upper deck with vinyl cushioned chairs and free drinks. We wait in the ticket lounge while Isaac parks the truck. Madi and Josiah run up and down the cordoned ticket lines. A pistol-bearing official asks that they stop. I have a hard time making them obey for the cordoned lines are empty, and the request seems unreasonable; however, an armed official is to be obeyed. Anne captures Josiah and changes his very dirty diaper on the floor by the window. The same guard approaches and suggests that we may progress into the inside waiting room. I suspect that his suggestion is to evict us from his space. We comply.

When we are invited on board the ferry we settle comfortably into the first class lounge. An attractive “hostess” brings us our “free” drinks. Josiah and Madi play among the rows of chairs. The crew cast off.  We watch the shore recede behind us. When we move into the open waters of the crossing, the ferry begins to heave. The hostess passes out “barf-bags.” The deck is too unstable to walk upon. Dan cradles Madi. Her Dramamine is working, and she falls asleep in his arms. Isaac cradles Josiah, who remains very much awake. He squirms, struggles and screams. He has already put in almost an hour and a half of crying today. I ask myself whether it is possible that he can keep this up for long. In our long-off days of parenting, our children never went longer than twenty minutes. I should not have questioned for this boy, who can kick a ball around the room for half an hour, can yell incessantly for three. He screamed the entire one and a half hour cruise. A baby’s cry has a quality which demands adult intervention but Josiah’s gradually blends into the overall ambient noise of the ferry’s engines, and I can almost con myself into ignoring it. At one point, when the deck was heaving its worst, I look across the rows of empty chairs to a pair of fellow travelers on the other side. The gentleman returns my gaze, and we both smile. I take his smile to be one of the empathy; mine is one of embarrassment.

We reach Roatan without having to use the barf bags. The moment that we dock and the boat stops swaying; Josiah smiles, and wiggles out of his father’s embrace to join the crowd as though nothing has bothered him. We claim our bags. That is we attempt to claim our bags. The problem is that through the general kerfuffle we seem to have mislaid our claim tickets. When all the other passenger’s bags are dispensed, we are given ours. A porter locates us and steers us to a taxi. It is a small vehicle, and he straps our luggage into the trunk with a bungee cord. We pile in. Perhaps fortunately there is no baby car seat and so Josiah is not strapped in and does not wail. He seems unaffected by his performance of the afternoon and evening. I expect that he won’t remember a thing, but I shall.

It is now dark; the road twists and turns up and down the Roatan coast. About half way we pass the cruise ship dock. We see a Norwegian ship at dock. It’s brilliantly lit decks glisten several stories above the buildings on shore. This is Roatan’s income source. They come to snorkel and dive along Roatan’s famous coral reef, and to enjoy her sparkling sandy tropical beaches. We arrive at The West Beach Lodge without further incident and are shown to our rented condominium. By now, it is well past Maddi and Josiah’s bed-time. We eat a quick dinner in the open air lodge dining area; and hasten to put the children to bed. As we chase each other around the condominium, we realize that between dining area and condominium someone stood in a dog turd. Dan and I chased around with paper towels. Our administrations have little effect until we deduce that more than one person has contaminated feet. We encourage everyone to shed their shoes. We expect to sleep soundly in preparation for a glorious day on Paradise beach.







8 thoughts on “Tavel to Paradise – a short story

  1. Great descriptive writing and a richly conveyed atmosphere – you left me perspiring in that heat! I empathised, too, with your sense of the toxicity in the child’s cries. I remember being so often in a similar situation! The price of Paradise?

    • Thank you for your visit! I’m amazed that you felt the heat for it was worse than I mention in this piece. Of course there is little or no A/C and it is so hot and humid that ones’ hair gets soaking wet from sweat. I think that it is the humidity which makes it so bad. Paradise Bay the next day was heaven with two children and a sandy beach lapped by clear warm water.

  2. I love the backdrop and the excellent narrative. It reminds me that, while all of us crave to travel, it can quite often be eventful in ways that are not intended.


    • Thank you for your visit. I agree that travel can be eventful especially with small children. I also believe that one of the benefits of travel is that it takes us out of our comfort zone and that this removal often stimulates the writer’s muse to make a visit. I’ve just bought “After Hours” I trust that I am in for a treat!

  3. I don’t make a huge distinction between stories woven out of imagination and stories recounting actual experience. To me they are all stories. This was interesting to me for the way you observed the child and the ball and then later dealt with that horrible frustration of a child who won’t stop crying. Just as I was led to imagine his future in sports–perhaps as a soccer player–I could extrapolate from the details you so vividly described that he may also become someone of great focus, tenacity and stubborn perseverance, once he got something into his head. I especially liked the small moments, like the swapped smiles—one of empathy, one of embarrassment. I hope the next day on the beach did turn out to be a taste of Paradise.

    • Thank you for your insightful comments.; which always prove a joy to read. I agree that sometimes willful, or in Josiah’s case persistence, in a child , may indicate a future desirable adult characteristic such as creativity or tenacity. I always told my children that I wanted them to demonstrate some “spunk”. Fortunately they never tested how far their “spunk” could go. Parenting is a huge responsibility as one struggles to establish codes of behavior acceptable to society while still attempting to nurture individuality.

  4. I’m always interested in your stories but this one specially. while you were referring to Honduras it could be any one of the countries I’ve visited in Asia with similar vegetation, similar roads, similar basic living conditions, similar child minders for the day and so on. So I saw Honduras through the eyes of all those places and situations. Travelling with babies in the most difficult circumstances? We understand that and sympathize. Great descriptions, great memories.

    • Thank you for this insight Ian. I agree that these poorer nations whose land masses account for so much of the globe share many similarities. The greatest difference that I see between Honduras and India is that India has a population close to 400 per square mile while Honduras has 166. I got these statistics from the internet although my observations indicate a greater disparity.

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