This one isn’t one of my fiction stories but instead an account of an interesting travel experience.
It is late December when the Honduran November 2017 election fiasco forces us to make drastic modifications to our travel plans. Travel out in early December was thwart by inclement weather and random road blocks but our journey is rewarded by the joys of welcoming a new grandson into the world. But now it is time to go back home to the US. We decide to circumvent the road blocks by taking a fishing boat up the coast. Our son-in-law delivers us to the beach and, after a short wait, leaves to get to a telephone so that he can find out where our boat is.
The beach, if I could call it a beach, consists of a small stretch of sand flanked by disintegrating trees and vegetation extending into the ocean. The shore is strewn with trash as are so many places in poor countries, but, if I raise my glaze up to the bay, I can forget the trash and let myself be transported into the awesome wonder of our planet. Standing there I know that I am at the center of the universe. This is something that, deep down, I knew all along, but am now content to witness in confirmation. The beach is located in the center of a huge magnificent bay. On either extremity the land, with its prolific vegetation, stretches out into the water. I take in the essence of the land’s loving embrace. The sea ripples in the morning light and the rising sun highlights the clouds on the horizon where they float over the barely visible islands of Kios Cochinos. I wonder what these magical islands, ranked by some as one of the most beautiful places on earth, are really like. Right now, they wink and beckon to me, much in the way that Bali Hai called in the 1958 Rogers and Hammerstein movie, ‘South Pacifi
I raise my arms in symbolic prayer to absorb the beauty, and then turn to look inland. My luggage, a small carry-on suitcase, stands next to me amongst the trash. Beyond it I take in the short dirt drive leading to the Honduran shore-line pot-holed dirt road which connects Belfate to La Ceiba. It is 6:30 in the morning and here I am, accompanied by my husband and our bags, standing, marooned, in what now seems like the middle of no-where. I wonder if we are crazy to be here, unable to speak or understand Spanish, in the midst of this Honduran election fiasco. I know that the roads are periodically blocked and there is no telephone reception. If the small fishing boat which was scheduled to pick us up doesn’t come I don’t know what our next action will be. We need to get to the Roatan airport so that we can catch our flight back to Austin tomorrow, and they only fly once a week. I rationalize to myself that someone warned us that the Honduran fishermen are notoriously late. I urge my husband to join me in staying calm by consciously concentrating on absorbing the natural beauty before us. Of course, both of us are also letting our eyes constantly scan the bay for signs of a boat, anything human.
Time passes. I hear a vehicle on the road behind me; it is an ancient bus. I take this as a good omen, perhaps there will be others, perhaps there may yet be a way out. It is almost 7:30 when I notice something red in the ocean bobbing towards us. It seems to have materialized out of nothing for I didn’t see it enter the bay by rounding the distant point. As it approaches I realize several things. First that, surely, it must be our scheduled fishing boat, and second that it is very small. I also quickly deduce that the only way that we are going to be able to board is by wading in the water. I console myself with the reminder that I came for adventure and reach down and take off my shoes and socks and roll up my jeans. I am thankful that Honduras is tropical and that it is warm, even now, in December
There are two men on the boat. I wonder if they are friendly. One jumps out into the water. He gives me a warm smile exposing a set of stained teeth, I notice that one of the front ones is missing. He is shoeless and wears a torn t-shirt and baggy pants. He asks if there are others, we confirm that we are alone. We climb on board and over a pile of suspect-looking grimy life vests to seat ourselves on the bench seat in the middle of the boat. I am happy that we are not told to put on one of those vests. We watch our suitcases being whisked on board and stowed and tucked in under a large blue tarpaulin in the prow of the boat. I ask whether we will get wet. The toothy one shakes his head “no.”
The out-board motor springs into action with a deafening roar and we surge forward. Again, I raise my arms in symbolic thankful joy at the wonder of this enchanted place. The sea which looked so calm from our beach turns out to have a three-foot swell. At times we hit a wave just right and it throws up spray. I resign myself to the inevitable fact that we will get wet for I am too frightened by the boat’s bounce to stand up and put on my rain poncho which accompanies my shoes, socks, money and travel documents in my “purse” under my feet.
I do my best to take in the natural beauty and wonder of this view of the Honduran coast. There is a narrow line of yellow where water meets land and beyond it a flat zone of intense dark green tropical vegetation. Beyond this is the first range of mountains clad in the same tropical vegetation. Behind this range I see a second and in some locations a third range of mountains. These distant peaks look ethereal and blend magically into the sky overhead.
The swell increases and I grip my wood seat with both hands, one behind and one in front. I speculate that if I fell overboard it would be the end, for my water-logged clothing would inhibit swimming. I entertain a frightening thought that we are at the mercy of the two fishermen crewing this boat. If they chose they could pitch my husband and I overboard and make off with our possessions. I tell myself that no-one would ever find our bodies. I am concerned that I never even looked our skipper in the face. I turn to look at him. He is standing close behind me in the stern of the boat with the tiller in his hand. Since we are heading west the rising morning sun casts a silver path stretching from the receding beach where we embarked to silhouette this man. I cannot make out his features although his stance outlined in silver strikes me as being saintly. Partially reassured I return my gaze to the west.
A sole bird swoops into view flying close to the water I watch him as he passes out of view. A fish jumps out of the water. Can it be mocking the bird? We pass several tiny home-made one-man fishing boats with black triangular sails which look like converted garbage bags. By the time that we round our final peninsular and see the La Ceiba harbor wall the swell is up to four to five feet and I can taste salt on my lips.
The water is calm in the harbor which is very small. There is an ancient barge on one side, which I speculate be abandoned due to its dilapidated state, and two or three other fishing boats not much larger than the one we are on. We approach the harbor wall closest to the ferry dock. For a split second I am transported back to a moment of terror when I was an eight-year-old. Together with my parents we were taking a Spring trip to the Farne Island bird sanctuary. We embarked from Seahouses, at what must have been low tide, for we had to climb down a ladder slung over the wall to get down to the boat. In my recollection that wall was at least twenty feet and the climb down so frightening that I still carry the memory of it with me. The climb up this wall is only a few feet. A man reaches out his hand and then another and I am soon pulled up and onto dry land, our bags follow.
My husband settles up with our fishermen. $275 covers our almost two-hour voyage. It seems reasonable to us, in our American affluence, although I speculate that it is a small fortune to these Hondurans. My comparison is the going rate of $1 US an hour that my daughter pays her gardener, maid and nanny all of whom work part-time for her meaning that they probably only make about $25-$30 a week.