Su Lum: Slumming
December 20, 2011
“As you exit the ship and walk up the main path to the shopping area, continue past the fountains, to the red-top building on the right. Enter that building and walk to the end where the white taxis’ parking area is. Make a left and walk up the small hill. You will see a green gate. Go through the gate and down the hill.”
We are on Roatan Island north of, and part of, Honduras, and as soon as we go through the ubiquitous faux village and the green gate we are out in the middle of nowhere, in a jungle, really, going down a steep, bumpy hill on my electric scooter, which then labors up the following hill. We’re probably a mile from the boat, and crowds of natives are holding up signs.
“Christoper Tours,” we say and they wave us on, “Christopher – they’re down there,” not trying to pressure us to hire them instead.
This is all the result of the Internet. My friend Hilary had booked this offbeat outfit, which promised to take us around the island all day for $80. They are not allowed to solicit at the dock, but they have learned how to use websites.
Hilary had rounded up Larry and Jay, computer pioneers from the ’70s, whom we had erroneously taken for a gay couple (Larry was on his third marriage) to join us. Jay was wry, Larry funny and interesting.
While Lonnie, our driver, rounded up his vehicle, I sat on a bench under a rough shelter and asked the woman next to me what she thought about the cruise business – the marina had been built only recently. She said without a trace of irony that it was the best thing that could have happened to them. The island used to be in the fishing trade, but that had pooped out, and the cruise business had saved them.
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Into a rickety, dented white Chevrolet of unknown vintage, no plates. Two in front, three in back, the scooter left behind.
Our agenda was small – a scenic drive to a botanical garden, where the toilet handle broke off in my hand, then over rough roads to a butterfly preserve with few butterflies but lots of rescued exotic birds and animals – white-tailed deer that kissed your hands – then over very rugged roads right on the beach with tight traffic in the little towns.
Lonnie, a huge, laughing man, 36, born and bred here, told us stories about the island he loves, which all of the natives seem to love despite hard times, rickety houses on stilts, tons of laundry out on lines on this rare occasion of a sunny day.
He told us that education was mandatory through grade 12, kids were not allowed to drop out, all had to learn a trade (he was an electrician) and to be fluent in Spanish and English. There was no crime because nobody had anything to steal, and there was no place to hide. Of the mainland Hondurans, “They don’t like us.”
Larry and Hilary wanted to get in the water, so we stopped at a sweet beach and they bobbed around while Lonnie, Jay and I had a beer and Jay told me he used to hang out in the Jerome in Aspen at the turn of the ’60s. Larry lives in China.
Then off to “the top of the island” with circular views and locally made souvenirs. I got two hand-carved hash pipes for friends, and was offered “something to fill it.” A vendor with lizards on strings called to me, “Hey, Grandma,” to which I replied, “Who are you calling Grandma?” On my own two feet without oxygen, wasn’t I 16?
Off to a tiny mall in the middle of nowhere, all goods made by the natives, including stuffed “real frogs.”
“Are these really real?” I asked Lonnie, who immediately smelled them to see if they stank of frog. Upon verification, Hilary, always good with the strange present, bought one for her boss.
It was five hours of fun, traffic jams (Lonnie put the right wheels on the sidewalk to bypass the worst of it), running into members of his family, laughing and joking – the best tour ever. Just go online.
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