Wednesday, July 21, 2010

डेलिकिऔस एन्दंगेरेड Seafood

I lay daydreaming on my stomach as the two large and powerful Garifuna women started to work me over with strong, confident hands. They bantered in a sweet, melodic language that was certainly English, but that I had to actively listen to to understand. They really weren't talking to me anyway, so I slipped into my thoughts, into the warm, clear blue water where I had spent the morning snorkeling. I saw more colors on fish and coral than there are crayons in a delux Crayola box. I was in heaven, swimming for hours through the reef, pointing and smiling. "I saw a turtle!", I exclaimed, probably interupting Sonia and Nell. "Yes." cooed Nell, "They are delicious. mmmm." "Yes, I love turtle meat. It is the best." Agreed Sonia. "Well, it looked pretty too... I mean, alive and swimming."

I used to have a tie. It was green and was decorated with pictures of various threatened marine animals. I think I bought in in my early twenties when somebody either got married or died. I wore it for the next few years anytime someone I knew got married or died. I liked to call it my 'endangered seafood' tie whenever someone complimented or commented on it. Incidently, sardonic cracks like that actually play better at funerals than they do at weddings. I remember there was an endangered turtle on the tie, but I don't know if it was the same kind that I saw in Roatan. The one I watched was big and magestic. It swam slowly and looked at me, but not with particular curiosity or suspicion. I swam around it for a while and could have stayed longer, but I just had to go back to the side to tell Jenn what I had seen. Plus I was getting hungry... maybe for seafood, but not so much for turtle.
Conchs are also popular to eat on Roatan. They are big snails. Fritters are one common way to eat them. We tried them as deep fried conch balls. The grease was obviously old and they tasted like rancid hushpuppies. Maybe they are typically better, but I was not impressed with my one tasting. Despite not having been thrilled by the flavor, we bought a big conch shell from a girl who was selling them on the beach. It was funny when we were going through the security check in the airport departing Honduras. The guards found the shell in Jenn's carry on bag. The guard looked at her disapprovingly, shaking his head and telling her that she could not steal the treasures of his land for cheap souvenirs to be placed amid other excesses on the shelf of an overpriviliged, ungrateful American two year old child. I looked down and tried to distance myself as much as possible from Jenn. Actually, he just said no and put the shell under the counter, but he may have been thinking those other things.

Sonia and Nell worked on my back and arms for about half an hour. Nell claims to have relocated my shoulder. It does feel better, but I am not certain that it was ever really dislocated. I asked them how they liked turtle cooked. For some reason, I can't remember exactly what they told me. I was thinking about all of the fish I had seen. Sure they were all beautiful, blues and greens; reds, yellows... so many shades. But how many were as delicious as they were pretty?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

गेत्तिंग तेरे

I've probably used the term a couple of dozen times in the telling of dubiously first person travel stories, but I don't know if I've ever actually ridden on a bus with a (live) chicken aboard. I'm not saying it has never happened, but I can't quite recall hearing or seeing chickens on the so called, "chicken buses" I have ridden on numerous occasions. Now, I have been on some a/c busted, windows stuck closed, broken seat, I think that guy just peed himself, stopping at every god forsaken shanty and taco stand in the nation, Christ I think I'm going to die today, dirty, and old chicken buses. When we travel in Mexico, I mostly prefer the middle of the road (not literally), semi-luxurious bus lines that have working windows and brakes. I don't favor the super fancy (fresa) buses with stewardesses and VIP lounges in the bus station. I am middle class. I like the clean, but not too expensive modes.
I heard that there really is no middle class in Honduras. I was on vacation, not a sociology field trip, but I did notice a couple of things that convinced me of this.... the total absence of local hippies (we can talk more about that later), and a bus system that consisted of one very fancy line (Hedman Alas) and a whole coup full of chicken buses. We rode both.
Our plane ran late and we were trying to get a cab, to get a bus, to get a cab, to get a ferry, to get a cab (that wiggled and squiggled inside her), to reach our first destination on the same day. San Pedro Sula is a hot and sweaty place... at least, I was a hot and sweaty person for the duration of my stay there. We were running when we reached the hot and sweaty bus terminal and raced up to the first ticket booth with a promising sign. When is the bus leaving? Two minutes. Ok, two please. Is it direct? Mas o menos.... Ok, well we only have a minute and half now, so let's take it.
The smells are so strong. Some are good. Some are evil. But they are strong. Just enough windows opened in the bus to let in the heat and the many aromas.... now it is burning plastic, now diesel and fried chicken. Now we are passing a churros factory and for a moment I am drinking the humidity, sweet and doughy with cinnamon. Now it smells of dung and old water. The little girl in the seat in front of me thought that I was very funny, her little nostrils flaring as she laughed, showering me in tuberculin mocos. Her seat was broken too, but my knees were able to brace the back of the seat, keeping her from falling onto us when she leaned over, giggling and threatening to cut off my fingers. Jenn had to pee. It was hot, so very hot. I remember the people laughing and singing; the sellers selling. I remember the trash that lines the highway like some sticky, soft shoulder. I remember the strange mix of singsong Spanish and even more singsong English that we heard with increasing frequency as the coast approached. But I don't actually remember if there were any chickens on the bus.
And on the way back we took the Hedman Alas luxury bus for the elite. It was like stepping out of Honduras and into a sensory deprivation tank, only one with a movie showing and little sandwiches. The seats were deep and rich and perfect. The air was cool and clean. It was a little slice of something decadent and familiar in a strange and foreign place. I hated it instantly. The view out the window ,now, was like a distant, moving postcard - a photograph that someone else had taken from almost, but not quite the same angle that I was looking at it. The windows were higher up, just a little, but enough that you couldn't quite see the candy wrappers, empty floating bags, stray dogs and kids along the highway without pushing your face right up against the glass and peering down. And nobody pushes their face against the glass and peers down at the world in the Ejecutive Plus section of the Hedman Alas bus. We even upgraded to the first class section at the front of the bus. This was the result of one of my typical linguistic blunders. The guy at the booth asked if I wanted first class or regular tickets. I thought he meant that there were two buses, a first class or a regular. The truth is that there are just two sections on the same bus. In my genius, I asked him if the first class got there quicker. He replied, a little. So I bought the tickets, and as we were at the front of the bus, we did arrive shortly before the regular rich people at the back of the bus. I think next time I will likely take the fancy Hedman Alas bus. But, I am going to try to sneak a chicken on with me.