Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dead Fish, Volcanoes, and Friendship

Last weekend we took advantage of our Friday off to visit the beaches on the South of Honduras. We hired a little bus to take us down to the wharf, and I ended up sitting in front next to the bus driver. This move always takes a leap of courage, but he was talkative and friendly, and in one of my proudest Spanish moments so far, we managed to chat for the entire drive!

We were dropped off at an isolated wharf, where "lanchas," little boats, waited to ferry us across to the island Amapala. 

Amapala is a small, poor island that depends on tourism for much of its economy. Southern Honduran beaches have dark sand and dark water. Since most tourists prefer the pristine, white-sand beaches of the North, we had a lot of the island to ourselves.

Once we were on the island, we checked into a little hostel for only $6 per person. On the other side of the island there are larger, more resort-style hotels and nicer beaches, but it's nice to be in a place where adventures are more important than comfort. Thankfully, spiders in the shower, sharing beds, and hungry cats that steal our loaves of bread are all still adventures.

We took mototaxis across the island to one of the beaches. Mototaxis are ubiquitous in Honduras, and they're wonderful. They're like little motorized tricycles with open sides that can squeeze four passengers and zip between traffic. They're perfect for rural areas that don't have roads for cars, or just for people who only want to spend 50 cents to get somewhere close by.

Though the beach wasn't anything out of a guidebook, the views were still spectacular. We were surrounded by mountains on every side, and rock formations bordered the little beach we found. 

My favorite part about little vacations is the people we meet. We found some fisherman and watched as one expertly filleted a stingray. 

We also ran into a group of school principles on vacation. We talked to some for a while and got to show off our (limited) knowledge of Honduran geography and history. Before we left, they saw my camera and wanted to be in a picture so we would remember them.

When the tide came in and swallowed the beach, we waited for our mototaxis in a restaurant right behind us. There we ate what was likely the freshest seafood I've ever had. Food that can stare back at you is the best kind, right?

The next morning, we started on a hike up the mountain that fills the center of the island. Years and years ago, it was a volcano, which made me imagine clambering up black rock sides and staring down into an open top, belching smoke and fire. Disappointingly, it was almost exactly like any other mountain, with the exception that the path was made up of much more volcanic rock.

After a 2-hour hike, during which I sweated more than I've probably ever sweated in my life, we finally reached the top. Through the clouds, we could see mountains and inlets for miles. To our left, El Salvador stretched into view, and Nicaragua to our right. As the clouds shifted and changed, we could see the shrimp and seafood farms that make up tiny pools for miles inland. With the sun shining through the clouds, it was a spectacular view.

At the summit, we also met a new friend. When exploring the area, we ran into a man with a machete and two barking dogs. Through a particularly difficult conversation, we finally established that he was the keeper of the paths, and lived up on top of the mountain in a little hut for a month at a time. He was thrilled to see us, which is nice, because it's always good to befriend men with machetes.

"Do you like guavas?" he asked us, when it looked like we were ready to leave. When we said yes, he led us to a wild tree off the beaten path, hacking grass down with his machete to make a way for us. "This is a good way to celebrate our new friendship," he said, but he said it in Spanish, and with a strong accent. "Do you understand?" he said, and we said no.

"Friendship -- that's when people look after each other and care for each other." He shimmied up the tree, tying his barking dog to a branch. "It's when they make sure the other is safe, and they want to give them things." He picked armfuls of guavas and handed them down to us, enough to fill our backpacks. "Do you understand?"

We nodded our heads and shook his hand. And there, on top of a volcano, taking fresh fruit from a very kind mountain man I think we really did understand friendship a little better.

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