Vamos A La Playa
Someone had taped aspirin to the belly-buttons of the kids of Casa Suyapa, supposedly so that they wouldn´t throw up on the 4 hour bus trip to Amapala, a beach town on the South coast of Honduras. Also, they were each issued a plastic bag before we left. I had no idea why, but I didn´t bother asking. I´ve learned not to ask about a lot of things here.
We were not out of Teguc when I found out. Conveniently, the first kid had to "hacer pi-pi" when our bus was stopped with a flat tire. Not less than 10 minutes later, back on the road, he had to go again. Out came the bag. When he was done, it was tied shut and thrown out the window to join the piles of garbage that fill the ditches along every highway. In theory, the bag idea works great. Unless they have holes in them. And there were holes. Oh yeah, and the aspirin-in-bellybutton idea . . . doesn´t work.
I should have taken the bags of pi-pi and vomit as some kind of omen. Get off the bus now, Amelia. But no, I didn´t listen. I was going to the beach. With more than 50 little kids. For 5 whole days.
About 4 hours and 8 bags of bodily fluids later, we arrived at the Southern shore of Honduras. From there, we took a military boat over to the island of El Tigre. We stayed outside of the sleepy fishing village of Amapala at the Naval Base. Yes, you heard me right, a Naval Base.
A volcanic mountain shadows the island and at night, turns into a threatening curve blacker than the sky and void of stars. Amapala was a 15 minute walk from the base, through brick streets filled with mango trees and barking dogs. The beaches were 15 minutes in the other direction. The volcanic sand was black and the water a greenish grey. Offshore there were mountainous islands and, at night, we could see the lights of El Salvador. The kids gorged themselves on the small green mangos and funny-looking marañones that grew on the base.
There weren´t many soldiers on the base. The few that were there eyed us four gringas with serious, ceaseless fascination and marched around in a mix of camo and cut-off blue jeans chanting semi-vulgar rhymes to keep their pace. It was a functioning base--guards and machine guns guarded the entrance casually--but the whole place had a thrown-together feel as if it was a newly-run or falling-apart operation. Is Honduras was really depending on this base to defend its shore?
All 70 of us slept in one big room with mattresses sprawled out like thick carpeting. We woke up with the kids around 6 every day. As soon as the kids saw that we were awake, they would run over and climb into bed with us. Even the older kids loved to snuggle with us as we were waking up. As hard as it was to wake up so early, to so many excited and crying kids, seeing the love (what else could it be?) in their eyes as they rushed to cuddle with me made it my favorite part of the day. I suppose it was the easiest part of the day, too. No one had hit anyone yet, no one had gotten mad because they didn´t want to brush their teeth, no one had jumped on my sunburned shoulders and ignored my cries of pain. We were all fresh and as ready as we would be for the day.
After brushing their teeth twice (once before and once after breakfast--what was the point?) and slathering sunscreen on the kids (not waterproof--what was the point?), we were off to the beach. We spent the morning swimming in the calm, still water and building dark "castillos de arena," sand castles, decorating them by dripping watery sand on them for a gothic look. After lunch, the water was rough with waves. All of the adults would line up parallel to shore, to keep the kids contained and visible, and we all would jump and play in the waves. The Tíos (the kids´caretakers) seemed to enjoy this as much as the kids. Miraculously, no one drowned.
We we returned to the base, it was time for showers. We had 2 showers for all the kids. The girls used one, the babies the other, and the boys showered outside at a spigot. After showers was dinner and after dinner--whew!--the kids went to bed. By 8 every day, they were sound asleep, dreaming of another day of eating mangoes and swimming in the salty, opaque water of La Tigre.
After 8, we would walk into the town of Amapala, through the humid air and night sounds of whispering people and clucking chickens. We would walk out onto the pier with its staircase that disappeared into the rough sea or go and have a beer on the porch of a restaurant there. Our last night on La Tigre, we were invited to the Club on the base by a soldier who had befriended us during our visit. He spoke English perfectly, having attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He treated us to Bahía, a light Corona-like beer, on the deck high above the wild sea and practiced his English.
Now--with the exception of the bags of pi-pi--it sounds like not a bad week, right? Well, I kind of left out the bad things. I don´t want to dwell on them, but still, you should know . . .
- Mean Tíos (some of them HATE the volunteers--who knows why?)
- 2 bathrooms for 70 people
- Bathroom doors with no locks
- Not one minute alone in 5 days
- Blistering (literally) sunburn
- All our stuff getting soaked on the boat
- Scary soldier who was in love with Annie (volunteer)
- Katerine (one of the kids) falling out of a tree and having to get stitches
- Mind-blowing heat and humidity
- Mean Tíos
- Mean Tíos
Yep, the Tíos were really mean to us. I don´t know why and I probably never will. Not all of them, of course. But a few of them either ignore us, refusing to learn our names or even say hello, or are blatantly mean to us, making snide comments at every opportunity. I am not going to say more about this, but be assured, some of them can be quite terrible to us. This made the week even harder.
Overall it was an extremely stressful dotted with beautiful moments. All of us are peeling and tired, but recovering. And yesterday, I noticed nearly 10 little girls with their hair in two braids--exactly the way I had worn my hair all 5 days of our trip. Seeing those braids made the whole week worthwhile.