by Hank Leukart
September 24, 2008
Honduran chickens save the day
Cartoon poultry guides stomachs and wallets in Honduras.
Children watch carnival games at a patron saint festival in Tela, Honduras.
This is the second essay in a three-part series about my 2004 plan to win my ex-girlfriend back in Honduras. Read the entire series for the whole story.T
ELA, Honduras — In the middle of the night in our hotel room in Copán, Honduras, I awoke next to my ex-girlfriend in complete darkness — the kind of dark darkness you see only when you’re in the middle of nowhere in a developing country. Urgently needing to relieve myself, I stumbled toward the bathroom and tried the door but found that my partner-in-crime had mistakenly locked it behind her on the way to bed. I tried desperately to defeat the door’s privacy lock but failed. Not knowing what to do, I opened the window — a second floor window that led to the roof. Then — I’ll be honest — I peed on the hotel’s roof. She awoke and asked why I was standing outside.
“I’m peeing on the roof,” I said. When she asked me why, I explained that she had managed to lock us out of the bathroom. Groggily, she got out of bed. When she too couldn’t manage to get the bathroom door open, she joined me outside. The pitch-black night hid our transgressions from the world.
Though peeing on a hotel roof was not, in a strict sense, one of the steps of my plan to win my ex-girlfriend back, I nevertheless awoke the next morning with the sense that my plan was working. With the woo-her-at-a-World-Heritage-site step of the plan out of the way, we were ready for the next step: packing her belongings to prepare her for leaving Honduras. She had spent the past year teaching at a Honduran Episcopal school, and I knew that once she returned to the States, we had a much better chance of rekindling our relationship, especially if I were an integral part of the transition. We proceeded by bus to Tela, where I met some of the adorable children she taught, some of her peer teachers, and her roommate. At her house, with the unbearably hot and muggy Central American summer constantly enveloping us, we were soaked in sweat by the time we finished packing. Because her roommate was another schoolteacher, we felt it would be appropriate for us to sleep separately, with me on the couch in the living room. But after just an hour napping in the afternoon on the couch, I realized I couldn’t handle a night in the sweltering room without spontaneously combusting from the heat.
We arranged instead for me to stay the night at Cesar Mariscos, an inexpensive, boutique hotel on Tela Beach with modest rooms and a view of the ocean. On the way there, we stopped for dinner at Auto Pollos al Carbón, one of the most popular restaurants in town. While the restaurant’s billboard seemed to make it clear that patrons would get to eat adorable cartoon chickens driving coal-driven cars, Auto Pollos actually served barbecued chicken and stale white bread under blaring televisions to customers on picnic tables. The bread left something to be desired, but the chicken’s lack of ricey-beaniness managed to win me over. The greasy, savory barbecue even lessened the pain of the constant drone of cloying Honduran pop music — which to me sounded like random combinations of the Spanish words ojos (eyes), amor (love) and corazón (heart) strung together. Though, when I attempted to sing a ridiculous parody of these songs to my ex-girlfriend, she was not impressed. I reminded myself not to diverge from the plan.
Still jetlagged from my trip, I assumed I would fall asleep immediately at my hotel after she returned home, but instead, I felt strangely restless and unsure why. I went to take a walk on the beach, but when I stepped out of the hotel, I heard a rock band down the street playing already-familiar Honduran tunes about eyes, love, and hearts. Unable to pass up any chance to watch a live band, I went to investigate and happened upon a carnival organized in honor of Tela’s patron saint, San Antonio.
Acutely aware that I was the only tall, white-skinned, blue-eyed person at the festival, I self-consciously walked through the dense crowds of people. Honduran heads turned as I attempted to take photographs surreptitiously, walking past mechanical horse rides, marble rolling games, and teenagers holding hands, in love. Eventually, I discovered a roulette-like game, in which I could bet my bright orange lempira, the Honduran currency, named after a famous warrior and chief of indigenous tribes. As tiny Honduran girls with large brown eyes and stringy dark hair stared at me curiously, I placed my bets on a colorful board with eclectic cartoon icons, including a barrel, flowers, birds, and fruit. I thought that maybe Auto Pollos had given me a sign earlier, and I kept betting my money on the cartoon rooster. The other players and I watched as the barker excitedly spun the rudimentary, plastic roulette wheel, hoping for a cartoon match. By the end of the night, with the silly chicken’s help, I made off with lots of extra lempira. Everything in Honduras, from the mostly agriculture-based economy to the roulette wheels, seemed to gravitate toward chickens.
With my newfound riches, I returned to my hotel and quickly fell asleep, dreaming of ojos, amor and corazón, cartoon chickens, and the next step of my plan: a romantic trip to an eco-lodge in the Honduran rainforest.
Did I succeed in winning my ex-girlfriend back, or was I eventually killed by dangerous, killer Honduran chickens? Find out in the last part of this three part series about my 2004 trip to Honduras.