TRAVEL TALE: Mike in Honduras, Part Two
Learning how to smoke a Don Melo cigar is no easy task when you’re as averse to the taste as Jetsetter’s Mike Crooks. But when immersed in the jungle setting or testing your fate in a speeding tuk-tuk in Honduras, it’s easy to forget all your preconceived notions and just go with the Honduran flow.
Day Three: Thank You For Smoking
The disagreeable temperament of yesterdays mare and her penchant for random gallops left me sitting on ice for the rest of the morning. After I’m able to gather myself, I head to the center of town, where I find cigars in every store. I learn from one of the vendors that they are a major Honduran export and hold the same quality as their Cuban counterparts. I settle on a pair of Don Melos, which come in rounded glass cases topped with cork and sealed in gold foil. I gaze at them longingly, imagining I’d buy one only to save it for a future worth celebrating, perhaps at night, perhaps with my sunglasses still on. Then I remember that I hate cigars…and people who wear sunglasses at night.
Today is my last day in Copán Ruinas. Next up is La Ceiba, the heart of the Honduran jungle. The charter bus that transports us there oddly has an Executive Plus section, where for 160 Lempiras more (about $8) you can opt for additional space. In this case, “additional space” means a La-Z-Boy-size chair, complete with a full leg rest and a back that reclines to a near-horizontal position. It’s the best $8 I’ve spent, and for the rest of the commute I roll out and sleep like a pregnant walrus.
I arrive at the mountain lodge, greeted by the general manager who is warm and inviting like a distant aunt who only knowing you from photos is seeing you in the flesh for the first time. Hailing from Montreal but born in Mexico, her English is filtered through a mixed accent of French and Spanish. The restaurant is empty save for a few boisterous men at the bar, but I pick up on some Southern accents and curse-riddled complaints about The Dallas Cowboys, which perk my ears. They are American, and they are drunk. I order una cerveza while they shake their fists at the game streaming on their laptops. It is home away from home.
It’s not before too long that the bros (who look to be in their late 30s) notice me and make an attempt at conversation. In the bro-est of bro ways, I’m handed a cigar as a peace offering. I hesitate. Bro #1 says, “It’s a Don Melo.” I glance at my watch. Sure, I think, what the hell. It’s my birthday in an hour, anyway. We smoke Don Melos and joke like we’re back in undergrad. I also learn that the bros are in town doing some pretty serious humanitarian work. True men of the broletariat.
I look down at my watch again. It’s 12:43 a.m., and I’m 29.
Day Four: The Fast and the Furious
La Ceiba is deep in the jungle, where ants seem to be the size of Mike and Ike candies and commingle with cicadas. It’s gorgeous in a primitive way, like Jurassic Park without Jeff Goldblum and the dinosaurs. I find tropical plants and flowers of Technicolor hues and a lek of butterfly that seem to mock their surroundings by the colors of their wings. The air is thinner, and from my villa I can see a mountain range looming in the distance, looking large and ominous, with clouds that have come down to kiss its peaks.
I’m supposed to go to a wildlife reserve today, but upon hearing that there’s another horseback riding tour that’s more intense than the one in Copán, I bite in hopes of finding better luck with a mare than the dirty white yearling I rode two days ago. This tour doesn’t disappoint. We venture deep into the jungle, aka the land of the giant wasp, and wade through deep marsh and rivers that rise up to my horse’s neck. We stumble upon an old French cemetery masked by palm trees, where there are hand-carved headstones and ornate graves made from marble. One of the more elaborate mausoleums had a hole punched out of its side. “Grave robbers,” my guide says.
We take the horses out along the coast, where the view is breathtaking and solitary. The only people out are locals struggling to get their barca onto the shore after the morning’s fishing trip. It’s like a scene from a Hemingway novel.
My guide tells me to run the horse a little along the shore, so I let up on the bit and it takes off like a bat out of hell. I am caught off guard and pull back hard on the reins, but my horse doesn’t want to stop, so it starts bucking and nearly throws me off like one of those dolls made out of cornhusks that Honduran children sell in the streets. I somehow stay on, and can hear my guide laughing in the distance. After a couple more false starts, I get the hang of it and am at full gallop in the sand, my guide yelling loudly in approbation. I resolve to buy a thoroughbred upon my return to Manhattan, regardless of its size and impracticality.
Day Five: All My Beaches Love Me
The most peaceful time on the shores of Roatán is right before sunset, after the masses from the docked cruise liners scurry back to their mother ship and the amateur snorkelers have grown tired of circling the coral. The area is deserted from sand to horizon, and it feels like you’re at the end of the earth during a time when even smart people still thought it was flat.
There is a small restaurant off the coast where the food is European and the waitresses work barefoot. The inside is dim, with red lights that flood the space like an old submarine, only much prettier. Wine racks and Picasso knockoffs adorn the walls, while live guitar fills in the gaps. The simple romance is delicious. If the world were flat, this is as good a place as any to be before falling off.