Bitter Two Week Love

Love on Roatan is easy. It comes and goes like the tides as simple as in and out in a given 12 hour cycle. The lack of clothing, supple sunshine and tropic heat encourages a sultry love filled with connected eyes and gentle casual touches. Friendships too, follow the same pattern as romantic love. Though not as emotionally charged -- painful and exciting just the same. How many have I connected with over a two week real world hiatus? How many best friends have I enjoyed during their yearly holiday in some tropical location, a beach outside of Caracas, a mountain lake in Guatemala, a youth hostel in Managua?

But, that's just it, you get two weeks if you're lucky, two days if you're not. Thus, pledges of eternal thoughts are made briefly after a first introduction or a second casual conversation. By the time, you're in love, a new name and a new face has replaced your latest muse. Your heart cracks a little with each ferry boat departure, with every fading smile from the minds eye and the soul's memory. E-mails, phone numbers, sweet notes of remembrance, these tokens of love quickly fade into the recesses of a pocket full of lempiras and are rarely if ever used again. Every once in a while however, something is triggered deep, a smell perhaps or a song, a similar sounding laugh or simply awaking from a pleasant dream where time and space are irrelevant. And that's when, your two day best friend or lover comes rushing back to the present here and now.

I awoke from just such a dream not long ago and remembered a special time where just such a connection was made. The time I fell in love in Havana. Prior to my Roatan days, I was traveling through Central America. 3 months, 3 thousand dollars and a dirty duffel bag full of dirtier clothes. I was traveling with a girlfriend who had a differing opinion on where our relationship was headed. Our differences of opinion came to a head in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second largest city. I wanted to stay; she wanted to go, it was a commitment-question manifested on the logistical plane. She knew that it meant the end of us, I didn't. She left and I stayed. When I realized that my lover and best friend of eight years was gone -- out of my life with her exit disguised in practical terms of bus schedules and unfulfilled traveling plans, I was crushed. I couldn't stay in Guatemala, but I could hardly muster the energy to get out of bed. How would I continue traveling?

She was in Mexico, on an island, commonly called La isla, off of Playa Del Carmen. In my love sick state I chased her desperately. I flew to Cancun from Guatemala City. Then on to Playa Del Carmen. My resistance was low and I became very ill after eating two dirt cheap, street tacos. I spent three days sleeping and moaning in a hammock surrounded by other travelers and feeling completely alone. On the third day, I was able to sit on the beach and feel sorry for myself. I needed a transformation. I needed to get away. On the fourth day, I made a break with my love sick self. I vowed to stop feeling sorry for myself, to get it together and continue traveling. Ultimately to pick up my broken heart from the sandy beach and fall in love all over again, I went to Cuba.

I flew from Cancun to Havana. In '98 U.S citizens were not allowed to fly directly into Cuba -- a common political story starting with the fall of Batiste in '59 that I don't need to repeat here. Nevertheless from Cancun, flying into Havana was as easy as buying a ticket, getting on a plane and arriving in the humid dirty Havana airport.

On the plane, when the steward asked me what drink I would like, I replied with a "Cuba Libre, por su puesto" -- "Rum and Coke, of course". I felt witty, alive and ready for a new experience, a new chance for my broken heart. I had heard from other travelers that Cuba was the place for easy love. Americans especially, braving the illegality of restricted travel and the backing of a wallet full of dollars were sought out by potential lovers and friends.

When I arrived at the international airport in Havana, I exited the plane, proceeded through to the customs queue for processing. It seemed more formal than other country crossings with the presence of guards, dogs and guns, everyone in single file and a longer glance at your passport. I was excited and a little nervous and when nervous I chat. Mindless idle chatter. On the plane I sat next to an American who's father had fled Cuba in the summer of 1960. He was returning to see relatives and reconnect with his family's past. In the customs queue, this gentleman and myself continued our conversation; his Spanish superior to mine, when questioned by the customs officer in castro green, I turned and looked to my American comrade for guidance. "Momento," I casually said to the customs official, "mi amigo puede ayudarme (my friend can help me)." The American boldly stepped up and told the customs official, "this person is no friend. I've never spoken to him before."

Wow, I was no longer in easy Central America, this was the Communist regime of Cuba, even if only in our heads. The customs official asked me which hotel I would be staying in. I blankly stared at my passport, "uh..." In my best Spanish, I said that I would have to find one. He handed me an index card with the names and numbers of three options and pointed to a service phone guarded by a machine gun toting look-a-like. I left the line, my bags kept at the desk, and called the first number on the list. I reserved a room and returned to the customs desk, as everyone patiently waited. "Cual Hotel?" "El primero."

I wasn't sure if I would be accompanied by a spy from Castro's communist youth brigade or if I would be free to explore Havana on my own. Each step was a mystery. The customs officer, then did something very unexpected. He placed a little blue slip of paper in my passport, stamped it and very slowly explained in perfect English, "do not lose this, whatever you do." And with that, I entered the humid, dilapidated world of Cuba.

I was in a state of instant culture shock. 20 cabbies came at me at once. You see, in the 90's cab driving became one of the more lucrative career opportunities in Cuba, earning a higher wage than professional engineering or medical positions. This onslaught of cabbies clamoring over my one dirty duffel bag was only my first introduction to the island's infamous dual economy, an economy composed of real and imaginary money, dollars and pesos; and ultimately white and black markets. Stepping off the plane and into the not so friendly hands of the gruff customs official, I was entering the white market; i.e., I was forced to rent a hotel room at $90 American dollars per night. If I hadn't have made the reservation, I would not have been able to leave the airport.

Another shock, came moments later when a soldier informed the cab driver where I would be going. Not only did I not have a choice in which driver I would employ, I lacked the freedom to skip out on my commitment to actually follow through on renting the hotel room. My return flight wouldn't be leaving for a week, and at $90 a night, I would be broke in four days. I didn't have enough money. I had travelers checks -- $300 dollars worth -- left in my bag, but those were worthless in Cuba. Cash only for the communists. The paradox of the matter was that everyone around saw me as some gringo with the goods and I didn't even have enough money to survive for the week.

The cabby, dressed in a sky blue button down short sleeve shirt was a cliche among cliches. He drove slowly through the city with his stub of a cigar hanging out the window, slicked back hair, waving to friends casually. We arrived at the hotel and he opened my door as I couldn't from the inside. He held out his greedy palm for some good green cash as if I was in Vegas. I definitely didn't have enough to tip and gave him ten bucks. In English, he said thirty and looked me cold in the eyes. I took out a precious twenty. A bell hop took my bag from me and checked off my name from a list, he disappeared quickly through the hotel door and I tried to follow. A smartly dressed man caught me at the door and led me to a counter where I filled out paperwork and parted with more money. Then a beautiful, sexy girl led me to my room. She didn't come in, but smiled as if she wouldn't mind -- after all in her mind I was probably rich. Perhaps the novelty of being an American in Cuba was starting to go to my head.

Once the door closed however a slight tinge of panic overtook me. I had no idea what to do now that I had arrived. I didn't know how to get cigarettes, dinner or entertainment. I didn't have enough cash to stay in the hotel for the week and was scared to venture out. My pessimism drove me to bed, where I slept shirtless in sticky jeans under a moist sheet. Everything was damp as the humidity was more intense than in the rest of Central America. I was scared, but couldn't isolate my feelings and pin them on a specific entity. Was I scared of Castro? Was I scared of not being able to leave? I didn't know and slowly slipped into sleep.

The next morning, I left my room, bag in hand and didn't check out. I simply split. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to vacate or not, so I thought it better to not ask. I was starving and the hotel had a small eatery attached with exorbitant prices and pitiful food. I felt like I was at an airport and with limited options ordered "huevos con pan", spending more than I should have. The eatery had a total of four tables, one server and was enclosed in glass walls. Located just off the lobby, one had the feeling of being constantly observed. Was I paranoid? The hotel was huge, commanding a max capacity of more than 100 rooms, however I didn't see a second guest the during my brief occupancy. Maybe they were more scared than I and simply stayed put in their damp overprice rooms. Maybe there were no other guests.

After eating, I grabbed my bag and exited through the main entrance. I wasn't sure how this worked; I had never before been in a communist country. Would someone follow me? Regardless of my questions, I didn't look back and began breathing deeply. I walked aimlessly, and after two blocks of nonchalantly trying to blend in with my red hair and gringo jeans defeating my weak attempt, three young men approached me with nervous looks. Once within five feet, they surrounded me and asked if there was anything I'd like. I declined. They offered a list of Cuban options for entertainment: mujeres, cigarros, cubanos, ... It became clear that I needed to buy something or the pestering would continue. Thus, I asked for accommodations. "Donde se puede alquilar un cuadro? (know where I could rent a room)" I asked attempting to remove the consonants. "Que?" I repeated my question this time with the consonants in place, making the gesture for sleeping with both my hands folded against my tilted head.

The center fellow smiled, fish on a hook. He indicated that he knew of somewhere I could stay. They asked me to follow, and the four of us walked down the street. We crossed back behind a tall apartment building, into a loading dock and up some stairs to a locked door. Smiley banged on the door, yelling some unintelligible vowels. The door opened and an old man in a blue button down shirt appeared with a box of cigars. There was a hand-off of cash for cigars and the leader or at least most aggressive of the three offered me the box. I opened and inside were a bundle of Cuban cigars. I don't remember the price offered, but I was intimidated and bought the box. I just wanted out of the stairwell. I was then allowed to leave, alone, with no accommodations lined up for the night.

I walked out of the loading dock, looking sheepish and green. And, that's when I ran into my fourth street hustler. Note this was all before 10 am East Coast time. He wanted to sell me some cigars as well. Oh man, how many boxes of these did I look like I could smoke? I asked him for a room to rent and he said no and looked the other way. At least this one didn't press on. I walked around the block. Surprisingly I was left alone for over a minute before the next group of street hustlers pinned me down. After the familiar !Que! we were on our way. I was brought about six blocks to a poor neighborhood filled with black faced stares. Segregation even in Cuba...

One of the hustlers knocked on a door covered in blue-green flaky paint. A small window in the door covered by miniature steel bars opened. "Di Me!" a lady's voice exited from the window. The conversation was too fast and colloquial for me to understand, but shortly thereafter the door opened and a sad faced thirty year old woman was looking at me. We made arrangements.I would stay a week and the hustler's left after receiving their commission - probably half of the total amount.

I entered a sparse two bedroom apartment. Inside a man named Ralph -- I think he just told me his name was Ralph -- wore an auto-grease smeared shirt and green slacks. He grabbed my hand, shaking with too much enthusiasm and gave me the brief, very brief tour of the residence. I would pay twenty dollars per night for my own room, a girl’s room belonging to my hosts’ only daughter who would have the pleasure of sleeping with mom and dad during my stay. The little girl, less than seven years old, hid behind her mother’s leg. I pulled a Guatemalan miniature bus from my bag, a child’s toy purchased as a novelty gift during an early Christmas shopping spree on Lake Atitlan. The daughter’s eyes grew big -- she wasn’t use to receiving gifts. This simple gesture won the trust of the girl, and her shyness vanished for the rest of the week.

I hung around the house for a couple of hours asking questions in my best Spanish, taking some time to play with the girl. In the afternoon, I ventured out. I walked up and down the boardwalk admiring the cars and buildings. After walking for a couple of hours, I came upon a couple enamored with each other, they smiled warmly and I sat down for a rest. As I looked out towards a couple of black boys playing on the ocean rocks below, then man struck up a conversation with me. He had some rum and offered me a drink. I accepted. He asked for a camel cigarette; unfortunately, I had none. A very pretty young girl walked up. She had pale skin and wore a tight tube top shirt and red shorts. She was slender and appeared to just barely have reached puberty. She danced in front of us, practicing her salsa or merengue moves over and over.

Her uncle offered me another drink of rum, again I accepted. "Queire compartir con ella? -- You want to party with her?" he asked. His girlfriend sat on his lap smiling at me as we talked about the possibility of my hooking up with his niece. It was completely nonchalant yet awkward. Here I was on the romantic, distressed boardwalk of Havana, the crown jewel of Cuba's cultural identity, talking to an old man who was attempting to get me drunk and pimp out his 14 year old relative. I like to have an open mind when I travel and thus, rules do bend, morality blows this way and that, but there is a code that I simply cannot defy. I cannot sleep with a 14 year old child prostitute. Nope, not even when I'm in Havana for a week with nothing better to do.

As awkward as the moment was, I stayed in the company of the dirty uncle, the girlfriend and the young girl for another half hour or so. The girl continued to shake her hips, locking eyes with me until I would turn away in embarrassment. They pressed on, how I could take her to a club, dance all night and spend the rest of my trip doing what other Cubans do -- engaging in a casual love affair. The uncle became somewhat pushy and so I took their number and promised to call. He promised to have her ready for me.

I continued my walk down the boardwalk. The whole incident left me a little jaded, but I was enjoying myself regardless. Another man stopped me as I strolled by. His fishing pole pointed to the dirty water beyond the ocean rock wall. He spoke to me in English a refreshing change to the lack of consonants and break-neck pace of Cuban Spanish. He warned me of the niggers. I was shocked that he knew the word more than I was shocked of his attitude. I guess Communism doesn't trump racism. Regardless, it had been at least 24 hours since I had spoken English and I was happy to entertain the bigot provided his bigotry was easy to understand. We chatted about all kinds of tidbits. He was old, I was young so naturally there was a lot to cover. I was finally able to sneak away and headed to my little family dwelling. I'm not the best with directions and soon realized I was lost. After walking around for a couple of hours, I finally recognized the street and then the apartment entrance. I was home.

Once inside the apartment, the mother asked where I had gone. I guess worrying is common to all moms. I lit up a cigarette and told the story of the uncle and the young girl. I mentioned that I was supposed to call this evening, with no intention of following through on the act. The uncle laughed and said that he would get me a better girl, someone I could really enjoy. He then yelled "Marisa!" and in walked the neighbor girl, overweight by at least 40 lbs but with a sweet smile. The dad repeated my story and told Marisa to "compartir" with me. She laughed and it all seemed like a joke. We chatted and chain smoked for an hour or so until I ran out of cigarettes. The dad then got up from his chair and told me to come with him outside.

We walked around the block and deja vu. We walked up a loading dock, met an old man and bought two packs of quality hand-rolled cigarettes. Then went back in the apartment for a small dinner of rice, tomatoes, and black beans. The next day I walked all over town. I didn't have an extra dollar between showing up broke, smoking two packs a day and twenty dollars a night in rent, but enjoyed the architecture and people watching.

I went to the Museo de la Revolucion, which in all reality is a giant edifice to Che Guevara. Che is the handsom figurehead of the Communist party. A stud of the revolution -- adored by the world but loved by Cuba -- his face plasters billboards and buildings all over Havana. However, in the communist party, he is and was only so loved. He fell into disfavor beginning in '63, touting economic and interventionist policy positions antagonistic to party lines. He left for Bolivia to carry on the revolution in '66 after resigning from his party obligations in '65. Nevertheless, Che's face leads the propaganda of the revolution and the ladies love him.

The next two days, I did more of the same, wondering around the streets aimlessly. It was getting old as I didn't know anyone and didn't have any money to spend. The conversations were all the same and could be broken down to:

"Where are you from?"
"The states."
"Wow, you got any money?"
"Oh, you don't like me?"
"Not at all -- I just don't have any money."
"Do you have any Camel Cigarettes?"
"Nope, but you can have one of my hand rolled Cuban cigarettes?"
"Why don't you like me?"...

Cuba had lost its appeal. I wanted to go to a civilized country where I could cash traveler's checks. I only had one more night. I had $40 bucks left and needed $20 to get to the airport. I expected a quiet night at home, but Ralph had called a cousin, who called another cousin, who had a girl on the side and wanted to party. So, Ralph, two cousins, an illicite girlfriend, myself and Marisa met at one of the cousin's broken down pre-castro era cars two blocks down the street from the apartment. The men in the group worked on the car for a bit and poured in gallon jugs of petrol. After an hour or so of standing around looking like an out-of-place bullseye, we all got in and drove off. We drove for half an hour or so, myself and one of the cousins cramped and sweaty in the back seat with the two girls sitting halfway on and halfway off our laps. We then arrived at the dump of the night, a worker's sandwich shop that served beers at night.

The one cousin ordered two sandwiches and two beers, one for his girl and one for him. Ralph ordered a beer, leaving myself, one broke cousin and poor Marisa without any thing to consume. Marisa, then turned to me and in a very cute voice threw her pitch. "Buy me a sandwich?" I then felt too bad for the cousin, and thus spent my last despensible $20 bucks on three sandwiches and 3 beers. Marisa, then put her hand on my leg and smiled. I spent the rest of the evening worrying about money, distracted and unable to follow the conversation. We then drove to the girlfriend's parents place, where the one cousin consummated his love affair, with the rest of us sitting silently in the car.

In one of the more particularily awkward silent moments, Marisa leaned over and put her lips next to my ear. She whispered, just loud enough for everyone to hear, "Queries quedar conmigo por la noche? (want to stay with me tonight?)" "Ok", I returned and with that her hand returned to my leg. Once home, I undressed and crawled into bed. She had to check on something at home, and returned after a few moments. She asked if I had a condom -- I did not, she left again. After ten minutes she knocked on the main apartment door. Naked, I hunched down and ran for the door as if ducking my head from oncoming fire. A voice, Ralph's, yelled from the darkness, "Jason, no!" I wasn't sure if he thought it was the police or he just wanted me to stay put, but I returned to my bed and didn't ask questions. I wasn't sure if Marisa would return or not. However in a moment she was by my side pulling her shirt over her head. I was so lonely, her touch burned my skin.

We made love and in the morning she was gone. I laid in bed with no reason to get up. Today was my last day in Cuba and I was excited to leave. About 10 am, she entered my room abrubtly and dropped the bomb. She spoke very quickly and curtly. I caught various words, but was unable to fully understand. "... dinero ... baby ... leche .... (money... baby ... milk ...)" She wanted money... I didn't have any.

She sat on the end of my bed as I floated above myself observing the two of us arguing about the amount I owed her. I watched myself helplessly breaking down, declaring how I thought she and I had shared a special moment, a night for fond memories. I watched myself come to the realization that I had infact slept with a prostitute and she wasn't even pretty. I watched her go through the pockets of my dirty jeans, searching for American green cash and finding none. I watched her go through my bag, as I rolled over and faced the wall. I watched Marissa become more and more desparate, leaving the room only to return with the mother of the house. I watched as the mom, pleaded with me for the baby's sake to give her some money. I watched as I reached through the pockets on my duffle bag and retrieved 30 Mexican pesos. I watched as both women realizing that this would be all they could get, took the money and left the room. I watched myself stay in bed until my 2 o'clock ride arrived.

I couldn't get out of Cuba fast enough. Well, at least I had worn a condom and still had those cigars. Maybe someday I'll return, track down Marisa and give her the money she deserved for that night. Then again, maybe not.


Sanitation Solution -- Dive Deeper

Sanitation was a problem in West End. Plumbing though present was a recent arrival to the neighborhood or so it seemed. The entire strip smelled like sewage and nobody ever mentioned it. It was accepted and embraced. Every other week or so, one of the more popular outdoor eateries and bars would put on a curry feed. It was always the same yellow curry with potatoes, rice and carrots. Nothing gourmet, but it was all you can eat and every island transplant would come for the best deal around. Unfortunately, the bar was located where the human waste smells were most pungent. You'd get your plate of food, eat while speed walking down the beach, mouth on fire and not enough hands to carry your drink. The dirtiest travelers would just hang around the bar, ignoring the foul air, but most would split as quick as possible.

Compared with the opposite side of the island, where flushing toilets simply didn’t exist, we didn't have it so bad. In place of an actual john, docks stretched fifteen to thirty feet out above the surf with a shack at the end. Once inside the shack, you needed to be careful not to fall through the circular hole cut into the floor. I imagine potty training was a real treat for overprotective mothers on Roatan.

Anyhow, Justus had the bright idea to take a few divers to explore a coral wall on the North side. One client, didn’t feel like diving and instead went snorkeling. Head down, feet kicking she swam all around the abundant shallow corral reef. Tons of fish, small rays and tiny jelleyfish were abundant in this area. But, so were the outhouses.

Kicking along in bliss, barely covered in a yellow and white bikini, she swam right into a liquid pile of poop and toilet paper clumps. At least the water was warm.

The dive group, however, had a great time. A beautiful nurse shark swam within a few feet of us, the coral was very healthy and the current allowed us to relax and just enjoy the magic. About half way through the dive, I had a little scare. My weight belt came undone and slipped off. Without good judgment I dove down and caught it as it slipped. With my velocity carrying me further down and the little air in my BCD compressing as I went deeper, I began slowly accelerating. By the time I rolled back into my weight belt, I was way too deep. I didn’t have a dive computer at the time and now my charted dive would be off. I darted back up to our original sixty feet. I was fine, but had used poor judgment and it bothered me. Oh well, the dive could have been full of crap... After all, I could have been snorkeling.



Before heading to Honduras (the third time), I had a nice little job at a dot com advertising company as a manager of a small team. I had become tired of myself in my management role; I wanted more freedom, so when the opportunity arose to take a layoff, I jumped. I was headed south. Andrea and I were on to a new adventure. We were returning to Honduras with the naïve intention of staying for at least one full year and potentially a lifetime. However, first were the numerous parties and social obligations one feels indebted to entertain when working for a dying company.

I couldn’t simply leave, I had to drink heavily with my colleagues first. Every Thursday evening, engineers, some management and I would work late into the night, sometimes staying in the office until one or two am. It was a required part of the job, however, to make it more enticing a culture of heavy drinking and free pizza had been propagated by company big wigs. It’s hard to say when it went from a casual beer to everyone bringing in bottles of Oban scotch, but I do remember that I was slightly uncomfortable with this evolution. It was my job to sign off on the end product of the night. One Thursday, I remember there was a major technical problem. Basically our product simply didn’t work. I was drunk, my boss was drunk and so were the engineers. We were actually going to have to work, but we were in no shape to pull it together and I was the bull’s eye the hated bearer of bad news. I told Ruth and she filled up my glass, I declined and she pouted. She said something to the effect that if I wasn’t a team player then I should find another team. I drank. We weren’t able to fix the problem until around five am the next morning. My wife was upset, I was exhausted and cranky and Ruth didn’t even make it in the next day.

That’s when I did the unthinkable. I carefully composed a well thought e-mail to the CEO of the company, explaining in detail how an unsustainable culture of imbibing had developed amongst the Thursday night crew, and was threatening the quality of our product. I guess I hadn’t learned that grade school rule of not tattling on your peers. The CEO promptly told my boss, who in turn promptly called me into her office and poured two shots on the table. It was Monday morning around ten o’clock with a full week of harassment staring me down. Ruth, then tugged on her right earlobe and said “do you know what that means?” I didn’t say anything. “It means drink you little fucker!” I smiled, I had been trumped. I downed the shot of sweet syrupy liquor that I found cheap and distasteful. After I put the glass down, she smiled and then tugged her right ear lobe a second time. Obediently, I complied with her request and downed the other shot. Never again would I tattle.

That next Tuesday my wife proposed that we fast in order to clean out our digestive tracts. I casually agreed not really considering the consequences and by Thursday I was starving. I just had to make it through the night without eating anything. So, I just drank more. I don’t really remember much of the drunken stupor of the evening, but the next morning after a large breakfast of cereal, coffee and fruit, I had a very satisfying bowel movement. When I stood up to finish the process and flush the toilet, I saw a curiousity that I needed to investigate, a giant udon noodle wrapped around my discolored turd. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, so I went to the kitchen and grabbed a pair of ornamental chop sticks. I returned to the bathroom and lowered the chopsticks to the toilet rim as if it was a plate of yaki soba. I tugged on the end of the noodle, suspending the turd above water for a brief second before the noodle slipped and back into the toilet everything splashed. How in the world did a noodle remain undigested and whole all the way through my stomach, upper and lower intestine?

Then the realization hit. It wasn’t a noodle, it was a worm. I had worms. I pulled up my shirt and stared at my belly button expecting a worm to poke through the skin surface any second. I screamed, I danced and then I frantically called my father who at the time worked as an office manager of a small town medical clinic. Hearing my story in frantic half sentences, he called down the hall to a Pakistani endocrinologist. The doctor laughed and said that why shouldn’t white Americans get worms, everyone in Pakistan gets them. He then instructed me – my father diligently repeating his words over the phone - to put the worm in Tupperware and take it immediately to the doctor’s office.

I grabbed a plastic sandwich container from under the sink and returned to finish the task. After retrieving the worm, I called the doctor and scheduled an appointment for that afternoon. I then headed to work with not one Tupperware container, but two, one for my peanut butter and jelly, the other for my very special pet worm. At work, I managed to show at least twenty of my peers in the first half hour. Some were disgusted, others intrigued, everyone was interested in the fast and many started fasting that day to clear their digestive tracts of any visitors like mine.

Two o’clock came and worm in hand I went to the doctor’s office. The doctor, a young guy fresh from a sabbatical in South America, asked me if I had been traveling, eyeing the worm. I answered yes, mentioning my honeymoon in Roatan Honduras. He left the room to consult with a colleague returning a little while later. Well, this variety of parasite isn’t in the states, so you probably picked it up on your trip south. He prescribed a single pill, explaining that it would shock the colony members’ nervous systems. My own system was in for a shock as I had no idea there could be a colony living in me. After being excused, the prescription safely in my pocket, I went to the bathroom, cupped a handful of water and splashed my face before returning to the office waiting room. Next morning with my daily B.M. out came the colony. My stool looked like a tan candy cane, stripped with white swirls of Honduran parasites. Maybe I shouldn’t have put my name on that list after all, but it was too late. Two weeks later, we were on a plane to San Pedro Sula, Roatan. We then traveled by bus from San Pedro to La Ceiba, boarding the ferry for Roatan the next morning. All of our belongings were in boxes in my in-laws’ basement.


Perspective Shift on being a DD

In Honduras, right and wrong take on new meaning. For instance, it's not necessarily wrong to show up an hour late to work and pretend you're on time. It's not necessarily wrong to start drinking green beer for breakfast either. Nor is it wrong to drive after drinking large quantities of green beer

Alex was a really good driver intoxicated or otherwise. I know, since I use to often ride with him into the main port town. He would be drunk at eight in the morning; Andrea and I would arrive at the shop at seven or seven thirty, get a list of supplies needed if any and Andrea would hang around the shop chatting or reading while Alex and I would take off in his little red pickup. I just went with the flow. Years earlier, I had been in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and went to the hippest bar in town, a parking lot where kids would sell liters of rum and cheap vodka to drivers. Not only was it legal, there were M-16 toting police in the lot guarding the patrons from potential carjackers.

Anyhow, I would buy Alex’ gas with my boss, Justus’ money and we would fill up at a little roadside shack. There wasn’t a gas station on the west end side of the island, but rather an entrepreneur selling gallons from milk jugs. Each milk jug had a slightly different color. My unproven hypothesis is that the roadside salesman peed a little in each one to make it go further. Alex and I would cruise to town at ridiculous speeds picking up every hitch hiking island laborer along the way. By the time we made it to town, fifteen to twenty large men would be riding in the back and sometimes in the front with me. They would pay Alex what they could and jump out without any communication at various stops. It was the Island’s short bus for the crazy kids and I always enjoyed the ride. We never did wreck but had many close calls. What a thrill.

I'm not blaming this experience on my most recent run in with the US policia, but it sure didn't help me survive in our strict .08 drunk driving world. Back in Colorado, one night living the bachelor life, i.e., Andrea being in Seattle and myself staying behind in Eldo, I had a nice little nightcap at the local burger joint before heading on home five miles down the road. It was a Wednesday night and I had been out climbing with friends. I hadn't had a bite to eat in six plus hours, and with the kitchen closed at the Southern Sun, had decided that one calorie is as good as another and opted for a pint glass of Perl Street Porter. Then another and finally one more on the house, by a smiley bartender offering love, happiness and free beer.

I was in my car with flashing lights behind me before I realized that this might be a problem. Needless to say, I failed my intoxication test by blowing a .19 and headed to the police station on the North side of Boulder in the back of the car. I had the option of repeating the blowing exercise or a nice pin prick for a blood test and went with the latter. With my blood drawn, my photo taken and my finger stained with ink, I had nothing to do but sit shoeless in a plastic chair watching info-mercials for the rest of the morning. The cop was nice enough to not tow my truck and at 5:30 I was released. The police called me a cab who delivered me safely to the point where this whole fiasco started and I drove the remaining three miles into Eldo.

Ok, a needed perspective shift, I get it. Learned my lesson well, no more drinking and driving when outside of Honduras. However, this is where it gets confusing. Two months later, at a friend's house party in Denver, I had another run in. A female police officer came to the door and let us all know that the party was over. We needed to go home immediately. This seemed strange to me as it was only 10pm and the party was only beginning to liven up. Nevertheless, everyone was exiting the house and I followed suit. Andrea and I walked around the block and returned via the backyard. In the backyard stood a huge police officer with a big fast food belly and a booming voice. "You!" he yelled across the yard, pointing in my direction. "You, need to get in your car and go home!" Well, I'd had it. What was it, was I supposed to drive drunk or not?

Confused, I took the most logical option. I didn't drive, and I didn't leave. Instead, I brilliantly yelled back, "**** you, I'm drunk, I'm not going anywhere!" I then had that awesome cataclysmic feeling of complete weightlessness, the kind you get when you're rapidly leaving solid ground and falling into the abyss. The cop, prepared for such a chess move, had put me in check mate and before I knew it, my hands were behind my back and his sour breath on my neck. I remember my friend's voice pleading with the police man in her sweet southern manner, "awe, he didn't mean it. He's silly like that, says **** all the time."

The police man, ignored her pleas, pushed me to the ground and warned everyone else, that they too could take a ride in his Chevy. Everyone cowered, and I sat there in the wet grass carrying on about how unjust this whole thing was. How I was being arrested for not driving drunk. I kept asking if everyone was seeing this, as if not watching a train wreck is an option for anyone with a pulse. Thinking back, I guess that was a dumb question, but at the time, seemed very appropriate. Anyhow, we took a nice ride down to the detox center, all the way arguing like teenagers. I informed him, that he failed to read me my rights. He agreed, countering with "I'm not arresting you." Man, this threw me for a loop. I asked him to let me go, but he ignored me. I then told him that he was endangering me, as he hadn't fastened my seat-belt and in fact he was causing me to break the law. In fact he was an accomplice to my lawless act and could be prosecuted. He ignored that one as well. I carried on and on, thinking about how I could go on Democracy Now, write a book and speak at nation wide rallies. You see, I was drunk and all this made perfect sense.

Finally, we got to the detox center, where I was processed and once again got to watch some info-mercials. My number came up, I blew in a little machine, that confirmed yes, I was inebriated, but and this is the best part. I was just .001% over the legal limit to drive. So, I was released immediately, hailed a cab and met my friends at a local bar.

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Dealing with the Unwanted Visitor

Staph is common in the ocean waters surrounding Roatan. This is a short story about my exposure to this unwanted visitor, that affects roughly 10 out of 10 dive masters and instructors living on the island.

I too felt the wrath of staph one sunny optimistic morning. I ignored the first few blisters. Hoping they would just go away, I told myself nothing was wrong and my world was the same as the day before, green beer would be served, Bob Marley would sing and bubbles would be blown. After few became many, spreading from my armpits to my nether region, I realized that I was up against a serious test of manhood. I couldn’t ignore this enemy and I faced it head on.

I had heard that urine would cure the infections, so I diligently popped each little pimple, reaching between my legs with dirty fingernails and squeezing as best as one man can. I wanted to be sure and thus grabbed a keychain flashlight in one hand and popped with the other. I couldn’t really see too well, so I proceeded to get on my back arching my head up between my legs for better lighting. I was alone in the communal bathroom at the time, but as luck would have it hadn’t locked the door. With my head inches from my pimply bottom, my left hand holding a little flashlight and my right hand nervously close to my sorest area, my beautiful calm wife opened the door. I had been caught in humiliating acts before, bringing shame and embarrassment to both my wife and I, but this took it to a whole new level. The expression on Andrea’s face was horrifying and I knew that without quick words our marriage was on shaky ground. I thought fast and hard and with confidence explained my plan, "no, you see baby; I need you to pee on me." She replied, "and, I need you to put your pants on and never ever do this again." She left me on my back, door slightly ajar with my shorts around my ankles.

I pulled up my pants and ran out the door chasing her down and explained that I really did need her help. I showed her my blisters forcing her to watch the train wreck of me bending at the waste and spreading my naked bottom. "Here right here," I exclaimed pointing to my most humiliating body part. Only after my desperate pleading did she agree. We returned to the bathroom and stripped out of our clothing, I assumed the position curling up at the bottom of the shower and she peed. A day later the blisters were worse. Urine was not the answer.

For my next attempt, I went to the West End pharmacy. An old white man with a Caribbean accent set at the counter, his shirt completely unbuttoned, a plump belly covered in gray hair folded over his khaki pants. He ignored me as I browsed the dust covered medicine on the sparse shelves next to green plantains and individually wrapped rolls of toilet paper. Medical labels are for doctors and nurses, it’s a language spoken only after eight years of medical school and two years of residency. Now put a Spanish twist into the mix and you’ve got a whole bunch of incomprehensible potions and spells straight out of an alchemist’s lab. I went with the tried and true approach of common sense. I figured like medicines are stored in like places. Thus around penicillin, the only name which I recognized, would be the antibiotics. Furthermore, I figured that a lotion would be for topical purposes like for instance a skin condition, perhaps even a staph infection. Finally, I went with the most logical of all common sense rationality. You get what you pay for. So, I picked the most expensive topical ointment in the general vicinity of the penicillin.

At the counter the old man seemed pleased with my decision. I took his approval as a sign that he knew what ailed me and agreed; this magical ointment would indeed cure me of my puss filled blisters. I happily left the pharmacy with my bowlegged labored shuffle knowing that my suffering was nearly over. After applying the expensive ointment to my armpits and unmentionables three times daily for a week’s time, the blisters remained defiant. All was lost, I would never get better.

That’s when I made my third and final mistake. I went to my boss Justus. First, I told him I had the curse. He looked back with glazed eyes, he had no idea what I was talking about. I told him about the blisters on my "you know" and a wave of knowing came upon him. "Oh, of course you have blisters, you wear a wet suit!" he said, following with "everyone gets them -- no big deal, they go away." Clearly his hadn’t at least since we had been on the island. I showed him the nearly empty tube of expensive ointment that I had applied religiously. "This is junk -- won’t work," he chastised.

"Why not?"

"It’s for your eyes."

"No, really?"

"Yeah, it’s for pink eye; who told you to buy this?"

I had been taken. The reason that old man had been so pleased with my choice at the pharmacy was because my purchase clearly paid for a rather nice dinner that night. He hadn’t been concerned with my discomfort at all. Everyone on the island suffered. Why should I be any different? Justus tossed me a bottle of penicillin and told me to stay out of the water for a week.

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Out Cocking the Cocky College Kids

One bad call during a dive, could have had fatal consequences. This story is about a time I got lucky.

I took a group of college buddies down for a quick afternoon dive just South off of West-End. A resort beach was within an hour’s stroll down the strip. This was one of the few beach accessed dives around Roatan and we used it to practice our backwards duck-walks. A weekly cruise ship would drop their passengers off for a couple hours of baking in the sun. White skin would turn bright crimson, speckled with sand fly bites for effect. I really enjoyed timing these beach entries for when tourist density was highest. We always received stares of Kentucky twins and curious country moms would stop us with questions on the various functions of our dive equipment.

Like a proud patriarch, I would let the clients answer the questions and have their five minutes of fame. I naturally beamed when they aggressively pushed my entertainment services with the candor of any LA drug dealer. One section of the beach usually had a couple of topless bathers and it was fun to watch the reactions of the American clients; the Europeans of course, had seen many a beach nipple and preferred to continue with haste. As if the sunburns and bites on the beach goers didn’t give away their cruise boat caste, they were encouraged to wear plastic yellow hospital bracelets, supposedly yielding special privileges for the owner. The tacky plastic jewelry however, served a more important purpose. Used as a round up device in the event that some young rebel thought of breaking free and joining the vagabond traveler circuit, they were not envied by my dive clients. The lack of a bracelet set us apart even more than our unique beach wear. We were the top dogs, we belonged on this beach, and the cruise ship patrons were just visiting. Our confident backwards duck-walks emphasized this point. Everyone who was anyone on Roatan walked backwards, stumbling and tripping over oversized rubber flippers, plastic masks in hand or around one’s neck. It was the coolest way to show your status and I led my posse into the cool blue water.

Only the Italians broke free of their cruise ship caste. They could literally sit and drink coffee seven hours straight and remain cooler than any in my dive clique. I remember taking a romantic morning stroll with Andrea to the resort beach one Monday and came upon thirty grandmothers, aunts, daughters and cousins along with their male counterparts, waste deep in the surf punching right, then left; confidently kicking forwards then spinning clockwise in time to the deep sexy sound of Fabio’s voice. It was the morning class of Italian bizarro water aerobics. I simply wasn’t cool enough to even watch and our backwards duck walking was no match for such an attention grabber. Andrea and I gawked briefly until we realized what every Italian on the beach already knew. This was their beach. They belonged and we were just visiting. They were not about to gawk back.

This time was different though as I had a group of six college studs following my every move. I was the alpha. We entered successfully where the water caressed the sand and after our safety checks began blowing bubbles. We had a nice half hour of casually swimming with Sgt. Peppers and Parrot fish. Curios snorkeling teenagers dove down holding their breath in lungs with some reserve stored in fat cheeks. They wanted to be us or at least pretend. At thirty feet, we were below their range and would look up at them with condescending dry eyes. This was the pinnacle of diving, the pride of having a tank on your back and moving beyond the limitations of human ability. We could breathe under water.

My fearless college studs were big, muscular and quite the site under the ocean plane. They ran along the sand, playing pantomime football. They formed a classic pyramid throwing the smallest on top and I captured their moment with a disposable waterproof camera. They took their regulators out of their mouths and called each names. They gesticulated, and pretended to hump one another. Why this brings a laugh, I have no idea. They lay in the sand and tried to make sand angles. We tipped sleeping fish and watched as they squirmed with the realization of human contact. Ultimately, however we forgot we were diving, we forgot that as humans we weren’t supposed to be under water. We forgot to look at our air gages.

Our precarious state dawned on me and a couple of others at the same time, the moment the biggest breather ran out of air. With eyes open wide, he swam over to me his breathing apparatus hanging by his knee and motioned the out of air signal, a hand moving perpendicularly back across the neck. I had been trained for this and quickly gave my spare regulator. With one attempted breath and time running desperately short, he shot to the surface.

Our entire group followed seconds later as no safety stop was needed when diving so shallow. I maintained my composure, even though I was shaken and worried for my client. I asked why he had surfaced instead of breathing from my tank, and he could hardly respond. He was a bit upset. His cool and fun party boy exterior had been cracked by the cold reality of death by drowning. He replied with a few deserved cuss words and asked me to breath off of my own ****ing spare. I attempted and to my horror nothing came out. It was broken. I let my client down. His trusted dive master, when needed, had failed. At the dive shop we inspected the faulty equipment and realized that the plastic internal membrane was cracked, causing the device to lock up and disallow any air to pass. Later that afternoon, I checked the rest of the spares and over half failed to work. I could have killed a man, simply by not performing my requisite equipment checks.

Luckily my studs had been through the fraternity system, and a little near death experience was a pretty common occurrence. We were drinking green beer and laughing about the whole drama, reliving the underwater football game by five o’clock. My near dead client’s friends were unusually harsh if he overemphasized his close call with death. This seemed to bring smiles all around the bar and I was relieved that I wasn’t going to be sued. It was really silly for me to think that I would be sued. After all, we were in Honduras and I wasn’t even officially working. It’s the cheapest place in the Caribbean to dive, if you want safety and functioning equipment, head to Hawaii, or better yet a pool in the middle of Colorado.

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The Stress Test

After eight weeks of working for free, studying and cleaning shop, Andrea and I took our final exam four our dive master certification, a series of stress tests. Our instructor directly below Justus was a blond excited Australian guy named Sean, who had been traveling and diving all over the world for the last six years. He never used protection and the girls loved him. Needless to say, there were more than a few little ‘Seans’ running around in various countries. But, to his credit, he was full of love and always kept his smile on. He told story after story and I imagine that ten to thirty percent was truth, the rest, total junk.

For our test, Sean had us gear up and dive down to thirty feet. We then dropped one of our tanks, so that we shared a single oxygen tank, buddy breathing and swimming in a large circle. We then had to switch all of our gear. We started with our weight belts and then moved on to the BCD. A BCD, buoyancy control device, controls the vertical movement of a diver in water. It is a vest attached to a diver’s air tank most often having a button for inflation and a string to pull for deflation. Inflating, causes a diver to become more buoyant i.e., rise as air is lighter than water. Likewise deflation causes a diver to sink. The BCD transfer was successful; however the buddy breathing was taking its toll on me. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough oxygen. I was starting to hyperventilate and several times I pulled the breathing apparatus out of my own wife’s mouth. She started laughing as I guess I looked terrified. Laughing under water is difficult at best. I thought she was crying because I was stealing her air, but I needed that air. I soon realized we weren’t going to pass the test, and so grabbed her octopus, the technical term for the backup breathing apparatus or regulator and we swam to the surface. Once at the surface, I promptly blamed her for not keeping it together and being a cry baby, but deep down, I knew that the real failure was mine. Both Sean and Andrea knew it was my failure as well, making me the jerk in the equation. Sean was nice enough though to let us try again with a different stress test.

The next day we went out to a shelf about a quarter mile off shore. We didn’t know what Sean had planned but were a little nervous with anticipation. Sean took our dive tanks and threw them overboard. The tanks floated to the bottom forty to fifty feet down. He then did the same with our dive belts, handed us our masks and flippers. He then instructed us to go get them. At twenty feet down one could easily return to the surface after descending without air. At fifty feet, I doubt I would be able to come back up. Visibility was great and the tanks were in clear view, but there was a lot of water, airless water, in between myself and the tanks. Sean began counting and on three both Andrea and I dove in head first. We both promptly made the mistake of not equalizing. At about fifteen feet the pressure on our ears became too painful to continue. Andrea rose first and I thought she wasn’t going to continue. But she equalized before reaching the surface and returned downward. Andrea was now descending with ease and I was on my way to blowing yet another stress test. I didn’t think I would get another chance. I came up two to three feet, blew as hard as I could, equalizing and continuing down in one swoop. Andrea had reached her gear at least two seconds before me and I was almost out of air. Once again I was facing the self defeating monster of panic. This time however, it could be deadly. With what felt like my last bit of air, I was able to reach my regulator and get a breath.

Air tastes so good, however, you only recognize that when you when you don’t have any. The whole ordeal probably lasted twenty seconds. Under water you can easily hold your breath for forty five seconds. I had panicked again. Even if I passed this stress test in Sean and Andrea’s eyes I had failed in my own.

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