I've never been a good napper. When I lived in Tarifa as a single woman, I spent the siesta hours of the afternoon taking long walks with my faithful dog and a Nikon. Peeking through arched white-washed doorways in this Spanish town with 13th century roots and heavy Moorish influence, I assembled a photo essay called Las Puertas Antiguas de Tarifa. I was thinking today that if I ever put together a photo essay of Utila, my common theme could be La parte posterior de las cabezas Bine y Piper since I spend much of my time in Utila following these two around. It's a pretty good gig.
Bine (pron. BEE-nuh) is Piper's dearest friend here. Her parents run FLOAT UTILA, the world's largest float tank (designed and built by Bine's Dad). They have one of the best love stories I have ever heard and I could spend hours sipping coffee and chatting with her mom while our kids play cheerfully.
Bine is a creative, curly-haired girl with a whimsical spirit and such a transparent, honest streak she often floors me with her direct imperatives and observations.
I'm noticing a tender innocence to many of the children of my Utila friends. On the one hand, they are exposed to so much on the streets of Town. I often wish for ear muffs for my own kids when we pass the ferry port and there's crazy shirtless Webb greeting the incoming boat with his tarantula on a stick and some pelvic thrusting as he howls, "GOT-DAMN I WANT SOME FAH-KING GRINGA PUSS-Y!" as the horrified backpacker girls scuttle past. Or there's the diabetic bum begging for soda as he urinates openly next to the cafe where we're having breakfast. Or the crackies spitting at each other in a domestic dispute, or the brash potty-mouths of the twenty-something Aussie divemasters as we pile in the bed of the pick-up truck driving out to beach clean-up.
But here there is also no TV, no commercials, no WalMart; a complete blissful lack of awareness of mainstream juvenile popculture. Maxim (5) only just learned of the existence of Batman. There is a commitment between the mothers here to maintain that innocence, and preserve some of the wonder of childhood, where afternoons are spent finding snails in the harbor, creating castles for hermit crabs on the beach or visiting bats in abandoned hotels.
Today, after Piper's BICA school and yoga and workbooks with the boys in Bundu Cafe, we followed Bine on a tour of her version of Utila. We set out with the girls' hands tucked into mine as we attempted a snake-like single-file through the narrow street, the boys running ahead, and Bine and Pip singing in the sweetest improv soprano soundtrack,
You have to be nice and caring
to fulfill your heart
and your dreams
You can't be aggressive
like a bulldog
or Piper's brothers...
FIRST STOP -- THE BAT HOTEL
This place caught my attention the first time I traveled from Utila Town to the South Shore by boat, on our way from the US. It is a distinctly dated but elegant structure clinging to the hillside over the harbor. I asked our boat captain so many questions about it--why had it never been finished? who owned it? who lived there? that my kids dubbed it "Mom's Old Hotel".
Bine skipped ahead up the steep, green-slick street of Colibri Hill past a tangle of woods and barbed wire with the promise of bats on the fourth floor and a breathtaking view of the harbor.
I was fascinated by the wild grounds that showed hints of ambition, intricate tile work and the design of future fountains and gardens.
Bine danced past laundry on moss-slick paths, past an ornate red iron bedframe and turquoise bike and tugged open the unlocked door. All four children raced up the stairs screaming and clapping.
Underfoot, decades of guano and fruit pits crunched, amidst panes of broken glass and construction debris.
It reminded me of the Disney World attraction "Tower of Terror", set in a 1940s abandoned hotel with endless attention to historical detail to entertain park guests as they stood in hours of snaking line and waited to be thrilled. Only here, as my children clapped to startle bats and climbed through broken windows to balconies, I was acutely aware that no ride inspector or first world litigious system was ensuring their security.
The view of the harbor below was worth it.
Bine's mom waved to us from the porch of their house below where she was whipping up one of her signature delicious lunches and toddler Gus was no doubt sword-weilding or plunging into their homemade boat bath in his underwear.
Back inside the hotel, the startled, nocturnal bats flew in and out as we trekked through their territory. Photos couldn't capture it, so I shot a little shaky iPhone video (in between ducking).
After I convinced the kids that dropping broken glass from the windows would be a bad idea, we followed Bine back through the overgrown grounds to lookout points. On the balcony of an outbuilding, a young couple kissed, smoke curling up from the cigarettes tucked in their dangling hands. Leafcutter ants stretched a procession a hundred yards long like a miniature landlocked green regatta.
At a fork in the road, we wound up to the Colibri Hotel with the promise of kittens, only to find they had grown into standoffish cats. Instead, we discovered a bright blue pool in a cove of palm trees, and an overloaded avocado tree that rained down its fruit in a gust of wind.
A street puppy followed Piper and Bine over the rise in the hill and down again to town, panting and smiling up at them.
A motorbike carrying a family of four zipped past, the baby straddling the gas tank in an overloaded diaper.
An elderly Honduran cowboy in a bright orange shirt bowed and chuckled as Piper and Bine breezed by him.
"Come on!" Bine cried as she and Piper opened their arms like bird wings and rounded the curve of the hill by Johnny's Water back to Town.
"I know where we can see a bulldog named Ceiba and real live green parrots!"
I hurried to catch up.
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