First Trip To Utila Town
The day began at 5:15, since our feet point east toward the open louvered windows and Honduran pine French doors that let in both the breeze and the light. I had actually set an alarm because I was worried after staying up late for dinner and drinks with friends the night before, I might miss my 7:30 boat ride into town with our neighbors for yoga.
The kids woke up at dawn too--rattling around and scratching and kvetching. Max wound himself up in the lone mosquito netting over their bed like a little taquito all night and left poor Piper to be munched. J was covered in sand fly nips too. A quick call to Señor Tino regarding more mosquito netting from the Mainland, and amazingly, three of them were on our doorstep before the day was over.
Breakfast was weak ground coffee with rice milk for us and for the kids, the overpriced box of Froot Loops. I'd grabbed this when we stopped at Bush's Market on the way home from the airport the first day, not bothering with lempira conversion, just seeing an American product and nabbing it. But in a place where Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum is cheaper than cow's milk, the kids ended up dumping the cereal and the boxed leche they deemed 'gross' on the crab-compost pile out back. J called this a victory, and I scrambled some eggs. Land and hermit crabs descended on the cereal and the rest of our compost--the entire pile was gone by midday.
As the sun spread over the red earth, Max and J walked me to the Coral Beach marina where Max astonished everyone by befriending Princess, the most skittish of the project dogs. I boarded Brad and Andi's boat and we wove through the network of mangrove canals to Utila Town, Andi pointing out egrets in the bird sanctuary on the way. They arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick me up at the marina since three would have been too cozy on their motorbike, and Alejandro drove me the short distance over rutted roads, past colorful houses with backyard crab pens. Similar to Cayman, locals catch the abundant land crabs and feed them mangos for several weeks to clean them out and sweeten them before eating.
In town, my first feeling was one of complete nakedness. I often experience a similar sensation whenever I'm without any kids, but this was more intense. I was without all my US trappings as well. Carrying only my yoga mat, a pack of pink Trident, a list of sundries and groceries to pick up, and enough lempiras for the tuk-tuk from the boat dock ($1.50) Ashtanga class ($5) and a few days of supplies. I had no watch or cell phone--I didn't even have J's Honduran phone number. The plan was for him to take the kids to work with him on the South Shore, then bring the Miss Quinn to the dock at Coco's Bar to pick me up, sometime around 11.
"But how will we find each other?" I worried, and he assured me town was small enough that we would. Did this mean, I wondered, that a gringa like me would not blend in?
I spent the early morning at my first-ever Ashtanga yoga class on the outdoor dock of a bar, where Aura clucked knowingly over my tight runner's hamstrings and promised I would get better each time. In Spanish, English and Sanskrit, she guided me and five women through a powerful sequence of poses and breathing and chants. Her adjustments, lilting accent and reassuring demeanor were perfect. The class was complemented by the view across the blue water to the mainland in front and the start-of-day street sounds--the clink of bottles and the putt and pop of dirt bikes--behind us on the narrow street.
After class, I was introduced to two other expat mothers. One has a boy around my boys' age who is learning to windsurf but they are leaving for six weeks in Denmark. Another has a little girl turning five on Friday. She promptly invited us all to the party and I eagerly jotted down the details: "Bine" 5 years old, pizza, kids! Jumping off dock into ocean. Bring suits! Bine's mother told me this is how it often is in Utila--just as one friend leaves, new ones arrive. I remembered the fast friendships formed in other international cities where I have lived-- quick connections, hungry conversation, immediate companionship.
Afterward, I wandered down Main Street and stopped into several little markets, ticking items off my list and practicing my Spanish. When one man chuckled over my purchase of thirty eggs I said, Tengo tres niños acasa que gustan los huevos! He answered with a friendly string of Spanglish I pretended to understand. I was beginning to notice throughout the island that this was an unofficial dialect. Nobody said 'Vale!' like they do all over Andalucia, but the English and Spanish were equally garbled.
At another store, I wracked up 1,024 lempiras of rice, beans and produce. Rather than take and make change for another 500 bill, the man waved me on and told me to bring it the next time I was in town, and with a broad smile, he welcomed me to Utila.
I bought clothespins for the drying line I strung behind Casa Tranquila, a butane torch for the stove, six huge fresh mangos, bananas, coconut and almond milk for the smoothies my kids guzzled and a white cheese so intense-smelling it reminded me instantly of Gertie and Phoebe.
I passed on a rasta-colored hammock for the porch that was overpriced, and made a note that the movie showing at the tiny cinema Friday night looked good--something about Drew Barrymore and trapped whales. I scanned the menus of cafés and ogled nightspots where fifteen years ago, I would have been whipping my hair and dancing til daylight. The general street population was a curious mix of young Euros, grungy, barefoot twenty-somethings, SCUBA divers, and coffee-skinned locals, all jockeying through the narrow streets on anything with wheels.
Wandering back toward Coco's, I happened to look up as the Miss Quinn came into the harbor with J at the motor and my three tangly-haired blondes in baseball caps and sunglasses. There was some relief in the serendipity of this--that all of this happened as we planned, without texts or obsessive calling or discussion over whether or not we needed the hammock I passed on, and where he thought I might find cinnamon and whole bean coffee. The important parts had been accomplished, and now we were here, the family reuniting.
A motley group of island dogs, odd mixes of dachsund and pitbull and pointer and labrador jogged past the next yoga class on the dock to greet them. One growled at J and his owner whacked his rump.
"All dogs like me!" J insisted. The kids found this hilarious and a girl swabbing the bar deck waggled her mop after him. Together, we loaded up our little craft with the flimsy bags of groceries and glass bottles of olive oil and wine and supplies. Max untied us, J engaged the motor, we waved goodbye to everyone and headed back out to sea, toward the quieter side of the island, and home.
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To read Part Two, The Things We Carried, click here
To read Part Four, La Vida Simple, click here