Travel – Chi Chi’s Hotel
At Chi Chi’s Hotel in Honduras, everything is for sale. Love, sex, family, lodgings. I had never planned to go there. It’s one of those places you end up.
The unlikelihood of Chi Chi’s epitomizes the wanderer’s destination. It’s the reason I travel. It’s what I miss right now. The shock of being surprised. Of being intentionally lost.
It is utterly different from the disorientation suffered by so many who have fallen into labyrinths in this pandemic. It is a route with a passage in and a way out. It is light in darkness, and hope in despair.
Amidst the challenges posed by Covid, I remind myself that we are also our memories. We are the roads we have traveled in the world, and in our minds. Even in lock downs, separated by masks and political divergence, we are still the sum of our every moment. Each decision made and path taken counts and builds towards all we are. And that is something.
My moment continues to be shaped by my wanderings. And Chi Chi’s Hotel informs everything that has brought me to this point. To this word.
I remember the light, and the smell of the place.
I reached the end of the road in a clattering bus with shaven tires and a weary driver. The dirt track we’d been following for miles had simply given up. I hesitated behind an old couple with an enormous sack stuffed full of provisions who limped gingerly down the steps to where the villagers had gathered to enjoy the brief diversion the bus offered. As I stood in the doorway, blinking into the sunshine, the friendly banter stuttered to a stunned silence.
The night before, as I had talked in trills about trekking off the beaten track, I was all wide-eyed idiocy. Having arrived, I had no idea what I was doing there and what I should do next. Before I could high-tail it back to the Gringo trail, the bus turned on its arse, belched some sludge and cut out of dodge. I was stranded.
I had brazened my way into many an aul’ fellas bar down the wrong end a pot-holed lane; and had been the subject of many a bemused stare in my time. But I knew the poet Paddy Kavanagh’s “half-talk code of mysteries” and was an adept at the unspoken language of the nod. In this beat-up little community, with its tin roof shacks and cluster of curious faces, I didn’t know the rules and was completely at a loss.
So, it was with easy compliance that I was herded across the bridge by a cluster of kids and led to the door of Chi Chi’s Hotel.
It had seemed like such a good idea. A local guy had let me in on a secret two days earlier. He told me that the Bay Islands, off the coast of Honduras, were stunning, but haunted by tourists who swarm for the diving. There were other gems, he confided, if you knew where to find them. All I had to do was reach this coastal village, then hunt down a fisherman who would take me to a hidden paradise. The name he whispered wasn’t mentioned in any guidebook I had read. It was hard to reach. There was no electricity. My Spanish was poor. But he said it was magical, and I was bewitched.
Standing under a sign that promised a ‘tropical disco’ at the dark entrance to Chi Chi’s Hotel, the spell had worn off.
I stepped under the straw plaited eaves and entered a sizable barn, with a dirt floor and a woven roof. There were a couple of tattered posters, a TV in the corner, and an abandoned bar with the promise of beer. One of the children bee-lined out the back door and returned with my host.
Chi Chi was an imposing woman and a figure of standing in this Garifuna community. Tall, muscular, poised and bare foot, she wore a pink tee-shirt and rosary beads around her neck.
She led me out the back door and showed me to my shack. It was one of six that semi-circled the ragged space. As she opened the door she thrust a fistful of condoms into my hand.
There were a few more scattered on the make-shift bed, and handwritten signs encouraging safe-sex plastered the walls. It was Saturday night, and I was steps from the promise of a heady disco in a hut that bore all the hallmarks of a knocking shop.
But Chi Chi knew a guy who had a boat. Chi Chi, I soon gathered, could get you anything you needed. A nod and a moment later a child kicked up his heels to find his older brother.
He arrived on his bike. Negotiations were swift. He named his price, and I nodded my head. Bargaining was never my strong point. The trouble was that the waves were high, and his boat was small. So, we couldn’t go today, but maybe tomorrow.
I took stock of my lodgings. Cardboard strips covered holes, the roof was patchwork tin, a tangled mosquito net shrouded the bed, and a stout bar of wood held the door tight. Stretching my arms, I could reach from one side of my room to the other.
On my doorstep the children tripped over hens and the dinner menu was scrawled in foot high script on the back wall of the barn. Pollo or pescado – chicken or fish.
As Chi Chi set about cooking up a feast on an outdoor stone oven, I took stock and ventured into the outdoor shower. A dead rat and a live crab sent me scuttling. A bucket of rainwater rinsed off the dust in time for a mouth-watering fresh fish dish.
After dinner, Chi Chi offered the services of her son to guide me through the community. “Do you have a boyfriend?” she asked. “My son is very handsome. He could be your boyfriend.”
A boy in a crisp white shirt who had started college and was honing his English arrived. The tour took about 15 minutes, end to end. It was a lively night, reminiscent of scenes from spaghetti Westerns. Hungry looking mules were tied to posts as men lolled on sills drinking beer and women stretched long tired limbs in doorways.
Back at Chi Chi’s all was as quiet as the night sky. The Tropical Disco was open for business, but the only souls to pass under its eaves were children sent on messages and women consulting Chi Chi on domestic matters.
I woke early the next morning and the wind was still strong. The brother arrived and shook his head. Not another boat was stirring. Chi Chi warned me of the uncertainty of the weather at that time of year. If I waited another day, I might make it. But who could tell? My barrage of questions elicited no more than a shrug. It was in the hands of the waves, and speculation was pointless.
I gave up planning and shook off my shoes for an impromptu Punta dance lesson in the dirt floor disco. Chi Chi led the booty shakin’, foot slidin’ session. A crowd of youngsters gathered at the door and gradually slipped inside to have a better gander at the gringo, who looked like she’d been the subject of an unsuccessful hip replacement. The rhythm pulsed and the fact that I’d been up since 5am in anticipation of a boat that was never leaving its dock didn’t matter.
By 9am my pack was loaded, and I was ready to go. I figured that Godot arriving was as good a bet as the boat departing and decided to take my chances back on the road. A clatter of children led me out of town – probably the same ones who had guided me to Chi Chi’s the day before.
There was neither sight nor sign of a bus. But a couple of miles down the track, I hitched a ride on a pick-up truck. I didn’t know where it was going, but somewhere seemed as good a destination as any I might have planned.
I don’t recall where I ended up. It doesn’t matter. Another path taken and road followed to a place that ends and begins right here. Amidst the world’s challenges and uncertainties, I have no idea where the ribbon will unfurl. I don’t need to know. I just need to allow myself the joy of being surprised and remain ever open to mysteries whispered in my ear.
© Róisín Sorahan
3 Feb. 2022, rockinbookreviews.com
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