Travel – Chi Chi’s Hotel

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,


For reviews, discussion and more on Time and the Tree, click here.

Happiness in the Time of Covid

Happiness in the Time of Covid

“Happiness is a knife wrapped in silk, gliding across the belly. It always hurts. It tricks you for a time that life is kinder and more beautiful than it really is and then, just when you believe it, it’s thrust into your gut and given a good old twist before it’s snatched away again.” – Time

– Time and the Tree

It has been a bitterly cold winter. Perhaps it has always been this frigid, but I don’t recall. I shuffle from car to house, shoulders hunched against the freeze. I resent the frozen landscape.


Today, there was a thaw. The earth re-emerged from the snow, with its colours of autumn and promise of spring. I felt the sun on my face. The tangled breeze might have come off the ocean.


The shoulders dropped, and I paused on the path by the brook. It was swollen and intent on breaking its bonds. It had the look of one heading elsewhere. I envied its movement. It’s hard to be anchored. At least, it is for me.


The road was quiet, and the flag person, who was managing traffic, struck up a chat. We talked of the respite. The season’s turn. The state of the river. And the snow expected tomorrow.


We passed each other again on my return journey. “You just missed summer,” I was hailed, between a ragged cough and a chuckle. We both laughed. And, as I continued onward, she called after me, “Love ya, honey.”


My step lightened. My smile widened. The earth felt forgiving beneath my feet. It took so little, really. But, in that moment, I was happy.


Love is the coin of happiness. Where there is happiness, there is kindness, generosity and empathy.


In its absence, darkness rushes in to fill the space. The inner void breeds anger and despair, and lives of great emptiness follow.

Unhappiness, I’ve noticed, always looks for someone else to blame. But accosting the world for the absence of light, is like berating the mountain for being so tall. It is always within reach, with work and commitment, and the belief that it’s worth the effort. The higher the climb, the better the view. And then, there’s the journey.


These past couple of years, it almost seemed redundant to talk of happiness. We moved into survival mode. Focus shifted to getting groceries, keeping jobs, wearing masks, sourcing vaccines.


Covid put a stranglehold on connections, on smiles. Routine was broken. Days were discordant. Certainties were questioned. And, as in war, everyone’s experience was different.


Some got through it relatively unscathed; others felt like they were the only ones in the trenches.


Many will recall it as a period of death, loneliness, confusion. And the grief of endings was compounded by a pandemic that denied a last word, last touch, the comfort of a hand held.


Many will mourn the unnecessary return of mindless commutes to soulless offices. The opportunity to work from home, put kids to bed at night, and retreat into a familial space, was a blessing, for some.


For others that space became a prison. A gradual and persistent erasure of the self. The outside world a threat. The inner, a torment.


And, there was the conflict of both experiences, brushing up against each other. Reconciling these emotions could be a life-long endeavour.


The pandemic challenged us in ways we never anticipated. As a society, and as individuals, we demonstrated, on a massive scale, our capacity for change. And our propensity for goodness. People denied themselves the comfort of being with loved ones, in order to keep them safe. We witnessed feats of heroism on a daily basis, ranging from health workers’ herculean efforts, to parents who home-schooled their children, while holding down a job from the other side of the table.


The pandemic also stoked fear, and the era of the Other raised its wily head, once again. The void opened, and anger rushed in. Words were turned upon the bewildered in attempts to confound even further.


But now, the numbers are falling and the defences are coming down. We who have battled, are returning home. But it’s a different place, and we are not who we were before the pandemic. Nothing is quite as we remembered it. Borders have shifted, as have priorities.


Life will never be the same again.


Life should never be the same again.


The crank has turned. The chance to begin anew is upon us.


It is time to heal the anger and allay the fear. To renew our connection with ourselves and our world. It is time to free words from the knot of deceit.


It is time, to be happy.


It’s sounds a little trite, doesn’t it? After everything. Yet, it is no small thing.


Philosophers have been contemplating happiness for centuries. Its meaning, its morality, its psychological, social, even economic impact, has been mulled and debated. It’s a tricky, elusive concept, that either bends and weaves to the thinking of the time, or creates new modes of living and new thought patterns.


The pursuit of happiness is noble, and desperately needed at this time. Yet, we must be clear about what we are chasing. The zeitgeist, it seems to me, has falsely aligned happiness with perfection: the perfect partner; home; body; family; career. Take your pick, and post to Instagram. This is the epitome of the empty promise.


Our culture has also enmeshed happiness with guilt. It is self-serving, selfish, and indulgent; pitting self against the tribe. At a period when our survival feels threatened, this is a dangerous line of thinking. Socially, it is imperative that we think of others, show kindness, give support. This does not mean that we sacrifice ourselves.


Dousing one’s spark to let others shine is antithetical. It diminishes all of us. In suppressing the will to love and learn and be, it scrubs words and drags darkness into the space where the light should be.


Without happiness, we cannot help ourselves, let alone another. It comes back to the fundamental tenet that underlies pretty much every spiritual philosophy: love yourself; love others.


Happiness is not a luxury, or an afterthought. It’s not something to be experienced on a Friday night, when the week’s work is done. It is a constant battle to renew the self and live well in the moment. It is not contingent on luck or acquisition. Happiness is a choice that we make. It’s the decision to plough the scarred earth, rather than let the wounds fester.


It is time for growth. Our comfort levels in how we engage with the world, at this stage, are different. Some will step out, turn the lock on what’s past, and not look back. People will travel, wrap arms around loved ones, date, read books, dance. Others will stand at the window, and let the sun warm their faces.


There is no absolute way to be in the moment. Each must follow their instincts, with care and kindness, knowing that the choices are theirs to make. The season is turning. Change is upon us.


We are responsible for the paths we travel. Our capacity for fear and self-destruction is enormous. But, if the pandemic has taught us anything, so too is our ability to change, to fail, to fail better, to love, to immerse ourselves in the moment. Our capacity for happiness is also boundless.


The temperatures in my world will plummet again tomorrow. The earth will hold its secrets a little longer. It’s easy to embrace the light, when arms are outstretched on a sun-drenched, sandy island. But, today, I am reminded that happiness is also in a snatched conversation by the side of the road.


© Róisín Sorahan


3 March 2022


Read My Tangled Skeins Book Reviews discussion and more on Time and the Tree 

Writing and the Art of Failure

Writing and the Art of Failure

Every act of writing is a declaration of failure. A surrender to the words not written, the thoughts not shaped.


Every act of writing is a statement of defiance. Sundering words from the silence, naming a thing into existence.


As writers, we understand that creation and failure are indelibly intertwined. Every story drags behind it the shadow of the tale not told. It’s an inherent part of the craft and, without failure, there cannot be success.


We need to try. To fail. To fail again. And, in Samuel Beckett’s words, fail better. We need to shape worlds. Name things. Select words. Even the shaven ones that pare a sentence down to silence. And then, we need to try and find a reader to complete the creative circle.


It’s a daunting prospect. For many, it becomes the immovable boulder faced with the impossible hill. But the impetus to keep going, despite the setbacks and the failures, is what distinguishes the authors whose books are delivered into the world.


These are the writers who start again on the completion of every draft. The ones who bin a rejection letter, and write another submission. The ones who don’t give up on their work when it does not fit into publishing trends. The ones who whittle and defend and aspire. These are the authors who have a vision, even when they do not have a plan.


It’s wholly illogical. But to be a writer is to be unhinged. Seeing things that no one else can; and giving voice to the jumble in the head. That messy tangle of words that blurt their way onto the page in a spasm of joy and pain. Whole days, years can be lost to it. Appointments are missed and hours bend to this devotion to crazy. But oh, the fun of putting manners on a sentence!


What follows is another matter: the self-doubt and the void of approbation. The difficulty of sustaining one’s vision in the darkness. Yet, the successful author does not give in when their work does not fit the expectations of an industry that is focused on the bottom line, and not always on the well-crafted one.


Without this tenacity, language, and indeed, thought itself, would not evolve. The writer needs to keep finding fresh ways to pull newness into being. And something Other is not, by its nature, a trend. It’s not in fashion. No one’s reading it. Yet.


Nor will the work find its audience if the writer bows the head and retreats to a safer space, where the world doesn’t judge, and nothing is ventured.


Then there’s the gain. When the leap of faith is taken, and the book is read. Sometimes only by a few people. But, it’s a beginning. An idea taking shape. A new way of engaging with the world.


As a reader, I’m always trying to catch up with the ephemeral thought. Even if it is not fully understood. The one that takes me by surprise; the one that makes me think. It’s the one I want to snatch and examine before it becomes something else.


I have no doubt that many authors, particularly the ones who didn’t slot into a defined genre, or word count, or reader profile and marketing strategy, finally found their niche by simply not giving up. They failed. Repeatedly. And they kept on going.


I’m equally certain there are many great books that remain unread and uncelebrated. Belief was irredeemably shaken; and the drawer was closed on the manuscript. And we are all the poorer for it.


Anna Burns, after winning The Man Booker prize for Milkman in 2018, famously spoke about an invitation she received from a large publishing house she had submitted her manuscript to. She had some talent, they said, and might benefit from one of their writing workshops.


Of course, it was clear she could write. They just didn’t know where she could fit.


The thing is, she didn’t. And that is the beauty of her work. It’s what makes it so special, and what we, as readers, have gained, as a result.


Samuel Beckett, who was crippled by bouts of depression and whose work, at the outset, challenged even the avant garde coterie of the time, developed a philosophy of failure: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”


Murphy, his first novel, accrued dozens of rejections. Simon and Schuster, while recognizing Beckett’s talent, attributed it with “5% appeal.”


Where Joyce was a linguistic projectile, Beckett swallowed back words and sculpted silence. Who, it was argued, would sit through a play in which nothing happened, and the main protagonist never arrived? Still, he kept writing. Even when his audience, as well as his subject, was the void.


My debut novel, Time and the Tree, was deemed to have a magical quality, but was unquestionably odd. It was an accurate assessment, and it didn’t find a home easily. Declan Kiberd described it as, “A genre-busting masterpiece.” A reader on recently named it “genreless.”


I was delighted with its evasion of a label; and “genreless” struck me as the perfect depiction. It doesn’t fit a publishing category. But it is wholly attuned to this confusing and challenging moment.  Its Otherness allows the reader to approach it with fluidity and imprint their own experiences, memories, failures and aspirations, and find their own meaning from it. The reader creates it in their own image, according to their need and belief, every single time.


The most often given advice to writers is the very sensible and simple one: write. Put words on the page. Hone the skill. Keep crafting and finding one’s voice. What’s omitted is the next step: work through the doubt and the rejection. As you recognize your work’s flaws, be equally aware of its value and celebrate its Otherness. The same book has never been written twice.


Writers don’t wither for want of words, or dearth of readers. They dissolve when they fail to pick themselves up and keep going. This doesn’t require confidence. But it demands some bravery. When the rejection slips pile up, thicken the hide, and go on. Revise. Re-write. Re-submit. Fail better.


(c) Róisín Sorahan


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