Sunday, November 29, 2009

D&D Brewery...and all that entails

Tell Mike that there is a microbrewery within a few hundred kilometers of where he is toiling in the desertlands of lager and there is no holding him. Consequently we moved quickly from southern Honduras to Los Naranjos on the shores of Lago Yojoa where Oregonian Robert Dale has established D&D Brewery. As Mike noted, Bob sounds a lot like John Wayne, and when he speaks Spanish, in which he is fluent, he sounds even more like John Wayne. We stayed a week, met many great travelers and locals, and celebrated Thanksgiving with Robert's welcoming nephews Dellinger and Scott and the lovely Gloria and Ana who keep the kitchen humming.

We took a few field trips when we could tear Mike away from the taps, joining Maura, Elliot, Alli and Angela, a group of 3 teachers and a vet tech from Baltimore, to go out rowing on the lake. The 6 of us also trekked to the beautiful Azacualpa hot springs, getting there and back by hook or by crook in a series of 5 buses and 4 pick-ups. That night a big group of guests joined Robert in a 3 guitar jam session and sing-along. Many thanks to our Baltimore friends for sending photos!

Mike and I spent a nice afternoon walking to the Pulhapanzak waterfall. The best part of the walk was meeting Francisco Reyes on our way home. Francisco is a jefe at the national electric company and he picked us up off the side of the road where we were waiting for a bus. He immediately told us how much he likes people from the U.S. and asked us if we wanted to see the power plant. The plant is a relatively small one with 2 generators perched over a river that runs down from the lake. What impressed me most was how clean and organized the place was with all the machinery -- pipes and joints and on-off wheels -- painted different bright solid colors. Unfortunately our halfway working camera gave out on our rowing trip so we have no photos of Francisco or his plant. Nor do we have photos of his house where he took us to meet his wife and kids and feed us baleadas, a Honduran dish of tortilla filled with beans, eggs and cheese.

Robert was away for Thanksgiving but his nephews and the women of D&D more than managed. We had a turkey ham, mashed potatoes with gravy, green beans. I made a couple of apple pies and Mike pushed his record number of beers to 45 (for the course of our stay). Other guests at dinner included the delightful Mark and Cecilia, of Australia and Argentina, late of the Isle of Man and on their way to new digs in Panama City. Also Freddy and Greta from Germany, Morden and Anna from Denmark and Spain, Alphonse from Holland, and Paul and Lindsay from Virginia.

Moving on from D&D was hard but we tore ourselves away and caught El Mochito to San Pedro Sula, from there to head to Copan Ruinas. On our bus a very cute girl, Haley, moved over to look at us. She was joined by her little sister Nicole, and with only a few blinks they munched plantain chips, answered our questions and stared at us for the entire ride.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Honduras por Matagalpa, Jinotega, y Estelí

...on a still higher terrace dawdled the tourists: vandals in sandals looking at the murals. --Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

We spent about a week in northern Nicaragua. There is not a lot there. No ruins or museums or dramatic snowcapped peaks. But there are small friendly cities, ordinary kinds of places with few tourists, nestled in pretty but undramatic mountains. Sometimes it is nice to spend time in an ordinary place, especially if that ordinary place is cool and dry unlike the extraordinary places we've been sweating through recently. Unfortunately, ordinary places don't necessarily make good topics for blogposts, but I'll give it a shot.

We spent five days in Matagalpa, staying in the comfortable, inexpensive, and clean Hotel Apante run by the welcoming Lucia. The town was friendly and pretty and surrounded by modest mountains, coffee farms, and interesting little villages. There was a cafe that sold pamphlets with maps and descriptions of walks in the hills. I wish more towns would offer that, for people like us who don't want to follow guides around. Many people like guides. They want to hear about everything they are seeing and don't want to have to worry about getting lost. Fine. I need time silently walking in the countryside, finding my own way. Without that time I don't think I would enjoy the company of others as much as I do. Those pamphlets were good for the town since we stayed there five days instead of two and did a lot of exploring in the hills.

Our last day in Matagalpa, a Saturday, we went to a "party" we had been invited to at a local restaurant called La Hacienda. We were the only ones there, so we ordered dinner and a couple beers. Just before we finished, three guys walked in who had apparently been enjoying their Saturday afternoon to the fullest. They were boisterous, difficult to understand, and very friendly. Ervin, the most boisterous, introducted us to his friends Victor and Guillermo. Once Ervin discovered my name he seemed to start and finish each sentence by shouting it: "MIKE! Me gusta musica country, MIKE! MIKE! Me encanta Kenny Rogers, MIKE! MIKE! The Gambler! MIKE! MIKE! Johnny Cash! MIKE!" I knew when we were finished with a topic, whether I understood it or not, because I would find myself shaking his hand, his other hand on my shoulder, a look of wild excitement on his face set off by a moustache-enhanced grin followed by knee slaps and shouts of "Perfecto!" His enthusiasm was infectious.

Victor was the drunkest of the three, a mechanic, and self proclaimed professor of dance. At first he would pop up every few minutes and shuffle around in a circle with his arms extended or one extended and the other guarding his belt. He showed us some local dances that were derived from the coffee picking process. Later Hilary danced with him a few times before he settled into a more comfortable position with his head on the table.

Guillermo was young, fairly quiet, and almost pretty. He was quite sweet, talking about his girlfriend and giving Hilary a plastic bracelet and a tiny picture of himself in a little envelope.

After we finished eating, the five of us moved to the back room where the restaurant had set up a large speaker system and was blasting mostly American rock and roll. We were the only people there and we took turns dancing and shouting at each other over the music as Victor rested his head, rousing himself to join us in a scream-a-long to Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen the Rain? It was a stange but enjoyable evening.

Next we spent one night in the wonderfully cool, almost cold, mountain town of Jinotega. There wasn't a lot to do but we enjoyed walking around, visiting the large and touchingly simple cememtary, and having a few drinks in a local bar, hip enough to survive in San Francisco. In La Taberna we met an initially friendly character named Otto who got stanger as the conversation wore on. He claimed to be a Sandinista, communist, born again Christian. When I pointed out that there seemed to be some contradictions in that, he pointed to his vodka drink and smiled in agreement. Later he announced that I was from the FBI and wanted to know how many people I had killed. I told him the conversation was over. He apologized profusely, then disappeared, but not before introducing us to Alvaro who was interesting, friendly, and sane. Alvaro told us about his coin and bill collecting hobby and his dream to open a numismatic museum.

Our final stop in Nicaragua was in the cowboy town of Estelí. We didn't vandalize anything but we did pad around town in our sandals looking at the murals. We ate breakfast at a place outside of town with delicious bread and yogurt and beautiful grounds where school kids played among the pretty flowers, silly ducks, and hideous spiders.

From there we went to a waterfall, picked up on the road by David from Ft. Lauderdale. He was an interesting guy, who like Otto was a born again Christian, but unlike Otto was sober, sane, and easy going. We talked about the meaning of various passages in the Bible and then he told us about his plans to start a clothing company in Bangladesh, profits from which would be used to provide heathcare and education for the workers and their families. He seemed like the kind of guy who could do it.

David hiked off into the woods to do some trekking and we walked back to Estelí through a landscape that reminded me a lot of Connecticut with its rolling hills, trees, green fields, and stone walls. That night we had dinner at an Italian restaurant that was really the front room of a house. It was Emilio's place, an Italian from Salerno, who reminded me a bit of Roberto Benigni only much calmer and a touch sadder. He had a pool table in the middle of the dining room so Hilary and I shot a few games while Emilio prepared spaghetti.

Finally, from Estelí we took buses across the border into Honduras, spending one night in Danlí, another friendly mountain town where people stopped us to give directions and practice their English. We also met a hugely warm Greek Orthodox Jordanian named Suheil who spent forty years in New Orleans and opened the conversation with, "Everything copacetic?"

The next day we continued north, making our long lumbering way back home. Poco a poco.