The little strip of Honduras that separates El Salvador from Nicaragua is only 132km. That’s no more than a couple of hours riding. I thought I would stop in Choluteca for a couple of days just to meet a fellow biker and get a little taste of Honduras, and then move on. Fate, it seems, had a little more in store for me.
Mario was a rare find in Central America – he was planning to ride his motorcycle all the way to Tierra del Fuego from Honduras. Though most cross continent riders are European or North America, there are occasionally Latinos that make the big trek, but they are few in number and usually from South America. But Mario was determined not to let the low wages and conservative culture of Honduras stand in the way of his dream. In fact, as of this writing, he has completed his journey and is returning to Honduras having done what no other Honduranean has done (as far as I know).
I had no intention of going up north to Tegucigalpa, Sand Pedro Sula (two more of the world’s most dangerous cities), or the islands. But Mario had some family with whom I could stay on the way, so I decided to make an exception and check out the island Utila – one of the best places to scuba in the world. I don’t scuba but I do love the sea, and a few days in paradise did not sound so bad.
Most of Honduras is not very good riding. The condition of the roads is some of the worst in Central America, with potholes so big I was afraid if I rode into one i would never ride out. And outside the mountains, which are of course beautiful, and offer incredible views of the neighboring countries and the Pacific, the landscape is impressive only in how hot and humid it gets. Of course I did have another brush with death in the shape of a semi trying to pass another semi around a blind curve so as to make two walls of metal rushing toward me down the mountain. How I manage to get out of the way, and squeeze past on the non-existent shoulder is still a matter of miracles.
As in El Salvador, Honduraneans are very typical of Central America, and there was little to no indigenous culture to be found. However the mixes of Spanish, Native and Negro bloods have produced some incredibly beautiful women. Every country has its share of mixing, but I have yet to find such interplay of the 3 races in so many people – very striking. On my ride from Choluteca to La Ceiba (for the ferry to Utila) I must have almost crashed a dozen times looking at the beauties selling fruit on the side of the road.
Utila sits on the world’s second largest barrier reef, and when I say “sits on” I mean I walked off a dock, swam for about 20 seconds and was on the reef. Considering the wonders I saw while snorkeling, I can only imagine what can be seen scuba diving here! The reef, the fish, the stingrays… so many colors and forms, and swimming in and around them and their world felt like what I imagine flying around our own world would be like. Of course on shore and in the midst of humans there was no escaping the petty drama that follows us wherever we go, and sitting on the beach, sipping a fresh juice, I could not help but hear about the petty bickering which mars what would otherwise be paradise. I did however meet a guy named Sergey at one of the bars, who, after many hours of drinking and joking on his boat, turned out to have worked for the same company as me – 8 years ago in New York. I always love the feeling I get of a shrinking world whenever I meet people that I have known so many years ago and on the other side of the planet.
After a few days of “paradise” I took the ferry back to the mainland, picked up Georgia, and hauled ass back to Choluteca. One of the biggest festivals in Honduras was taking in place in San Marcos, in the mountains, and I did not want to miss the rare opportunity of actually being somewhere when some important event was happening (it seems that all the cool festivals are always months away, no matter where I am or what time of year it is).
Mario, Emerson and I drove up to San Marcos and threw ourselves into the thick of music, people, and food. It felt like all of Honduras was packing into this tiny mountain village. There were a dozen music stages with everything from ballenato, salsa, reggaeton… Emerson knew half the town so we spent half of our time greeting people. And ask quickly as we got there did everyone else disappear when I met “chinita”. I don’t know what it was but there was something about her that made me want to dance with her, and only her. But, being the tit that I am I chatted for a few minutes and went on my way with Mario – regretting my own spinelessness. But fate intervened and threw her into my path again, and this time I did not let it slip. We danced and laughed and talked for an all too brief moment before she had to go, but it was enough for me. I became blind to everything around me, and extended my stay in Honduras just to see her again.
I was infatuated. I offered to give her a ride back to Tegucigalpa just to spend a few more days with her. I knew I could not stay, but I wanted to see where it would all go. And it went to many beautiful places and moments, including a national reserve in the mountains outside the city. We went for a hike in the forest, during the rainy season, in the epicenter of the world’s dengue epidemic. And because I could think of nothing but her I neglected to put on sunscreen, or bug repellent – it just all seemed irrelevant. We had a lovely time, and a couple of days later I brought her back to Choluteca.
We arrived in the evening and went straight to a softball game that her dad was umpiring. I was instantly deep into the game, focusing more than I thought I could on something so trivial. And then suddenly I felt really tired. It made sense considering the long, hot ride I just had, and it was getting late. I decided to lay down for a few moments and take it easy. The next thing I knew I was being shaken awake by chinita and her family – the game was over. I opened my eyes but could not move, my stomach was killing me and I felt like a giant, heavy blanket was covering me – I couldn’t even lift up my head. But everyone was leaving and I couldn’t just stay there in the bleachers, so I had chinita help me up. My head began to swim and I stumbled alongside her toward Georgia. It must have been quite a sight! Her family thought I was drunk, but all I could say was that I was very tired. I mounted Georgia and followed chinita to Mario’s house. I don’t know how I did not fall over – I couldn’t see straight, everything was swimming, I was too weak to stay upright or hold Georgia straight… but I did, and somehow made it back to Mario’s house. There was none home, but I told chinita to go on.
Eventually someone came home and let me in. I stumbled into Mario’s room and went to bed. A few minutes later the headache and fever began. It was hot, humid and miserable. I started taking Advil and Tylenol and even a Percocet, as nothing was helping. I had enough sense to find a rag and get some ice water in a cup. The problem was the ice would melt instantly and I would have to get up every few minutes to get more, along with more water. The whole night I spent going to the bathroom, getting and drinking more water, making ice and applying the cold compress. All I wanted to do was lay there and rest, but there was no one to take care of me. Finally toward morning the fever broke, but the headache persisted, and a general feeling of discomfort and weakness settled over me, and would not leave me for 7 days. Every minute felt like an hour. No position was comfortable, my skin was irritated by everything, I had no appetite, and every time I would close my eyes I had to get up again.
It was not until a few days had passed like this that I finally saw a doctor and got a blood test which confirmed my platelets and white blood cells were dropping rapidly – which confirmed that I had dengue. Finally chinita came to be with me for a few hours. In fact, during my week of hell I only had someone to bring me something and be with me for less than 24 hours. Sometimes there wouldn’t be anyone to take me to the lab, so I would get in a cab to go the 5 blocks to get my blood tested. At least in the evening someone would bring me to the clinic for my IV of electrolytes. At night it would always be worse, and my body would spasm out of discomfort. The doctor prescribed coconut juice, fruit juices, and the like… but it took so much to beg people to help me find it. Sure, they were nice enough to let me stay, but I never thought people could ignore so much someone who was potentially mortally ill. I can’t imagine someone staying at my house and me not doing everything I could to make them feel better. I never felt so alone.
By the end of the week my platelet and white blood cell count was down to almost zero. At this point if someone sneezed in the same room as me I may have died from the cold. I kept waiting for the numbers to stop dropping (which would be a sign that the worst was over). Eventually they did, as I am here to write about it, and after a day they slowly began to rise. I had faced death yet again, and somehow survived. But the toll the dengue took on my body would not go away for a very long time. I left Honduras a few days after I was officially out of the danger zone and rode into Nicaragua. But I was not the same man – I was weaker, generally nauseous, had a constant headache, and barely had the strength to ride.
But I had no choice but to continue my journey – I was dammed if a mosquito and the blindness of infatuation would be what put an end to my book.