Cruise From Hell
A Funny Story About a Father’s Love
© Copyright 2014 by Frank Mann
2014 Travel Nonfiction Winner
Photo of the author.
“Ah he's kidding, Pat. You know our Dad.”
“I don't think so, Frank, He doesn't kid over something like that.”
Again Dad asked us, “Did one of you pick up the plane tickets? They were right on the dining room table. I put them there this morning so there would be no way to forget them when we left for Miami.”
Dad had a seriously worried look on his face, one that belied the great humored, really fun guy that Pat and I had called Daddy since our births, a year apart, starting back in 1940.
George Mann, at age seventy-five, had harbored a dream for years about doing something really memorable and special with his two sons while he was not only still alive and healthy enough to enjoy it himself.
A lifetime woodsman, he'd had us in the outdoors since we could barely walk. At age three we could both recognize a whippoorwill’s unique nighttime cry or an owl's hoot. Even then we both could tell a raccoon track from an opossum or squirrel or rabbit.
A really different hunting trip was what he had settled on over a year ago, so Pat and I had cleared our calendars for the ten-day trek and started dreaming about the challenge of hunting down "El Tigre" in Central America. This was his gift to his boys, now in their early forty's. How happy he seemed that late afternoon as he kissed Mom good-bye, and Pat and I planted the obligatory smooch on our own wives.
We'd drive to Miami that evening, grab a motel, then catch the red-eye flight to La Ceiba, a large coastal city in Honduras, next morning.
It's one hundred forty miles and nearly a three-hour drive from Fort Myers to Miami, so you sure wouldn't want to forget the plane tickets, which turned out to be exactly what we did.
So instead of getting a good night's sleep in preparation for the before-dawn call from the front desk to make it to the airport by 7AM, it's back in the car to drive halfway back to Fort Myers, while Mom and my wife, Mary Lee, start from the other direction, headed toward Miami.
Mom found the tickets, neatly bound by a strong rubber band, sitting on the trunk of her car where Dad had carefully placed them in their carport while we loaded all the gear into my own car which would be the one we drove to Miami.
Such a beginning might have been an indicator of what the trip was going to be like. But if we had known in advance all that was going to happen we would have never believed it and would have probably gone anyway.
And go we did, albeit a little bit sleepy, as we fastened our seat belts, took off, and headed west, across the Gulf of Mexico.
A basic made-in-America jet got us safely to La Ceiba and we stepped off onto the soil of Honduras.
No problems. No tickets forgotten in the motel room.
But the next leg toward our ultimate jungle destination found us in the classic DC3, straight out of World War II, operated by some God-forsaken native airline completely unfamiliar with the National Transportation Safety Board we had come to take for granted in the States.
It wasn't the cages full of chickens we had to squeeze by to get to our seats that made us nervous, nor even the vintage motorcycle strapped haphazardly to one side of the passenger section where several seats had been extracted to form the "commercial" section. The thing that really caught our eye was the black oil slick running back from the left engine compartment onto the wing, which began shortly after we had taken off.
“Por favor, mira, mira,” I called in my best high school Spanish to the middle-aged stewardess who had helped board us earlier, along with the chickens and the other items. The panic in my voice didn't seem to make any difference as she casually responded with what I thought was—“Oh señor, eso no es problema. Todo es OK.” (All is fine, I think she was saying.) And down the aisle she bounded serving her café to other native-looking passengers, themselves totally oblivious to the oil which now covered a good portion of the wing.
Mercifully that leg only took about fifteen minutes, and soon we were landing on a dirt-strip runway in the middle of nowhere, with not a building in sight. This was our destination, apparently, as the very calm veteran hostess pointed us to the door. I thought I heard her mutter “estupidos gringos,” as we gratefully scrambled down the shaky staircase that appears when you open the one passenger door in a DC3.
Four or five locals followed us out of the plane and stood with us within a few feet of it as we watched the nonchalant captain drag out aneight-foot folding ladder and climb up on the wing, roll of paper towels in hand. He took little time to wipe the worst of the slick away. He then calmly proceeded to pour three quarts of oil into the engine compartment, then came down the ladder, put the ladder away, closed up the little door, fired up the engines and taxied away, with not so much as an “adios.”
There we were, three lost gringos and four natives of Honduras on the edge of a dirt strip with not another living soul in sight. No building. Not even a shed. And forget about a bench.
Bright hot sun was beating down on three totally clueless Norte Americanos who were expecting, at the very least, to have been met there by our guide or his representative in some form of vehicular transportation.
But suddenly the locals began chattering and pointing to the edge of the field near a small clump of trees about a half-mile down the strip. I made out what appeared to be an oxcart being pulled by a very old little Ford-looking tractor and coming our way. Our “taxi” was arriving as it apparently always faithfully did when it heard the DC3 land and take off.
Still, even when it got to us, Pat, Dad and I kept looking for the real car. But it didn't take long for us to figure out the drill when all the natives immediately bounded onto the cart and took the only bench seats. Pat and I hoisted our seventy-five-year-old Dad onto the back of the cart and hopped up on what little room remained. And off we went.
To where? Only God, the native passengers, and the tractor driver knew.
It actually only took about ten minutes until we arrived at a little village complete with a one-block-long downtown, one building of which proudly displayed an internationally recognizable telegraph sign.
About a dozen little kids, maybe ages five to twelve, quickly surrounded us as we dismounted our elegant transport vehicle. I had purchased several packs of M&M's before leaving home in anticipation of such a meeting, and instantly I was the hero of the town as far as those kids were concerned.
Finally, from out of one of the much-worn looking buildings appeared a non-native who introduced himself to us as our guide.
He had stepped down from a crude wooden sidewalk onto the dirt street, which had suffered greatly from the previous rainy season. Washouts, some wide and nearly a foot deep, made foot travel a challenge and the Ford-tractor taxi trip truly a memorable experience. A short trek down the main street could have been fatal for a hemorrhoid sufferer.
Crocodile Dundee our guide was not. He looked at us for a moment, put his hands on his hips, rolled his eyes and breathed in his most exasperated fashion, “I thought you boys would never get here!”
Yes, the guy who would take us on our macho adventure to hunt El Tigre in a Honduran jungle was gay, which struck me as funny since it was so unexpected.
I had a fleeting impression that we might enjoy having him for a guide, but he dispelled that notion when, after introducing himself, he angrily told the children to leave us alone and to go away. Or at least I think that's what he said to them because they quickly stepped back. His Spanish seemed adequate, but English was obviously his native language.
All in all, I ended up giving him a D-minus as a guide. His low grade had nothing to do with his manhood and everything to do with his total incompetence, both as a hunting guide and as a Bed-and-Breakfast host.
I have mercifully forgotten his name, and I pray that no one will ever remind me of it.
From somewhere there appeared two natives who would act for the moment as porters, then later on as part of the hunting team that would take us into the jungle for the hunt.
Dad, Pat and I had each packed one medium size duffle bag, which they carried a good way down the street to a little frame house at what seemed to be the edge of town near a small bay of water.
This was to be our Motel Six for the night, but they forgot to leave the light on for us. That probably had something to do with the fact that there was no electricity. In fact when we left that place the next day it would be nine days before we would experience AC power again.
We were taken inside the house and directed to a small bedroom with three twin beds. I believe there was a crude table as well. But that was all. The walls were all paper thin, and from the noise from the next bedroom that evening, I'm pretty sure the guide had rented our quarters from a local family, who for that night and a little money had rented one bedroom to the Manns, party of three.
One of the many sounds emanating from the next room that night was the unmistakable tinkle from a little girl's pee hitting the bottom of a light-weight metal pan. That was the closest thing to indoor plumbing we would find, as our bathroom was outside and about seventy feet or so from the back door, cleverly disguised to look like an Appalachian privy. And the rules were "BYOP" as in “paper,” which fortunately we had been warned about and had stocked up on for the whole trip.
It was mid-morning the next day when we finally were loaded into two very long, probably twenty-five feet, dugout canoes. They were equipped with vintage Briggs & Stratton engines attached to a long shaft that turned a propeller. A third canoe would carry additional supplies and three more of the porters.
Pat and I rode in one canoe and the guide and Dad rode in the other. A native in each boat served as the driver. The bay was about a mile across and would take us to a small river which flowed into it from the other side. Since I wasn't walking or rowing, I was beginning to think this wasn't at all a bad way to travel.
Silly man. Less than halfway across the bay the canoe carrying Dad eased to a stop. Our canoe approached carefully to see why they had stopped. And there holding a spark plug wire, which used to be connected to the single spark plug required to make the engine function, sat a befuddled guide. With his hand gestures he was able to make us understand that the plug had simply popped right out of its base and now lay in about ten feet of murky water.
So there we were, barely half an hour into our big hunting venture, broken down. “Dead in the water” came to mind. And that we certainly were. A strange caravan we became. With the guide holding on to our canoe with his hands, slowly we moved forward to the other shore.
We landed about two hundred yards to the side of the little river, on a clearing just large enough to hold two small thatched-roof structures and one enclosed hut with but a single door opening and no windows.
We unloaded the supplies from our one good running canoe and then the guide sent it back to town in search of another spark plug, if one even existed. It would be a miracle if these natives would ever find such a plug in the right size in that tiny village.
Pat and I killed time with short exploratory walks and by taking photos. We tried taking a nap, but in ninety-five degree heat it was not possible. (In the days and nights to come, sleep was brought on by sheer exhaustion, which easily overcame the heat.)
Dad, a skilled artist and designer, amused himself drawing pictures of our boats and our tiny village and its inhabitants. Pat and I had never known him to go anywhere without a pen or pencil and something to draw on.
The rescue canoe reappeared a little before sundown, and none too soon for us. We were thrilled to learn that the porter had in fact found a spark plug that was not only the right size, but it WORKED.
So now the team could set about fixing supper.
I had been more than a little curious about food, since there were no ice coolers and no visible means of carrying anything that might spoil in the oppressive heat. I had to assume that somehow they planned to soften up some dried meat of some sort and serve it with beans or rice, which would have required no refrigeration.
Part of the plan, all along, was for Pat and me to shoot local game, which was said to be plentiful. But today's events had prevented any hunting from occurring.
Pat and I had earlier discovered some iguana lizards tied together on the floor of the little hut, and he had joked that we were probably looking at our supper. It was indeed fascinating to see how the locals could secure the critters from escape in what seemed to us a cruel, yet effective, way of using their own bodies for string.
The iguanas have long toes, at least four, maybe five inches long. So their captors can break them and actually tie them together behind their backs. In such a manner the iguana can last several days, so who needs ice? You simply butcher them when you're ready.
Well, folks, dinner they were, along with a local potato-like vegetable the natives pulled right out of the ground. They called it chuka, and I recognize it today as the same thing sold in many Tex/Mex restaurants and markets.
Thank God for chuka, as I was not yet ready, or hungry enough, for Honduran lizard. A few bites of that little root did get me through the night. I had taken a couple of small bites of the iguana, as the guide had insisted it was OK and wouldn't kill me.
Surviving the night was all I could claim, because upon waking I'll tell you I was one hungry gringo.
I couldn't imagine where they got them or how they may have carried them in the boat, but there, grilling in a cast-iron fry skillet, was the most beautiful bunch of scrambled eggs I had ever seen.
I was disappointed because they appeared to me to be overcooking it. The eggs were beginning to look more like corn bread.
But thankfully I could fill up on that familiar breakfast treat, and then spend a part of the day hunting the ducks, game birds, peccary (a wild pig) or whatever else we could find for our next really fine meal.
As young kids Pat and I had long ago learned to appreciate wild game. Indeed part of the lure of this trip had been the thought of killing what we would eat.
Finally one of the guides handed me a plate. I leaned over the fellow cooking and accepted what was clearly a huge and selfish helping of the eggs. I even accepted a small portion of lizard, as a courtesy to the chef and from knowing that I had not died during the night from the little I had eaten the evening before.
Gulping a huge bite, it was already in my stomach when I realized this food was not eggs. "Christ Almighty and Mother of God!” I know I said to myself, in what was definitely not a prayer.
I had just consumed the foulest and rankest combination of putrid nourishment you could possibly imagine. Somehow, I'll never know just how, I managed not to puke. I had already turned my head so no one in the group could see me. I was so hungry and ready for that first bite, I had not even sat down.
There I stood, still starving; yet still contemplating throwing up, and knowing there was nothing else within miles that I was going to get to eat. Never in my life had I ever experienced real hunger. And before this fun trip I would never have believed how such agony could manifest itself in just over one night. Stark reality was upon me. I could eat this stuff, or I could die miserably in Honduras.
I managed to ask the guide what it was that I had just eaten. “Oh, that was eggs. Iguana eggs. How did you like them?”
"Oh fine, just fine,” I lied.
I looked back down at my plate, praying it was all a bad dream.
The guide took me over to one of the natives who was cleaning another iguana and securing its eggs. I had seen many an animal cleaned, but not a lizard.
Nestled right down among the guts of a female iguana is a long intestine-like membrane jammed full of pure yellow eggs the size of marbles. All you do is grab one end of the sack, hold near that end with the other hand, squeeze gently while pulling, and all the eggs pop right out the bottom. There could be as many as forty. Easy enough to do and understand, but it didn't make them taste any better.
But as the minutes passed my hunger, little by little, overcame my disgust, and soon my "cornbread" was down my hatch.
From that point forward, I was no longer a hog at meal time. But neither was I picky. And I gave more and more thought to all the blessings of the world back home that I had always enjoyed.
After falling a full day behind in our hunting schedule due to the motor problem with the canoe, we were glad to finally begin progress up the river we had camped near the previous day.
The guide had apparently planned certain camp sites as goals for each day. We would then use them as base camps for a day or two for our hunting forays.
The mouth of the river was, I'd guess, one hundred and fifty feet across, but it began to narrow noticeably as we continued on upstream.
We had traveled barely two hours when we came to a large tree that had fallen across the entire width of the river, which at that point had narrowed down to approximately thirty feet.
It was a big tree, with a diameter of at least two feet. Large branches protruded everywhere, and there was no possible way for our lengthy canoes to pass by, over, under, or around.
Portage around was simply out of the question as the boats were just too large to carry or even drag. And forget about a chain saw for chopping the tree. We had nothing but hand tools with us, and only one ax at that.
The guide ordered our crew to set about chopping. And chop they did. In fact, an hour later when they broke the ax handle, they were about three-fourths of the way through.
After a good cussing out in Spanish by the guide one of the crew produced a small hatchet, with which he proceeded to craft a new ax handle from a fairly straight limb off the same tree they had been chopping on. And darned if he didn't have the new handle installed after about thirty minutes.
It still took at least another hour to finally cut the tree in two. But if we thought we were anywhere near passing on through the cut area, were we ever wrong. The tree did fall apart, yes, but the opening between the two parts after they separated was barely two feet. The width of the canoe was closer to three feet. And the remainder of the top of the tree was so large there was no possible way to drag it clear. Nothing to do but start chopping again and try to shorten the stump at least another foot.
And my compliments were certainly with those guys. Two of them, taking turns every five to eight minutes, whacked an additional full foot or more off that upper stump, creating just enough clearance to finally ease the hull of that huge canoe through the hole.
One of those wood-choppers had become the bow man in our canoe, as the motor alone couldn't maneuver the canoe enough to make all the tight corners in that now very narrow river. Sometimes they just poled their way along, as the motor at those points proved useless.
My man had worked up quite a sweat after hours of hacking and whacking in that merciless heat and humidity. Truth is he and his clothes (hardly clean to begin with) stank to high heaven. The air was very still, and my seat in the canoe was very close behind him. Never have I had to suffer such horrible body odor and not be able to get away from it. For at least an hour I gasped for fresh air, with virtually no relief.
Then a small miracle occurred, and I will never doubt the fact.
Leon (pronounced Lay Own) fell slap out of the canoe while trying to clear us from a small tree branch.
The water was surprisingly deep, and Leon completely disappeared for a second or two. When he finally bobbed back up he had the most terrified look I have ever seen on a man's face. And he did his best imitation of Jesus walking on the water as he scrambled up the shore a few feet away from the canoe. Actually he seemed quite capable of swimming.
It was later that I learned from the guide how frightened the natives were of both snakes and crocodiles, which are fairly common in Honduran rivers. No way was Leon going to swim or jump back toward the canoe. He stood virtually paralyzed and frozen to a tree on the shore and waited until we were directly beside him before he released his grasp and came back aboard.
But the miracle I mentioned was that even though he'd been in the water less than a minute, his desperate thrashing had the same effect as a washing machine paddle, and Leon came out of there smelling sweet as a spring rose.
The effort of trying to get up that thin ribbon of water had the additional effect of causing the two lead canoes (the ones carrying Pat, Dad, and myself) to become separated from each other with nightfall coming.
Pat and I were in the lead vessel, and we were expecting Dad to appear behind us at any minute.
We finally pulled up on a small beach that was formed on the inside edge of one of the many meanders that formed all along the river, and planned to wait for Dad.
Darkness was coming on quickly, and we were beginning to become a bit concerned. But going back downstream looking for him in pitch dark didn't make sense at all.
Nothing to do but pitch camp right there and wait for morning.
But even that notion was fraught with problems. First of all, we had no type of a cover or tent at all. We did have in our canoe some semblance of bedding and some mosquito nets as well. All we could do was prop up the netting on four sticks, throw in what bedding we had, and call it a night.
Of course that meant overlooking any thought of dinner, because all of the food, what little there was, and all the cooking gear was in that other canoe, or the third one that had been bringing up the rear since the first day.
It's funny how your taste changes in twenty-four short hours. I was NOT looking forward to going to bed again hungry and I was now wishing we had brought along some of the iguanas that we hadn't cooked the night before. Last I saw of them, several were still in the little hut with their toes still tied behind their backs.
The situation was bleak. But I saw something that night that I have never seen before and will probably never see again.
With darkness about to overtake us, one of the guides was creeping along the shallow part of that meander with what was left of the sun behind him. Then he froze and then bent over slowly, getting very close to the water. He then thrust his hand quickly down and grabbed something.
It looked like a Florida lobster, as we call them, with a large tail and no front claws.
The critter must have weighed a pound and a half. It was a huge fresh water shrimp. The guide jabbered away trying to tell me its name, but all I know was it looked exactly like a shrimp, but was six times the size of any I had ever before seen.
In no time we had a fire going, and the shrimp stretched over it, cooking. Drawn butter? Not likely. But that meal was one fine banquet. And even though I shared that supper with two guides and my brother it was wonderfully filling.
But the night's adventures had only just begun.
The other canoes never appeared and there was nothing to do but go to bed and see what happened next morning. Which is what we did.
Though we had no food or cooking gear, at least we did have the bedding and mosquito netting we had brought in our canoe. But no tent. So we propped up our netting right there on some sticks we had jammed into the sand. Then we spread our light blankets under this. So that little beach meander would be our home away from home for the coming night. We crossed our fingers that there would be no rain. As it turned out there was no rain that night, or at any time during the entire miserable trip.
Though, as I told you earlier, we had planned to eat what we killed on the trip, the primary goal for game was the Central American black panther, known to the natives as "El Tigre Negro." This is actually a jaguar – but one with lots of black pigment in the skin. They are pretty common there. According to our weird guide, there were plenty around that territory, though you still had to be lucky to get one.
The only weapons we had were a couple of old shotguns the guide had. Mine was a twenty gauge, and I think Pat's was a twelve. And luckily they were in our canoe. I don’t mind telling you that I retrieved mine, loaded it, and laid it beside me as I prepared for sleep. I had come to hunt El Tigre, and didn't plan to have it go the other way around as I lay there totally vulnerable on that tiny beach that night.
“Fitful” is the only way to describe my efforts at sleeping. It was hot as all hell. Mosquitoes found a hundred ways to get into my side of the mosquito bar. And yes, I was more than a little nervous lying there and thinking of NOTHING but El Tigre wandering around nearby. He must be enjoying all that human-flesh odor on the evening breeze–what there was of it. And when I wasn't thinking about that damn cat, I was frankly more than a little worried about Dad and what trouble he might have run into. If I slept at all that night it was mighty little.
I have no idea what time it was when it occurred, or whether I had drifted off for a few minutes or maybe even a couple of hours. But I am totally sure what I heard was NOT a dream.
I heard footsteps in the high grass not twenty feet from where my head was resting. And these were footsteps only a cat can make. I've seen Florida bobcats stalk game, and I've seen house cats do it dozens of times. Slow, deliberate, step by step, tail twitching, eyes burning in concentration on the victim they both see and smell. I could hear the tall grasses rustle as the huge animal slid by them and slowly and softly approached closer and closer.
I had seen the grass while it was still daylight, and it reminded me of (and may have been exactly the same as) the sawgrass in our Florida Everglades with which I am very familiar. It will scratch your bare legs if you're in shorts and it always makes that same noise as you brush against it.
Well folks, I was one scared Mutha (use your own word here). I had a loaded gun, more like a popgun against a full grown jaguar, lying right beside me. But it was pointed toward my feet and the cat sounds were coming from behind my head. I was so frightened that I actually froze and was completely unable to figure out how to turn that gun around and get it pointed in the right direction—at a target I could not see, but could only hear.
As I lay there my mind went to a bedtime story Dad had told us years ago when we were maybe seven or eight years old. It was about the time he called up a wild cat with his turkey yelper while hunting for a gobbler.
I almost wet the bed even then just listening to Dad describe the stare down between that wild cat and himself. The climax came when Dad jumped to his feet and threw up his gun with one arm while madly waiving the other and hissing loudly simultaneously. (Dad was an acknowledged expert with critter sounds, especially turkey calls.)
Well, to hear Dad tell it, that cat jumped straight up about six feet, turned completely around in midair, and hit the ground scratching off as he got the hell out of the way of that wild man.
And scared as I was in that Honduran jungle that night that story became my game plan.
Mustering all the courage I could find in my frozen body I threw back the mosquito netting with my left hand and grabbed my gun with my right. I was able to twist around without shooting myself. Instead of hissing, I shouted as loud as I could “YA! YA! YA!”
I'm still alive today so I can tell you it worked.
Just as I had heard that animal stalking me, I now heard him leaving me in huge bounds that must have covered a good ten feet each leap.
I stood there trembling as the leaps faded away. The only people more frightened than I was were those poor guys in the beds next to me who were so very sound asleep when some fool right beside them started yelling “YA! YA! YA!” at the top of his lungs.
Early in the morning I saw Pat rinsing out his shorts in the river. He claimed it was only because he had sweated a lot the day before.
That's my El Tigre story, and that's the closest we ever got to one the whole ten miserable days.
It turned out that Dad and the other canoes showed up just after daylight, all fine as could be. They had simply lagged behind us and got out of sight and opted to pitch camp themselves at a good location while they had plenty of light.
Later that day we arrived at a place that was to become our permanent camp for the remainder of time we were in the jungle. We were now reconnected with the other boats and camp staff who set about building a thatched roof shed with off-the-ground beds made out of split bamboo strong enough to hold fully grown men. We had brought along some air mattresses, so sleeping became much better from that point on.
Supper that evening was iguanas again, which the porters had captured that day. They're plentiful everywhere but hard to catch. Maybe we shared four. Nobody got stuffed. But that night things finally changed for the better.
We loaded back into the canoes with our guns, and for the first time in our lives Pat and I went fire hunting. This involves shining the eyes of the game at night. Of course it's completely illegal back home, but where we were there were no laws and no game wardens.
Our game? Something the natives called a “tapis quently.” Hadn't heard that name before or since. But I think it's the same as what others call a capybara. Bigger than a full grown male raccoon and a member of the rodent family. I don't know if it was just the constant hunger pangs by then or what, but as I fondly recall it was damn good eating.
We poled two canoes along the shoreline and shined a light just along the edge of the woods. And sure enough, we got two that night.
You think we waited until morning to eat 'em? Not a chance. We did have salt and pepper, and some grease for frying, and I can't possibly tell you how good that meat was around 10:00 that night.
Next day the food situation continued to improve when I shot something similar to a turkey, a large bird anyway, that easily fed half the camp. And I can tell you those folk don't throw much away.
We also assisted the guides, who found iguanas in the trees. We popped them to the ground by shooting in front of their noses with our shotguns.
The next day was the bonanza that fed us the rest of the trip. Pat and I almost died of heatstroke as the lead guide who was with us in the woods that day actually got us lost. But we blundered onto a pack of peccary, which is a South American type of pig, and managed to kill two of them.
It took an hour longer to find camp again but there was genuine celebrating when we returned dragging those pigs behind us.
I must tell you that the United States Food and Drug Administration would not have approved of the way they clean their pork.
First, before it's gutted, they drag it over and through a fire until all the hair is singed off. At our hunting camp in Florida we always just skin our wild hogs, but the natives of Honduras aren't about to waste that tasty skin. After thoroughly singeing and scraping the whole peccary’s skin, they drag it to the river to gut.
The timing of removal of the unwanted internals occurred when Pat and I were in the river and was actually hilarious now that I think back on it.
The porters, led by Maria, the one female in the whole support group of six, dragged the carcass into the river, knives in hand. They then proceeded to clean the critter. This was upstream from where Pat and I were bathing, au naturel, so the blood and guts and God-knows-what-all washed on downstream to us and all around us. We were so hot and stinky we didn't even move and in a little while you would never have known the river had just served as a slaughter house.
The bath was critically important to us, for among all the other miseries we were enduring were the serious cases of diarrhea all three of us had picked up by the second day. I will not go into detail except to say it wasn't pretty.
In addition to the food we did not carry with us was the clean water we also did not carry with us. So besides the twenty-four cans of beer we had brought along (which we chilled in the eighty-degree river water) we drank the only thing available–the river water.
I will only say that our private parts were badly in need of a bathtub, and the river was all there was. In ten days of fun and adventure we each lost at least ten full pounds, the combination of river water and the new light diet.
Poor Dad managed to lose his voice as well shortly after we got into the jungle. He never had intended to hunt but only to watch his boys enjoy themselves. He busied himself while we were out hunting by drawing pictures and taking photos.
That was good, since on the second day I dropped my expensive camera right into the river. I was able to retrieve it, but it never worked again.
The Honduran experience turned out to be the first time I had ever looked forward to the end of a hunting trip.
Mercifully, it did finally end and Dad, Pat and I found ourselves back in civilization in the wonderful city of La Ceiba, in an honest-to-God real hotel, though a Five Star it wasn't.
It did have soft beds and a shower and a little restaurant which served watermelon, the first food I recognized since we arrived in this third world country. It was cold, and good, and we just about finished a whole melon. We stayed there one night and arrived a full hour ahead of schedule for our plane the next morning.
That flight home became the last straw of a hay bale of bad events from the most memorable trip of my life.
But one funny thing happened even on the way to the airport. Our taxi driver's English was about as fluent as my Spanish, but it made for a delightful conversation and a helluva laugh when I explained what we were saying to Dad and Pat.
I figured out that he was trying to ask me why we had come to Honduras. I managed to explain that we had come “buscando para El Tigre,” hunting for the big cat in the jungle.
His quick response came in the form of a question, “Ustedes beben el agua? Muy mal.”
“Did you guys drink the river water? Very Bad.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Porque los animalitos en el agua.”
“Because of the little animals in the water,” I understood fairly clearly.
What a laugh the three of us had. All of us had experienced devastating stomach distress during the trip and even now did not dare pass gas or sneeze, all due to drinking the river water filled with all those animalitos.
At the airport we approached the counter, tickets in hand, a good forty-five minutes before our planned departure. In very broken, barely understandable English the attendant explained that we had just missed the plane.
The rules there were different from those applying in the states. It seems that some extra passengers had appeared that morning, filling the plane to its capacity. They simply gave our seats to those folks and whoosh – it took off.
As there were not a lot of planes flying between Miami and Honduras, it required my best efforts with my limited Spanish to find us another flight.
But now, instead of going direct to Miami, we had to go via Guatemala City. And that extra stop then required a whole additional complex set of steps just to deal with another country's customs rules.
And to make matters even worse, the change of flights ended up forcing my wife and mother to make a second trip to Miami to pick us up, since we weren't there the first time.
But we finally made it home and the misery finally was over.
I couldn't wait to get into my very own shower and get really clean in hot water for the first time in twelve days.
What a joyful experience!
But what a shock I got when my wife shrieked as she saw me step out onto the bath mat.
I was covered with tiny ticks. The more we looked, the more we found. Over fifty little freeloaders in all.
As I think back on it now, somehow, over the years, the most miserable hunting trip I ever survived became the funniest trip I ever took.
Of course we never let a syllable of complaint slip out to Dad. But before he died, he, Pat and I must have talked over and laughed about that nightmare trip a hundred times.
even today, as I think back on it, I can only thank God for the Dad
He gave me, and for the love Dad and Mom both showed me all my life,
and for the trip my Dad took me on for his seventy-fifth birthday.