Frogs and Feathers
One of the unexpected bonuses about Hacienda San Lucas is that they take care of transportation. They arranged a chartered bus to get us from the airport to the Hacienda and, for whatever excursion we wanted to take, there was Cesar to take us.
Cesar is crazy! Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good driver, but his sense of humor kept me smiling and laughing every day. I have so many stories related to Cesar.
Cesar the Driver
Let’s start with Nikki’s desire to drive the… the… I’m not sure what kind of vehicle it was. I have never seen a car/truck like it. I think it was from Kia. Apparently, they are not sold in the USA. Everyday Nikki would say to Cesar, “Can I drive?” Every day, he would respond, “Yes, yes. Of course…. Tomorrow!” It felt absolutely sincere and yet everyone knew it was a tease back and forth. But there was a real desire to drive the fun Hacienda vehicle for Nikki despite knowing that it was not really reasonable. Underneath his response “Of course!” was the spirit of “a la orden”.
One morning we arrived ahead of Cesar to the truck. I encouraged Nikki to get in the driver’s seat and tell Cesar when he arrived that “it’s tomorrow”. I think his heart skipped a beat when he saw her in the driver’s seat. “Of course, of course… it’s tomorrow” he responded a little nervously as he got in the other side of the car. Nikki had no intention to really drive but carried on the joke and backed the car. “You got permission from Jose Adan, right?” Cesar asked. Nikki said no and then I noticed a slight panic behind Cesar’s eyes. About then Nikki put the car in park and got out and Cesar slid into the driver’s seat with a sigh of relief. As he put the vehicle in drive and moved ahead a few yards his phone rang. It was Jose Adan. I don’t know what he was saying, but we looked up and saw “the boss” step toward the roadway talking on his cell phone with Cesar. Maybe Jose Adan had seen Nikki in the driver’s seat and Cesar was in being reprimanded, but Cesar gave no indication to us that he was in trouble. He would not have said a thing even if that had been the case. It felt like we were part of the Hacienda San Lucas family and “dad” had eyes everywhere on his “kids”.
The Hacienda car had room for 3 in the front and 4 could squeeze on the back bench seat. There was a kind of jump seat behind the font seats so someone could sit knee to knee facing the back seat. It’s not that it was comfortable to put that many in, but it was possible. And then, in the bed of the truck, which was a flatbed with a shallow railing, people would stand and hold on or sit and brace themselves. Standing allowed you to use your legs as shock absorbers over the bumpy roads. In the USA, such transportation arrangements would be appalling, but there, it was normal and the adventurers like Eric and Chuck seemed to enjoy it. Nikki and I tried it out on a couple of short rides and it was pretty fun, I admit.
There were always people (and sometimes cattle) walking along the steep, bumpy, dirt road that led to and by the Hacienda. Cesar would slow to a brief stop and let walkers get on and off the truck. I often sat next to Cesar in front and he would explain things to me. Once he explained that a man we had just past was almost home so he didn’t stop for him. I asked if he knew everyone that walked along the road. “Of course. They are all neighbors that live around here.” One time there were 3 or 4 women that hopped on. As he stopped to let them back off at a fork in the road I realized one of them was Yuli, my 16-year-old friend from La Pintada that I had walked and talked with on Sunday. I called out to her as the truck moved, “Yuli!” I called and waved. Our eyes connected and we both smiled at each other. As we pulled away, I wished I could have jump out and given her a hug and asked how she was today, but I felt a connection that spanned culture, location and age.
Wednesday was set aside for an excursion to the sacred waters of Jaguar Hot Springs. I was so grateful for the “cowboys” in the back on the truck willing to stand for the 75-minute drive both ways. It was high in the mountains and it had rained a lot the day before. It rained so much in the mountains that the Copan River that passed by the Hacienda had swollen to a shocking depth overnight. As we climbed the bumpy mountain roads we had to ford some rillitos (riverlets) that flooded over the gravel road. On the way back, it was raining and I kept thinking I needed to “send a thank you note” to the people standing in the back which allowed me to sit in the front!
Cesar told me his boyhood memories about hunting with his older brother in the woods next to the river we were following. Along the way, he pointed out large estates built with coffee money by the wealthy coffee plantation owners. The vomit-like smell that we sometimes passed was from coffee production. After picking and washing the beans in huge holding vats, a sludge remains and decomposes making that unmistakable, sick smell. Then on the way back, in the rain and dark dusk, he explained that the big trucks with at least two dozen men crowding into the truck bed were the coffee workers going home. The economic divide was obvious.
One afternoon he drove us to a shop called “The Tea and Chocolate Place” that, curiously, only opened from 4:00-6:00 pm. He told me a story on the way. I guess it was just a fact, but I wanted more details and it turned into a story in my mind. He said, “We used to grow tobacco here, but we don’t anymore. It’s been about 15 years.” I was not sure why he was telling me that, so I asked, “Why not?” He explained that tabacco is a very dirty crop and not good for the land.
I was trying to imagine farmers making a good living off of a cash crop and what threat could possibly motivate them to stop growing it. “Cesar, how did that happen? What motivated the farmers to stop growing it?” “Well, the farmer that grew it is a good man. People came to him and explained how it is bad for the soil and the long-reaching negative effects of it and he said, OK, I’ll stop growing it.” My mind started to process this scenario. What? Do something just because it is the right thing to do? My consumer-infested mind was both baffled and thrilled. “He’s a good man. It was the right thing to do” echoed in my brain. I tried to imagine a world of good people doing things just because it is the right thing to do, even if you lose money doing it. What a wonderful concept!
I found out that Cesar’s house is literally next door to “Te y Chocolate”. When we got closer he said, “almost everyone that lives on my street is family”. He waved and greeted almost everyone… but he did that everywhere we went.
As typical of cities I knew in Mexico, Central and South America, the streets are lined with homes that are attached fortress-like. It was a privilege to see Cesar’s front door. I imagined his wife and children living there while he was driving guests to places near and far. I asked if I could meet them, but he explained that she had taken the kids to the city that week for some needed medical treatment. There is always more to a person’s life than meets the eye when you get to know. Things that you don’t share at work. Things pertaining home and family life. Things deep inside that we sometimes don’t share with anyone. Things we are often shy to ask about or share. Things people really don’t want do hear about when we ask, “How are you?” Or do they?
As we walked from the street through the patio gate of “El Lugar de Te y Chocolate”, there were beautiful plants with blossoms hanging. Nikki said it was “Honduran Mistletoe” and made Eric and me pose.
Inside we were greeted by an intelligent and articulate young lady named Carolina. She had us gather around for a quick “tour” and explanation of the shop. First, she explained that they only open from 4-6pm because this is their home. We were in a beautiful show room, but the hallway led to their living quarters.
They spend most of the day cultivating plants. Some are native to the area but endangered, and others are non-native but useful plants that are suited for the climate including herbs to make medicinal teas. The native cacao is an important and valuable product with its well-known health benefits. They also made soaps, lotions and hot sauces that we could sample, along with many hot teas that they continually made and brought to us to sample. In addition to selling these products, they sponsor field trips for schools where kids help with the plants and receive education about the importance of maintaining the ecosystem of the area.
Cesar the Stone carver
There were carvings around the Hacienda that, in Cesar-style, he pointed out. The ancient Mayan’s ruins were filled with amazing stone carvings like this pillar called an “estella”. These ancient monuments were carved using stone “knives” to cut the stone; truly unfathomable to my modern mind. The tradition of stone carving has passed down through the generations and Cesar, as a young child, was taught the art. I asked him if he would carve a “sapo” for me. “Of course” was his reply. “Tomorrow”. This was no tease, though.
The next day he showed me the rocks he had picked up in some mountain areas and I watched the transformation in his able hands. It took on-going work between other duties to complete his stone carvings.
The next day he had completed two sapo carvings and was beginning a third. Several of our group wanted them. We asked him how much to pay him for the carving. “Five dollars” he responded. In unison, Eric and I said, “No! That is not enough! You need to sell these to tourist for more than that”. Cesar’s quick come-back: “OK. Then $100.” We laughed so hard. It required us to put the value on his work.
The problem was that we did not have enough money to match the actual value in our hearts. He insisted that he made all three “sapos” for us. (frog photo at the end of this post) They are a treasured link to our “Crazy Cesar”.
Cesar the Concierge
One final memory. Cesar was not just a driver and artist, he was “concierge extraordinaire”. On the last full day when I chose to stay back instead of going to Macaw Mountain bird sanctuary. As I explained in this post, I asked Matt to look for a feather for me. To my surprise and delight he brought me a huge, red Scarlett Macaw tail feather that Paola sent as a gift for me. Holding that feather gave me a better idea of how big these colorful birds are. I loved this feather for all it represented on so many levels and I wanted it as a reminder in my home with all of my heart. But how was I going to get it home without destroying it?
My idea was to create some kind of a tube. Maybe with enough newspaper and tape I could do it. I went to “concierge Cesar” to look for supplies. When I explained my need and idea, he said that the feather would still get bent. He paused and thought for a moment. A light came into his eyes. You need a PVC pipe! He calls to one of the other guys and sends him to go cut a piece of pipe. I go to get the feather. The pipe is too short, so I leave the feather.
When I come back, Cesar shows me the pipe and the feather… but there is another beautiful blue feather with it. It is a tail feather of a Motmot bird. This was the most striking bird I noticed flying around. It looks like it has a little tassel on the end of its tail feathers. I was almost in tears from the privilege of receiving such a gift. I had no idea how rare it was until I got home and found out that Paola, my bird-loving friend that works at the bird sanctuary, had never seen a Motmot tail feather. Ever.
The frogs and feathers now reside on my mantel reminding me:
- I can help people with an open heart and by so doing, help shape them beautifully like Cesar skillfully shapes stones and people.
- I can be observant and share my observations with others in humble and quiet ways.
- I can help people problem-solve using resources I have at hand.
- I can give meaningful gifts to lift others.
- I can be CRAZY! People like that. At least I like the way that Cesar is crazy. And I will never forget him!