Many of you have heard about the rooster crowing at the crack of dawn, but I am sure many of you have not experienced it in reality. In reality they get started well before the crack of dawn! Errr, er, errrr, er, errrrrrrrrrrr! They began at 4:00 am much to our dismay being as tired as we were. But, what can you do when the roosters all around the mountain were having a contest on who had the best crow. It was like a game of echo starting from afar and getting closer and closer until the one right under our window would throw in its best shot.
Needless to say sleeping any longer was difficult at best. It was a matter of holding out until dawn did come so you could see while walking around. By the way, there is no electricity here as of yet, so there are only lights when the generator is running. And with the cost of diesel, it runs only at night before bedtime. There has been some delay in the electricity becoming a reality. I sent the money over more than a year ago to get it done, and they do have all the poles up, but the electric company has yet to come and string the wires. Apparently there has been a change in government from the conservative to the liberal party, and the electric company being a political entity, has caused some delays. They assure me though that the electricity will be on next month (January 2007). We will see in time, but hopefully it will be on and running for the next trip down.
Anyway, it is now Christmas Eve and this is the big holiday celebration in this culture - not the 25th like we have it in the USA. It is a very different way of celebrating the holiday as well, even though they are all Christians, there was no tree and no presents. Here they did have some paper stockings hanging outside the door and a Christmas bell. In addition, they had some Christmas lights strung across the eve of the house out in front. These were the only signs of the pending holiday. But the celebration to come was far more wholesome and enjoyable than back home in the US where it has become a commercial game of keeping up with the Jones's - the primary reason I have quit participating in the season. I must say it has been a great experience to get away from the US for this holiday as it has brought back some sense of spirit for me.
We began the day with the typical coffee and some kind of hard cornbread. Just about every morning starts in this fashion. Afterwards many of us loaded up in the truck, the new Nisaan Douglas bought for the family, and headed off towards the city of Choluteca. We were on a mission to get food and other trimmings for the big day, oh yeah and of course the cervasa. Altogether it was Anibel (our faithful driver), Kevin (the businessman), Nahum, Douglas and myself in the cab and riding in the back was Ariel, little Kevin, Dinorah (my wife), Jarida and baby Ledys.
This trip to town turned out to be quite the experience that I was not anticipating, nor was Douglas. It all started out with a normal kind of trip to the market, an open market that is. We went into downtown Choluteca to the main market. I had been here before on the previous trip, but I had not ventured so far inside. I had skirted the market and looked at hard goods on the first trip, but this time we went inside of the food part of the market. It was an experience I would not soon forget and probably never for that matter.
In the beginning we were after the vegetables and that was innocent enough with women at their booths selling onions, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and other various fruits, vegetables and roots. This was nothing out of the ordinary from what I had seen before. While going through the market I lost my sense of direction as we continued to go deeper and deeper inside. It was a loosely roofed building with varying floor heights throughout. The hot sun peeking through the scattered tin above. It was very hot on this day, so hot in fact it was very close to unbearable and my shirt and hat were completely soaked by the time we emerged from the market. And then there were the incredible hoards of people out and about shopping for their holiday feast. So just walking through the market was an experience in and of itself trying to get a group of people through the maze that it was carrying all the bounty and squeezing through and between the people.
Suddenly the heat increased and we came upon make shift kitchens where cast iron skillets were frying food on open fires right in the walking aisle! One false move and you would have boiling lard dumped on your leg. I suppose it was some sort of restaurant area where vendors would sell their goods or maybe sample them. But there were tables on the other side of the aisle where a few people were sitting and enjoying their food. Douglas and I both looked at each other with amazement, likely both thinking this would never be found in the US. Then we came upon the big surprise.
Directly after the makeshift restaurants was the meat market. And man it was enough to turn the stomach of a sheltered American. Luckily I have had plenty of experience viewing food in various forms of presentation in other countries such as China so I could handle what was to come, even if I got a little flushed. There were many booths where vendors had raw cuts of beef hanging from cast iron hooks, but the cuts were nothing recognizable, just beef muscle marbled with fat. Douglas said he grew up in a meat packing plant and he did not recognize these cuts - nothing like we would cut in the US.
But that is just the beginning. We started thinking about it and looking at the different booths. It was so hot and we both knew that there must be so many small parasites growing all over this area. It is amazing that people survive like this, but it is the way and has been the way here for generations. It is not like there are lots of refrigerators and cellophane wrapped Styrofoam containers in this country. While Kevin and Nahum were choosing their cuts I noticed other patrons walking around handling the beef inspecting it like Americans would inspect a tomato in the produce section. One can only imagine what living organisms were coming into contact with the beef. Douglas and I were both relieved when they had chosen the selection of meat and the vendor had put it directly into a plastic shopping bag because we could finally leave.
There was one last stop on the way out, and that was for cheese. At this booth they were straining the cream and making the cheese in large blocks. Nahum designated some weight of cheese and they cut it off, weighed it and put it in a bag and we were on our way out. We finally emerged from the inside and found ourselves back in the street where the hard goods were being offered. As we were making our trek through this crowd we stopped to by a few things such as shampoo, fireworks and such. Finally we found our way out of the market and back to the truck where Anibel and the girls were waiting for us.
Of course, now that we had the primary mission complete we were headed right? Not exactly. In typical Latino fashion we still had several stops to make on the way. The next stop turned out to be a department store of sorts, at least a store that sold furniture and appliances. At this store Douglas bought the family a new television and an oscillating fan. This took some keen negotiation to get the right price which demanded that Douglas and I fall back and act like we did not know Kevin and Anibel whom were making the deal. If the salesperson knew we were with them she would not give as good a price because we "rich" gringos. I am not exactly sure of the final deal, but I believe they were able to talk them down from 3,800 Lempira (Honduras' currency equivalent to approximately 18 Lempira to a dollar) to 2,500 Lempira. Not such a bad deal for the 21" TV.
Douglas, Anibel and I then went back to the truck and drove around to the store where Kevin and Nahum loaded up the goods. On to the next stop! Luckily we got to sit inside with the air conditioner rather than in the back where there was just sun and heat. We started heading out of town when it was realized that we forgot the piņata. A U turn was made and we went back to a store near downtown and got a large "Pooh" piņata for the kids.
Again we were headed out of town and back to the ranch when we suddenly pulled over to buy more fireworks. There are several fireworks stands near the rodeo arena all tucked up inside this fence. On the roadside were sales people for each of the stands all competing for our business. As soon as we pulled over we were overwhelmed by the vendors as Kevin wisely rolled down the window before exiting and simply pointed chose a single vendor by pointing so the rest would let up and let him out of the truck. He then went over to the stands and purchased a big bag of fireworks so we could light up the night sky.
On the road again, but this time for only a few blocks as we then pulled into this little mall. Here they had a proper grocery store, one any American would recognize with aisles and air conditioning. At this stop we needed to get soda, candy for the piņata and of course plenty of cervasa to get through the night. We ended up getting a case and a half of Barena as well as two bottles of liquor, some Bacardi rum and the other a clear alcohol made in Nicaragua that tasted similar to vodka. Now we were set to get back to the ranch and begin the festivities.
We were almost back when again we made another stop. This time it was quick in the little village of Yusguare where Kevin exchanged the battery. The battery is a proper automobile battery, which is used here for power during the day. In this case I believe they used it to try out the new television. At night they have the generator to operate all the lighting and for us gringos to charge up all of our electronic devises such as this computer, our cameras and cell phones.
Finally we made it back home to the ranch. Now with some preparation time the party was set to begin. The ladies began cooking while the rest of us took some time to relax and enjoy the day. Little Kevin went and got the horses, Rosio and Morena and saddled them up. Nahum, Douglas and I took them for a quick spin here in the yard to get a feel for them. Then Ledys and I took them up the road to the little store to buy some Coca-Cola for everybody. It was quite fun to be riding the horses for the first time since I bought them almost two years ago. But we could not ride them too long as it was so incredibly hot and they were soaking wet with sweat after the journey to the store. So we put them away when we got home and hung out until dinner was done.
For dinner we had steak, rice, kidney beans, a tomatillo salsa, some cabbage salad topped off with tomato and cucumber slices and of course some tortillas. It was quite a delicious dinner and a good hearty meal to help absorb some of the beer. We were drinking it already at this point and continued to do so late into the wee hours of the night, until everybody was simply too tired to go on. After dinner the kids got to get blindfolded one at a time each taking their turn with the piņata. All of them cycled through the process before it was finally pierced and the candy started falling out. When the candy fell out, the kids would swarm in to get their share! It is always so funny to watch them go at it. In the end they all bring pieces to share with the adults. It was some good hard candy I must say.
Once it got dark we all gathered around for dancing and joking with lots of laughter and smiles. It was a very good family fun time. Finally I could not go on as I was still very tired from the trip and the short night of sleep. So I went to my room and curled up in bed ready for some rest as I knew there was much more in store as this trip had only just begun.