The pouring rain pitter-patters on the metal roof over our heads. We are sitting and talking by candlelight, our shoes and pants soiled from the muddy walk up the mountainside to my home for the night. My host is the benevolent Don Jesús, a local school teacher and community leader in Tule. Jesús is soft spoken and passionate about improving his wonderful but extremely poor village.
Our conversation is interrupted when Jesus notices something scurry across the wall behind me. The look on his face makes me think it might not be one of the harmless lizards I had been seeing throughout the day.
You don’t have to speak Spanish to know what Jesús just muttered under his breath. Sure enough, I look behind me and see a nasty, sinister looking beast perched ominously about 12 feet up the wall. All black, six nimble legs, two nasty looking pincers, and a big, gnarly tail. It’s the biggest scorpion I’ve seen outside a zoo (wait…have I ever actually seen a scorpion outside a zoo?).
Jesús calls his son in to do battle with our venomous villain. Armed with a machete, he leverages himself up onto a stool and begins stabbing and slashing away at the fleet-footed creature. The scorpion dodges several blows, his gnarly tail poised in a striking position, before the blade finally lands, pinning him against the wall. Jesús’ son holds him in place, pressing down onto the machete with his other hand. The scorpion’s legs wriggle and tail flares as he struggles through his last moments on this earth.
When the kill is complete and the body deposed, Jesús pulls his bible off the shelf and flips through it. He eventually finds what he’s looking for, smiles, and hands me the book, pointing to the passage I’m meant to read.
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” – Luke 10:19
It is my first night in the mountains of Honduras.
The sun rises around 5:30 in the Honduran mountains, but I usually wake with the roosters, who begin their morning calls about an hour before. Thankfully the coffee here is rich and delectable and quickly rouses me from my groggy state. The best coffee I have is with Noe, a farmer in Tule who works on a parcel of land that churns out thousands of coffee beans every week. He sells them, along with other crops, and even operates a small sanctuary for tropical birds of paradise, selling mostly small parrots as pets in surrounding communities.
Not five years ago Noe tells me he had nothing. His family was perpetually hungry, they did not have a roof above their heads or land to cultivate. He had little prospect of a better life for him, his wife, and five children.
In 2011 Noe began working with Vecinos Honduras and the Trinidad Conservation Project.(TCP) They provided him with a parcel of land to build a house and grow on. He worked 12 hour days for weeks, building his house with his two hands, clearing the land until it was ripe for cultivation. As we walk he proudly tells me there used to be nothing here. Now he sells thousands of coffee plants every year, his family is happy and healthy.
You’d be hard pressed to find Noe without a smile on his face. I feel tingly with happiness as he raves about future ambitions for his work with Vecinos and TCP (or maybe it’s his amazing coffee making my tingly).
I am following my hostess in La Majada, Candida, through her village. A group of children are trailing close behind, giggling and running around. We enter a piece of land that has been abandoned due to infertile soil.
The parcel has been subjected to the slash-and-burn farming technique, which involves cutting and burning trees and plants to create a field suitable for short term cultivation. The result is a land that can be grown on for a year, maybe two, before the nutrient deficient soil is no longer usable. The practice is not sustainable or scalable, especially in such communities as La Majada, where land is scarce.
It is unnatural, a twisted practice, and is disruptive to the ecosystem, Candida rightly condemns it.
Shortly later in our walk I see it being carried out firsthand. The “Burning Man” must have moved on from the parcel we just saw and is now burning down a new field.
Candida walks by without comment. After we pass, she tells me no one in her group (the farmers of La Majada who are working with Vecinos Honduras) has used this technique in years.
“I hope my children can some day live in a village without slash-and-burn”
I am resting at Candida’s compound one late afternoon, reading my book, Long Way Round by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman. It is a wonderful story. A pair of best mates traveling across the world on the back of two BMW motorcycles, through Europe, Asia, and North America, navigating such untouched places as Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Siberia. Things inevitably go wrong and they have some jarring moments, but the end result is one magnificent narrative. Starting in London they head eastward and eventually arrive in New York. The long way round.
McGregor, who you know as Obi-Won Kenobi, and Boorman are gifted orators and offer a charming take on their adventures, the antics they have to deal with, and the people they encounter. I love reading about an epic journey while on an admittedly less epic journey myself.
The book was “written” by having the two mates recount their experiences through the spoken word. As such, their words are the only source of English I’ve had for over a week. It’s been all Spanish, all the time. In fact, my last conversation in English was with Janary’s friend in the Tegucigalpa airport some eight days ago. He manages the Tegucigalpa and Roatan airports and speaks immaculate English.
I also haven’t eaten meat in about a week. I think about this as I read, while little pigs tumble around at my feet. Across the yard, some not-so-little pigs are also hanging out, sleeping, eating, or meandering about with the ducks and roosters.
The baby pigs are just ridiculously cute. Barney Stinson was right in How I Met Your Mother, teacup pigs are the ultimate chick magnet.
And someday these little guys will be eaten. So it goes.
However, the reality is that these pigs actually live pretty good lives relative to their kinsmen that live and die in the factory farm system that is abused all over the world to the detriment of these poor animals. The pigs and birds around me at least get do what they’re currently doing – be free from confinement.
I feel pretty good having not eaten meat for a week. My body feels strong. I have more energy. I’ve long detested the meat industry. Could I sustain this? Is this my wake up call? The thought lingers in my head as the little piglets adorably struggle to climb up onto my shoes.
I am in Cablotal, the last stop on my tour through the mountains of Honduras. It is the smallest of the three communities I have spent time in. There are only 25 families in the whole village. As such, my arrival is a big deal.
My hosts, Marco and Blanca, organize a meeting in the one room school center which serves as the place of learning for children across all age groups. Aside from Marco, women and children are the only ones in attendance as the men are out in the fields tending to their harvest.
In the other communities there was no sort of gathering like this, as such I’m not really sure what I’ve gotten myself into. After Marco introduces me I find I’m standing in front of the group, explaining that I’m working with Vecinos Honduras and that my purpose is to listen and to write stories to be published online. I get mostly blank stares from my audience. When I wrap up I’m not entirely sure they understood what I was saying.
Marco thanks me for what I’m doing, which is reassuring. We then embark on my third and final community tour, with virtually every child in the community in tow.
After getting some great content during my tour, I sit down with Marco for some lunch and a conversation.
As we nibble on our rice, beans, avocado, and tortillas, he echoes the words that I have been hearing constantly throughout my time in the mountains.
“Gracias a Vecinos Honduras”
It feels good to hear every time. But as I continue to listen to him, I get the feeling the support means even more given how small the community is. With fervent passion in his voice, he tells me that the resources provided by Vecinos Honduras have created a more healthy lifestyle in Cablotal and have given his brothers and sisters hope.
Every material Vecinos provides goes toward sustaining and improving life in Cablotal. They are used to build silos, chicken coops, stoves, ovens, orchards, fences, and more. Because the community is so sparsely populated, these things go even further in helping a family live a healthier life.
I ask Marco to repeat everything on video, he accepts. In our interview he is noticeably less passionate. Camera shy, perhaps. Still, I am happy to have captured his words for others to hear.
After lunch I join the kids in a dirt yard for some football. They shout “Gringoooooo!!” every time I score through the makeshift goal made of two rocks. The screams must have been heard throughout the whole community.
The night before I went to Cablotal, I once again stay with Don Jesús after being hosted by other families for several nights. He goes to bed early, so I do the same, physically and mentally worn from long days of early starts, endless walking, and challenging conversations in Spanish.
As I lie there I scan the walls, making sure there are no more scorpions lurking about ready to drop on me while I sleep.
I notice a scene unfolding on the ceiling. A mosquito is circling the single light bulb suspended above my head. Round and round and round it goes. The community of Tule only got electricity five years ago, but this buzzing bug has had it his whole. In fact, right now this light is his whole life. Little does he know his life will soon be at an end.
As the mosquito makes it’s rounds, a lizard scurries across the wall, positioning itself near the bug’s flight path. His little head pokes out, carefully watching his prey. I feel like I’m watching something out of Planet Earth happen right in front of me. The mosquito flies too close. The lizard makes its move. His tongue shoots out with blinding quickness and latches onto the insect, pulling him into his mouth.
Who needs internet when you can watch shit like this?