The Toyota taxi’s engine sang its tune and I
could hear it missing a beat or two. I glanced out the open window and saw a man on
his bicycle, wearing the tallest-crowned cowboy hat I had ever seen. But the
hat wasn’t what caught my attention. Instead, my eye was drawn to the machete
that was tucked ever so neatly between his bike’s frame. That is when it all
started, on this road near the airport in San Pedro Sula.
As we moved on to
Copan Ruinas, a fascination bordering on obsession with machetes began.
One morning I was walking to the town’s square when a large truck pulled up
near the laundry. The driver jumped out and in one smooth continuous
movement, hopped onto back of his ton and a half. Even from a distance
I could smell the sweet, freshly picked cantaloupes that were piled high in
the front of the bed. The back end was brimming with cocoanuts.
Loose bags of citrus were sprinkled on top of the produce like snow on top
of a mountain.
The driver, whom I later came to know as Pedro,
reached for a cocoanut. At the same instance, with his calloused right hand, he
grabbed a time- and weather-honed machete. With one deft lop, off came the end
of the husked fruit. F-f-f-f-f-w-w-a-p. Pedro tucked a straw into where its
end had been and handed the cocoanut to a young boy about 10 years old.
That did it. I had to have a machete. The quest was on.
Our trip continued through the mountains of
southwestern Honduras. Everywhere I looked I saw machetes. But the machete was
always out of my reach: along the road, out the bus window. I became
fixated on the machetes.
My wife, privy to what I had assumed as a
private obsession, was benignly amused. She suggested that I was going through
male-a-pause, right here in the middle of Honduras. I gave her observation some
consideration and found it a plausible idea. But, I quickly suggested to her, “It
could be worse.” I pointed out to her that I could be cruising for a new convertible.
Doesn't that put it all into perspective? When I told Dee that, I realized that my brother, soon to strike 57, had to have a machete
as well. After all, he drove an ’87 Buick Century and was faithful to his
wife. I am all for family harmony.
Soon we stepped down from the bus in La Ceiba
for a planned three-day visit. I just knew I would strike gold here. As we
entered the hotel, a bellhop in a gray uniform with burgundy buttons greeted
us. His name badge said, “Jorge Romero.”
“Senor Romero,” I began, “can one buy a machete
here in Ceiba?”
“Of course sir,” he replied. “Would you like
me to help you find one?” From that moment on, Senor Romero became Jorge and we
were men on a mission.
That evening, I couldn’t get steel out of my
mind. I dreamt of myself as a buccaneer from days gone by (a Robin
Hood-type who this time around spoke flawless Spanish). The next day, I awoke
early; Jorge would come on to his shift early that day. 7 a.m. – no Jorge. 8
a.m. – no Jorge. At 8:07, I went to the front desk, and in a concealed rage
asked where in the world Jorge was. The morning clerk (one of those perky
types) politely told me that Jorge would start his shift that day at 1 p.m.
Jeez, talk about long mornings.
I was tapping my foot when Jorge arrived.
Before I could even greet him, he took one look at my eyes, smiled and said,
“Esta listo, Senor? (Are you ready sir)?” And off we went, ignoring Ms. Perk’s
protestations. Jorge and I yammered about machetes the whole way to the shop
(like I really had something to add to the conversation). Finally, Jorge led me
into the tiniest of stores - - one that seemed to be carved right out of the
sidewalk. It was musty and dark, but ah, what treasures it contained. Hanging all
over the place were dazzling, gleaming steel blades that had the prospect of
having my name on them! Each one called out to me.
Now the hard part began. Having already
determined that price was no object, I picked up one after another (Jorge was
doing the same thing and I wondered if he needed one as well). Soon, my arm
found its own natural extension and I knew I had found the one, right
here in Ceiba. Jorge kept looking and soon handed me its twin for my brother.
I paid the clerk. My chest was puffed out as we left, machetes in
hand. I had arrived.
Now the Hard Part
That afternoon, my wife and I visited the TACA office right off the square to
reconfirm our return tickets. As I sat down with the clerk, I allowed her
time to verify our reservations and flight. As she finished, I said,
“We are flying to Roatan. Is there any problem with putting my machetes in our
checked baggage?” She picked up the phone and while she dialed San Pedro Sula,
I offered a silent prayer. Would God listen to my prayers in Honduras?
After a bit, the clerk said, “No sir, there are
“As long as you have him on the phone,” I
continued, “please ask that supervisor if I will have any difficulties with U.S.
customs.” They talked for what seemed an eternity.
Finally, she said very assuredly, “No sir,
there will be no problems.” I left the office triumphantly and once again a
strong Believer. I promised to go to church on Sunday.
We spent the better part of the next day
running down a cardboard box for my prized possessions. My wife, ever the dear,
found a shop in which they had a box that was just the right size. At a
hardware store, I bought some shipping tape and wrapping cord. I was in
business. That afternoon, my wife packed the machetes into the box with our
dirty laundry and I taped and wrapped it up, complete with carrying handles.
Never has a box been so lovingly taped and wrapped.
Moment of Truth
The next morning, we arrived at the Ceiba
airport. From behind the counter, the agent asked, “What’s in the box?"
I began to sweat. Silently I thought, “What business is it of
hers?” My whole life flashed in front of me in a
nana-second and I blurted much too loudly, “dirty wash.”
It seemed like the agent paused forever before taking the box off the scale and
tossed my precious cargo down the mouth of a baggage eater. Phew. So
far, so good.
Outside, under a warm sun, we climbed into our
15-passenger Let-410 for the twenty-minute flight to Roatan. As soon as we took
our seats, my wife elbowed me. Glancing over my right shoulder, I saw a
several pallets of
pineapples, melons, and accompanying fruit flies that were going to fly with us. I was
amused. Never flew with melons before. But what happened next shook
The baggage handler was tossing our baggage
right behind us! Surely he wasn’t going to put our “dirty wash” here in
the cabin with us, was he? He looked like he was finished and I didn’t see
my box. Looking outside at the baggage cart, it was empty. Oh for crying
out loud, they had already lost my machetes. But at the last moment, the
handler on the ground tossed the box to his co-worker on the plane. Boom.
Right over my shoulder sat my wife’s box with dirty laundry and my trendy
machetes. Oh my gawd. Now what? Did I say something to the
crew? Right, like, “Sir, I have a machete back here?” No, I don’t
think so. Let’s ride this one out, I thought. And nothing came of
Customs Awaits Thee
The next week, we had to fly back to the States and I went through
the same drill with the ticket agent -- "my wife’s dirty laundry" -- and soon
we were in the air, Miami bound. As the plane's engines slowed, I knew we
were beginning our descent. All
of a sudden, the idea of bringing machetes back from Honduras didn’t seem as
brilliant as it had in Honduras. The
flight attendant came around with U.S. Customs’ forms. Oh nuts. I
thought quickly, declared everything we bought and sat back. Dee glanced
at the list I had completed and pointed to the last entry and said, “What’s
“Why, that’s 2 machetes,” I proudly whispered.
“I can’t read that,” she declared.
“I know,” I said with satisfaction. I
smiled at her but she wasn't smiling back. I wondered how many years I
might get for bringing the machetes into the country?
We landed and my wife’s dirty laundry box
finally arrived. Almost there. While I was retrieving the luggage,
my accomplice scoped out the Customs’ lines. “This line, hon,” she said.
”Why,” I asked.
“Just trust me,” she said. Man, that wife
of mine is slick.
With that, my wife proceeded to chat up the
Customs’ clerk and before I knew it, we were home free. All my contrived,
nonsense lines weren't needed. (You didn't think I was unprepared, did
you?) The Custom's man hadn’t
even asked me about the last entry on my
form like Ol’ Eagle Eyes had on the plane. Now on to Wisconsin. Home
We drove up to the house and got out into a foot of snow. We were both
exhausted after 15 hours of flying and connecting. But before calling it a
night, I prayed: “Dear God. Thanks for the safe trip. Bring on
the sun so that I can get out into the garden and whack down last year's
perennials. I promise not to cut myself, Amen.”
And with that, I moved into slumber, once again dreaming of being a swash-buckler, complete with gleaming