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Traveling with Children in Honduras by Shirley Shepherd

“I don’t want to just play baseball with them. I want to talk to them," said my eleven-year-old grandson Dustin referring to the local kids in Costa Rica where we vacationed last year. Just as Dustin and his twin sister Miranda wanted to learn Spanish, the Costa Rican kids were interested in practicing English, but after they said hello, what is your name, what is the name of everyone in your family, they were all stuck. It didn’t keep them from having a great time playing soccer and swimming together, but, frustrated Dustin said, "I’m going to save my money and go to language school next year.”

And so my husband Dorin and I started down the path that eventually led to three weeks in Honduras in February 2007 with Dustin and Miranda.

We checked online for full-immersion language schools--the inexpensive kind--in all Central American countries. Keeping safety issues in mind, we decided on Honduras and then on the Ixbalanque Language School located in Copan Ruinas near a significant sight of Mayan ruins. These turned out to be excellent decisions.

We decided to spend two weeks in Copan followed by a week of relaxation on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. On Roatan, we planned to meet Dorin’s brother and his wife, Gary and Sherry. Gary is a scuba diver and Roatan is said to have some of the best live reefs in the world.

Ixbalanque (pronounced eeks bahl ahn kay) was established in 1990 by Darla Brown, a volunteer who didn’t speak Spanish and who saw the need for a language school. When she opened the school, Amadea and Kathy Guerra were the first teachers. The school received certification for good service in education and eventually, Amadea and Kathy became the owners. The school steadily expanded as the number of students increased. In September 2006, the owners and several teachers flew to Argentina where Ixbalanque received the prestigious Award of Educational Excellence by the Iberoamerican Council.

In January, 2007, Amadea and Kathy moved their successful school to a beautiful new building. At the time we enrolled, the cost for the total immersion program was $210 per person a week which included, in addition to school tuition, accommodations with a local family, three meals a day and laundry services.

We were concerned that they wouldn’t take children as students, but they were enthusiastic about it.

Edgar from the school “held our hands” via email throughout the planning process advising us that the closest airport was San Pedro Sula. He sent us a list of hotels and we selected the Tamarindo hostel (www.tamarindohostel.com, 504-557-0123) owned by Juan Carlos and his wife Angela because the price was right, $28 a night for all four of us. In English they emailed us they could pick us up at the airport ($20) and take us to the bus station ($15) the next morning. No worries about getting a cab or wrestling with language problems.

I’d read the warnings about wandering around San Pedro at night, so I was concerned about what we’d do for an evening meal. Juan replied, "There is an excellent restaurant--good food, fine wines--across the street from the Tamarindo." Angela would make us breakfast the next day for $3 a person.

On the plane, we were given forms to fill out we would need for customs. As we approached the airport at San Pedro, the green, I mean deep, emerald green, surrounding hills came into view. For the first time, Honduras started to become real--not a name learned in geography class or a pastel-colored smudge on the map, but a reality.

Our plane had been held up in Atlanta waiting for a group of twenty people who were going to build a church in rural Honduras, so we were almost an hour late. Thinking Juan might have given up on us, I worried. We could get a taxi except I had neglected to bring the address.

The airport in San Pedro Sula was easy. We reclaimed all our luggage, and I say all because this was the last we were ever to see all of our luggage together. In the customs and immigration area, a Honduran “people herder” pulled us out of a long line and indicated, with hand motions, we should go through a short line for people with children. Stamp, stamp, stamp and they waved us through. I still had one document left in my hands they didn’t seem to want. I slipped it into my passport holder that hung from my neck.

The kids and Dorin shouldered carry-ons and picked up the closest suitcase. I trailed Dustin’s bag and raced toward the exit doors. And, Juan, just outside of the glass doors, held up a sign with my name on it. Relief.

An official stepped into my path and asked for the form no one else had wanted. I couldn’t get it out of the holder with one hand, so I let go of the suitcase and yanked out the form. Afraid Juan would disappear from sight, I ran to the door, leaving Dustin’s suitcase behind, never to be seen again.

Juan introduced himself, loaded our luggage and chatted with us on the way to the hotel. Among the tropical trees we saw many familiar, fast-food chains on every block. “Pizza restaurants are very popular,” Juan said.

Dustin, intrigued by a water park with a giant slide, was disappointed that we wouldn’t have time to visit it, but we made a mental note this would be fun for the kids in the future.

The Tamarindo, located on a quiet, tree-lined street, is protected by security gates. They cater to the backpacking crowd, but they were also perfect for us. We had told them our situation, so they had prepared our room with a set of bunk beds for the kids and a double for us. We also had a private bathroom with shower.

Juan and Angela are professional entertainers, singing with a band in the city on weekends. Their first CD, soon to be released, had just been finished by a Brazilian producer. Both hosts are down to earth, genuinely wonderful people. Juan spent the afternoon with us, showing us, via his internet, places to visit in Honduras. If we had needed it, free internet access was available to us. A small, lovely garden in the front of the hotel and a shady veranda provide comfortable places to relax outside.

Dustin and Miranda were immediately captured by Tamarindo’s resident parrot who loves to sing. They kept a dialogue going with him and the seeds were sown: we needed a pet parrot. Juan and Angela also have a dog and Dustin played catch with him until the dog wore Dustin out.

The restaurant across the street, Deriva, lived up to Juan’s promises. Their Peruvian cook served the best ceviche Dorin has ever eaten. The extensive menu is varied, and I believe anyone could find something they would enjoy.

In the morning, Angela prepared a delicious typical breakfast for us, tortillas filled with eggs, ham, cheese, salsa, refried beans and sour cream. Based on our first two meals there, we were feeling optimistic about the quality of food in Honduras. Dustin asked for another eight-ounce glass of orange juice and, before we could countermand his request, Angela jogged out of the door and to the store to buy more. Dustin felt so bad, but she said it gave her good exercise. We found this "happy to be of service" attitude in Hondurans everywhere we went.

Angela threw our luggage into the truck and drove us to the Hedman Alas bus station where she helped unload and showed us where to buy tickets. She had double-parked so we hugged good-bye, and she jogged to her vehicle. She returned minutes later to give us stuff, that in my haste, I’d left in her vehicle (yes, there is a pattern here) and we said goodbye again...but not truly goodbye. Fifteen minutes later, she returned because I’d left the water bottles that we’d brought from home, in her kitchen.

Remember the old movies showing buses in the tropics with goats and chickens as additional passengers? Okay, I admit it, this image had crossed my mind. Then, revelation: luxury coaches with bathrooms, airline-type security, professionalism and the buses roll out frequently.

But only one bus, we knew, would be going to Copan that afternoon. We sat in the waiting room, straining to pick out the word “Copan“ in the rapid-fire Spanish announcements, but we needn’t have worried. The Hedman baggage guys, realizing we were inexperienced, kept track of us, tagged our luggage, and motioned to us at boarding time. Though we were white-haired, old folks traveling with children, the security people did not stint on the carryon search.

The seats were better than the airline variety. Two attendants traveled on the bus; one of them handing out snacks and beverages. They showed Disney’s remake of Around the World in Eighty Days, selected perhaps because there were children on the bus, and they loved it.

As we wove into the mountains, Dorin and I were stunned at the high quality of the Honduran roads. Having spent weeks driving around Costa Rica where the roads, outside of San Jose and the Pan American Highway, were abominable, we welcomed this totally unexpected change.

The lush green mountains offered a new vista on every turn, so I missed most of the movie, but the kids laughed, big-belly laughs, throughout. A quick tip here: the road winds sharply so if you’re susceptible to motion sickness, you might want to medicate before you leave. I did pop a Dramamine once underway, and one passenger asked for a barf bag, but we all escaped needing one.

In Copan Ruinas, Kathy (pronounced Kah tee) and Amadea, the high-spirited, fun loving owners of Ixbalanque School met us and loaded us and other new students into an extended-cab truck. The men got to sit in the back with the luggage. Kathy cracked jokes as she whisked us over narrow, steep cobblestone streets. The city of Copan is built on the side of a mountain, and, we were later told, on top of Mayan ruins.

Kathy left off the other students at their hosts’ house, and the kids used that moment to climb in the back of the truck with their grandfather. Riding in the bed of a truck is something they’d never done and weren’t going to miss this opportunity.

The four of us were quite nervous about meeting our host family, so we watched with interest as the students were introduced to their family and then went into the house together. It looked easy enough, but then, we’d heard these students speak a little Spanish.

Dorin and the kids did not speak Spanish. I knew a lot of vocabulary but could barely order coffee or a bottle of water in Spanish and ask, "Donde esta el banco," (where is the bank?).

Miranda, who likes to know in advance how every new experience is going to turn out, had been particularly concerned. Would there be dogs? What would we do for food? What if we were thirsty? How would we know where the bathroom was?

Suddenly, we were face to face with our host family and about to be abandoned by Kathy and Amadea. Our hostess Melva and her family were welcoming. We didn’t understand anything except their names, and for this we had a cheat sheet--the school had emailed us their names.

Using Kathy as an interpreter, Melva asked what kind of food we liked. I stifled a devilish impulse to say, “Low-fat, low-carbo, typical American food.”

When I replied, “typical Honduras food,” I sensed relief from our hostess who turned out to be a great cook.

We were given two rooms with lock and key and a private bathroom with shower. We also had a private entrance through a security gate. This was perfect as we could venture out and explore without disturbing the family.

This was Saturday afternoon, so we had the weekend to check things out before starting school on Monday. With my limited Spanish, I tried to tell our hostess that Dustin had no clothing because I had lost his suitcase. “Dustin no tiene ropa. No maleta.” (Dustin has no clothes. No suitcase.) Melva got the idea and walked with us to the store where she helped the clerk select complete outfits from the skin out for Dustin. The quality of the low-cost clothing made us decide next time we would bring only a minimum and buy what we needed when we arrived.

Melva also found a long, swirly skirt and sandals for Miranda who was easily convinced to add them to her already extensive vacation wardrobe. Thank goodness I had not lost her suitcase; it would have been a major trauma.

We had not yet been able to get our money changed and the shop didn’t take credit cards (though many do) so Melva paid for the clothing, and we repaid her later.

We greeted anyone we passed with “hola,” or “buenas dias,” and they always responded but were reserved with eyes down. This would change radically in the coming days.

The first week of school, we were scheduled to attend from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. This left mornings for exploration of picturesque Copan Ruinas with its stucco buildings and fresh air, moto-taxis that zipped around. We weren’t sure we could use the appealing little taxis because we didn’t speak Spanish and, let’s face it, didn’t know where we wanted to go.

So we hiked. It took a couple of days before us old guys stopped huffing and puffing halfway up each hill, but we finally got used to it. Because we were on foot, the kids discovered the heladeria which offered ten flavors of excellent ice cream. Twenty years ago, I had discovered uva (grape) ice cream in Puerto Rico and figured I would never sample it again. But there was helada uva beside the pina colada, pistachio (Dorin‘s favorite), and cookie dough. After that, we were daily customers with the twins checking out a different flavor each day.

The school year had not yet started for the Honduran children and kids five or six years old followed us around trying to sell brightly colored, corn husk dolls. The sturdy and attractive dolls were only $1 a piece and we bought five of them. (They traveled well on the way home and arrived in excellent condition.)

The souvenir shops, loaded with a variety of handcrafted gifts all at the right price, were terrific. The prices were marked in Lempiras or dollars or both. Ask the clerks, “How much?” and they will tap numbers into a calculator and show you the screen. American dollars usually need to be ones or fives. The gift shops usually take credit cards, and the clerks are very familiar with the rate of exchange. This means you can shop ‘til you drop.

We were so excited by the inexpensive, beautiful items, we were limited only by how much luggage we could carry home. I bought two handmade-in-Guatemala bags for this purpose.

We were not surprised to find several internet cafes, one of them close to "home." In Costa Rica we had found internet cafes even in the smallest, thatched-roof villages. In Copan, the technology exists in a community where local produce is still brought in by pack horse. Miranda is our "horse person" so she was thrilled when we frequently passed the horses in our travels around town.

Monday, we headed for school, our notebooks and pencils clutched nervously in our sweaty hands.

Ixbalanque Language School in its elegant new building far surpassed our expectations. There are two floors with sixteen classrooms all opening to a landscaped courtyard. The handcrafted, mahogany doors give a feeling of luxury and permanence, but the entire place is light and airy and has a splendid view. There is a kitchen where coffee and tea are always available. There are two large recreation rooms and the school has plans to put up table tennis, air hockey and a foosball table.

We and other new students were greeted by the staff and assigned our one-on-one teachers. We each took a three-page test so our instructors could see where we were at. Dorin said it didn’t take him long to complete it; his limited Spanish included si, hola, buenas dias, buenas noches and café negro, por favor. By the end of the day, we were comfortable with our teachers and had started to form a bond. Then we were assigned homework. Homework? We had not anticipated this, but Dorin suggested if we wanted to make the most of this experience, we’d better do it.

We left the school at 5:30 and took the long way home to increase our familiarity with the town. A boy aged twelve passed on bike and stopped to talk. “Hello, what’s your name? My name is Miguel. I speak English. I lived in Miami four months. Adios.” People who had seemed shy and reserved, now initiated greetings or lightheartedly responded to ours, perhaps, believing that now we had attended school we were less scary. And perhaps they have well-founded expectations that after attending school, these people from away would soon be speaking Spanish. If so, they had more confidence than I did. I knew my limitations.

The weather was good. A warm, gentle rain sprinkled on us a couple of times, but we didn’t care. During daylight hours, the electricity went out occasionally, but not for long, and it didn’t seem to disrupt anything. School continued without interruption, meals were cooked on time.

Ixbalanque arranged a tour for us, agua caliente (hot springs) for Friday morning. On the one-hour ride over dirt roads into the mountains, we passed through several little villages where the housing was of a much lower standard than in town. Children romped shoeless in beaten dirt yards and chickens ran loose. Various protestant neighborhood churches appeared frequently along the road. Outside some of the more prosperous looking houses, we observed coffee beans drying in the sun readying for market.

“Habla espanol?" (do you speak Spanish?) our driver asked. And by now we did, a little, but being basically spineless, we said no, but he still took the time to stop and point out coffee plantations and corn fields growing on the sides of the mountains. Sometimes the glossy-leafed coffee bushes grew close enough to the road to touch.

Far into the mountains, we arrived at the hot springs. For a few lempiras you can swim in a warm pool and use their picnic tables. But for $10 a piece (they take credit cards even in this wilderness) we crossed the river on a true hanging bridge--one that really swings--unlike the suspension bridges in Monte Verde, Costa Rica, and hiked up into the mountain to see the hot springs. We grasped enough Spanish so we understood when our driver offered to go along as a guide.

We followed a path upwards observing steam coming from the hot springs. Our guide warned us it was dangerously hot, caliente y peligrosa, and that, ha ha, we’d be cooked people if we fell into the water.

After a few minutes climb, we arrived at a small warm pool that you can steep in if you wish. To our surprise there was already someone steeping--Thor Janson, an American photographer, who in addition to pioneering many successful conservation and preservation efforts in Guatemala, has spent years photographing the decedents of the Mayan culture. The kids had their bathing suits on so they climbed in. Dorin and I rolled up our pant legs and dangled while we visited.

When we returned to the swimming pools, the kids swam with several friendly local kids, introducing themselves and asking the other kids' names. The wonderful morning was worth both the time and money. Before we left, our new acquaintance gave us a copy of his book, Mundo Maya, an exploration of the Mayan world through photographic images. A superb book (pub. Artemis Edinter, artemisedint@gold.guate.net).

On Saturday, we went to the Macaw Farm, also known as the Parque de Aves, park of the birds. Our hostess arranged for us to take a moto-taxi, our first ride in one, and we were picked up at our door.

Moto-taxis are small, three-wheel vehicles, most of them are red, built by Renault. Powered by small engines in the rear, they have enough gears to allow them to climb the steep, cobble-stone streets with three people in the back seat and the driver and one passenger in the front. Given the small size of the vehicle, the passengers and the driver all have to be rather fond of each other, but in rural Honduras, this doesn't seem to be a problem. The fabric top of the taxi appears to be removable, but we didn't see any of them driving around with the "top down." What fun, cheap transportation these little vehicles are!

As we chugged slowly up a steep, unpaved road, I asked the driver, "Nosotros empujamos?" (We push?) He laughed and said it was not necessary. He promised to come back and pick us up in two hours. Unlike other Caribbean countries we've visited, Hondurans take commitments seriously so we knew he'd be back as promised.

Parque de Aves is a remarkable reservation, home to at-risk or otherwise homeless tropical birds. Injured and sick birds are brought there to recover and birds that do not work out as pets are donated.

The more aggressive birds are in large, locked enclosures, but in other enclosures, you can walk among the spectacularly colored parrots and macaws in a jungle setting. Our knowledgeable guide spoke excellent English. Miranda kept her digital camera going constantly. But the best was still to come.

In an outdoor, interactive center, parrots and macaws were willing to perch on our arms, our shoulders and even the tops of our heads. Now the kids were really in love with parrots. Being petless at home, they decided right then to research the feasibility and advisability of having a parrot for a pet.

To help support their worthy cause, this reserve grows coffee, runs a successful, open-air restaurant and has a gift shop well worth browsing in.

On Saturday, we went to the spectacular Mayan Ruins. Fortunately for the kids, our guide brought his nine-year-old daughter with him. She practiced English, the kids practiced Spanish, and they romped and frolicked as they explored the ruins. There are outside ruins, underground ruins and a museum in which there is a full-size replica of a temple in spectacular color. Miranda has ambitions to become an archeologist and in her enthusiasm took over a hundred photos.

On Sunday, Dustin talked to Melva and got across the idea that this was Super Bowl Sunday. Though she was aware of what two teams would be playing, she was skeptical that Honduras would broadcast it, but Dustin had seen it advertised on ESPN. Melva was happy to turn the TV over to us and what fun we had listening to the game in Spanish. "Tercero y dos," (third and two). We understood only a few words but had no trouble following the game.

The second week at school, we really made progress on our Spanish. The children’s teachers Amadea and Amanda provided a wonderful mix of classroom work, singing songs in Spanish, drawing, Spanish word games such as Bingo, and field trips to a local school and a children’s museum. One day, our teachers got the four of us together to play Spanish Bingo. I was amazed at how many words the kids knew that I did not. Dustin, always daring, used his Spanish in stores, restaurants, and with the moto-taxi drivers.

By mid-week my teacher Sara and I could have conversations in Spanish. Previously, I had taken two college courses and several adult ed courses in Spanish (and got A’s) but still could not understand Spanish when I heard it spoken. My progress at Ixbalanque was very gratifying.

We invited my teacher Sara and her family out to dinner one evening. Copan was perfectly safe to walk anywhere during the day, but this was the first time we would wander around at night. We found the quiet sidewalks and park were populated by families strolling around, visiting. We felt safer than we would at night in our own small city in Maine. After that, Miranda and I were comfortable strolling around the town at night, stopping to listen to church services, sometimes recognizing familiar hymns sung in Spanish.

Sara and her husband Isaiah used this opportunity to practice their English, and we had a really good time. Their daughters attend a bi-lingual school so they tried a little English, and Dustin and Miranda tried a little Spanish. After dinner, we adults visited in the nearby central park while the kids, never letting language hurdles slow them down, had a great time playing hide and seek.

The next day, Dustin bought a soccer ball in a tiny shop in Copan, but the city is all steep hills. Local kids played soccer in the streets, but kicking up hill over cobble stones wasn’t what Dustin and Miranda had in mind. I asked Sara about soccer fields and she gave me directions.

The kids and I walked for a while and couldn’t find it so, at Miranda’s urging, I flagged down a moto-taxi. This isn’t hard to do; they are everywhere and always looking for a fare. We jumped in and I said carefully, “campo de futbal, por favor.” The driver looked at me strangely and repeated what I had said with a question mark at the end of his voice.

“Si, campo de futbal,” I said. When we arrived, he still looked puzzled. “Aqui?” (here?) he asked, incredulously since there was no game going on. “Si, aqui,” I replied as I paid him 40 lempiras (about 52 cents for each of us).

Dustin and Miranda kicked the ball around for ten minutes and then local kids started showing up. I think soccer is the language of the kids of the world. Dustin, with gestures, invited the kids to play. Before long, there were a dozen kids out there. When we left, Dustin and Miranda were able to tell the kids, in Spanish, we would be back tomorrow at two o'clock.

The day before, our teachers had taken us on a field trip to show us a hotel where the kids could swim in their pool for a small fee. So, after soccer, the pool was on today’s agenda.

Emboldened by my success at giving directions to the moto-taxi driver, I decided to try again, but I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel. I spotted a moto-taxi coming from the direction that we wanted to go so I flagged him down. He stopped but looked a little scared. In English and with gestures, I told him we wanted to go back down the street he had just come from; he looked panicked. This might have been because this road out of town had no tourist attractions, and he couldn’t figure why we would want to go there.

With a hand motion, I showed him we should turn around and he nodded. We hopped in and, though there was space to turn around, he headed in the opposite direction. We went around several blocks so I thought he was trying to find a good place to turn around. We when got to central park and I could see he had no intention of using it to get back to where we had started, I shouted, “A la derecha!” (To the right.) This startled him and he swerved to miss a vehicle and then the curb, but swung around in time to head to the right.

When we got back to where he’d picked us up, he prepared to turn to the right again. I shouted, “Derecho, derecho.” (Straight ahead.) He turned to look at me as if I’d lost my mind. I frantically pointed down the road I want to go, and he swerved back causing a pedestrian to leap athletically out of our path. Now we were on the right road, but he was clearly unnerved.

Dustin, thinking I wanted to stop off at the Hedman bus station to buy tickets for our departure in a few days, started shouting directions as we neared the bus station road. Having just learned the words from me, he yelled, “A la derecha.” Our driver swung his vehicle determinedly in that direction probably thinking at last our directions made sense.

I shushed Dustin and said, “No, no, solo derecho, derecho.” The driver rubber-necked and looked wild-eyed at me. When the hotel showed up and I said, “Aqui,” I’m sure he was relieved and perhaps made a decision to never pick up crazy Americans again.

I, however, had become increasingly bold. On the way home, I put my hand up and a moto-taxi immediately arrived at the curb. I gave directions that stopped a couple of blocks short of our hostesss' house because I didn't want to tax the taxi, carrying three of us up the steep hill. The driver looked surprised and said, "La casa?" (The house?) I shrugged okay, wondering where he would take us. To my surprise, he turned the correct corner, chugged up the hill and, with a grin, stopped at our hostess' door. Okay, I guess maybe we stuck out in a crowd and had become known to the local people.

The next day, we met a family from Holland at the soccer field. Bernie, the mom was Dutch, the dad from Honduras though he was at work at the time. They both had new jobs in Honduras and their two boys, who spoke neither English nor Spanish, joined the kids on the soccer field. These boys were about to enter the English/Spanish bi-lingual school.

Bernie invited us to swim with them at their hotel pool the next day. Dorin, who, fifty years ago, did speak Dutch, had a good time visiting with Bernie, who, of course, spoke English and Spanish fluently. The four kids had a terrific time in the pool together. This has been our experience in all of our travels: Kids don’t let language problems become a barrier that would keep them from having a blast together.

On Dustin's last day at the soccer field, he made it a point to shake hands, Latin style, with a local kid he had bonded with. Though he didn’t say he wouldn’t be back, I think the boy understood. They looked touchingly adult and manly in their farewell.

We were sad to leave Copan and the people who had captured our hearts, but the sting was a little less because we had decided we would return sometime in the future.

Our last week in Honduras was a striking contrast to the first two weeks, a different world. A full day of travel by bus and ferry brought us to the Mayan Princess on Roatan one of Honduras’ Bay Islands. We found ourselves in luxurious digs in a suite facing the ocean, situated among the most beautiful tropical landscaping I’ve ever seen. We understood why the exquisite architecture and swimming pool with water falls, stepping stones and a charming bridge attracted people from both Europe and North America.

From the hotel's open-air restaurant there's a close-up view of the white sand beach. The water, many shades of blue from turquoise to lavender, was enhanced by a clear blue sky. The beach is used but not crowded, at least at this time of year. Here, under palm trees with a light breeze blowing, you can get a massage or have your hair braided and beaded. On the first day, we convinced Miranda to do the corn-row, bead thing. We had to remember to keep a scarf on her head after that, though, to avoid a sunburned scalp.

The kids split up their time between the swimming pool and the beach. Dustin, ever the engineer, built an elaborate sand structure only to have the ocean take it away during the night. The next day, he started again, working on it for hours, trying to create a system that would protect his structure and drain off any ocean water that would endanger his buildings. When the ocean, which has almost no surf, took this one away also, he said, “I’ve decided to stop trying to do the impossible. I think I’ll build the next one a little further away from the tide line.”

He spent the rest of the afternoon and through sundown, moving the remains of his sand structure to a spot a few feet away. The next morning he was gratified to find it still standing and that the motorized, beach-cleaner guy had carefully raked around and not over his creation.

We rented snorkeling gear from a guy on the beach (only $4 per person a day!) and had a great time. Uncle Gary took a day off from scuba diving so he and Dustin could rent a kayak. Later, Gary, Sherry and the kids and I rented a paddle boat. The ocean water is calm so we changed seats several times and everyone had a chance to steer. Also available were trips in glass-bottom boats, though we didn’t have time to take advantage of this.

We found a couple of excellent restaurants along the beach. A Bite on the Beach grows their own organic produce for salads, and they serve outstanding food. We strolled down the beach several times for this treat. From other tourists, we learned of the il pomdoro pizzeria which is really worth finding. This sit-down restaurant with a terrific ambiance, has an extensive menu, not just pizza. Though they are always packed, the service is speedy and excellent; the waiters are charming.

One night, I left my camera there hanging over the back of my chair and didn’t realize it was missing until the next day. I retraced my steps to il pomodoro; my camera waited for me, safe on a shelf behind the cash register.

We had heard from a cab driver that electricity going out was a big problem on Roatan. It went out one day for hours and extended into the evening. We were still able to get a meal at the hotel restaurant, but we ate it by dim lantern light. Though a candle and some matches had been placed in our room, we didn’t find them until the next morning. When we entered the pitch black room, Dustin thought of starting up our laptop to get light from the screen. That enabled us to find our book lights to use as flashlights so we could get ready for bed. Paradise on earth is not perfect, I guess.

Sherry and I took a taxi ($20!) into Coxen Hole to hit the ATM. The views from hills high over the beaches were incredible. After we got our money, not without some difficulty, we enjoyed a hour of shopping before returning to the hotel (another $20).

Perhaps the thing most noteworthy of Roatan were the people we met and the attitude of the hotel staff and the restaurants we patronized. An air of cordiality, helpfulness and even playfulness was always present. One day, Dustin ordered his meal in Spanish. Wanting to ask an involved question, I asked the waiter if he spoke English. "No, no English," he said. So we trotted out our Spanish and ordered our meals.

Shortly, Gary and Sherry joined us and ordered their meal in English. The waiter grinned sheepishly as we realized he spoke excellent English. We decided he was graciously giving us a chance to use our Spanish.

When the head of housekeeping realized I had lost my camera, she did some moving and shaking including telephoning an employee at home to ask if someone had turned it in. Everywhere, maids, cab drivers and waiters were always polite, personable and helpful.

We weren’t ready to leave after a week of vacationing on the beach, and we thought we might get a one-day reprieve because of a snowstorm in the northeast (as we had the previous year). It was not to be, but our adventures were not yet over. A couple days before our departure, Claudia at the desk booked a local flight for us from Roatan to San Pedro Sula to arrive in time for us to catch our 2:30 flight home. She gave me the schedule and I wrote it down as soon as I got back to the suite. Or maybe the next day. Or the day after that. See what too much fun in the sun will do to you?

On the day of departure, I was floored when I found we had missed the hotel van to the airport and therefore missed the plane--by a couple of hours! There were later planes from Roatan to San Pedro but only one Delta flight out of San Pedro, at 2:30--the one we had tickets for. As much as we wanted to stay, we felt now that we were packed, we should just go--at least as far as San Pedro. We could spend a night at the Tamarindo and catch the plane the next day. Claudia called the local airport and explained which flight we needed to catch, and they confirmed there was no way to make the connection, but there were enough seats on the shuttle plane for the four of us to get to San Pedro.

We hugged Gary and Sherry goodbye and hustled to the van. Claudia yelled as we trotted away, "Don't forget, they board at 11:50."

When we got to the airport, Claudia called to say she had been in contact with Delta, and they also confirmed we could not make the connection. She rebooked us for the next day. At the Roatan airport, we bought the tickets, cleared security, shoes off, shoes on. Dorin had to remove almost everything but his underwear, as usual, and then we sat and waited. And waited. 11:50 came and went. Other flights announced they were going to San Pedro; they loaded up with passengers and left. We were grateful we were not boarding on the same flight as the four loud, drunk Americans going to Tegucigalpa, but we were getting impatient. Every time we surged toward the doors, we were waved back. We had the wrong color tickets.

Dustin kept saying, "I know we can still make it." I explained repeatedly even if we made it before 2:30, once we got to San Pedro and collected our luggage, we'd have to get new tickets, and then pay the departure tax, which sometimes involves long lines, and then clear security again. He and Miranda played cards while they waited.

At 12: 15, I reversed through security to get information from the woman who'd sold us the ticket. She looked at her watch. "They'll be here in ten minutes," she said. "And this flight will be better for you. You will make your connection."

My jaw dropped. "We can still make the connection?"

"Sure, no problem," she said.

Back through security, shoes off, shoes on. At 12: 30 I whined to Dorin. "It's been fifteen minutes already. She said ten."

At 1:00 p.m. Dorin said, "I think I hear a prop jet coming." And sure enough, a small, two-engine prop plane taxied into sight.

We rushed out on the tarmac where the pilots helped the baggage guy throw the luggage onto the seats, loose. Not under the seats. Not in the overhead--there wasn't any. We scrambled in and buckled up. The pilots came aboard and settled into the cockpit.

There was no cabin for these guys, just a partial wall from which their shoulders were visible on each side. I noticed there was new upholstery on some of the seats. The old upholstery was tattered. Like us, the pilots had the old upholstery.

Dustin said with some concern, "Hey, only one propeller is going," but then there were two, and they finally got up to speed and taxied down the runway at 1:15.

Dustin said, “See, I think we can still make it on time. I know we can make it.” I explained once again why we couldn’t. The flight was over an hour.

The windows including the windshield were crazed with age. The copilot cupped his hand at the vent in his side window to direct the cool air toward the pilot. For most of the flight. Which was the most turbulent flight I’ve ever been on. The little LET 410 Czech plane with the funny Russian-like symbols written on the inside dipped and dropped and slid sideways as it climbed slowly through piled-high clouds.

I gripped the seat in front of me with both hands to keep from falling, in spite of being buckled in. Dustin looked at my face to see how I was reacting and in one minute he was sound asleep--escape from fear, I suspect. I checked the seat in front of me and saw that Miranda was curled up in a ball, also asleep--and these kids never sleep during the day. A passenger across the aisle hung on with one hand and waved the other in a combination of the sign of the cross and conducting an orchestra. I just kept my eyes on the shoulders to see if the pilots were staying in their seats. Steady as she goes...they never moved.

There was a button near me with a sign that said, “Push button for help from the crew.” Since the only crew were the pilots, I was ready to karate chop anyone who got near that button. Eventually, we got above the clouds and it smoothed out, but shortly we started the descent. Back through the clouds and more turbulence.

Amazingly, they slicked the plane on the runway with nary a jar or jump. At 2:25 we taxied to a stop; 2:30 they started unloading luggage. A Honduran baggage guy asked in English, “Connection? Connection?”

“Delta,” I replied. He pointed emphatically to the only other plane in sight, a Delta...still sitting at the gate. He grabbed at the bags asking which ones were ours. Dustin jumped back into the plane and started tossing out bags. “This one, this one and this one.” We had eight check-throughs and six carryons. The baggage man said urgently, “Go, go, go,” and pointed toward the building a 100 feet away.

Dorin, running faster than he has in ten years, headed for the building and the ticket counter. By the time the kids and I joined him, the baggage guy caught up with us.

At the ticket counter, the Honduran Delta rep immediately understood our situation, grabbed the phone and spoke rapid fire Spanish. I heard him say, “Cuatro personas.” He nodded at us and his fingers flew over the computer keys. “Okay, we have to hurry,” he said. Then he said in surprise, “But your tickets are for tomorrow.” Thanks to the efficient Claudia. We explained what happened and he said, “No problem.” He was joined by another rep who helped check passports, write baggage tags, tap computer keys and count documents. Hondurans who work in official capacities such as banks and airports count things several times. In spite of the need for haste, this ticket helper counted our baggage slips four times. There were eight slips and eight tags to be attached to eight bags.

But I noticed, as he was attaching tags to our huge pile, we had an extra carryon, a puny, kid-type backpack that only had a couple of pairs of sneakers in it. We already had the limit for carryons so I had counted wrong. I should have used the Honduran method of counting. My dumb solution was to throw the little bag onto the pile they were attaching tags to and let it go as a check through. I am sure the reason Dorin's large suitcase with most of our souvenirs in it never made it to Atlanta is that the tag that was supposed to go on his, got attached to the little backpack. We never saw his suitcase again.

“Where do we pay the departure tax?” I asked. They pointed to a long winding ramp across the terminal that led to the second floor. “Should we run?” Dorin asked. “Please,” they said with emotion. And so we did, each shouldering a heavy carry-on. In addition, Dorin carried his heavy computer backpack which was weighted down with the kids’ textbooks. In addition to my carryon, I had a backpack-style pocketbook and my camera around my neck. In addition to her carryon, Miranda also had her mucho hefty pocketbook and her camera.

But we flew like the wind, us old guys and those little kids. When we got to the top, I paid the tax ($140) having been prepared in both lempiras and dollars just in case. We still had to clear security, shoes off, shoes on, and put everything through the x-ray scanner. They took away a tiny screw driver and a travel-size tube of toothpaste. As we sprinted toward the gate, a security guy said, “Don’t worry they haven’t finished boarding yet.” And, indeed, they had not, partly, I think, because, they were conducting a visual, tactual search of every piece of carryon luggage...that had already been x-ray-scanned. I guess maybe you can never be too cautious. But then they missed the pocketbook I had on my back.

The Delta flight was late in leaving but not because of us. I rechecked and it was due to leave at 2:35. At 2: 50 they closed the doors and we were on the way to Atlanta.

Dustin said in wonderment, “I just can’t believe we actually made it!”

We discovered Dorin’s large suitcase had not arrived with us when we cleared customs in Atlanta, but we were told to keep going and file a claim in Boston. Time was short so we hustled to Gate B6, passing, as we went, all the gates from B34 to B6. I’m telling you, we’re not as young as we used to be so we were huffing and puffing by then. When we got there and tried to check in, we found they had changed our flight to a later one because of the last minute adjustments. One hour later than originally planned. Oh, yeah, and from a different gate--B34!

We landed in Boston at 12:15 a.m. but had to put in a claim for Dorin’s bag before we left the airport. And the other two bags, mine and Miranda's, that didn’t show up on the carrousel in Boston. About twenty tired, forlorn passengers watched the thing go around and around with maybe fifteen pieces of luggage on it that belonged to no one present.

We stood in line at the claims office. Beside us in the baggage claim area were a couple hundred other suitcases orphaned by Delta, their owners in some other city perhaps. Dorin searched through these bags hoping his lost-before-Atlanta suitcase had come through on the earlier flight but no such luck.

We gathered together our remaining bags and got on the elevator around 1:30 in the morning. As the doors closed, a few words of a Delta announcement registered in my head. “...baggage...flight 1431...we are sorry for any inconvenience....”

On an off chance this had something to do with our missing luggage, we retraced our steps to the empty baggage area and, sure enough, the carrousel was moving again with dozens more suitcases coming out...and no one there to claim them but us guys.

We retrieved the two most recent missing bags, though not Dorin's, and headed out. We still had a three-hour drive to Maine but we arrived home in good spirits at 5:00 a.m. in the morning having been up twenty-two hours and having traveled eighteen hours. We were happy to be home but already missing Honduras.

We originally selected Honduras for our language school experience for economic and safety reasons. When we return, it will be primarily because of the warm, cordial Honduran people who made us feel so welcomed.

Bio: Shirley Shepherd has traveled by sailboat to many Caribbean countries enjoying the culture and straining to learn the language. In recent years, she's traveled around Costa Rica with her husband and grandchildren. They plan to explore other Central American countries but especially look forward to spending more time in Honduras.

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