The other week I found myself walking on a dirt road heading west towards the village of EI Mattoral. I was searching for an agricultural promoter, a young gentleman about age 21, whom I met in the park here in Manto.
I knew EI Mattoral lied somewhere between the village of Guacamayas and EI Tablon, but I was not sure where. I decided to stop and ask a family that was sitting on their front porch shaded by a huge guanacaste tree.
“Up there. Follow the dirt path,” they told me with a hint of amusement. I turned and noticed the path. EI Mattoral was right behind me.
“You’ll find him up there.”
“Thank you,” I yelled while waving.
I meandered up the short, rocky mule path and soon happened upon the center of a 12-house village. Red beans were drying on the ground under the hot, mid-morning sun. Immediately, the locals stopped what they were doing, motioned to family members and neighbors, and stared as I walked past their dwellings. Not liking to be the center of attention, I quickly broke the ice by asking where Ramon lived.
“In the new house … over there,” they pointed with their lips.
I casually strolled up to the new adobe house with teja roof and sure enough, he was there. We exchanged greetings and then walked to his mother’s house across the yard. We chatted a little about the village, how things were going and about the tree nursery he wanted to do. I told him I may be able to get the seeds and that I would like to work with him on a project to reforest the watershed. He too thought it was a good idea and we agreed to meet again in a week or two.
I was about to be on my way when his mother emerged from behind the house and asked if I would like some pinol.
“What is it,” I asked with hesitation.
“It’s ground corn,. a little sugar … mixed with water,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“You drink it,” I responded unknowingly.
“Yes. Everyone does. It’s refreshing.”
“Sure. I’d love to have some,” I said with a smile.
She went inside the house and came back out to the porch with a glass of what looked to be sand. I took my bottle of boiled water and filled the glass. I stirred it a little with a spoon and took a sip. It wasn’t too bad. I took a swallow.
“Delicious, isn’t it?”
“Not bad,” is all I could muster, holding back the vomit reflex.
“Sweet and refreshing.” she repeated.
I took a few more sips of courteous gesture before setting it aside. Again, I was about to be on my way when she asked if I would like some sugar cane juice.
“Sure. I’d love some sugar cane juice,” I stated enthusiastically, though not knowing what it tasted like.
Ramon got up from his seat and went out back. I heard the machete slash the stalks. He brought them to the water tank, washed them, and then had his mother feed them through the press as he cranked it with his hands. They repeated the process eight times, folding and twisting the sugar cane until every drop of the greenish-gray juice fell into the bowl below.
When finished, she took the bowl inside and strained some juice into a glass. She offered it to me. I put the glass to my lips and took a tiny sip. It tasted good, very sweet. I took a drink.
“Mmm. I like it.”
“It’s even better with an orange,” she informed me.
“Really,” I said as she went for an orange.
She returned with half of an orange. I squeezed the juice into the glass.
“It tastes like lemonade, only it’s orange-ade,” I told her with Country Time satisfaction.
“You like it then,” she timidly asked.
“It’s delicious … refreshing.”
Having survived my first true initiation of local foods, or drinks for that matter, and having reached a point of contentedness, I made a movement for the door and told them I had to be going. They thanked me for stopping by and welcomed me to return at any time.
Walking east on the dirt road towards Manto, I laughed out loud and thought to myself.
“I just drank ground com and sugar cane juice. What a country!”
I knew then I was really in Honduras.
(written January 1997)