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Puerto Barrios is cold, wet, and dirty. It is, as Brad so aptly put it, “the armpit of the armpit of Latin America.” Barrios, named after President Justo Rufino Barrios in 1884 (you’ll see a nice statue of Rufino at Parque Tecun Uman) , is known for three things: boozers, prostitutes and Hotel Del Norte.
Del Norte, without the blue of the Caribbean reflecting from the high noon sun, is a cross between the spooky emptiness of the hotel from “The Shining” and a New Orleans swamp house with the yellow wooden roof rotting from all the rain, the crooked floors making the hotel look like it’s leaning and sinking into the sea and all the comforts of indoor camping. There’s no hot water in the rooms facing the water and the doors to our room are a fancy version of a porch door with a padlock similar to what you would see on a gym door. We give up the one television set upstairs because the receptionist has quoted us three different prices for it and every time it keeps getting higher. I tell her to take it, on principle of course. She shrugs. Before we get towels the housekeeper is seen carrying the TV set down the creaking stairs that feel like climbing the steps of Tikal. Nevertheless, the character surpasses all these minor inconveniences because mi abuelita reminds me that when she was younger El Sindicato met at this hotel and the hotel wined and dined them for free. That’s how long a free meal can last.
During rainy season, which began last week mi mama informs me, things are just more depressing. She tells me this as we are driving over pot holes that could swallow our entire two front tires on 4a calle as we head to El Safari seafood restaurant which she cannot stop raving about. She orders the tapado seafood soup, made with coconut milk and about two cups of salt mixed in with seafood and crab legs. I order a shot of vodka and the grilled fish to warm up.
It’s a different Barrios for abuela and she doesn’t recognize the streets – some of which still lead to her brothers’ houses – the new mercado, and the cold which makes her shiver as she listens for the boats in the distance not too far from the pier at El Safari. Allí estan, los vas a ver. They’re there, you’ll see them.
Tomorrow we find out if we can cross over with our to Punta Gorda by ferry. At this point, I’m wondering if any ferries are crossing because el mar esta bravo from all the rains. Either way we’re headed to Entre Rios and then la Finca Inca to find mi tio Neftalie and take him back to Chiquimula with us in time for Christmas. It’s a two hour trek into what used to be United Fruit Company land and now it’s a dense jungle of banana leaves and people co-habitating near the Motawa River.
PS: Another way to get to Puerto Barrios besides bus, mule and car:
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