Chapter 32

This entry is part 33 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Thirty-Two — The Celebration

The next morning Jock came up to my room. He said, “I have the arrangements all made. I have talked to mister Muñoz and we’ll be able to go to Talpaneca today. We will meet him at the brewery at ten o’clock. Also, I have talked to Chase. He wants to go.”

“Good work,” I said, “It will be fine to see Chase again.”

I had been studying a map. Talpaneca is south and east of Ocotal and south of Quilalí. It lies on the banks of the Rio Coco which is the end of the road going from west to east. Talpaneca is indeed the end of the road.

Chuck had polished the Palace and it was shining from end to end.

“Chuck,” I said, “you’re getting to be a better housekeeper.”

“I’ve had a lot of help. Plenty of gals really like to show me what good housekeepers they are. The girls here are just like you said, but one thing you forgot to tell me. How in hell do you get rid of them?”

“I don’t know” I laughed. “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.”

At the brewery we picked up the rest of the passengers. Ricky was there with his number two wife. She was a cute little thing, probably about twenty and a little on the chunky side, but the chunks were in the right places.

Rosita came in smiling. She was dressed in blue jeans, boots and blouse, and she carried a small traveling case. On her head was a cocky white Panama hat. She sure looked cute. Chase came in and it was sure great to see him again. We shook hands and exchanged back slaps. It was a happy reunion.

Ricky said, “Neither of the girls have been to the Rio Coco. This journey will take them farther from home than they have ever been.” It was about two hundred miles to Talpaneca as nearly as I could figure.

Chuck, Jock and Chase rode up front in the cab. Ricky, his number two wife, Rosita and I, all settled ourselves comfortably in the rear. Chuck pulled to the street and we began a trip that, as I reminisce, seems one of the most eventful and stirring experiences of my whole life.

The Palace rolled smoothly along the road and I guess all of us were caught up with exuberance like that when starting a jolly picnic.

Ricky opened a bottle of Flor de Caña and mixed some drinks. “Today is my birthday,” he said. “We shall drink to me on my birthday.”

It seemed odd not to be able to talk to a girl. When I tried to say something to Rosita in English, she would shake her head and smile, then say something to me in Spanish. We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere in this conversation. But after about the second bottle of Flor de Caña, we discovered that universal language we could both understand — not so noisy, but something more in common.

After a couple of hours of travel, the Palace came to a halt. Rosita and I had been practicing this newly discovered language on my bunk above the cab. Ricky and his number two wife were cozily settled on another bunk, and both sound asleep.

I could hear some lively talking. Jock was arguing with someone in Spanish.

Finally he came back to the open window beside me and said, “We cannot go through until this evening. They are oiling the road just ahead of us and won’t let us through till they are finished.”

“Fine,” I told him. “Pull off to the side of the road and we will take a siesta.”

That evening we started on again. The last fifty or sixty miles of the road were crooked and rough. We had to climb high mountains, and in places the road was so steep and narrow we had a hard time trying to stay on it. We didn’t dare sleep. If we got dumped out we’d better be on the alert to save ourselves.

After a harrowing night, we arrived in Talpaneca about three o’clock in the morning. Chuck parked the Palace beside the big tractor which Ricky had directed him to. This was close to the center of the town and across from the hotel.

Talpaneca is about the size of Quilalí with a population of around two thousand people, one hundred thousand chickens, two thousand jackasses, five thousand dogs and hordes of pigs. The diesel power plant was silent, of course. There were two churches, a factory that produced firecrackers and other glittering displays. Every town of any size in Nicaragua has a factory of this kind.

“There is very little in this country for amusement.” Jock told me. “No television, and very few picture shows and no automobiles. The people like excitement — lots of noise. When they can find a red-letter day on the calendar, whether it’s Christmas, New Years or Mothers’ Day, they open up with the fireworks. This helps keep revolutions down.”

“Why should it?” I asked.

“Shooting of firecrackers and other fireworks seems to satisfy this urge for excitement that the people have,” he said solemnly.

All of us got out of the Palace and stretched our legs. Chuck was very tired as it had been a long hard drive. He said, “I’m for getting some sleep. How about the rest of you?”

We all agreed this was a fine idea, so we began preparing for it. Jock and Chase brought blankets and unrolled them beneath the truck of the Palace. If it rained, they would be protected. The rest of us went back inside the comfortable vehicle. Soon, Rosita and I were on the upper bunk, Ricky and his number two wife had curled up on one of the lowers and Chuck was alone on the other one.

Rosita’s head lay on my shoulder. She ran her soft fingers through my hair and I reached up and patted her hand, thinking how wonderful it was here, how peaceful and quiet. There wasn’t a sound.

Then Chuck snored! The first one he cut loose with was a masterpiece. It was a new variety I had never heard before. Rosita grabbed me around the neck, cuddled close, trembling. Ricky sat up, turned on the light above his bunk.

“This is my birthday!” he shouted joyfully. I knew he must be coming out of a deep sleep. His number two wife sat up startled.

Chuck was only getting started. He broke loose with the one that sounds like a hog with his nose in a bucket of mud. There was some gurgling sounds, then the smacking of his lips as if he were eating — and at the end, a whistle.

The four of us sat up and watched him. I had heard Chuck at his best many times before, but never bothered to turn on the lights to look at him.

It was something worth seeing. He slept with his eyes wide open and would open his mouth, inhale, hold his breath for several seconds then start turning the sound loose. It was horrific.

From outside the Palace came a high-pitched growl. Every time Chuck made a series of sound effects, the dog growled louder.

Ricky, now awake from the vibrations resonating throughout the camper got up and stood over Chuck, but he hadn’t heard anything yet.. Chuck cut loose with yet a new combination of healthy vibrations.

Ricky looked worried. “Let’s turn him on his side,” he said. “Maybe he’ll quit then.”

I didn’t think it would do any good, but I was willing to try. We put our arms under him, took hold and gave a big heave. He was in the middle of one of his favorite gurgles when we flopped him over. I guess we should have waited until it came out.

He cut loose with some of the most horrifying noises I’ve ever heard this side of the sound barrier. It was too much for the little dog outside. With a yip of terror poor little mutt raced down the main street of Talpaneca. He must have been really scared for he took off as if the devil himself were after him.

That dog spread the alarm throughout the local canine world. In a matter of seconds it seemed as if every dog in the town was barking. The roosters here don’t wait for daylight to crow, they crow whenever the occasion demands and crow they did now! The jackasses started to bray. The bell ringers in the churches evidently sleep in the belfry for the church bells began to ring. The guy that operates the city power must have started up the diesel engines, because every house in town suddenly lit up. All hell had broken loose!

Soon the fireworks started and Roman candles were shooting high in the air. Everyone must have had a good supply of firecrackers on hand. They were exploding by the thousands. Just a few minutes before everything had been so serene, and now the racket was terrific. We could hardly hear Chuck snore. He didn’t know as he lay there that he had started a celebration that would last for two days.

Trying to sleep now would be impossible so leaving the still “dead-to-the-world” Chuck, the rest of us went over to the hotel.

The woman who operated the place stood smiling as we came in. She asked if we would like her to cook us some food. Chase and Jock shook their heads, bought an armful of fireworks and joined the celebration outside. The girls were hungry, as were Ricky and I. So Ricky ordered breakfast.

The old woman kicked a couple of pigs out of the kitchen and started to fix a meal.

First, she brought us a big pot full of steaming coffee. It was strong but very good. Then she came in with two large plates containing beefsteak and eggs, and a big plate of corn tortillas. By the two plates she placed a knife, fork and spoon.

I looked blankly at Ricky and asked, “Didn’t you order for the four of us?”

“Sure,” he grinned. “I see you are not familiar with our customs.”

I didn’t want my ignorance to be too obvious so I sat down before one plate when Ricky sat down before the other.

The girls came over, took the chairs beside us, started carving the meat and feeding us — poking our mouths full of food. I felt like a fool at first, but as I watched Ricky leaning back in his chair enjoying himself, I got into the spirit of the thing. “These girls know how to treat a man all right,” I told myself. “If brother Bill could only see me now!” The girls were eating in between stuffing us — using the same utensils. Not exactly sanitary, I thought. But why quibble?

After the meal we bought an armload of firecrackers and joined the celebration. I felt like an overgrown kid. It had been a long time since I had played with firecrackers but I hadn’t forgotten how.

We were throwing them a bundle at a time, tossing them into the crowd and under one another’s feet. Everybody was shouting and laughing. We were having one hell of a time.

The celebration went on until daylight. A steer was killed and there would be a barbecue this afternoon. After a while we got tired of throwing firecrackers, found Jock and Chase and started walking up the hill to the Palace. We wondered how the innocent instigator of this celebration was doing.

There was a crowd of people gathered around the Palace. Apparently they had never experienced anything like this before, nor heard sounds like those coming out through any kind of walls. Chuck had slept through the whole celebration! I unlocked the back of the Palace, pulled down the ladder and went in carrying a bundle of firecrackers. I lit them and tossed them under the bunk.

The bundle was about half exploded when Chuck was up with a roar.

“Indians!” he yelled. He must have been dreaming of Indians.

We finally had him awake and the crackling and smoking was still going on.

“What the hell happened?” he asked, looking scared.

When we told him how he had created an advance buildup for a celebration, he grinned and said, “Well, the manly act of snoring has finally paid off. For years people have been giving me hell for it, but now we are among people where this talent is appreciated.”

He was quite the hero. The natives outside wanted to look inside the Palace so we organized a line to go through it and the examination took hours. This turned out to be part of the celebration. It was a real show to them.

Ricky explained to us later that the tractor had been brought up to clear away some big landslides caused by the rain which had blocked the roads. Now the dirt was cleared away and they no longer needed the machine. The tank was part full of diesel fuel. Chuck started the engine and listened carefully to it.

“It sounds good,” he said. “Guess it’s okay.”

I told him to take the tractor down to the river and give it a real workout to find out what condition it was in.

“I’ll sure give it hell,” he assured me.

He pulled down to the river with it, dropped the huge blade into a gravel bar and opened the throttle. The monster had plenty of power. It didn’t take long until he had a trench dug so deep we could barely see the top of his head.

He pulled the tractor out to level ground and said, “Well, she’s all right — at least in the low gears.”

He looked up the river. Here the Rio Coco is very wide and shallow with countless sand and gravel bars. Down in the pit Chuck had just dug were some of the natives already beginning to pan gold.

“Would anyone like to go for a ride?” he asked now.

Jock and Chase jumped on the tractor. In Spanish Jock called, “Anybody else?”

About half the town had followed us down to the river and all of them wanted a ride. About a dozen of them climbed on the big blade and some on the hood. Chuck had really started something again.

Jock and Chase began giving orders in Spanish to keep the crowd pushed back. They loaded the thing to it’s capacity, then Chuck took off up the middle of the Coco in high gear. He circled the gravel bars, keeping the engine about half under water. The passengers hollered and screamed. Many natives ran along the bank trying to keep up with the machine. Chuck was having fun. He took his passengers about half a mile up the river, and then back. Jock and Chase had a new load for him each time around. For hours and hours this went on and Chuck was the hero.

In front of the hotel in Talpaneca there is a water hydrant. It looked like nothing to me but a pipe sticking up with a valve on top.

Ricky said, “If you would like to fill your water tanks in the camper, this is a good place. This is pure water just like in the United States. Back about 1929 the Marines were stationed here to capture the notorious bandit Sandino. He had been causing much trouble. The water made so many Marines sick with the fever they had to find some pure water. So they dug on the side of a mountain and made a reservoir to catch the water from a big spring. They boxed it in tight with concrete so no bugs or insects could get into it. The water was then piped down into town.”

Good! We wouldn’t need to boil this pure North American style water. In town there was a soda pop factory that made a sort of cola from this water by adding the juice of several different fruits and berries. I don’t believe the content of any two bottles was exactly alike. The stuff was a pinkish color and smelled something like bananas. It wasn’t carbonated but it was sweet and tasty and the natives enjoyed it. The caps on the bottles were from Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola bottles, but at least the town had a pop factory.

That afternoon the big barbecue was held. The local Judge made a speech, a band played and everybody had a wonderful time. Tomorrow there would be a parade, and preparations for this big event were already under way. The main street of Talpaneca was being decorated. A string or rope had been stretched across it every few feet and hanging every few feet, from each rope were bright, multicolored streamers. It was a sight to behold. The women must have ripped up every old dress, blouse and petticoat to make such a startling display.

In the evening there was a dance. The power plant kept going until one o’clock the next morning. There were a couple of power failures but somehow the plant was started again.

When the dance was over, and our group gathered, Jock said, “Señor Joe, Chase and I will stay at the hotel tonight. The Judge has invited Chuck to stay with him at his house.”

I laughed and slapped Jock on the back. It was marvelous how he thought of everything.

 

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