Chapter 6

This entry is part 07 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Six — Jock

For hours we flew over what seemed to be an endless sea of clouds. Then from the loud speaker came, “Fasten your safety belts, please. Guatemala City is ahead and we are about to land.”

In a small basin in the high mountains of Guatemala, lies Guatemala City. A few miles away is a beautiful blue lake. They say the sun shines every day in the city, at least for a few minutes.

Surrounding the city are jungles, forests and coffee plantations. We were landing before I had time to fully enjoy much of the scenery.

We changed planes. The next stop was San Salvador, another beautiful city by a lake.

Again, we transferred to another plane and our next stop was Managua, Nicaragua, and another lake — Lake Managua.

A high volcano was belching smoke and fire. It proved to be Mombotombo. There were many other volcanoes. Most of them were dormant, yet a few were smoking.

Here I was at last — the real America — Central America — the land of volcanoes, earthquakes, revolutions, and gold.

It wasn’t quite dark when we landed; and it was hot and damp.

As I stood in line getting my baggage checked, a fellow began going through my suitcase. He found a carton of book matches from Harold’s Club in Reno and set them aside, and said, “Everything is all right but the matches.”

“What’s the matter with the matches,” I asked, surprised.

He grinned and said, “President Somosa owns the match factory here. Keep them — and welcome!”

I laughed.

I picked up my suitcase and stepped outside. A man came up to me and asked, “Who are you? Where are you going? Where do you come from?”

“My name is Joe Parker. I come from the United States.”

“I am Jock,” he said simply. “Jock Talbot. I am from Honduras — British Honduras. I helped build the road through Honduras and Nicaragua. What are you doing here?”

“I am a miner. I have come here searching for gold.”

“I do not know anything about gold,” said Jock, “but you will need a man. I speak English, Spanish, French, German and Mosquito Indian. I am a good interpreter and you will need me, so I am your man.”

So right then and there, Jock became my man. He has been my man ever since. God bless him.

We got into a taxi and rode the several miles into the city. I asked Jock about a good place to stay and he suggested the Gran Hotel. As the taxi driver took us there, I said, “I don’t have any Nicaraguan money. Will the driver take United States money?”

“Anyone will take United States money, too much of it,” Jock informed me, “I will pay him in cords.”

“What are cords?”

“Cordobas. You can pay me tomorrow after you get your money changed.”

When Jock paid the taxi driver off there was a heated argument.

“What was it all about,” I asked later.

“He was going to charge twenty cord. The regular price is ten. He said you very rich North Americano and should pay twenty cord.”

“How much did you give him?”

“Ten. You see I have saved you ten cord already.” Well, damned if he hadn’t! Probably I would have given the guy a five dollar bill, thirty-five cordobas.

We went into the main lobby of the Gran Hotel where the opulence amazed me. In the center was a huge mahogany stump perhaps twelve or thirteen feet in diameter. It had big burls all over it, and was varnished and polished to a high luster, and at the right of the mahogany desk was a plush cocktail lounge. The center of the hotel was roofless and it contained a large swimming pool. In the rear and under shelter, was the restaurant. The whole setup looked big enough to cover half a city block. There were many showcases full of goods for sale; scarves, handkerchiefs, blouses, etc.

“Very nice, huh?” said Jock. “All handmade.”

They certainly were nice, but what intrigued me most were the showcases full of gold — gold earrings, bracelets, tie pins, cuff links; about every kind of ornament. Each piece was different, and of course hand-carved. The most beautiful work I’d ever seen. I thought to myself, “There surely must be a lot of gold in the ground around here.”

After signing the register, I told Jock I would see him in the morning and went up to my room. It was a big pleasant room and the bed looked comfortable. A girl came in and turned down my bed, then stood there smiling. I remembered what Bill had said about “they always smile,” and I didn’t smile back. I nodded toward the door and she looked disappointed as she left me.

I undressed and went to the bathroom — no bathtub, just a shower and toilet. The toilet had no lid but the porcelain flared out to form a seat. There was only one water faucet — cold — no hot water. I learned later that there are very few people in Nicaragua that know what a bathtub looks like, and there is no hot water in the whole city. After enjoying these luxuries, I went to bed. I was very tired and immediately fell into a virtuous sleep.

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