Chapter 8

This entry is part 09 of 44 in the series Smile

Chapter Eight — Ocotal

The purr of the Jeep was sweet music.

We left Managua at daybreak, passed through the town of Tipitapa and headed up the Pan-American Highway toward Honduras. I felt good and I had no sign of a hangover from all of that Flor de Caña. If I had drunk that much whiskey, I would have had a head on me like a balloon.

The highway was rough. In places it was well oiled, although most of it was gravel and in places no road at all — only a detour through the jungle. I guess I slept most of the way, but the screeching of the brakes brought me wide awake. I sat up.

“Good Lord, what in the devil is that!” I asked.

Just ahead of us stretched halfway across the road was the damnedest creature I had ever seen. It must have been eight to ten feet long and it stood about twelve to fourteen inches high. It had a head that looked like a horned toad, spikes down its back like Ally Oop’s dinosaur and its back was arched, also its tail. This creature really had poise and it looked like some prehistoric monster from out of the past.

“Iguana!” yelled Jock.

“Iguana!” yelled Chase.

I knew enough of the language to understand. The creature was a giant lizard!” It lay there in the road sunning itself, not moving a muscle.

Jock and Chase slipped out of the jeep, grabbed a big machete and cut a long piece of bamboo. On the end of this they fastened a buckskin thong.

It reminded me of the times I had fished for bullfrogs back in the States. They were trying to slip the loop over the creature’s head. Suddenly it took off like a quarter horse. It sure could move fast. Across the road it went, hit the bank on the other side took off like a quarter horse. Yes, indeed, it sure could move fast. Across the road it went, hit the bank on the other side and came sliding back. Jock and Chase were upon it as the loop caught it around the neck. There was a brief struggle and the capture was made. They tied the huge jaws together with buckskin thongs, curled up the big long tail, put another piece of buckskin around the belly, ran a pole through the thongs and came carrying the creature back to the Jeep. They were grinning from ear to ear.

You’re really not going to eat that damn thing, are you?” I cried.

“Sure!” declared Jock. “By keeping him alive, we will have fresh meat on hand.”

“Well, you guys can eat the darn thing, but count me out!”

Chase started the Jeep, and we continued our journey.

There were quite a few pickups and trucks on the road. So far we hadn’t met even one passenger car, although there had been a bus or two.

In the middle of the afternoon we came to a sign pointing toward the east: “Ocotal” Here we pulled off the highway and headed back into the jungle on a narrow winding road. The growth was so dense in places that we couldn’t see the sky. Many natives were walking — coming and going — and all carried machetes, slashing at the vines; back and forth, each time cutting some of the foliage. Jock explained that if they didn’t do this, soon the jungle would grow together and there would be no road at all as the vines here grow several feet each night.

There were ox carts — many of them. The men walked in front poking the oxen in the neck. The carts were loaded with wood, sugar — in brown cakes about the size of a brick, corn, tobacco, cocoa-nuts, bannanas, and pineapple.

The ox cart is the main mode of hauling necessities. Originally, people were riding on horseback — little horses brough from Spain hundreds of years ago. These horse were not much bigger than Shetland ponies. I don’t think I saw one that would weigh over five hundred pounds. There were some small mules and many burros — the beasts of burden.

Everyone we met on the road stopped and smiled and I was glad they were friendly. We met a “motorbus,” an old beat-up affair that looked like a 1940 model that was loaded with passengers. We pulled out to the side of the road to let it pass. The riders waved and yelled. They all looked happy.

We met a big truck loaded with lumber — pine lumber — and I concluded there must be a sawmill back somewhere in the jungle.

About dusk we arrived in Ocotal, the fifth largest city in Nicaragua, with a population of about twenty thousand; quite a sizable settlement for this country. The houses were all built of mud and sticks and they had red tile roofs. I learned that almost everyone here could make tile. I don’t believe I saw a pane of glass, at least not in the houses.

Finally we came to a Texaco filling station, so we gassed up the Jeep and inquired about lodging. The young Negro attendant sent us to the Hotel López.

Hotel López proved to be the best hotel in town, but it wasn’t much.

There was with a small dirty bar, an old card table and an old pool table. The felt on the pool table had apparently worn out years ago. Now it was covered with jaguar skin. The dining room in the patio in the rear had widow screens to keep the flies out, but there were no glass panes. There was only one guest room, and luckily we were the only guests. In the room were three small canvas camp cots with no springs or mattress, and just one sheet, and one blanket on each.

The Rio Coco runs by the edge of the town, so I thought this would be a good place to start prospecting. I told Jock to find us some horses and some miners that knew the country, and to get supplies for a trip of several days.

I was tired, and went in to the room and laid down on a cot. Funny, I thought, how I trusted Jock. I felt that I had known him all my life.

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