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Tramping Through Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras by Harry A. Franck

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and at length, beyond the hamlet of Santa María, up one of the highest
climbs of the trip to the long crest of a ridge thick with whispering
pines and with splendid views of the "Great Depths," dense in woodland,
on either side as far as the eye could reach. Muleteers passed
frequently, often carrying on their own backs a bundle of the Santa Rosa
cigars with which their animals were laden. Except for her soldiers,
accustomed to "show off" before their fellows, every person I had met in
Honduras had been kindly and courteous--if dirty--and never with a hint
of coveting my meager hoard. Beggars seemed as unknown as
robbers--perhaps from lack of initiative and energy. From Esperanza on,
the Indian boys I met driving mules or carrying nets of oranges all
folded their hands before them like a Buddhist at prayer when they
approached me, but instead of mumbling some request for alms, as I
expected, they greeted me with an almost obsequious "Adiós" and a faint
smile. How the "little red schoolhouse" is lacking in this wooded
mountainland! Not merely was the immense majority entirely illiterate,
but very few of them had even reached the stage of desiring to learn. A
paucity of intelligence and initiative made all intercourse monotonously
the same. The greeting was never a hearty, individual phrase of the
speaker's own choosing, but always the invariable "Adiós, Buenos días,
tardes or noche," even though I had already addressed some inquiry to
them. Replies to questions of distance were as stereotyped, with the
diminutive _ito_ beloved of the Central Americans tacked on
wherever possible:

"Larguita 'stá! A la vueltita no más! Está cerquita! De día no llega! A
la tardecita llega. Ay no masito! A la oracióncita llega--"

Nothing could bring them down from these glittering generalities to a
definite statement of distance, in leagues or hours, and to reach a
place reported "Just around the little corner" was as apt to mean a half
day's tramp as that it was over the next knoll.

In the _aldea_ of Tutule I fell in with Alberto Suaza, a pleasant
appearing, all but white Honduranean, who had once been in the army and
was now returning on horseback from some government errand. The hamlet
slumbered on a slope of a little leaning valley backed by a wooded
mountain ridge, all but a few of the inhabitants being engaged in coffee
culture in the communal tract up over the hill when we arrived. Suaza
picketed his diminutive animal before the hut of a friend, in which we
shared two eggs and coffee and turned in together. Unfortunately I let
my companion persuade me against my better judgment to lay aside my
hammock and sleep on his "bed," a sun-dried ox-hide thrown on the earth
floor, on my side of which, "because he was more used to hard beds than
those señores gringoes," he spread most of the _colchón_
(mattress)--which consisted of two empty grainsacks. Either these or the
painfully thin blanket over us housed a nimble breed I had miraculously
escaped thus far on the journey, robbing me of the much-needed sleep the
incessant barking of a myriad of dogs, the itching of mosquito bites,
the rhinoceros-like throat-noises of the family, and the rock hardness
of the floor would probably otherwise have pilfered. The man of the
house had stripped stark naked and, wrapping a red blanket about him,
lay down on a bare wooden bed to pass the night apparently in perfect
comfort. Soft mortals indeed are we of civilized and upholstered lands.

Suaza made no protest when I paid the bill for both, and by seven we
were off, he riding his tiny horse until we were out of sight of the
town, then dismounting to lead it the rest of the day. He had announced
himself the possessor of an immensely rich aunt on whose hacienda we
should stop for "breakfast," and promised we should spend the night
either in the gold mine of which she was a chief stockholder or at her
home in La Paz, which I gathered to be a great mansion filled with all
the gleanings of that lady's many trips to Europe and the States. I had
long since learned the Latin American's love of personal
exaggeration. But Suaza was above the Honduranean average; he not only
read with comparative ease but cleaned his finger nails, and I looked
forward with some eagerness to a coming oasis of civilization in the
hitherto unsoftened wilderness.

It was an ideal day for tramping, cloudy yet bright, with a strong fresh
wind almost too cold for sitting still and across a country green and
fragrant with endless forest, and after the climb back of Tutule little
more than rolling. It was noon before we came upon the new mud-and-tiled
house of the cattle-tender of "dear aunty's" hacienda, and though the
meal we enjoyed there was savory by Honduranean standards, it was not so
completely Parisian as I had permitted myself to anticipate. That I was
allowed to pay for it proved nothing, for the employees of the wealthy
frequently show no aversion to accepting personal favors.

Not far beyond we came out on the edge of a tableland with a splendid
view of the valley of Comayagua, far below, almost dead level, some ten
miles wide and thirty long, deep green everywhere, with cloud shadows
giving beautiful color effects across it in the jumble of green
mountains with the purple tinge of distance beyond which lay
Tegucigalpa. At the same time there began the most laborious descent of
the journey, an utterly dry mountain face pitched at an acute angle and
made up completely of loose rock, down which we must pick every step and
often use our hands to keep from landing with broken bones at the
bottom. The new buildings of the mine were in plain sight almost
directly below us from the beginning, yet we were a full two hours in
zigzagging by short legs straight down the loose-stone slope to
them. The American manager was absent, but in the general store of the
company I had not only the pleasure of spending an hour in the first
thoroughly clean building I had seen in Honduras, but of speaking
English, for the two Negro youths in charge of the place were natives of
Belize, or British Honduras, and were equally fluent in my own tongue or
Spanish, while their superiority in personal condition over the natives
was a sad commentary on the boasted advantage of the republican form of

The thirsty, rock-sown descent continued, bringing us at last with
aching thighs to the level of the vast valley, more than four thousand
feet below the lodging-places of the few days past. Suaza mounted his
horse and prepared to enter his native La Paz in style. So often had
kingly quarters promised me by the self-styled sons of wealth in Latin
America gradually degenerated to the monotonous tortilla level of
general conditions that I had not been able entirely to disabuse myself
of an expectation of disappointment. Sure enough, where the trail broke
up into a score of paths among mud huts and pig wallows, my companion
paused in the dark to say:

"Perhaps after all it will be better to take you right to my house for
to-night. One always feels freer in one's father's house. My aunt might
be holding some social affair, or be sick or--But we will surely call at
her mansion to-morrow, and--"

"Como usted quiera?" I answered, swallowing my disappointment. At least
his father's house should be something above the ordinary.

But to my astonishment we stopped a bit farther on in the suburbs before
one of the most miserable mud hovels it had been my misfortune to run
across in Honduras, swarming with pigs, yellow curs, and all the
multitudinous filth and disarray indigenous to the country. The coldest
of welcomes greeted us, the frowsy, white-bearded father in the noisome
doorway replying to the son's query of why there was no light with a

"If you want light why don't you come in the daytime?"

My companion told a boy of the family to go buy a candle, and his
scrawny, unkempt mother bounded out of the hut with the snarl of a

"What do you want a candle for?"

The boy refused to go and Suaza tied his horse to a bush and went in
quest of one himself. I mentioned supper, hinting at my willingness to
pay for anything that could be furnished, but to each article I
suggested came the monotonous, indifferent Honduranean answer, "No hay."
After much growling and an extended quarrel with her son, the woman set
on a corner of a wabbly-legged table, littered with all manner of
unsavory junk, two raw eggs, punctured and warmed, a bowl of hot water
and a stale slab of _pan dulce_, a cross between poor bread and
worse cake. I wandered on into the town in the hope of finding some
imitation of a hotel. But though the place had a population of several
thousand, it was made up exclusively of mud huts only two or three of
which were faintly lighted by pine-splinters. The central plaza was a
barren, unlighted pasture, a hut on the corner of which was reputed to
be a shop, but when I had beaten my way into it I found nothing for sale
except bottles of an imitation wine at monopoly prices. In my disgust I
pounded my way into every hovel that was said to be a tienda. Not an
edible thing was to be found. One woman claimed to have fruit for sale,
and after collecting a high price for them she went out into the patio
and picked a half-dozen perfectly green oranges.

"But what do people eat and drink in La Paz? Grass and water?" I

But the bedraggled population was not even amenable to crude sarcasm,
and the only reply I got was a lazy, child-like:

"Oh, each one keeps what he needs to eat in his own house."

Here was a town of a size to have been a place of importance in other
lands, yet even the mayor lived with his pigs on an earth
floor. Statistics of population have little meaning in Honduras. The
place recalled a cynical "gringo's" description of a similar town, "It
has a hundred men, two hundred women, and 100,000 chuchos "--the generic
term in Central America for yellow curs of all colors. Why every family
houses such a swarm of these miserable beasts is hard to guess. Mere
apathy, no doubt, for they are never fed; nor, indeed, are the pigs that
also overrun every household and live, like the dogs, on the offal of
the patio or backyard that serves as place of convenience. They have at
least the doubtful virtue of partly solving the sewer problem, which is
not a problem to Honduraneans. A tortilla or other food held carelessly
is sure to be snatched by some cat, pig, or dog; a bundle left unwatched
for a moment is certain to be rooted about the floor or deposited with
filth. These people utterly lack any notion of improvement. A child or
an animal, for instance, climbs upon the table or into a dish of food.
When the point is reached at which it is unavoidable, the person nearest
shouts, throws whatever is handy, or kicks at the offender; but though
the same identical performance is repeated a score of times during a
single meal, there is never any attempt to correct the culprit, to drive
it completely off, or remove the threatened dish from the danger zone. A
people inhabiting a land that might be a garden spot of the earth drift
through their miserable lives in identically the same fashion as their
gaunt and mangy curs.

There was a great gathering of the neighboring clans in the Suaza hut
next morning, while my companion of the day before enlarged upon what he
fancied he knew about his distinguished guest. Among those who crowded
the place were several men of education, in the Honduranean
sense,--about equal to that of a poorly trained American child in the
fourth grade. But there was not one of them that did not show a monkey
curiosity and irresponsibility in handling every article in my pack; my
sweater--"Ay qué lindo!" my papers--"How beautiful!" an extremely
ordinary shirt--"How soft and fine! How costly!" and "How much did this
cost?--and that?" Suaza displayed my medicine-case to the open-mouthed
throng--and would I give mother some pills for her colic, and would I
please photograph each one of the family--and so on to the end of
patience. There was no mention made of the wealthy aunt and her mansion
after the day dawned. The invitation to spend a few days, "as many as
you like," amid the luxuries of Paris and the Seven Seas had tapered
down to the warmed eggs and black coffee, the only real food I ate being
that I had bought in a house-to-house canvass in the morning. I had
distributed pills to most of the family and several neighbors and
photographed them, at the request of the man of many promises, had paid
his bills on the road since our meeting; while I prepared my pack, he
requested me to send him six prints each of the pictures, some postals
of New York, a pair of pajamas such as I carried, "and any other little
things I might think he would like," including long weekly letters, and
as I rose to take my leave and asked what I owed him, he replied with a
bland and magnanimous smile:

"You owe me nothing whatever, señor,--only to mamá," and dear mamá
collected about what a first-class hotel would have for the same length
of time.



A monotonous wide path full of loose stones led through dry, breathless
jungle across the valley floor to Comayagua. The former capital of the
republic had long held a place in my imagination, and the distant view
of it the day before from the lofty rim of the valley backed by long
blue ranges of mountains had enhanced my desire to visit the place, even
though it lay somewhat off the direct route. But romance did not long
survive my entrance. For the most part it was merely a larger
collection of huts along badly cobbled or grass-grown streets common to
all "cities" of Honduras. A stub-towered, white-washed cathedral, built
by the Spaniards and still the main religious edifice of Honduras, faced
the drowsy plaza; near it were a few "houses of commerce," one-story
plaster buildings before which hung a sign with the owner's name and
possibly some hint of his business, generally that of hawking a few
bolts of cloth, straw hats, or ancient and fly-specked cheap products
from foreign parts. The town boasted a place that openly receives
travelers, but its two canvas cots and its rafters were already occupied
by several snobbish and gawkily dressed young natives bound from the
north coast to the capital.

The chief of telegraphs finally led me to the new billiard-hall, where a
lawyer in a frock coat and the manners of a prime minister admitted he
had an empty shop in which I could swing my hammock. When he had
finished his game, he got a massive key and a candle and led the way in
person to a small hut in a side street, the rafters uncomfortably high
above the tile floor, on which I was fortunate to have a newspaper to
spread before depositing my bundle. The lawyer took leave of me with
the customary "At your orders; here you are in your own house," and
marched ministerially away with the several pompous friends who had
accompanied him. But a few moments later, having shaken them off, he
returned to collect ten cents--one real for rent and another for the
candle. It was the first lodging I had paid since leaving Guatemala
City. As I doubled up in my ill-hung hammock, the dull thump of a
distant guitar and the explosion of a rare firecracker broke the
stillness of New Year's eve, while now and then there drifted to my ears
the sound of a band in the main plaza that tortured the night at
intervals into the small hours.

Comayagua by day was a lazy, silent place, chiefly barefoot, the few
possessors of shoes being gaudily dressed young men whose homes were
earth-floored huts. The place had the familiar Central American air of
trying to live with the least possible exertion; its people were a
mongrel breed running all the gamut from black to near-white. There were
none of the fine physical specimens common to the highlands of Mexico,
and the teeth were notably bad. A few of the soldiers, in blue-jean
uniforms with what had once been white stripes, faded straw hats, and
bare feet, were mountain Indians with well-developed chests; for
military service--of the catch-them-with-a-rope variety--is compulsory
in Honduras. But the population in general was anemic and stunted. Two
prisoners were at work in the streets; more properly they sat smoking
cigarettes and putting a finger cautiously to their lips when I passed
in silent request not to wake up their guard, who was sound asleep on
his back in the shade, his musket lying across his chest. The town had
one policeman, a kinky-haired youth in a white cap and a pale light gray
cotton uniform, who carried a black club and wore shoes! The
_cartero_, or mailman, was a barefoot boy in faded khaki and an
ancient straw hat, who wandered lazily and apparently aimlessly about
town with the week's correspondence in hand, reading the postals and
feeling the contents of each letter with a proprietary air. The sun was
brilliant and hot here in the valley, and there was an aridity that had
not been suggested in the view of it from the heights above.

It was no place to spend New Year's, however, stiff and sore though I
was from the hardships of the road, and toward lazy, silent noonday I
wandered on along the trail to the modern capital, hoping that it, at
least, might have real beds and a hotel, and perhaps even white
inhabitants. The battered old church bells were thumping as I topped the
slight rise that hid the town from view, and it was four hours later
that I saw or heard the next human being, or any other evidence of his
existence except a stretch of barb-wire and one lone telegraph wire
sagging from one crooked stick to another. The four stony dry but flat
leagues along the valley floor had brought me to San Antonio, all the
population of which was loafing and mildly celebrating New Year's, as
they would celebrate any other possible excuse not to work. Here I
obtained water, and new directions that led me off more toward the east
and the heaped-up mountains that lay between me and Tegucigalpa. On all
sides spread a dry, bushy land, aching for cultivation. I had the good
fortune to fall in with a river so large I was able to swim three
strokes in one of its pools, and strolled with dusk into the town of
Flores on the edge of the first foothills of the ranges still to be

Though still a lazy naked village, this one showed some hint of the
far-off approach of civilization. Animals were forbidden the house in
which I passed the night, and its tile-floor was almost clean. This
latter virtue was doubly pleasing, for the rafters above were so high
that even when I had tied my hammock by the very ends of the ropes I
could only climb in by mounting a chair and swinging myself up as into a
trapeze; and if I must break a leg it would be some slight compensation
to do so on a clean floor. How much uncleanliness this simple little
30-cent net had kept me up out of since the day I bought it in Guatemala

Like many of the tasks of life, this one grew easier toward its
termination. A moderate day's walk, not without rocky climbs and
_bajadas_, but with considerable stretches of almost level going
across solitary wind-cooled plains, brought me to Támara. A passing
company of soldiers had all but gutted the village larder, but at dusk
in the last hut I got not only food but meat, and permission to swing my
hammock from the blackened rafters of the reed kitchen, over the open
pots and pans. Incidentally, for the first time in Honduras prices were
quadrupled in honor of my being a foreigner. Civilization indeed was

Half way up the wooded ridge beyond I met the sun mounting from the
other side, fell in soon after with a real highway, and at eleven caught
the first sight of Tegucigalpa, the "City of the Silver Hills," capital
of the Sovereign and Independent Republic of Honduras. It was no very
astounding sight; merely what in other lands would have been considered
a large village, a chiefly one-story place with a whitewashed church,
filling only a small proportion of a somewhat barren valley surrounded
by high rocky and partly wooded hills. I marched down through
Comayagüela in all the disreputableness of fifteen days on the trail,
across the little bridge of a few arches over a shallow river which to
Honduraneans far and wide is one of the greatest works of man, and into
the park-like little central plaza, with its huge arbor of purple

The "Hotel Jockey Club" was not all that the imagination might have
pictured, but at least there Was the satisfaction of knowing that any
stranger in town, be he "gringo" or president-elect, famous or infamous,
rich or honest, could stop nowhere else. Among its luxuries was a
"bath," which turned out to be a massive stone vessel in the basement
with a drizzle of cold water from a faucet above that was sure to run
dry about the time the victim was well soaped; its frontiersman rooms
were furnished with little more than weak-kneed canvas cots, and the
barefoot service of the dining-room was assisted by all the dogs, fowls,
and flies of the region. But there lay two hungry weeks of Central
American trail behind me and for days to come I ate unquestioningly
anything that came within reach of my fingers, of whatever race, color,
or previous condition of servitude.

Just around the corner--as everything is in this miniature capital--the
American Legation delivered the accumulated mail of a month, and the
pair of real shoes I had had the happy thought of sending to myself here
months before. This bit of foresight saved me from hobbling on to the
coast barefoot. I had arrived just in time to attend one of
Tegucigalpa's gala events, the inspection of her newly reformed police
force. "It is set for three," said the legation secretary, "so come
around about three-thirty." Just around another corner we entered
toward four the large dusty patio of a one-story building of mud blocks,
against the adobe wall of which were lined up something over a hundred
half-frightened, half-proud Honduranean Indians in brand new, dark-blue
uniforms and caps, made in Germany, and armed with black night-sticks
and large revolvers half-hidden in immense holsters. We took the places
of honor reserved for us at a bench and table under the patio veranda
beside the chief of police, an American soldier of fortune named Lee
Christmas. He was a man nearing fifty, totally devoid of all the
embroidery of life, golden toothed and graying at the temples, but still
hardy and of youthful vigor, of the dress and manner of a well-paid
American mechanic, who sat chewing his black cigar as complacently as if
he were still at his throttle on the railroad of Guatemala. Following
the latest revolution he had reorganized what, to use his own words, had
been "a bunch of barefooted apes in faded-blue cotton rags" into the
solemn military company that was now to suffer its first formal
inspection. The native secretary, standing a bit tremulously in the edge
of the shade, called from the list in his hand first the name of
Christmas himself, then that of the first assistant, and his own, he
himself answering "present" for each of these. Next were the
commanders, clerks, under-secretaries, and the like in civilian garb,
each, as his name was pronounced, marching past us hat in hand and
bowing profoundly. Last came the policemen in uniform. As the secretary
read his title and first name, each self-conscious Indian stepped
stiffly forth from the ranks, throwing a foot, heavy with the
unaccustomed shoe, high in the air and pounding the earth in the new
military style taught him by a willowy young native in civilian dress
who leaned haughtily on his cane watching every movement, made a
sharp-cornered journey about the sun-flooded yard and bringing up more
or less in front of his dreaded chief, gave a half turn, raised the
right leg to the horizontal with the grace of an aged ballet dancer long
since the victim of rheumatism, brought it down against the left like
the closing of a heavy trapdoor, saluted with his night-stick and
huskily called out his own last name, which Christmas checked off on the
list before him without breaking the thread of the particular anecdote
with which he chanced at that moment to be entertaining us.

"I tried to get 'em to cut out this ---- ---- German monkey business of
throwing their feet around," confided the chief sadly, "but it's no use,
for it's in the ---- ---- military manual."

Judged by Central American standards the force was well trained. But the
poor Indians and half-breeds that made up its bulk were so overwhelmed
with the solemnity of the extraordinary occasion that they were even
more ox-like in their clumsiness and nearer frightened apes in demeanor
than in their native jungles. The quaking fear of making a mis-step
caused them to keep their eyes riveted on the lips of our compatriot,
from which, instead of the words of wrath they no doubt often imagined,
issued some such remark as:

"Why ---- ---- it, W----, one of the bums I picked up along the line one
day in Guatemala told me the best ---- ---- yarn that--"

Nor could they guess that the final verdict on the great ceremony that
rang forth on the awe-struck silence as the chief rose to his feet was:

"Well, drop around to my room in the hotel when you want to hear the
rest of it. But if you see the sign on my door,' Ladies Only To-day,'
don't knock. The chambermaid may not have finished her official visit."

The climate of Tegucigalpa leaves little to be desired. Otherwise it is
merely a large Central American village of a few thousand inhabitants,
with much of the indifference, uncleanliness, and ignorance of the rest
of the republic. Priests are numerous, wandering about smoking their
cigarettes and protected from the not particularly hot sun by broad hats
and umbrellas. One lonely little native sheet masquerades as a
newspaper, the languid little shops, often owned by foreigners, offer a
meager and ancient stock chiefly imported and all high in price; for it
takes great inducement to make the natives produce anything beyond the
corn and beans for their own requirements. The "national palace" is a
green, clap-boarded building, housing not only the president and his
little reception-room solemn with a dozen chairs in cotton shrouds, but
congress, the ministry, and the "West Point of Honduras," the
superintendent of which was a native youth who had spent a year or two
at Chapultepec. Against it lean barefooted, anemic "soldiers" in misfit
overalls, armed with musket and bayonet that overtop them in height. The
main post-office of the republic is an ancient adobe hovel, in the
cobwebbed recesses of which squat a few stupid fellows waiting for the
mule-back mail-train to arrive that they may lock up in preparation for
beginning to look over the correspondence mañana. It is not the custom
to make appointments in Tegucigalpa. If one resident desires the
presence of another at dinner, or some less excusable function, he
wanders out just before the hour set until he picks up his guest
somewhere. By night the town is doubly dead. The shops put up their
wooden shutters at dusk, the more energetic inhabitants wander a while
about the cobbled streets, dim-lighted here and there by arc-lights, the
cathedral bells jangle at intervals like suspended pieces of scrap-iron,
arousing a chorus of barking dogs, and a night in which two blankets are
comfortable settles down over all the mountainous, moon-flooded region.
There is not even the imitation of a theater, the plaza concert on
Sunday evenings, in which the two sexes wander past each other in
opposite directions for an hour or two, being the only fixed
recreation. A man of infinite patience, or who had grown old and weary
of doing, might find Tegucigalpa agreeable; but it would soon pall on
the man still imbued with living desires.

The fitting shield of Honduras would be one bearing as motto that
monotonous phrase which greets the traveler most frequently along her
trails, "No hay." The country is noted chiefly for what "there is not."
Everywhere one has the impression of watching peculiarly stupid children
playing at being a republic. The nation is a large farm in size and a
poorly run one in condition. The wave of "liberty" that swept over a
large part of the world after the French Revolution left these wayward
and not over-bright inhabitants of what might be a rich and fertile land
to play at governing themselves, to ape the forms of real republics, and
mix them with such childish clauses as come into their infantile
minds. The chief newspaper of the republic resembles a high-school
periodical, concocted by particularly thick-headed students without
faculty assistance or editing. A history of their childish governmental
activities would fill volumes. In 1910 all the copper one-centavo coins
were called in and crudely changed to two-centavo pieces by surcharging
the figure 2 and adding an s, a much smaller one-centavo coin being
issued. The "government" may have made as much as $50 by the
transaction. Not long before my arrival, the current postage-stamps,
large quantities of which had been bought by foreign firms within the
country, were suddenly declared worthless, and the entire accumulated
correspondence for the next steamer returned to the senders, instead of
at least being forwarded to destination under excess charges.
Foreigners established the first factory Tegucigalpa had ever known,
which was already employing a half-hundred of the pauperous inhabitants
in the making of candles, when the "government" suddenly not only put a
heavy duty on stearine but required the payment of back duty on all that
had already been imported. An Englishman came down from the mines of San
Juancito embued with the desire to start a manual-training school in the
capital. He called on the mulatto president and offered his services
free for a year, if the government would invest $5000 in equipment. The
president told him to come back mañana. On that elusive day he was
informed that the government had no such sum at its disposal,

"I have saved up $2500 myself," replied the Englishman, "which I will
lend the government for the purpose, if it will add a like amount."

But when mañana came again, the president expressed his regrets that the
national treasury could not endure such a strain.

The best view of Tegucigalpa is had from Picacho, a long ridge from back
in the mountains, ending in a blunt nose almost sheer above the
city. Whoever climbs it recognises the reason for the native saying, "He
who holds Picacho sleeps in the palace." Its town-side face is almost
precipitous, and on every hand spread rolling, half-bare upland
mountains. All but sheer below, in the lowest depression of the visible
world, sits the little capital, rather compact in the center, then
scattered along the little river and in the suburb of Comayaguela
beyond it. The dull-red tile roofs predominate, and the city is so
directly below that one can see almost to the bottom of every tree-grown
patio. A few buildings are of two stories, and the twin-towers of the
little white cathedral stand somewhat above the general level. But most
noticeable of any is the fact that all the vast broken plain surrounding
it far and wide lies almost entirely uncultivated, for the most part
neither cleared nor inhabited, crossed by several roads and trails, most
conspicuous of all the two white ribbons by one of which I had arrived
from the north and the other of which was already inviting me onward to
the coast and new climes.

A fellow-gringo, bound for the Pacific exit on a miniature horse, packed
away my baggage on his cargo mule and left me to walk unhampered. A
highway some fifty feet wide and white with dust struck off uncertainly
toward the southwest, a splendid highway once, built for automobiles by
the combined efforts of the government and an American mining company
farther up in the hills, but now suffered to fall here and there into a
disrepair that made it as useless for such traffic as a mountain trail.
The first day of thirty miles brought us to Sabana Grande, with a
species of hotel. During the second, there were many down-grade
short-cuts, full of loose stones and dusty dry under the ever warmer
sun, with the most considerable bridge in Honduras over the Pasoreal
River, and not a few stiff climbs to make footsore my entrance into the
village of Pespire. Here was a house that frankly and openly displayed
the sign "Restaurante," in a corner of which travelers of persuasive
manners might be furnished _tijeras_, scissor-legged canvas cots on
which to toss out the night; for Pespire is far below Tegucigalpa and on
the edge of the blazing tropics.

For which reason we rose at three to finish the half-day of sea-level
country left us. The stars hung brilliant and a half moon lighted up a
way that was hot even at this hour. From sunrise on huge lizards
scurried up among the wayside rocks as we passed, and sat torpid,
staring at us with their lack-luster eyes. Natives wearing spurs on
their hoof-like bare feet rode by us now and then, and mule-trains or
screaming wooden carts crawled past on their way up to the capital. All
traffic between Tegucigalpa and the outside world passes either over
this route or the still longer trail from Puerto Cortez, on the north
coast, from which a toy railroad limps a few miles inland before losing
its courage and turning back. By daylight the fantastic ranges of the
interior had disappeared and the last low foothill soon left us to plod
on straight across a dust-dry sandy plain with brown withered grass and
mesquite bushes, among which panted scores of cattle. Honduras runs so
nearly down to a point on its Pacific side that the mountains of both
Salvador and Nicaragua stood out plainly to the right and left.

By sweltering ten we were swimming in the Pacific before the scattered
village of San Lorenzo, though there was visible only a little arm of
the sea shut in by low bushy islands. It was our good fortune not to
have to charter by telegraph and at the expense of a Honduranean fortune
means of transportation to the island port of Amapala; for before we
could seek the shelter of our sun-faded garments a launch put in for a
party that had been forming for several days past. The passengers
included a shifty-eyed old priest in charge of two nuns, the rules of
whose order forbade them to speak to men, and the mozo of an influential
Honduranean who had shot a man the night before and was taking advantage
of his master's personal friendship with the judge of the district. The
launch wound between bushy banks and came out at last on a rich-blue bay
shut off in the far distance by several jagged black volcanic islands,
toward one of which it wheezed a hot and monotonous three hours. This
was "Tiger's Island," named evidently from the one moth-eaten specimen
that had once been landed here by a passing circus. At a narrow wooden
wharf of this we at length gradually tied up. Ragged, barefoot soldiers
stopped us to write our pedigrees, as if we were entering some new
country, and addressed us in monkey signs instead of the Spanish of
which experience had convinced them all traveling foreigners were

Amapala is a species of outdoor prison to which all travelers to or from
Honduras on the Pacific side are sentenced for a term varying in length
according to their luck, which is generally bad. Those who do not sleep
in the park toss out their imprisonment on a bedstead of woven ropes in
a truly Honduranean building that disguises itself under the name of
"Hotel Morazán," the slatternly keeper of which treats her helpless
inmates with the same consideration as any other prison warden devoid of
humanity or oversight. The steamer I awaited was due before I arrived,
but day after day I lay marooned on the blazing volcanic rock without a
hint as to its whereabouts. Not even exercise was possible, unless one
cared to race up and down the sharp jagged sides of the sea-girt
volcano. The place ranks high as an incubator of malignant fevers and
worse ailments, and to cap the climax the ice-machine was broken
down. It always is, if the testimony of generations of castaways is to
be given credence. Our only available pastime was to buy a soap-boxful
of oysters, at the cost of a quarter, and sit in the narrow strip of
shade before the "hotel" languidly opening them with the only available
corkscrew, our weary gaze fixed on the blue arm of water framed by the
shimmering hot hills of Salvador by which tradition had it ocean craft
sometimes came to the rescue.

But all things have an end, even life imprisonment, and with the middle
of January we awoke one morning to find a steamer anchored in the
foreground of the picture that had seared itself into our memories. All
day long half-naked natives' waded lazily back and forth from the beach
to the clumsy tenders, exchanging the meager products of the country for
ill-packed merchandise from my own. Night settled down over their
unfinished task, the self-same moon came out and the woven-rope cots
again creaked and groaned under unwilling guests. But by noon next day we
had swung our hammocks under the awning of the forecastlehead and were
off along the tropical blue Pacific for Panama.


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