Friday, January 15, 2010

"¿Estas bromeando?"

This morning I got an early start and crossed into Honduras around 9 AM. Figuring I had all day to get to Choluteca - less than a two hours' drive away - I decided to take little side roads on the Panamericana, and do some birding and searching along the way. The first road I took was a dirt road leading south not far from the Salvadoran border, to a small community called El Guayabo. It led into a mixture of cattle pastures and dry scrub, where Tropical Mockingbirds for example were very common. However, my birding there was cut short by a wasp attack. There's a small wasp species that's fairly common in southern Honduras and that I had seen before. As I was birding from the car with windows down, a few had flown in and were feeding on what I assumed was salts and minerals from sweat. Thinking they were harmless, I let them. When I got out of the car to look at some hummingbirds, wasp numbers suddenly increased dramatically, and before I knew it I was surrounded by fifteen or so wasps, with about thirty more buzzing around in the car. Yes, they were all busy feeding on sweat-stained substrates (my arms, my T-shirt, my binocular strap, the car seats), but doing so got themselves in tight corners. Thus they began stinging me. Their sting was only moderately painful. Freaking out nonetheless, I got into the car and started driving at considerable speed, hoping the wind would blow them out. Which it did, thankfully.

I decided I was going to do my birding on another, less wasp-infested dirt road, which I found in the direction of Agua Fria and Playa Grande. These names, incidentally, are a bit fanciful, for neither cold water nor big beaches were found there. Nor Pearl Kites, for that matter. What I did find there was a first cycle Herring Gull, soaring with a Common Black Hawk. According to Howell & Webb, Herring Gulls are uncommon here in winter, though not rare. I also saw another immature Peregrine Falcon. Some kids on bicycles were interested in what I was doing, and one of them became my guide to the area for a little while. I gave him some change and in return he opened cattle gates for me and told me there was a beach there after all, although when we got there, it was just dry salt flats surrounded by mangrove. The birding there wasn't very exciting, so I turned around and went back to the Panamericana.

One of the birds I saw there was the Yellow-breasted Chat pictured above.

Then, near Jicaro Galán, I ran into a police road block, and was asked to pull over. I recognized the police officer from last Tuesday, when Kashmir and I were traveling in the opposite direction. Then he gave me a ticket for having only one, instead of two triangles, which cost me 200 Lempiras back then. (In El Salvador, you only need one. In Honduras, you need two.) Kashmir wisely suggested we get a second triangle, so we won't have to pay a second time. I remember Kashmir asking the cop how much those things cost. "Oh, just 50 Lemps, you can buy them in Jicaro Galán, just a little down the road". So we paid the 200 Lempiras and went over to the ferreteria that he had directed us to. As we pulled up, I joked to Kashmir that the ferreteria probably belonged to his brother, and that they had a little business going together. When asked for a triangle, the girl at the counter gave us a bored look and said "200 Lempiras". We said "What? You must be kidding!" Still looking bored, she said "150 Lempiras". She brought out a set of two, but we informed her that we already had one, and only needed one more. We talked her down to 65 Lempiras for one triangle.

So when the same cop today asked me for the fire extinguisher and the triangles, I smiled and produced said articles proudly. With a straight face, he then said "Those triangles are different. They need to be the same." Incredulous, I started laughing and said "You've got to be kidding me!" "Also, you need to have red and white marking at the back bumper of your vehicle, like that truck over there." Knowing I was being fed sh**, I was getting angry and started telling him that he was just sh***ing me. I could see that this wasn't helping matters. He then directed me to pull over a little further off the road, and I thought 'OK, here we go, he's going to make me turn the vehicle inside out.' This however, he was not interested in. He kept repeating his points about the triangles being different, and I kept laughing and saying that it was irrelevant, and we seemed to be reaching a stalemate over this. With him holding my papers, mind you. He eventually handed them back to me and asked me for some change. I gave him 10 Lempiras and I was on my way.

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