- Ummmm do you smell it?
- I'm all stuffed up, can't smell shit!
- It smells good...it smells like hope.
I lifted the handbrake and slammed the pedal again...nothing. I switched the gearbox to manual mode and changed down to gear one. The engine brake roared and slowed us down. Momentum kept La Chichona going, slowly forward, like a boat about to dock. Shy of the metal kiss, the green pick-up truck coughed a black cloud and exited the bridge.
I put on the emergency lights and cruised at boat-docking speed. One car behind us started honking. On the left side of the road, a tall red star sign shot at the sky; a Texaco gas station! La Chichona blew her horn long and loud and cut through both lanes like a knife through a ripe avocado. All cars were honking. We rolled down on the Texaco parking lot, bumped against the sidewalk, and stopped.
Kristy observed a minute of silence. I was shaking. It could have happened on the road, at a high speed, on a turn… We paused to appreciate our luck. Traffic resumed on the bridge, and I caught a few shady characters staring at us. One fat filthy man was laying in the grass around the parking lot. He was certainly disturbed, probably dangerous. This was not the place to dawdle.
An armed security guard was standing by the gas station building. I asked Kristy to wait inside while I hauled a mechanic. As she walked away, the fat hobo followed her with his eyes. Then he dropped his pants and started masturbating, right there, on the grass. Kristy did not look back.
The sun was setting over Honduras. I had no intention of spending the night in that shithole so I dashed downtown. One by one, shops were pulling down their metal curtain. The third mechanic I stopped at had not closed yet. He said he first had to pick up a chair but could help me afterward. I stuck with him like a flee on a dog, helped him carry the chair to his car, and we returned to the gas station. Kristy was still inside. The fat hobo was sleeping on the grass.
There was a large puddle coming out of La Chichona. The mechanic smelled the liquid, crawled under the van, and pulled out a stick of rotten metal. The tubes that carry the brake fluids had oxidated and crumbled. There was no quick fix. We had to replace them.
The next two hours were a hectic race against twilight. I was running from shop to shop, trying to collect all pieces before night. We changed 16 meters of copper tubes, poured 6 bottles of brake fluid, and ran tests on the parking lot. The mechanic fixed the brakes but said it would be suicidal to drive like that at night. He needed to test the entire braking system on the highway to make sure everything was in order. Kristy booked us a hotel.
In my travels, I had seen my fair share of shitholes, but this one was spooky. Metal bars protected all doors and windows. Streetlights worked on occasion and people vanished as soon as night fell. We searched for the hotel, scanned all houses like two cops under cover, and missed it twice. From outside, it looked like a detention center. The clerk checked our reservation from behind the metal gate and once confirmed, he fetched the keys. We parked in front, grabbed our passports, and entered the safe prison.
The room had AC and hot water, a luxury. We hid all valuables inside and went down for food with nothing but a little cash. The hotel clerk pointed to a corner a few blocks away. There was no one else on that street. We passed in front of a big empty scrapyard. It looked like the perfect place to hide two bodies. Anxious and hungry, we were about to turn around when the smell of burning fat teased my nostrils. Let there be light.
And light there was. Light and life and hope; a entire street buzzing with Honduran food. In a converted garage, three generations of women were making treats. The great grandmother kneaded tortillas. The grandmother stirred meat and vegetables. And the mother served customers while attending her three toddlers. Honduran cuisine resembled Mexican’s, but with a pronounced Caribbean touch. We had juicy baleadas (a cheesy taco) and rich, spicy coleslaw. It was so tasty I took an extra meal to go. Even Kristy who was sick and lacked appetite finished her vegetarian baleada. Food brought smile on our faces. We'd forgotten the day.
No matter the shithole, there will always be a sweet mama making delicious food.