Did you hear the one about the guinea pig who married the ground hog? Me either but I've seen their offspring and they will not be winning any beauty contests. Thank god it was daylight and I hadn't been swilling beer. Capybaras (don't believe everything traveling evangelicals tell you, they appear to be agouti's) run free on the grounds of El Hotel del Norte in Puerto Barrios. Adults can reach 200 pounds but these little guys are more in the 10-20 pound range. Begging from tourists and upping the ante on rodents like grey squirels many hundred-fold they appear to be harmless but unsettling nonetheless.
Hotel del Norte is a large wooden structure built 120 years ago. It has a refreshingly cool swimming pool surrounded by lovely shaded areas to sit, eat and drink, while gazing out over the caribbean or watching the action on the malecon. The second story rooms have louvered double doors opening to a wide screened in porch which encircles the structure. There is a more modern wing with hot water, cable, etc., at $35/nite. I opted for the original with 12 foot ceilings, private bath, double screened doors behind the louvered ones, fan, two tired beds and lots of built in shelves and workspaces for around $12. The United Fruit Company's visiting executives used to reside here while visiting their operations and pulling strings in the original banana republic. Today it's a shadow of its former self but with the edition of some new mattresses and pillows could still be quite comfortable in a Bogie and Bacall sort of way. My first visit to el bano gave me time to get positioned with feet spread before the flourescent lighting's starter kicked in. My little friends never had a chance. The combination of 200 pound man, ceramic tile floors, hard soled shoes and a quick tap dance resulted in corpses which must have discouraged the troops as I had no more visitors. It is, after all, really and truly a jungle out there, and there are bugs. From what I've seen they inhabit much fancier places and are bigger on Roatan.
I liked the old place and probably would have stayed another night. It's location, directly on the newly constructed malecon, is hard to beat. A big new restaurant/bar complete with thatched roof and a palapa over the water has just opened next door. On a friday night the little concrete strip next to the sea was hopping. Food vendor's carts, pony rides, kids with their car blasters pumping reggaeton, and drinking and peeing in the park, and me with an almost invisible perch on the porch above. What a great show. Much better than Guatemalan cable TV from my POV. I had a couple beers with a friendly local at the new place next door. Pedro resided in LA for 20 years and worked in the hospitality industry. He met Al Gore (great guy) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (total dick) while working there and picked up much better english than my espanol. He now works for some gringos speculating in Rio Dulce real estate as a foreman/translator. I'm always a little wary of locals with good english as they often have an agenda. My new amigo casually mentioned that he could get girls, not putas but really nice girls who would act like putas but not overcharge me. He could provide other services as well should they be needed but I thanked him and retired to mi cuarto where with the insertion of earplugs I was out like a light.
I was surprised that with 20+ rooms available on the second floor they gave los chicos the one adjacent to mine. The pool party started about 3:00am with cannonballs, drunken shouting, and frequent trips to the room for???? About 4:30 the yelps turned to pain instead of pleasure as someone apparently got a little friendlier with their concrete surroundings than they'd planned. Too bad. With the party over its back to sleep till 5:00 when a cell phone, which must've been in a pair of pants hanging on the opposite side of the large resonant wooden boards seperating our rooms, starts to sound an alarm. Los chicos son muy borrachos and don't get up. After five or ten minutes burly man in recently donned boxers has had enough and I'm out on the porch hoping to find the phone and send it to the bottom of the pool but no such luck, instead I shake their doors violently till someone shuts off the alarm after an indignant grunt or two.
As a dirty little port town, still handling tons of bananas and a lot of other fruit on its way to north american tables, Puerto Barrios gets a lot of sailors and truck drivers. What's the first thing they want when they hit town? I know, you're thinking clean sheets and a good connection to phone home and let mom know they're ok but not the case. They want girls! I'll avoid allegories but there are probably almost as many puta bars in Puerto Barrios as there are bananas. I believe that even if they had truth in advertising requiring their signs to show overweight single mothers with less than full sets of teeth instead of hot models they'd still be busy. On the bright side they also have a perfectly acceptable marketplace where I bargain, amongst the fruit, veggies, and room temperature meat, for sandals and a couple of "Pierre Cardin" (si, son reales) sport shirts for my trip to Livingston on the mornings ferry. Sandals Q35 ($4.50) Two shirts about $20 (Pierre Cardin, senor).