Does anyone else ever get the sea-longing? It’s a curious sort of affliction. Somehow the sea gets into your blood, and one of your deepest desires becomes to be near it, to see it, to smell it and hear it and touch it. But it’s deeper than a physical longing; it’s a spiritual longing. You long for what the sea represents. You long to sail away, go across the sea to nowhere in particular, just somewhere. To get in a boat with a person or people you love, or even all by yourself, and just go off adventuring on the ocean. Catch fish to eat, put in at strange ports, explore exotic marketplaces. Most of all, just to be there, breathing it all in. Yet this earthly ocean still doesn’t quite satisfy the longing and the wanderlust, because part of the longing is a longing for something deeper, a primal ocean which does not exist and may never have existed.
At least, that’s what the feeling is like for me. It’s a feeling I’ve had to suppress over the years, because it’s been about a decade since I lived near the ocean. This past week, I got to see the ocean again. It was beautiful. It filled me up with poetry again, and I haven’t been full of poetry in a long time. We (my aunt and uncle, my two cousins, and I) went to the oceanfront town of Tela, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast. This is the town where my uncle grew up, and it’s very different from Tegucigalpa, the capital, where I’ve been staying. Much slower-paced, smaller, kinder. It’s a fairly charming little town, really. But the best part about being there was being near the ocean.
There is also a really beautiful botanical garden in Tela, called the Lancetilla, where we went on our first full day there. It’s supposed to be the second largest botanical garden in the world, actually. It was lovely. So much green! So many interesting plants! And the butterflies! It’s just the sort of place that I like to explore around. I have a particular friend who also would have adored the place, and I quite wished that she could be there so we could explore it together. So she can at least know something of what it was like, I shall describe the place in more detail.
Broad stands of bamboo arching overhead, meeting over the path like the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral. The stands themselves are like pillars, the bamboo clustered so thickly inside that I can’t see through it. Fallen trees here and there, forming low, mossy walls through the bamboo. An old pipeline, all overgrown with moss so it looks almost like a fallen tree trunk itself. Somehow this bit, a man-made thing that nature has made to look like itself, is one of the most beautiful things I see. There’s a river, too, cool and so clear that you can count all the fish. It’s the perfect depth for swimming, and many places are strewn with rocks close enough together to cross on. It’s peaceful here, and quiet, and it puts me in mind of the sort of jungles I’ve only seen in my imagination. Butterflies flit back and forth everywhere, sometimes dodging the leaves that fall, slowly twisting, from the tops of the bamboo. The air smells of water and flowers and growing things, and though the day is very warm, it fills me with excitement and energy.
That’s just a taste of it, the part that we spent the most time in. There’s also a village somewhere back there in the Lancetilla, and a few houses, a sparkling pond covered in lily pads, and many more beautiful plants. My aunt and uncle tell me that some of the most unique fruits in the Americas grow here. I’d have liked to spend all day exploring, but we left after lunch and went to my aunt and uncle’s bit of beach, which is very nice, and sipped the water straight out of coconuts with a straw. I spent awhile standing and letting the waves wash over my feet, staring out to sea and thinking how beautiful it is. I did that quite often during this trip.
Several times we drove through the garifuna, the villages where black people live. My uncle tells me that the blacks in Honduras are mostly descended from slaves, and that they have a culture completely separate from the main Honduran culture, with their own language, food, and style of dress. He himself is from one of these communities. It’s a lot poorer than the city, with most of the people living in small cinder-block houses or huts, many of which don’t have electricity or running water. On the plus side, it’s practically right on the beach. We spent awhile in the garifuna, because we would always be stopping to greet people that my uncle knew. Things are slower paced in Honduras, with the natives being pretty relaxed about time, and it’s considered much more important to stop and catch up with a friend or family member than it is to arrive someplace at a particular hour or minute. I rather like that, and wish it was the same in the U.S. On a side note, we also bought some coconut bread while we were in the garifuna, and it was delicious. I’ve had things made with coconut flour before, and they were nothing like as good as this. It reminded me of a cinnamon roll, but denser and less sweet and without frosting or raisins or cinnamon or any of that (in fact, my aunt tells me that sometimes they do turn this stuff into cinnamon bread). Anyway, it was very tasty. One night we also had fried fish, caught earlier that day, and served whole with heads and tails. Those were really delicious, although I didn’t try the head. (Which I guess some people really like, I gave mine away.)
Other highlights of the trip included swimming in the ocean, wandering up and down the beach, reading The Hobbit by the seashore, and enjoying some of the unusual fruit we got at the Lancetilla.
Overall, though, it wasn’t the easiest of weeks. Aside from the frequent high-pitched screams of my toddler cousins and the oppressive heat and humidity, I also struggled a lot with loneliness over the course of the trip. Partly that was due to having no internet access and therefor being out of touch with all my friends. Partly it was just wishing that certain people were there, so we could explore and drink from coconuts and whatnot together, and so I could show those who’ve never seen the sea what it is like. And there were other reasons, but I won’t go into them here. The point is that I couldn’t really shake the sadness until the last day or so.
I’m not sure if this is good or bad. It isn’t that I could take no pleasure in what I was doing. It was just that I was sad that I was unable to share that pleasure with my dear friends. I miss you all, and will continue to think of you often.