AN UNWRITTEN SYMPHONY

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Monterrey to Durango, Mexico (2ª clase)

15 October 1997

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Movement I

We leave behind those mountains of Monterrey, swirled and swatched with white rock. The chilled dust of early morning blows through my cracked and broken window.

We click by a hamlet of the rubble of once-homes destroyed. From the ruins of one adobe flies a zopilote buzzard. Our train of shattered windows and hard foam-cushioned seats, of dirty walls and dirty floors, rocks and sways through this landscape of age-old yucca trees. A hawk soars over the green desert thicket. Encrusted sand dunes sculpt the earth.

As we pass by a village of old-fashioned adobes, I snuggle into the warmth of the sun …

… and I awaken at Paredón. In those hazes of sleep, I expect this car to be full of Mexican Revolutionaries …

The train winds through low mountains, then horseshoe curves around a flatland, and once more begins to corkscrew through mountains. A hawk sits up on a rise of ancient basalt boulders.

The desert sand is laced with dried streambeds and footprints, horse trails and coyote tracks.

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Movement II

We zoom past cornfields and jolt past a sky-blue circus big top as we enter Concordia.

There a black-hatted man boards. His fashion sunglasses hide his eyes. He strolls up the aisle and back down, strumming a beat-up guitar, singing a corrida. He gathers his tips, then goes to the back of the car. He plays a few ballads, a fellow passenger joining in.

As we pull into the next town a new voice, accompanied by masterful strumming, is heard. All women’s eyes turn to that man with his black hair pulled back into a curly ponytail. They nod, smiles on faces, whispering to one another.

(Who is that man? Is he some famous musician? Or are these women enchanted by his looks, his voice – those eyes?)

Near the tracks, nine youth in school uniforms stand. Their brass coronets gleam in the afternoon sun. A few practice notes drift on the afternoon air … and as we pull away, they play a clarion call.

The strolling musician is gone.

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We continue our journey at a fast clip upon these old rails. The diesel engine hums deep. Vineyards and orchards stand in neat rows through this wide valley we cross.

Above a soccer field in Gómez Palacio bobs a blue and yellow kite. Children gather in the stands, watching its dance. A colorful clothesline flaps its laundry in the cool, sunny afternoon.

At Torreón, an old woman boards. Her silvered hair is covered by a black lace scarf. She holds one corner of it in her mouth, hiding the right side of her face. It falls away for a second, revealing a misshapened nose. Her cheek is deeply incised with wrinkles and her eye sunken. Her motionless mouth sneers.

A little girl’s dark eyes peer over the seat in front of me. They dart away as I smile. Next they appear around the side of the seat and again retreat with a shy smile.

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Movement III

As we ride into the sunset, we hug mountains of folded, swirled, crumpled rock. Shadows fall deep and long. The red soil is shaped into plowed rows and irrigation ditches. Fields of maize gleam golden. The bright yellow sun nears a blanket of periwinkle clouds touched with peach, edged with butterscotch.

I listen to the music of this train and wish I could write its symphony …

Dá-da-da

dah

dah

counterpointed by

squeaking springs

Just before the sun sinks beyond, the bottoms of those clouds are etched in magenta. Then the landscape, the fields and the mountains fall into greys. The sky drains its pastel colors. Out there, to the north, a long plume of smoke blows from an orange bundle of flames.

I turn my eyes to where the moon has risen above the mountains. The rest of the way to Durango, I gaze upon her fullness, listening to the music of this train.

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published in

Intrepid Times (20 October 2021)

PIÑA COLADA CAKE

piña colada, pineapple, coconut, rum, cake

Moist and succulent – a slice of Piña Colada Cake is the perfect way to end a meal! photo © Lorraine Caputo

Sometimes a memory of a taste comes to my tongue and I wonder, I wonder …. How would this be in a cake to share with friend and family?

And so it was with the taste of a piña colada – my favorite cocktail. Could I replicate that in a cake?

After several tries, I believe I finally have the recipe … Yes, it took quite a bit of experimentation, but this is what proved to be the most reliable recipe to come out of my kitchen.

Ah, the taste of coconut, pineapple and rum – a wonderful finish to any meal!

¡Buen provecho!

 

piña colada, pineapple, coconut, rum, cake

The holy Piña Colada trio: pineapple, coconut … and rum (or course!) photo © Lorraine Caputo

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PIÑA COLADA CAKE

Estimated preparation time: 45 minutes

 

In blender pitcher, whip at high (this can also be done with a mixer or by hand) :

½ cup butter

¾ cup brown or raw sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup rum (I prefer dark rum)

 

In a bowl, mix together well:

1 ½ cups of flour (I prefer to use whole wheat flour)

¼ cup unsweetened flaked coconut

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

 

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Blend well.

 

Add and blend well again:

 ½ cup roughly chopped fresh pineapple

 

Lightly grease and flour a cake pan, and pour in the batter. Bake in a preheated 180ºC (350ºF) oven until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick (or thin knife) inserted near the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

When the pan is cool, remove the cake. Serve plain with a coffee or tea.

 

Tips:

  • If you would like to make a non-alcoholic version of this cake, then substitute pineapple juice for the rum.
  • You may also use canned, unsweetened crushed pineapple instead of fresh pineapple.
  • If you don’t have a blender to cream the butter and other ingredients together, you can do so by hand or with a mixer. In this case, make sure the butter is soft beforehand.
  • If you find yourself without an oven, then lightly grease and flour a heavy four-liter pot. Pour in the batter. Cover and cook over medium-low heat about 30 minutes.

 

 

 

 

6 BOOKS OF FANTASTIC FIRST-HAND LATIN AMERICAN EXPLORATIONS

Journeys always begin with a dream – and a bit of craziness to break the barriers within us. We may be setting off to experience something new – or to learn about nature or cultures and share that knowledge with others – or to indulge in some passion we may have.

Some of these travel narratives make me stop and realize how much tourism has changed the natural and human landscape of Latin America – especially of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the Galápagos Islands and the Amazon River basin.

In this survey of six first-hand accounts of journeys in Latin America, we’ll travel with Charles Darwin to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru and the Galápagos Islands. Michel Peissel takes us to the Yucatán. And we’ll embark on four different adventures on the Amazon River.

Look for them at your local bookshop or library. Some of them are also available for free online.

Safe Journeys!

Beagle Diary 02

The Beagle Diary

by Charles Darwin

Famed English naturalist Charles Darwin is most famous for his explorations of the Galapagos Islands and Theory of Evolution. Those five years, though, that he spent as part of HMS Beagle’s crew included much more than those Enchanted Isles. The main purpose of the Beagle’s 1831-1836 expedition, under the command of Captain Robert FitzRoy, was to map the coasts of South America and other regions.

Even though the expedition rounded the globe, it spent over two and a half years exploring South America. In February 1932, it reached the coast of Brazil, at Bahia. On 18 October 1835, the Beagle departed the Galápagos Islands to begin the long haul across the Pacific Ocean to Polynesia.

Because of his intense sea sickness, Darwin took every opportunity to make overland excursions, studying and collecting biological, geological and palaeontological specimens. In the Patagonia, he found fossils of giant clams, giant sloths and other extinct species that also played a rôle in the formation of his theory of Evolution.

My favorite edition of Darwin’s diary is that by Richard Darwin Keynes (Darwin’s great-grandson) who compares the edited text with the original diary. It is available online.

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The Sea and the Jungle

by H.M. Tomlinson

From 1909 to 1910, the British tramp steamer Capella sailed from Swansea (Wales) to Santa Maria de Belém do Grão Pará (Brazil; today: Belém). It then steamed up the Amazon and Madeira Rivers for 2,000 miles, as far as the São Antônio Falls. This was the first successful of a steamer that far upriver of the Amazon.

Henry Major (H. M.) Tomlinson voyaged with the Capella as a reporter for the London Morning Leader newspaper. Tomlinson’s writing of the ocean voyage and of the virgin Amazon forests  is poetic. Silhouettes are “black filigree.” A starry nocturnal sky is described as, “The night moved with diamond fire …” Absolutely breathtaking language that will hold you spell-bound.

This travel narrative is also available online.

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Witch Doctor’s Apprentice : Hunting for Medicinal Plants in the Amazon

by Nicole Maxwell

In late 1958, Nicole Maxwell, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London, set off on another expedition to the Amazon jungle in search of medicinal plants. This time, however, she had received a $1,000 grant from a U.S. pharmaceutical company and a plant press to bring back samples of plants with information on their uses.

During previous expeditions she had learned of numerous plants with astounding medicinal properties. For dental care, there is an herb that painlessly breaks up a bad tooth and heal the wound within days; another makes the teeth impervious to decay for six months. For women, one plant can cause temporary infertility for up to eight years, and another can reverse the effect; and some are natural abortifacients. Plants that can stop bleeding and internal hemorrhaging, another to cure hangovers – all proof that the Amazon jungle is a natural pharmacy of medicines that western / modern medicine still does not have, even 60 years after this botanical collecting expedition.

In her writing, Maxwell wonderfully captures her trip, the natural environmental and her interactions with the indigenous communities. Through her, we learn much about the millennial knowledge of these jungle nations.

Later editions of the original 1961 publications contain a wealth of further information – especially a deeper conversation about the indigenous nations from which she learned about traditional medicine. Witch Doctor’s Apprentice was released in 1998 by Citadel Press’s Library of the Mystic Arts. This new edition includes an appendix cataloguing all the plants Maxwell mentions in the text (complete with botanical and local names) and their medicinal uses.

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Lost World of Quintana Roo 02

The Lost World of Quintana Roo

by Michel Peissel

After graduating from the university, Frenchman Michel Peissel set off on a walking journey that – at that time in 1958 – was said to be impossible to do. (Even the few locals he met along the way thought he was totally insane and would never make it).

At that time, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula was a wild, largely undeveloped world. There were no roads. The only way to reach any place along the coast was by boat – or, as in Peissel’s case – on foot. Dense jungle, tangled mangroves, and murderous outlaws all were obstacles he had to face.

And in this day and age with massive tourist attractions and resorts, it is impossible for us to imagine the world through which Peissel spent six months hiking.

Peissel takes us into a world where tourists had yet arrived (quite remarkable to think that was only 60-odd years ago!). He describes a number of previously unknown Maya archaeological ruins, many of which have since been excavated and are now open to the public (like Tulum). But already in 1961, when he returned with his new wife, changes were afoot.

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Paddle to the Amazon 03

Paddle to the Amazon

by Don Starkell

In this travel narrative, Don Starkell recounts his and his son Dana’s adventure of canoeing 19,602 kilometers (12,181 miles) from Winnipeg (Canada), down the Red and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, along the coast of Mexico and Central America to South America. Once to that continent, they skirted the Caribbean coast to the mouth of the Orinoco River, traversing that waterway and others until they reached the Amazon. Their journey ended in Belém at the mouth of that mighty river.

This 23-month journey (1 June 1980 – 1 May 1982) set the world’s record for the longest canoe trip. It is a fascinating tale of a father and son’s adventure – not only in paddling in new territory, but also in their personal relationship. The father-son duo maintains a website about their adventure, and their various projects and speaking tours they continue to do.

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Amazon Extreme 01

Amazon Extreme : Three Men, A Raft and the World’s Most Dangerous River

by Colin Angus and Ian Mulgrew

Imagine, if you will, three young travelers meeting at a hostel and discovering their mutual passion for white water rafting. Thus the seed was planted for this epic paddling trip down the entire length of the Amazon River.

Our three adventurers – Colin Angus of Canada, Ben Kozel of Australia, and Scott Borthwick of South Africa – set off in September 1999 on this dream excursion. First, they hiked from Camaná, on Peru’s southern coast, to Colca Canyon. From there, they hit the white waters of the Río Apurímac, through the still-hot territory of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrilla movement. The Aprurímac led them to Atalaya River, at the confluence with the Río Ucayali, which then flows into the Amazon.

In this five-month expedition that covered 6,450 kilometers (4,007 miles), they battled the waters and elements, and met the peoples along this back road through South America, until they reached the mouth of the Amazon River. Amazon Extreme recounts all these adventures and misadventures, and the stunning landscapes though which they travelled.

A LONG-AWAITED JOURNEY

Mexico, trains, Mexico City, Cordoba, Veracruz

Mexican rail workers ranked the Mexico City-Córdoba-Veracruz route as one of the most beautiful in the country. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Ask a railroad worker, Which is the most beautiful run in all of Mexico? Many say this is the one.

And with the privatization of Mexico’s extensive railroad network, passenger trains are fast disappearing. This may well be my last chance to take this ride …

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Mexico City to Veracruz, by way of Córdoba

(El Mexicano, Train nº 51-52, clase única)

27 January 1998

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We pull away on time with a short blast of the horn, through the light of a two-hour-old sun.

Approaching a crucero, the horn blows again. Crossing bells clang.

The upper sky is still crisp blue. The smog is rising already, obscuring, hazing the surrounding cerros.

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For many miles we travel through the neighborhoods, past the industries of the City. We rumble across bridges spanning traffic.

We meet the morning arrival of the former El Jarocho – and later of the former Oaxaqueño. They near their common destination. We are only just beginning our journey.

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A flock of dark birds swoop over smoldering garbage.

Bright-eyed Pepito lies in the aisle. He pushes his toy VW bug across the linoleum.

Dogs trot along the trash-strewn tracks. Another stops and howls with the warning horn.

This train of one locomotive, two passenger cars whirls up the dusty soil of a small plot along a river bank. Its even rows are protected by a hand-painted sign: No Pasar – Sembrado.

& the City sprawl thins a bit more.

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Enchiladas. Atole. Tamales. Arroz con leche – a woman calls. – What can I offer you?

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We finally enter the countryside of plowed fields awaiting planting & villagers awaiting to board this train. The aisles slowly fill with each stop.

A child cries. A man walks the length of this car, giving his sales pitch – first for soap, then for vitamins.

A young woman is a sea-green gauze shirt, shiny black hair pulled up, strolls by, Pulque. Quiere pulque? The plastic bottles of the cloudy liquid stand erect in her woven plastic bag.

& the man next to me snorts & snores in the brightening, warming sun. He will soon awaken to buy a bottle for himself.

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Four-year-old Pepito crawls near my seat. Mi coche, he says. I see the red car lying in the shadows at my feet. I push it, revving its engine. & off it goes to his small waiting hands.

*          *          *

A stop at the station of Teotihuacán. More passengers board. After a long while, we leave, The locomotive bathes the village, then the campo with black smoke. We rock past the Pyramid of the Sun. Its shape reflects the neighbor-mountains.

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I lift my eyes from my book, pulling my mind from that reality to this of the countryside outside our slowing train.

Far off, above the paler puffs of clouds, rise the ghostly snowcaps of Popocatépetl & Iztaccíhuatl. A thin spume of smoke escapes from Popo’s open mouth.

*          *          *

On a siding we await the distant rumble of an approaching train. It whooshes by us. 77 flashes of metal boxes, blues, greys, blacks & the final yellow of the caboose.

Once they disappear, we back up & enter the main line.

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At Apizaco, Pepito leaves. A child’s knapsack hugs his small back. He clutches the Volkswagen in one hand. His mother grasps his other with her right. Her left hand holds a heavily blanketed daughter to her breast. A bit behind, an older son stumbles along.

The late morning clouded sun shadows the white-washed station. The brakes hiss & the engine falls silent.

*          *          *

In the past-noon sun, we continue cutting across the flat valley east of the City. On either side, hills grow into mountains. La Malinche’s peak is streaked with January snow.

Miles of idle farm fields. Dry stubble. Dry corn. Dusky green-blue maguey stud their winter sleep.

The ruins of a once-monastery or once-hacienda. The adobe melts with the years into the golden earth.

A decir verdad, these flatlands & fields being plowed & burned for future crops bore me.

I fall in & out of sleep. We stop & go for passengers & freighters.

I am taking this day train to see the incredible views through those mountains that draw nearer. Ask a railroad worker, Which is the most beautiful run in all of Mexico? Many say this is the one.

Now – more frequent forests cover rolling land. They are dull dark green under a partly blue sky & burning sun.

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At three this afternoon, we meet our brother train heading to Mexico City.

Out on the eastern horizon, clouds cloak Orizaba.

*          *          *

Suddenly deeply cut rocks hug us. Our train begins to snake. It enters a long tunnel, blackening this car.

We emerge on the side of a mountain.

A second tunnel.

Then back into bright sunlight once more.

We stop in a narrow valley. Wisps of clouds float by. The carretero walks up the track, switching us into the next tunnel.

& for minute upon minute upon minute we are blinded, for nearly a kilometer.

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Finally we appear above a fogged valley.

We dart again into tunnel after tunnel, each one hundreds of meters long. Each time the valleys and clouds below.

The diesel engine’s echoing hum is deafening, the exhaust suffocating.

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I put my head out the window. The air is cool & fresh.

But with the next tunnel, I must duck back in.

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Sometime a second locomotive was jointed. & even still, with the continuous windings, the increasing heights, I can hear the engines strain. We creep along so slow, so slow.

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The train jerks to keep its speed down as we now descend. In the distance I see the ribbon of rail tracks & tunnel entrances cutting into the mountains.

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Before Ciudad Mendoza, the tunnels end.

The sierra edges away, revealing a flat valley, Willows & pines give way to fruiting orange trees, banana trees, palms, sugar cane.

Heavy clouds swath the mountains.

The greys of night fall silently, without the sunset colors.

*          *          *

The blackness we now sway through is that of night. I can feel the vibration of wheel upon rail through the rubber soles of my tennis shoes.

The thick vegetation opens up to views of city lights, to factories spewing yellow smoke. Then brush closes again.

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Men group around some seats, betting on a card game. The man selling volovanes (pastries) sets down his basket & joins them. They block the aisle. In quickened chatter, they tell the challenger to play.

Hold on, he says.

& when he loses, the coins pass & another hand is dealt.

They all get off at Soledad. How much did you lose? one asks another. Oh, 30 or 40 pesos.

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We rattle & click into the night. An amber glow appears on the horizon. & I ask myself if it is Veracruz drawing nearer with each kilometer. Is it the drawing close of this journey? I can smell the sea air.

*          *          *

Slowly we begin entering that maze of the Veracruz rail yard. Passengers gather their bags & families on the vestibules. They will take tonight’s train to Tapachula.

We near the station.

A darkened train passes us. Two dilapidated cars, one locomotive.

Many more people hustle. Some shout, Radio the engineer to stop!

The Tapachula-bound train continues its southward journey.

Recipe Corner : SARDINE PASTA

Pasta, sardines, fish, quick, easy

Pasta con le Sarde – a super-simple and fast dinner. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Sardine Pasta (Pasta con le Sarde) is one of the easiest and quickest dishes you will ever make, whether in the hostel kitchen, over a campfire or at home.

Some of the ingredients you may already have in your Knapsack Pantry. Just stop into a local shop to pick up the fresh vegies and pasta of your choice. And within 20 minutes you and your friends will be sitting down to a hot, nutritious meal!

(And best of all for all you backpackers out there – you won’t have to have YET another meal of sardine sandwiches!)

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SARDINE PASTA (Pasta con le Sarde)

For: Carnivores / Pescatarians

Serves: 3 (or 2 really hungry folk)

Estimated cooking time: 20 minutes

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Ingredients

200 grams of your favorite pasta

1 tablespoon of oil

1 medium onion, cut into thin strips (plumilla)

1 medium green bell pepper, cut into thin strips

2 cloves of garlic, minced finely

1 large can of sardines in tomato sauce

pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Pasta, sardines, fish, quick, easy

The ingredients ready to be cooked : (clockwise from bottom left) garlic, green pepper, pasta, sardines, onion. photo © Lorraine Caputo

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Instructions

In large pot, boil water. Add a teaspoon of water and pasta. Cook pasta until al dente (almost soft, not mushy). Drain.

Meanwhile …

In a skillet, heat oil. When hot, add the onion and sauté until almost transparent. Add green pepper and garlic and sauté until veggies are cooked.

Open can of sardines and add to the vegies, with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Smash up the sardines with a fork. Cook for about five minutes.

Pasta, sardines, fish, quick, easy

The sauce is ready! photo © Lorraine Caputo

Add cooked pasta and mix thoroughly.

Serve with a fresh sliced cucumbers or a tossed salad.

¡Buen provecho!

Tips

  • You any use any type of pasta you desire – or that is available (except stuffed pastas).
  • If you are cooking for just yourself, then use about 80 grams of pasta, a small onion, a small green pepper, and a small can of sardines.
  • If you are cooking over a campfire / camp stove or have only one pot, then cook the pasta first and put it to one side. In the same pot fix the sauce, and then mix in the pasta.

NEW PUBLICATIONS : Poetic and Travel – March Equinox 2022

It is once again time for the quarterly round-up of my recent publications. My poetry and travel writing continue to appear in journals and on websites around the world – in the past three months, in the US, Mauritius, India, Nigeria, Ivory Coast  and the UK – and in Spanish, in Ecuador and Chile.

Spend this March equinox browsing through the list (with links) below, poetically journeying to Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia … and destinations within my self / Self …

My artwork is also featured in one journal and on the covers of several new microchaps (one mine, the other for Listening for Thirteen Black Birds by Ron Scully).

An added feature this month is a new microchap of my travel poetry, this time from the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.

In the realm of travel narrative and articles, we’ll be riding more trains in Mexico, and taking the ultimate road trip in Bolivia.

And until we next meet …..

Safe Journeys!

poetry, Colombia, Caribbean

¡Ay! My soul so yearns to be by the sea! Sunrise at Palomino, Colombia. photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW LITERARY EXPRESSIONS

“Epiphany” in Assisi : An Online Journal of Arts and Letters (Volume 8, Issue 1, Fall 2021)

“Spirit Suite – Étude Nº 12” in Nothing Divine Dies: A Poetry Anthology About Nature (Vita Brevis Anthology 3, 2021)

“Barrio Guanacaste, Matagalpa, Nicaragua” in Revista Máquina Combinatoria (volumen 3, número 12, diciembre de 2021)

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“Highlands” in Book of Matches (Issue 4)

“Mountain Morning” in The Pangolin Review (Mauritius) (Issue 20)

“Fishing the Dawn” and “Nighttide, Santa Marta Bay” in Roi Fainéant – Constellation 6 (January 2022)

“Ancient Road” in The MockingOwl Roost – Exploration (Volume 2, Issue 1, January 2022)

“Tiger Island” in PPP Ezine (Poetry Poetics Pleasure Ezine) (India) (Volume 6, Issue 1, January 2022)

“Receiving the Message” in The Raven Review (Volume III, Issue I, Winter 2022)

“New Born,” “One Step” and “Into Flight” in Lothlorien Poetry Journal Volume 7 – Beat Café (anthology, 2022)

“My Soul Yearns to Be by the Sea” in The Stripes Magazine (Nigeria) (Issue 2, Volume 1: Nowhere Near Home)

“So long” in First Literary Review – East (Winter 2022)

Wind in the Leaves” and “Jungle Nightfallin Aayo (Ivory Coast) (31 January 2022)

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“In the Headlights of Night’s Journey” in Verse-Virtual (February 2022)

“Songs for Diana and Gaia” in Stories & Poems in the Song of Life (Sweetycat Press, 2022)

“Crossing the Gulf,” “Capra” and “Journeying to Los Cañones” in Impspired (UK) (Issue 15, February 2022)

“Washes,” “A Town Awakening,” “Yearning the Sea” and “Listening” in Synchronized Chaos (February 2022)

“The Rain’s Silence” in MockingHeart Review (Volume 7, Issue 1, February 2022)

“Thirteenth Hour” in San Pedro River Review (Volume 14, Number 1, Spring 2022)

“On This Puna” in The Big Windows Review (15 February 2022)

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“A Friday Afternoon on Isla del Tigre” in Backchannels Journal (Edition nº 10 / Winter 2022)

“Casas de Adobe” in Revista Máquina Combinatoria (Ecuador) (Volumen 4, nº 2, Marzo 2022)

“Andean Sunset” in Trouvaille Review (15 March 2022)

“This Earth,” “In the Sunset Sea” and “Earthly Lamentations … & Healing” (drawing + meditation) in The BeZine (Volume 9, Issue 1, Spring 2022)

also an essay : Silence & Solitude

“Storms in the Sierra” in Vita Brevis (18 March 2022)

“Sunday’s Dawn in This Beachside Village” in Coneflower Café (Spring 2022)

“Casas de adobe”, “Una Noche en Caleta” y “Nuestra Señora” in Entre Paréntesis (Chile) (Revista nº 86, Marzo 2022)

Lorraine-Caputo--CARIBBEAN-INTERLUDES-2022

Caribbean Interludes – Vignettes from Venezuela (Origami Poems Project, 2022)

Download a FREE copy of my newest microchap of travel poetry – with my artwork on the cover!

Where are we off to this time? To the Caribbean coast of eastern Venezuela!

(And if you are able, please donate to the Origami Poems Project who generously make these microchaps available! Thank you!)

Trains, travel, Mexico

photo © Lorraine Caputo

NEW TRAVEL EXPRESSIONS

Potato Soup Journal

Overnight to Monterrey” (11 March 2022)

The BeZine

An Affair Neverending” (Volume 9, Issue 1, Spring 2022)

Bolivia Schedules

The Ultimate Bolivia Road Trip


If you are in need of an article for your publication or website, a translation – or your dissertation, book or article proofread / edited, please feel free to contact me. I am also available to participate in literary events.

CLANDESTINE

maps, adventures, Latin America, Mexico, Central America, South America

Sometimes an adventure occurs in some destination that can never be revealed … photo © Lorraine Caputo

That cargo train that arrives every other day will be my – and anyone else’s – ticket out of these mountains. There’s no other way to reach this village now.

When that carguero (cargo train) comes into town and stops at the old station, I pop down to talk with the crew. We sit on the wooden benches of the platform, in the fading colored light of another dying day. Moths flit around the bulbs lit as night arrives. They tell me how, since the railroad was privatized, passenger services have been dropping like proverbial flies. Sometimes a line with be cancelled the night before, news arriving to the jefe de patio (station chief) by telegram.

And thus it was with my planned route to the capital. My itinerary has had to be scrapped as the train no longer arrives to the transfer point. On the concrete platform, the rail workers and I study the maps, looking for an alternative route. The first leg will be hitching a ride with them.

Almost a month ago, I had ridden the last passenger train to this village deep in the sierra and took a room in the village’s only inn, near the depot. I have spent the time talking with locals about their lives, and how life will go on (or not) now that there’s no train (officially).

In a small, hole-in-the-wall eatery, I met a woman who was surprised there was no longer a train, she had heard nothing about it – how would she get to her aunt’s birthday party in a few weeks’ time?

The middle-aged daughter of the inn’s owner will be immigrating to the great north in search of work; a young couple will be her centenary mother’s caretakers. I have spent evenings sitting in a kitchen lit only by an oil lamp, eating cookies and milk while listening to that anciana’s memories of the Revolution.

I have spent many hours, too, writing, recording these memories, these stories and images …

When the day comes for me to move on, I wait until first light and the crow song to leave. As I walk down to the locomotive shed, heavy mists rise from streams and rivers. The sierra is bathed in clouds.

The engineer pushes his cap back and greets me. “Would you like to ride in the second locomotive or the caboose?”

What a choice! For a train aficionada like me, it’s like being a kid in a candy shop. Ay, but riding in the caboose will be riding with the people, conversations, eating, learning. I shift my Rocinate (that is, my faithful travel companion, my knapsack) on my back. “With permission, sir, the caboose,” I respond.

I walk by eight cars loaded with timber. Aside the ninth and last one, the yellow caboose, five other clandestine passengers await. A mother and a grandmother watch their two young boys kicking rocks that clang against the metal rails. The conductor’s girlfriend clasps her hands in front of herself, an overnight bag at her feet.

I climb the grate-steps into the caboose. In a cubby hole I drop Rocinante, before climbing the narrow steps into the cupola and taking a seat there. My neighbor is the carretero (brakeman). The conductor joins our conversation of the changes the new rail owners have brought (and wrought).


I sink into the beauty of a train ride. It is much different than traveling a country by bus. Because the rails wend into deep countrysides and landscapes, and trains pass only once a day or only several times a week, wildlife is more abundant. It is like signing up for a safari! And the local human life one gets to observe, from children playing in front of adobe homes, mothers hanging flapping laundry on a line, farmers in a small plot of land. The small villages of white-washed houses and a lone parish church – now to be endangered species.

I watch the thick clouds drift around and over the crag-faced mountains. The countryside is greener after last night’s rain. A yellow tree brightens in the early morning sun of this agéd autumn. Other árboles are turning burnt orange. The undergrowth is browned by the cooler weather. In a field of harvest-gold corn, two campesinos tie the stalks into standing bundles.

Our train speeds along, horn-blowing and slowing for villages, not stopping. No longer does this train have the obligation to stop to pick up passengers – officially, there are none. And like the village from where we departed, those people, too, will have no way out. There are many villages like this that are now isolated. We roll on, rattling, clicking, swaying southward – but many of those townsfolk will be heading northward, migrating, in search of work. In the distance rises a blue steeple bell tower.

At the outskirts of a village, more clandestine passengers – two women, four children – slip on. A man at trackside asks the conductor when they will pass again. May he ride then? The conductor gives him a thumbs up before we roll on, ever southward.


The kilometers click by. From out the small windows of this cupola, I watch the countryside. A blue heron soars upstream just inches above the river’s surface. Far from its pueblo, a cemetery gleams bright white in the sun breaking through yesterday’s nebulous sky. A hawk atop a tree peers across the cold, damp morning.

We stop at the most important town between where we were and where we are going. Those newer stowaways go only as far as here. The train is growing in length. More open freighters, heavy with raw logs, are added. Before we reach our journey’s end, we will haul 19 cars.

A dog and his young boy run down the dirt path along the tracks. The dog races us, falling behind one car after another until this yellow caboose clacks past him. The boy waves and yells adios.


In one corner of this caboose, the workers cook their lunch on the diesel stove. The aroma drifts through this small railcar, wafting into nooks and up to this cramped cupola. The smell touches my stomach. The railroaders invite their passengers to join them in a feast of beans, tortillas and stewed beef. One carretero pours steaming, syrupy coffee into metal cups. For our dessert, I add a jar of peaches the family at that village’s inn had gifted me.


We climb high and deep into the sierra, winding along rough-rock walls. Thin waterfalls snag on the splintered stone like stray threads. Gullies fall off steeply into unseeable depths. The heavily forested mountains crumble into one another. Clouds drift through their valleys.

We pass by scattered farm fields deadened by the coming winter. Grasses bow under the weight of dew. The sun sears the thick, sullen blanket of clouds. Bright blue sky seeps through.

At a field of shriveled vines in the middle of nowhere, the engineers stop the train. The diesel motors hum like out-of-season cicadas. The maquinistas run out, hauling squash after squash into the locomotive cabs. The clandestine boys aboard this caboose also dash out. They haul one squash after another into this car. When we leave, six large calabazas roll about the floor with the rhythm of our journey.

Later down the line, we suddenly, mysteriously brake. Beneath our wheels lie two cows. The zopilote buzzards begin circling near us. As the caboose rides over the beasts, the sour smell of their flesh fills the swelling heat of afternoon. A rabbit hops down into an arroyo seco, fleeing our rumbling train.

Up in this cupola I fall asleep. The warmth of that star soothes my face, my tired body. In the hazes of my dreams, I hear the girlfriend reading off numbers to the conductor as he fills out his paperwork. Their knees touch and depart, like dancers moving in time with this train’s syncopated melody.


In my dreams, dense smoke suffocates me. It burns my closed eyes. I claw the darkness to escape this nightmare. I awaken.

The inside of this caboose blackens with the stove belching fumes, licking up flames. I stumble, half-falling out of my seat in the cupola. We all – railroad workers and clandestine passengers – move away to the far end, coughing, rubbing eyes. One of the carreteros dampens the fire. It recedes into the belly of the stove.

(Uff! If this car had gone up in flames and exploded, how would all the extra bodies within the burnt, splintered remains be explained? How much more illegal can this ride get – clandestine passengers, stealing from farm fields, killing some campesino’s cattle. Next …?)

A roadrunner (a trickster, old timers say they are) crosses the desert. A golden horse runs wild, its black mane streaming in the sun. And we run wild, clacking, swaying southward, ever southward.


At dusk, we roll steadily through the railyards of our destination. But we clandestine passengers cannot be seen by the jefe de patio or any railroad exec that might be around.

To hide our reality, our presence (and this train’s crew’s blatant disregard for the dictates of the new owners), the caboose stops at the far end of the platform. We clandestine passengers slip along the tracks to a distant gate, blending into the growing shadows of coming night. The conductor waves a quick, silent good-bye to us and walks off to the station, embracing his girlfriend.

published in Lowestoft Chronicle (Issue 44, December 2020)

THE KNAPSACK PANTRY

Road food, emergency, supplies

My personal Knapsack Pantry. photo © Lorraine Caputo

When you’re traveling on a budget, a Knapsack Pantry can get you through dining emergencies, soothe aches, and add a bit of spice to life on the road.

There may be times when you arrive in a town after a long, grueling bus ride, and discover that all the restaurants and shops are closed. Or perhaps you have a headache or stomach cramps, and an herbal tea can ease your pains. Then there’s that three a.m. bus to catch and you need a quick jolt of caffeine.

And, honestly, there are times when you just yearn for a taste of home – whether it is a Darjeeling or Earl Grey tea … or your favorite bread spread, like peanut butter, marmite or vegemite.

These are the times I am always glad to have my Knapsack Pantry – my emergency stash of foodstuffs that I keep in a drawstring bag (made from an old pant leg!).

Other travelers often comment about the extra pound (half-kilo) I carry in my knapsack – but my Knapsack Pantry has proved to be too handy in so many occasions to discount having it tucked in one corner of my backpack. True, many things can be bought locally – but sometimes I have found myself in situations where having a cache of goods is so helpful, or is not available where I am.

So – what do I consider to be essential supplies and staples to have in my Knapsack Pantry? Let’s take a look at what I pull out of my trusty ol’ road companion, Rocinante.


Note:

It is important to keep the items in their original packing, as much as possible. This will help in keeping your pantry staples – like herbs and spices – from being accused by border customs and other officials of being illegal substances.

Also – for countries with strict agricultural customs, like Chile, keep your herb pantry within easy reach so you can show it to custom officials. It is better to be open about the herbs and spices, rather than be heavily fined for “smuggling” prohibited products into the country!


THE MOST BASIC ESSENTIAL ITEMS

Road food, emergency, supplies

My ever-present basic dining gear. photo © Lorraine Caputo

During my trips, most times I stay in an hospedaje (inexpensive inn, often family run) or a hostel. In some countries (especially Argentina, Uruguay and Chile), I’ll camp. To save on my budget, I may prepare simple, no-cook meals (like guacamole, sandwiches or a salad). Or, in places like Argentine where carry-out joints (rotisería) are common, I’ll order something and take it back to my digs. At a campground, I might throw something on the parrilla (grill).

But no matter where I’m staying or what I’m eating, I have found a few items to be absolutely indispensable:

  • plate / shallow bowl that will allow me to have a soup, if the occasion arises
  • spoon
  • Swiss army knife (Any kind of multi-tool device will do. This should have not only a blade or two and a can opener, but also a corkscrew! After all, there are wonderful wines to try throughout South America – and wineries to visit!)
  • cup (a thermal cup is useful to keep things hot on a cold evening – and/or a metal cup in which you can heat water)

Another item I have found useful – especially in the colder climes of the deep Peruvian mountains, the Patagonia or Tierra del Fuego – is an immersible water heater: You fill your cup with water, put the coil into the water, then plug it in. (The coil must always be immersed in water before plugging it in, else the element will burn out.) Be aware that from Mexico to Ecuador, electricity is 110v; and from Peru south, it is 220v.

In the realm of ingredients, first and foremost in my pack is sugar and salt. Not only are these important for food preparation and enjoyment on the road – but in a pinch, they also create an emergency rehydration mix, replenishing electrolytes (body salts) when I have a bout of diarrhea or high fever:

In 1 liter of clean water (boiled, filtered, treated), add 6 teaspoons of sugar and a half-teaspoon of table salt. Stir until sugar dissolves. Sip every five minutes.


BEVERAGES

Across the patio of the cheap hospedaje in Xela (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala), I see a familiar figure flitting about a room, the door open. I cannot believe it! It’s Wild Thang, a friend of several friends. I met him once upon a time or two. What in the devil is he doing down in these-here parts?

I go over and knock on the door. He recognizes me and gives me a weak bear hug.

“You okay, man?”

“Ah, I’ve got a killer headache.”

“Do you need aspirin or some such?”

“Naw, I don’t take that crap.”

“How about a cup of tea? Mint – or perhaps chamomile?”

He looks at me, his hazel eyes wide open. “You got some?”

“Sure. Meet me in the back patio.”

I am stoking the fire burning in that second patio when he arrives. I have my two cups out, one heating water for our tea. (I always carry two cups – one to heat water, and another to share with a fellow/sister traveler.)

There are times when we kick back with other travelers around the common table or a campfire, to share a drink and tales.

Or perhaps there’s a 3 a.m. bus to catch, and a jolt of caffeine is in order … or after a grueling all-day ride, you just need something to relax you …

For me – all of these are times when I dip into my stash. Another occasion is when I just want to sequester myself away and delve into my writing … and having something to drink helps to keep me going.

Road food, emergency, supplies, coffee, tea

These are some of the Caffeinated Goodies you might want to have in your stash. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Caffeinated Goodies

What caffeinated goods you have on hand depends on your taste. You can restock with local products when you run low – and try some of the regional specialties like yerba mate (which is available as loose herb – or in bags, called yerba cocida).

My Knapsack Pantry always includes:

  • Instant coffee
  • Black tea
  • Green tea
  • Flavored teas

I also like to have accompaniments, like:

  • Packs of sugar (I grab these when I have a coffee out – just slip it into my pocket)
  • Honey in small packets
  • Instant milk (This is also useful for preparing meals)

Road food, emergency, supplies, herbal teas, medicine

A selection of herbal teas for relief of minor health dis-eases. photo © Lorraine Caputo

Medicinal Teas

If you have a serious or ongoing health problem, go to a health professional or health center. Often, pharmacies can also help prescribe the proper medication.

But for minor or occasional discomforts, it is great to have a selection of herbal teas on hand for what may ail you. In Ecuador and Peru, such teas are called agua aromática. In Bolivia, they are called mate (mate de manzanilla, mate de coca, etc.)

Some useful ones to have on hand are:

  • Chamomile / Manzanilla (Matricaria recutita, Chamaemelum nobile) – for headaches, stomachaches (especially due to gas or bloating); to relax; also for menstrual cramps
  • Peppermint / Menta (Mentha × piperita) – for indigestion; also soothing nerves
  • Oregano / Orégano (Origanum vulgare) – for indigestion, gas; can alleviate cold symptoms and sore throat; sore muscle, toothache
  • Lemon Balm / Toronjil (Melissa officinalis) – for stress, anxiety, insomnia; indigestion, nausea; menstrual cramps; headache, toothache
  • Lemon Grass / Hierbaluisa (Cymbopogon citratus, Cymbopogon spp.) – for stomachache, body aches, colds
  • Ginger / Jengibre, Kion (in Perú) (Zingiber officinale) – to alleviate cold symptoms and sore throat; alleviates motion sickness and seasickness (ginger candies are also good for this); a cold tea is good for burning stomach

Many of these herbs may be bought fresh in the markets.

Also ask locally – the people at the hospedaje (inn) or hostel you’re staying at, or at a local eatery or shop – about local herbal remedies that may help you. You can also check online – like here or aquí – for other common and useful herbal teas.


Tip:

In the Andes, mate de coca (coca tea) is a common herbal tea for relieving high altitude sickness. However, it is illegal in much of South America – or allowed only in the high-altitude regions of a country. Be informed of local laws about possession of this herb.

Also – mate de coca can cause a drug urine test to come back as positive. Be aware of this if your job back home requires you to take such tests.


road food, emergency, supplies, herbs, spices

My favorite herbs and spices. photo © Lorraine Caputo

HERBS & SPICES

There are some things that you may find always seems to get nicked out of your basket in the hostel pantry – even if the basket is clearly marked with your name and room number.

Oil is at the top of this list. It is very difficult to travel with an open container of this vital liquid. And another? As I discovered from personal experience, herbs.

I come into the kitchen to retrieve another glass of wine from my basket in the pantry. Every guest of this Buenos Aires hostel is given two baskets – one to store dry goods in the pantry and another for the fridge. There is a place to put your name and room / bunk number on the baskets.

As I walk in, two young men are preparing their dinner together.

I fill my glass with red wine and notice my bag of herbs is missing. I glance over to where the young men are and spy one of them reaching into it for some herbs.

I ask if the bag was theirs.

No.

I know, it came out of this basket, correct?

Yeah.

Well, the basket is mine. You could have come to look for me and ask for some, if you needed it.

Oh, but we aren’t stealing, really.

If you don’t mind my suggesting, why don’t you carry a small pouch of your favorite herbs and spices?

Indeed, if you have on hand a small collection of your favorite herbs and spices, you won’t be pinching from other travelers’ supplies at the hostel. One word of caution, however: Always keep these in their original pouches. This will save you from any, ahem, misunderstandings with border customs or other officials.

My standards are:

  • oregano / orégano
  • basil / albahaca
  • chili powder / chili en polvo (Mexico, Central America), ají en polvo (South America) – Note: In Ecuador, the ají para seco is rather bland and used more for coloring.
  • red pepper (chili) flakes / hojuelas de chili, hojuelas de ají
  • thyme / tomillo
  • rosemary / romero
  • curry / curry
  • black pepper / pimienta

Fresh garlic (ajo) is readily available, so you can just keep a head or two tucked into your Knapsack Pantry. Garlic is also good to use regularly, as it is a traditional natural remedy for keeping gut bugs at bay. Some travelers swear they will also make you less inviting to mosquitos and other bugs.


Tip:

Some of your favorite herbs and spices may be difficult (if not nigh impossible) to find in some countries, especially good quality chili powder or curry. If you find it, put it into your stash!


QUICK MEALS

I hit Oaxaca with a full-blown case of dengue wracking my body. My temperature soared above 39ºC. Each step I took jarred me from head to foot. Indeed, it deserves its nickname: bone-break fever.

Luckily, my hotel next-door neighbors were also seasonal Alaska workers. She was laid up with a terrific case of Montezuma’s revenge.

Her boyfriend nursed us back to health over the next few days. My stash of instant soups and bouillon cubes came in very handy to help us get through our fevers and dehydration.

Road food, emergency, supplies, soup

An assortment of soups is also useful for adding flavor to rice or sauces. photo © Lorraine Caputo

For those times when you need to warm up – or you risk dehydration and loss or electrolytes – soups are the perfect easy meal to have. This may come in the form of:

  • Packets of instant soup
  • Miso
  • Bouillon cubes

Bouillon cubes are available in a variety of flavors: chicken, beef, vegetables. They are good for not only making a nourishing broth or soup, but also for making sauces for heartier main dishes like stews or pastas.

Road food, emergency, supplies

Potted protein choices make quick, inexpensive meals. photo © Lorraine Caputo

The times I have had to dip into my Knapsack Pantry for a quick and easy meal … ay, such memories!

Like the time I arrived in Malacatán (Guatemala) so late at night – and no place to grab a meal …

Or being stuck in a traffic jam for eight hours in the Colombian jungle due to an accident … or in southern Peru when a huayco (rushing dry gulch river) cut off the road …

In such unforeseen circumstances, the Knapsack Pantry came to the rescue (again … and again!).

I have one can of some sort of protein tucked away for just such an emergency:

  • Tuna / Atún –It is better if it is not self-opening / ring pull top can, for safety issues: The seal can break more easily than old-fashioned kind of can. This is also often available in a pouch (which, unfortunately, is not recyclable).
  • Sardines / Sardina – If this will be for only one person, a small can will suffice.
  • Peanut Butter / Mantaquilla de cacahuate, pasta de maní – Foreign brands are very expensive in Latin America. In Ecuador pasta de maní – pure ground peanuts with no added sugar or salt – is common. Keep it in a sealed jar in a plastic bag, to contain any seepage of oil. Also, be aware that in the tropics, peanut butter can go rancid quite quickly.
  • Marmite / Vegemite – Also a great comfort food and great nutritional source. (Unfortunately, this is unavailable in Latin America.)

Some regional products you may want to try:

  • Potted Meat / Carne enlatada – Tins of this is quite common in Argentina.
  • Seafood / Mariscos – In Chile, all sorts of seafood is available in tins – even salmon mousse! These are wonderful for preparing pastas or even a chowder.
  • Dried Mushrooms / Hongos deshidratados – Common to find in Ecuador, these are wonderful for adding to rice and pasta dishes. Put them in hot water for about 15 minutes to rehydrate them.

Tip: Some road favorites often come in glass containers – like marmite and honey.

But traveling with glass is not advisable. Look for products in non-breakable containers.


What are some of the things you have in your Knapsack Pantry?

Let us know in the comments below!

Safe Journeys … and ¡Buen provecho!

THE RIVER ROUTE

the ode

The complete manuscript of my works about the United and Standard Fruit Companies. photo © Lorraine Caputo

(Puerto Barrios, Guatemala to Cuyamelito, Honduras / 16 March 1998)

We leave the Bananero behind, eternally resting for that moment in his endless toil, and we head in the direction of his gaze, turning our backs on that great port of Barrios. The driver’s assistant yells out the door of this old red and white school bus INCA     INCA     FINCA LA INCA. The sun climbs in the early morning sky. Broken clouds remain after four days of rain.

At Entre Ríos we turn off the black ribbon highway. The unpaved road cuts into blood-red soil. A horse grazes on discarded pineapple rinds and tops. Many more people crowd onto these plain wooden seats.

In jostled script I write: It’ll be interesting to see how this now looks, going down into Finca Chinoq (or as the ticket says: ‘Chinook”), momentarily forgetting that four years or so earlier when I did The Jungle Trail, our view was through the thin slats of a blue truck’s stockade. I ponder the ticket in my hand the list of fincas, a list of conquered nations:

Borda

Mariana     Chinook

Canarios    Lousiana          Arizona

Eskimo      Kickapoo         Hopy               La Inca

Soon we enter COBIGUA-land (a.k.a. Chiquita … a.k.a United Fruit), announced by a billboard of a bird in flight over jungle green

WE ARE HELPING TO PROTECT WILDLIFE

BY CREATING CORRIDORS OF TREES

Four years ago such signs did not patch the landscape. Few foreigners made this journey by trail … or by river. The banana plantation spreads with its plastic-bag-wrapped fruit planted in rows of two.

Sometime after ESKIMO.

The workers’ housing sits heavy on the soggy ground. Paint the color of banana-flesh, banana-blossom peels in the damp heat.

Just before FINCA CHINOOK.

Barbed-wire fencing protects the Company headquarters. Trim yards encircle the built-upon-stilts houses of the executives. The flesh-cream, petal-red paint gleams in the sun. New-model cars park in driveways. Tennis courts await their players.

FINCA LOUISIANA

Branches of still-green bananas arrive from the fields on cables to a packing plant. A man closely inspects and butchers each racimo. The perfect ones are sent down the line to the disinfecting baths. Bare-handed women lift out the clean bunches and place them on the conveyor belt. The fruit wobbles along to those workers who will place them in boxes with that blue Chiquita seal.

FINCA ARIZONA

These deep depths I’d gotten to know four years ago … paralyzed by a now-month-long strike. Its laborers line this dirt road. Their pickets demand better wages, better conditions. A banner stretches overhead

THE PEACE ACCORDS GUARANTEED

WORKERS and UNIONS MORE RIGHTS

Here and on Finca San José, the campesinos have seized the land they want to buy. More than 300 “security forces” were sent to flush them out and to arrest them. But into the dense scape they faded re-emerging when those forces left.

And this isn’t the first time this year its workers have challenged: the Chiriquí Land Company in Panamá, now the Bocas and Puerto Armuelles Fruitv Co’s … aka Chiquita. Or this decade – oh, perdone, the Tela Railroad Company, with a land occupation in Tacamiche, Honduras, Or even this century: 1954, in Honduras (how many did die at the hands of those military and police?). 1925, in Honduras, beginning in the lands of Cuyamel Fruit Co. and spreading all along the North Coast to the fincas of Standard Fruit and the Tela and Trujillo RR Co’s (and how many died then?).

FINCA HOPY

Modern-day bananeros bow under the weight of racimos, carrying them through the banana forest. The branches of yet-unripe fruit line up on the cables, waiting to be sent to the empacador.

FINCA CUATRO

yells the driver’s assistant. Five locals and I tumble out. Under the growing swelter we walk down to the refreshment stand. The silty Río Motagua is low, despite those days of rain. A battered red and green boat sputters its out-board motor. We climb down the steps carved into the bank.

Our journey begins upon the wide river. On one shore, an alligator bites the mid-morning. In the hazy distance roll the Meredón Mountains.

The shores are overgrown with jungle. Women wash clothes in the shade of a palm-thatched shelter. One shampoos her straight black hair. Children swim, their brown skins shining in the sun. Their laughter is clear. On the opposite bank, cows water.

A black graceful-necked bird sits upon a branch emerging from the current. Exposed sandbars are greened. Two orange butterflies skim the rippled surface.

Rotting tree trunks create a maze. On the left bank, a banana field reaches almost to the edge. Whirlpools eddy around debris. On the right, a milpa of corn tassels. A flock of birds dance afront a steep muddy rise.

We turn into a narrow channel. The swift Río Tinto carries by loosened waterlilies. Three turtles sun on a log. Mounds of bamboo spill down to the river and up on the higher ground banana trees grow wild – escaped, perhaps, from that time when fincas carpeted this valley.

EL LÍMITE

At the small store up the mucky path, quetzales are exchanged for lempiras, and sodas are drunk. We sit in the shade of bamboo, upon stumps and rocks. I eat chico zapotes, the juice sweetening my fingers.

Our launch captain tires of waiting and begins his downstream return. Just then, the canoe arrives from Honduras. Its passengers yell for him to stop, their voices filling the clear morning. Speeding up, the two boats meet. On the opposite shore, pass their journeyers.

And in that canoe, we enter the Río Ildefonso. At times leaves brush the sides. We cut and splash our course upstream. Heavy trunks constrict our way. Into dense shade, into the glaring heat of blue-white sun. We get trapped in a mesh of waterlilies.

For several hours I am an illegal – not in one country or another. I don’t know if I’m still in Guatemala or have already entered Honduras. No sign or border obelisk marks the frontera defined sixty-five years ago. A no-man’s land still exists between El Límite and Cuyamelito.

The earth lies flat to the right and rises into mountains on the left. A great white heron alights from the bank dotted with small stands of banana trees. We edge a swamp spikes with lavender lotus flowers.

Into the mangrove the captain slowly, carefully navigates. Soon it becomes too shallow. His teen skipper hops off the bow and pulls the boat through to deeper waters.

At a field of corn, four men stand next to its barbed-wire fence. One shades his eyes, watching us pass by.

The channel widens into the river once again before we make landfall just outside Cuyamelito, Zemurray’s frontier town. Two boys loiter beside a palm-thatch shelter on the edge of a pasture.

A pick-up truck billows the dust of the road that ends where we stand. The early-afternoon sun glints off its windshield. No longer is there doubt where we are now. That vehicle’s plates say HONDURAS.

originally published (in verse form) in :

Contemporary Verse 2 – Eco-Poetics Issue (Winter 2001)


Glossary

bananero – banana worker; in this usage, it refers to a Statue at the entrance of Puerto Barrio

racimo – large branch of bananas

campesinos – countryfolk

perdone – pardon

finca – plantation

empacador – packing plant

milpa – small farm plot

quetzales – money of Guatemala

lempiras – currency of Honduras

chico zapote – a small, honey-sweet fruit native to Mexico and Central America; also called sapodilla or níspero (Manilkara zapota)

frontera – border between two countries

Zemurray – Samuel Zemurray was owner of the Cuyamel Fruit Company, and early-20th century rival to the United Fruit Company. Later, he sold Cuyamel Fruit to United Fruit and for many years sat on United Fruit Company’s board.

Recipe Corner : FIESTA CAKE

cake, party, apricots, cranberries, pecans, walnuts, stove top, camping, hiking

The Fiesta Cake – a wonderful, sweet touch to any festive occasion. photo © Lorraine Caputo

With the holidays, I blew the flour-dust off a popular cake recipe of mine. It has been requested for going-away treats, birthdays and other occasions. And with the recent holidays, I decided it was time to celebrate in a right-proper way on New Year’s Eve, and prepare this Fiesta Cake for dessert.

So – what makes this cake so special? Perhaps it is the apricots, cranberries and pecans that color the batter like jewels. Or perhaps it is that subtle touch of cardamom, warming you deep within with each bite. And this Fiesta Cake does have a wonderfully moist crumb. It is so rich, you don’t need any icing.

cake, party, apricots, cranberries, pecans, walnuts, stove top, camping, hiking

Some of the ingredients that make this cake so special: apricots, pecans … and cardamom! photo © Lorraine Caputo

The ingredients are pretty basic – so it is a great treat for backpackers or campers. (Yes! You can prepare this on a stove top in the hostel kitchen or over a campfire!) And it makes a wonderful snack (if any survives after the initial onslaught) for taking with you on hikes or city sightseeing.

FIESTA CAKE

The Night Before

In a small saucepan, put:

1 cup of dried whole natural apricots (that is, with no sugar added)

¼ cup of dried whole natural cranberries

3 cups of water

Allow to come to a rolling boil, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cover.

The Next Day

The dried apricots and cranberries will now be rehydrated.

Pour off the liquid, reserving ¼ cup of it.

Squeeze the fruits to remove any excess liquid.

Pick out the cranberries (they won’t need to be cut up).

Cut the apricots in thin ribbons (about ½ centimeter / ¼-inch wide).

Put to one side.

In blender pitcher, whip at high (this can also be done with a mixer or by hand) :

½ cup butter

¾ cup brown or raw sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup of liquid from the rehydrated fruits

In another bowl, mix together well:

1 ¼ cup flour (I prefer using whole wheat flour)

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ cup of roughly chopped pecans

Into the flour mixture, add the fruits and pour the liquid mixture. Blend well.

Lightly grease and flour a cake pan, and pour in the batter. Bake in a preheated 180ºC (350ºF) oven until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick (or thin knife) inserted near the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

If you find yourself without an oven, then lightly grease and flour a heavy four-liter pot. Pour in the batter. Cover and cook over medium-low heat about 30 minutes.

When the pan or pot is cool, remove the cake. Serve plain with a coffee or tea.

¡Buen provecho!

cake, party, apricots, cranberries, pecans, walnuts, stove top, camping, hiking

The Fiesta Cake glistens with fruits, pecans … ah, and that subtle aroma of cardamom. photo © Lorraine Caputo