In the Honduran border town of Choluteca, the time is almost midnight and the temperature is approximately a million trillion degrees.
My friend and I lie on thin foam mattresses in a room that could be mistaken for a cave in a hotel that belongs in a horror movie – three low buildings around a courtyard decorated with discarded lawn furniture, rusty kitchen appliances and even an old car up on cinderblocks.
It was dark when we arrived here, the last town before the border crossing into Nicaragua, and we took a taxi straight to the best looking option in our trusty Lonely Planet which – I quickly learned on this trip – isn’t illustrated for a reason. But as we handed the equivalent of $5 to the woman behind the reception counter while eyeing the gigantic picture of Jesus Christ that sat behind her, we consoled ourselves with two facts: it was cheap, and it was only for tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll continue on to beautiful Granada.
I’d laughed at the guidebook’s description of Choluteca as especially hot, but now the temperature in our tiny room is becoming uncomfortable and, having sweat out every drop of moisture our bodies can spare, we’ve started in on the rest of it. The last of our drinking water is slowly coming to the boil in a plastic bottle between our beds: we’re saving it for tomorrow morning’s teeth brushing. All I can think about is thirst and sand and heat.
(And how good an ice-cold Coke would feel about now.)
The only thing between us and what feels like certain suffocation is a lazy oscillating fan in the corner that’s reluctantly churning up stale air. Outside, a tropical rainstorm is hammering down on the hotel’s corrugated steel roofs in thunderous symphony. The courtyard is filling up like a bath.
It’s so hot, I’m tempted to go out there.
Instead, I close my eyes and again try to sleep. I console myself with the thought of the refreshing shower I can have once the sun comes up.
Actually, it has to be cold and it’s not technically a shower. In the bathroom, a tap – a standard tap, just the like the ones you normally see above sinks – is sticking out of the wall at eye level. You can turn it on or off, and that’s about it. It has only one temperature setting: Arctic Winter. Other features of our spa-style luxury bathroom include: cracked and broken tiles, no door, intricate spider webs and foreign pubic hairs. The naked bulb that hangs from the ceiling is seemingly for demonstrative purposes only as it doesn’t work, but this is probably a good thing – I can’t imagine the bathroom gets any better with light.
But we’ve been backpacking now for well over a month, and we’re getting used to this. (In Guatemala, we spent two weeks in a room with an electric shower that sizzled and sparked, and using it was a game of Electrocution Roulette.) It’s just that today has made us as smelly, sweaty and exhausted as we’ve ever been in the span of our 20-something lives.
Armed with only warm bottled water, a packet of Ritz crackers and a bag of what we think was pickled mango that we purchased from a guy on the side of the road, we started our day in the village of Pena Blanca, where we’d been staying in a microbrewery. (Yes, a microbrewery. That was fun.) Three buses, four taxis and 15 hours later we finally made it to Choluteca and checked into Hotel Mi Esperanza, a motel-style establishment decorated in tones of poverty and despair, the blue light of TV screens flickering behind cracked and dirty windows, the only sign of other life.
I finally drift off to sleep sometime after one, but less than an hour later a new silence pulls me back awake. It is eerily quiet. The rain has stopped and the TVs are off, but there’s something else…
Oh my god – the fan!
I get out of bed and flick a few switches on it but – nothing.
The power is out.
The rest of the night crawls by. By light, the power is still off. I take a freezing shower – bliss! – under the tap and hastily pull on my only remaining fresh t-shirt; sixty seconds later, I’m already wearing a sheen of fresh sweat. We chuck everything into our packs and drag them out into the courtyard, where we gulp down mouthfuls of semi-fresh, less hot air.
We flog down a little boneshaker of a taxi on the street outside and squeeze ourselves and our massive backpacks into it; it’s like one of those popes in a Volkswagen jokes.
Then car eases into Choluteca’s early morning traffic, and we travel on.
Catherine is the author of Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. She blogs at www.catherineryanhoward.com.