Bird Watching with Bubba

Excerpt No. 3
Ambergris Island

Exploring town and finding a cool spot to rest was my priority, so I wandered ahead without Elbert. All the streets were sand and everyone I encountered, children, adults, shopkeeper and bartenders alike were barefoot and dressed in a simple fashionless style adorned only with gold teeth and tattoo. A sign outside a tavern read, "No shoes, no shirt, no problema." Contented faces of a widely varied decent smiled, waved or nodded at passing strangers and fellow Ambergriseans. They spoke an odd form of Spanish mixed with Mayan among themselves and broken English to outsiders. In the entire town no building was over two stories. The town's center was marked by an ancient Roman Catholic Church's bell tower that rose above everything.

The trade winds cooled front street best and my quest ended at a beachfront establishment called the Holiday Hotel. Its heavy carved mahogany doors to the street were propped open in a gesture of welcome.

I walked in, crossed the lobby, past the bar and stuck my head out the beachside exit to a verandah overlooking the reef.

It was furnished in brightly colored adarandic style furniture and surrounded in Red Hibiscus, busy with visiting Cinnamon Hummingbirds. It and the beach beyond were shaded by towering coconut palms. The whole unbelievably serene setting was graced with the low and distant roar of the reef beyond...heaven!

Suddenly from the lobby a disturbing gruff voice boomed, "Is that your dog?" I turned to discover Elbert behind me and confronting him was a large scowling woman.

"He's my dog, Elbert said, "or I'm his person. However you want to look at It." She bellowed. "There are no dogs allowed in this Hotel," pointing a stiff arm with crooked finger at the door to the verandah she yelled, "Afuera!"

"He doesn't understand Spanish," Elbert said calmly. "Bubba would you wait outside while I have a drink at the bar?" I quickly exited and plopped down on the verandah. With no adieu, the woman turned and stomped away. From behind the bar a short, stocky Spanish man said, "That's Celi, she owns the Hotel, lives upstairs. What would you like to drink?"

I settled in the stool and-asked, "Is she always like that?"

He chuckled, "only when she's awake!"

"I'll have a Caribbean rum and coke with lime, thank you."

After mixing my drink his eyes cut to the door and he asked, "What's your dog's name?" I glanced over to see Bubba's head sticking inside. His mouth open, with his drooping tongue supporting a long slobber sickle.

"Bubba," I responded, "and mine's Elbert. What's yours?"

"Chico," he answered quick and distinctly unlike the others I had met.

With a large hand, genuine grip and warm smile he gave me a masculine single shake.

"Nice to meet you. Would your dog like some water?"

"Well Bubba would prefer a beer. Could you pour some beer in a bowl for him? He'll drink it outside!"

He poured the beer into a large stainless steel bowl and I sat it outside. Bubba was gazing at the frigates soaring overhead. Before lapping up the beer he looked up at me and smiled. I could tell he was not going to mind the verandah at all.

I returned to the bar and asked Chico to request the front desk reserve me a room for the night.

As the afternoon progressed Chico began a line of questions that I'm sure he asks everyone who sits at his bar for any extended length of time, but still he managed a convincing display of concern.

Reciting as he washed bar glasses in the sink he asked, " How long are you here for?"

"I'm going to stay. I'm not really a tourist. I plan to build on some land I've just bought on the island."

"What kind of work do you do?"

"I'm a vocational teacher but I plan to teach SCUBA diving down here."

"Want to go diving? I'll introduce you to my cousin Tito."

"Chico how many dive masters are there on the island?"

"Well, lets see. Tito, Nano. Marko, Turanio ... "He began to count on his fingers and mumble to himself eventually coming up with a figure of ten. All with names ending in "o."

"Sure lets set something up!"

"What else would you like to do? I know everybody."

"Well, I like to write, and likes to do birdwatching."

"Your dog is a birdwatcher?"

"Sure, he is a bird-dog. Loves the sport."

Chico offered to set up a tour with his cousin Cholo to a neighboring island he claimed was inhabited by hundreds of Herons and Spoonbills.

Continuing with his repertoire of questions he asked, "What do you write?"

'Witticisms, but nothing lately! I was hoping the local newspaper might humor me with my own column.'"

"A column about what?"

" I don't know yet but I'm sure it %ill come to me."

I'll introduce you to Bruce and Victoria at the San Pedro Sun. The,. will print anything. Don't worry 1*11 fix you up! Want another drink?**

"Yes, and could Bubba have bowl of beer?"

"Your going to get me in trouble!

"Chico, you're full of information. I seem to have stumbled into the right bar. I was hoping you could help me find my way around the Island."

Chico responded with, "lt's easy we've got front, middle and back street. The sea is in the front of the island and the lagoon in the back. Put your right foot in the Caribbean and your going north. Left foot, south. Simple! The town ends just a I little way to the north in a river with no bridge and the south end is a Mayan Ruin called Marco Gonzalez."

"Chico. my property is on the north end."

"UH-OH, you are going to need a boat. My cousin Turanio can find you one quick!"

'The following weeks at the Hotel, Bubba and I got to know San Pedro. Diving, fishing, exploring. drinking with Chico and trying to stay out of Celi's way.

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