"Nice weather!" the BigGuy yelled, so he could be heard over the rain drumming on the bus terminal's tin roof.
"Puerto Cortes, Honduras! My old home town!" Nuco replied. Rivulets ran off Segunda Avenida, gathering in puddles on either side of the city's only paved street.
"You must have liked your job," the BigGuy said.
"It can rain a lot," Nuco said.
"No sewers?" the BigGuy asked.
"The city's only a foot or two above sea level," Nuco replied.
"Better if it was a couple feet under," the BigGuy said, disappointed. He and his friends were in the second day of their Central American vacation and although the delayed arrival of their luggage had proved no hardship, bad weather was a problem. He hadn't left the snow and ice of central New York to wade through puddles even if they were warm.
"Where's Medio?" Capn asked. The travelers looked around, then spotted their partner being interviewed by a local. Medio was Calabrian by descent, and his darker complexion, full head of straight black hair, and short stature caused people to mistake him for a native. To add to the confusion, Medio would appear to completely understand what locals were saying until it came time for his response, which most often came out as, "Uh, uh, uh..."
After about the third 'uh', the BigGuy or Nuco would step in. "No habla Español. Es gringo."
The revelation that Medio was a gringo always brought the same response: "Es gringo?!" the local would repeat in disbelief. This lingual drama played itself out so often that eventually Medio's own friends began to doubt his ethnicity, and had taken to responding to the expressions of disbelief with, "Well, he's half a gringo, un medio gringo." This explanation was more readily accepted and the Calabrese from Utica, New York, assumed the mantle Medio Gringo.
Once Medio had rejoined them, Nuco took charge. "Let's drop our bags off, then come back to town and get a beer," he said. Before any of his friends could reply, Nuco started walking, signaling the presence of puddles with a lift of his oversized suitcase. His companions followed more slowly, zigzagging around the water holes.
"Does he have some Teutonic gene that kicks into action when faced with hardship?" the BigGuy asked, pointing toward the back of their friend, who had begun fording the puddles. "I mean, here we are in the Third World and he marches like he's overrunning Belgium."
Up ahead, Nuco stopped abruptly and pulled out a small recorder. "What's he saying?" the BigGuy asked.
"Maybe he's radioing back to his troops," Capn suggested.
"Last time he pulled that thing out, I heard 'mumble mumble, fascismo, mumble mumble, then something about gusanos and capitalism," said the BigGuy. "Why does he speak in Spanish?"
"CIA," Medio suggested.
"Too radical," Capn disagreed.
"Could be a front," Medio replied. "Stranger things have happened."
Once they had stored the larger part of their baggage, the wet quartet began an earnest attempt to find lodging. After being turned down at two motels, they decided to stop at a small streetside comedor for tacos and beer. The rain had soaked them as thoroughly as a good sparge, so once seated, the travelers lingered, protected by a roof and the spreading comfort of cerveza. The BigGuy quickly perceived how to avoid giving up their seats to other potential customersby continually ordering beer.
"Hey, check this guy out," Medio said. A man drunkenly staggered along the side of the street that led into the port city's sizeable red light district. In no shape for a sobriety test, the man weaved between the street and the puddles.
"Is he going to make it?" the BigGuy asked, echoing all of their thoughts. As if in answer to the question, the man tripped over the street's two inch shoulder and stumbled into the path of a giant flatbed truck. The truck's horn blared, sending the man off the road and face first into a mud puddle. The comedor crowd applauded.
"At least we're dry," Nuco said, trying to put a better face on the dismal introduction to his former hometown.
Medio, whose health had begun to deteriorate with the weather, shivered and asked,"Where are we gonna sleep?"
Nuco looked around. His eye caught the sign hanging from the building across the street. "There's always the Hotel Formosa," he said.
"The Hotel Formosa?" the BigGuy responded.
"It's a hotel sailors use a lot, with girls from the red zone."
"Let's go take a look," said the BigGuy, and he and Nuco crossed the street, skirting the drunk who hadn't yet managed to crawl out of his puddle.
Several beers later, the four traveling companions still sat in the comedor. "What did you think of the hotel room?" Medio asked, shivering.
"Two cots, a towel, bars on the window," the BigGuy said. "Reminds me of a South American prison cell."
"Hey, there won't be any cockroaches," Nuco said. "I have it on good word they avoid the place."
"It's all we've got," Capn said. "I say we go for it."
The BigGuy looked at the feverish Medio, then said, "Vamonos, Señores."