CASKE 2000 > Stories > Culture > Honduras > Iguana Meal

STORY FROM HONDURAS

Patuca: An Iguana Meal with the Most Hospitable Bandits

4/12/2000 by Jean-Philippe Soule

When we paddled into Brus people warned us to be very careful further south in Patuca. “The people in Patuca all have guns. They wait for other people to pass by, chase them with their powerful motorboats and attack them with no mercy. They kill to rob,” we were told. As we paddled toward Patuca in the early morning, these words echoed in our heads. When we heard a motorboat, I looked up and saw it coming right at us bouncing up and down on the high swell. For a second I felt nervous, but when I saw the expression of the boat captain, smiling and cheering us on, I relaxed. He told us that he was bringing passengers to the sand bar of Brus and would return. An hour later he was back as we were approaching the mouth of the Patuca river.

 “Where are you going?” he asked.

 “South to Puerto Lempira, but we will stop in Patuca to rest,” I replied.

“I’m going to Patuca, I can give you a lift,” he said.

Then I explained that we wanted to paddle. He worried that the waves were too big for us to handle at the entrance of the river, but I was confident we could handle them. People always underestimate our abilities to handle high seas in our small kayaks. Concerned, he said he would come to meet us outside of the surf zone when we got there. An hour later we arrived in front of Patuca, there were no boats armed to the teeth to rob us, just our friend who came out to see if we were all right. We were happy to see him. The river was curving its way into the ocean protected by a long sandbar and the waves were hiding the exact entrance location. We would have not known where to aim had he not appeared in his boat. After nicely refusing his offer of a lift one more time, we followed him as he led us through the waves into the mouth of the river. Once on shore our new Miskito friend Feliceando then offered us breakfast with his brother’s family.

We arrived in town and as usual we were an attraction for the locals. People came from all over to see the two little boats that the crazy gringos had paddled from La Ceiba. Feliceando’s brother received us very well. His wife prepared us a wonderful meal of stewed iguana. They were so hospitable that we decided to call it a day and spend the night there. Helped by our hosts, we carried all our gear into their front yard and set up camp.

Our host Felimon seemed much better off than most people we had met in La Moskitia. We wondered if he was one of the local drug barons, especially when we saw his wife hide a 45 caliber automatic handgun that had been sitting on the living room table. But Felimon was friendly and knowledgeable and we talked for hours.

We learned that he worked as a boat captain for a large foreign-owned fishing boat. This explained his social status. As for the gun, like for everybody else in La Moskitia, owning one was necessary to protect his family and wealth. Our host was very interested in our expedition and asked many questions.

The family enjoyed watching us eat the local food, as they were sure that gringos had never eaten iguana before. Iguana meat is actually delightful. It is a white meat that could best be described in taste and texture as a cross between chicken and white fish. Only the legs and long tail contain any meat. They were surprised to hear that it was not our first iguana meal. In other places along our crossing of La Moskitia as well we had been fed iguana. This month though was the real iguana season, for the females were full of eggs. We were served the delicious reptile with its eggs. They looked like round balls slightly bigger than a quail egg and with an opaque yellow color. Luke tried to stick his fork on one that rolled to the side of his plate. He then grabbed it with one hand and shoved it in his mouth. Curious about the taste, I waited, staring at him, looking for a facial expression of approval or disgust. He chewed on it repeatedly, first with surprise then almost with frustration. Luckily a neighbor had just called our host outside. After a minute, Luke discretely removed the egg out of his mouth and told me: “Man this thing is impossible to eat!” I tried and agreed with him.

We tried to be discrete but I’m sure we must have looked like two clowns chewing on giant wads of bubble gum. Our host had left his eggs in his plate and was talking outside. Were we the victims of a joke set up for dumb gringos? No it couldn’t be, everywhere in La Moskitia we had heard that the iguana eggs were one of the best delicacies. People often feel the stomach of female iguanas with their hands to check for the eggs and when they find them their faces light up with joy.

I had eaten weird things in my jungle explorations through Indonesia and Thailand, but the worms, the giant rats, the dogs, the bats, snakes and other exotic foods were at least edible and even often quite delicious. Yet we were clueless as to how we should attack these rubbery eggs. I was afraid to choke on them. Swallowing these things was more than we could handle. We knew we couldn’t leave these in our plates and offend our host. Our plans to throw these things to the dogs were interrupted by Felimon’s return to the table.

As he sat down and grabbed an egg with his hand, he asked us: “You don’t like the eggs?” Then holding the rubber ball in his right hand, he stuck two of his front teeth in it, tore the skin and squeezed out the cooked yolk inside his mouth. He then put the skin back on the side of his plate with a grin of satisfaction. We felt stupid and replied, “Geeee we haven’t tried them yet.” Knowing the technique it was much easier. The yolk was very rich, more than any egg I had ever had I would still say that I favored the meat. We finished our meal and laughed at our mistakes.

After our meal I went to lay down in a hammock and reviewed in my mind our full paddling trip of the Honduran Mosquito Coast to that point. We had prepared ourselves for encounters with dangerous bandits, and drug dealers, and for dealing with inhospitable people and the hardships of malnutrition. Yet here we were, in the house of locals, being fed and treated like royal emissaries. We had anticipated much more danger. It can be wonderful to be wrong.


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