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Dec 20, 2016
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The proposed gateway to a planned interoceanic canal shows little sign of activity but locals say Chinese experts have visited recently and work will start soon.

Oct 29, 2016
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EU and 24 countries sign long-awaited agreement to protect 1.1m sq km of water in Southern Ocean, ensuring that fewer younger fish will be caught

Jul 29, 2016
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The Utila Ferry War is Over.
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You are here: Home » Fun Stuff » Mark Hassall & THAT

Mark Hassall & THAT

How "THAT" Came About



1. The beginning.

In 1973, my wife Bonnie and I arrived in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala, after a three-and-half-year sail around the world aboard a Brown Searunner 37 named Talofiafaoe. Jim Brown and I published a book about that trip called Love for Sail.

Bonnie and I found the Rio Dulce so perfect that we stayed for 13 years. I built houses, grew a few acres of pineapples, danced a lot, drank a lot and, generally, had myself a hell of a good time. For a while, I ran charters out of the Catamaran Hotel for Kevin Lucas, before I gave away my boat. Back then, there were only two places in the River for visitors to quench their thirst for a drink and conversation: the Catamaran Bar and my house, the Casa Media Luna. I remember one week when Bonnie and I had 47 visitors. I loved it. As far as I was concerned, I had the best of all possible worlds. The Rio Dulce was still undeveloped (there were no roads, no cars, no telephones, no television), and the visitors who arrived on our doorstep were interesting folk who had traveled great distances to find me. The River flowed right to my door and it was sweet.

However, everything changes sooner or later, and by 1980 theyd build a bridge across the Rio Dulce. There were cars, trucks, and buses. There were no political disasters and, after the earthquake of 76, no natural disasters to keep people away. And so, they came. Wealthy Americans and wealthy Guatemalans discovered the Rio Dulce. Big powerboats and sleek yachts shouldered the Indian in his dugout canoe to the side. Elaborate homes dotted the shore line. Rain forest was cut to make room for the cattle ranches which provided U.S. fast-food chains with cheap meat. In a few years, there was only a thin line of trees edging the River, behind that were bald hills. Erosion turned the crystal-clear river water brown.

Id made myself a promise, back in 1973, that if I ever left the River Id do it the same way I got there, in a boat. By 1980, I knew I wanted to leave, and that the time to build another boat was at hand. (I had given Talofiafaoe to my children years ago and they had in turn, sold it.)

I was going to build the boat of my dreams, a boat big enough to live on and work in, a boat with a fully-equipped wood shop on board, so that I could make my living wherever I dropped the anchor. I didnt have any money. I never had any money. I liked living close to the bone... it made life more interesting. Still, I was going to need some money and so, in the summer of 1980, I left for California to earn a few dollars. I took my longtime friend and neighbor, Concepcin (Chung) Alvarez, with me. Chung was a native whod never even been to Guatemala City, but I just couldnt pass up the chance to blow his mind in California. I should have known better. Like natives everywhere, he accepted everything from jumbo jets to potato chips without a change of expression. Only once did I see him upset.

Chung and I had worked side by side for years. We were used to getting up with the sun, and quitting when the sun set. In Guatemala, no matter the time of year, the sun always sets at 6 oclock. Even I forgot how long it takes the sun to set in these northern latitudes in July. That first day of work (we were renovating the Owl House in Sausalito), we worked until the sun went down, I was shocked, when I looked at my watch, to see that it was 9 oclock!

Know what time it is, Chung?

He looked at the sky like I knew he would, and said six oclock, Markos. Time to quit.

Its time to quit all right; but, it isnt 6, its 9.

No, he said. Its about 6; you can see for yourself where the sun is.

Yes, but we arent in Guatemala, Chung. Up here, this time of year, the sun goes down about 9 oclock.

Its not true!

Yes, it is.

He didnt argue, but he looked at the sky with such a strange expression of fear and confusion on his face, I felt ashamed. Id turned his world upside down in many ways, and hed played along with me, but some things a man has a right to be sure of, or he faces a void nobody can fill.

I completed work on the Owl House in two months, and flew back to Guatemala with $2,500. Now I had seed money for my new boat. Having that much money made me so nervous that I buried it in mason jars under my shop floor.

When his friends gathered around Chung to ask him about his trip to America, he shook his head and said, nice to visit, but I wouldnt want to live there. And, so far as I know, those were the last words he spoke on the subject for the rest of his life.

Two months later, I dug up my money and handed it over to a Belizean schoolteacher named Juan, all because a friend of mine named Sunshine wanted to learn how to sail. Shed bought herself a little Belizean 21-foot strip-planked boat that was ready for the burn pile. Several months later, she fixed it up all by herself. Even sewed some striped sails out of blue and white denim. She turned up one day on my doorstep wanting to know if Id teach her how to sail. Said she wanted to sail to Ambergris Cay, off the coast of Belize.

I said yes, and then wondered why the hell Id done that. I had plenty of other things I needed to be doing. But, when I told Bonnie what Id just agreed to, she said, You go, Mark. There must be some reason youll find out soon enough.

So, Sunshine and I sailed away. Monohulls make me nervous anyway, but I was feeling particularly edgy when she rousted me out of my bunk on the third morning and said, Mark! Come look at this sunrise. Its absolutely the most gorgeous one Ive ever seen in my life. Its blood-red!

I crawled out of the bunk to take a look. She was right; it was gorgeous and very red, and all I could think was, Ah, shit, not again.

Have you ever seen a sunrise like that? she asked all sweet and innocent.

Yeah, I answered. As a matter of fact, I have. Off the coast of New Zealand. Before the biggest cyclone in 25 years hit.

Oh, no! she breathed.

Forty-eight hours later we limped into Ambergris Cay the northernmost cay off the coast of Belize and the beginning of the worlds second largest barrier reef. Id just been through the fifth hurricane of my life. Id spilled boiling water on my foot in the middle of the fracas, and it was as tender and sore as my disposition.

Ambergris Cay was still an undeveloped tropical paradise at that time. The population was mostly black. They lived in clapboard houses with tin roofs, and ate from the sea. It was a small community of a couple of hundred families, a school, an airstrip, a few bars, and a partially completed stone church.

The usual group of ragtag, toothless old men hung around the pier jabbering in weird English.

Hey, mon, bahd webber out thar. Yooo sail that bitty boat in bahd webber!

Hey, mon, where yoo come from?

Hey, mon, nize boat. Yoo wanna sell?

We left them there, swarming like flies on warm pie, to find a quiet place to eat.

Sunshine ordered grouper; I had gin.

After the second drink took the kink out of my tongue, I told her about the money under my shop floor.

Im gonna start me a boat with that money, I said and something tells me this place might have a few things to offer in the way of sailing supplies.

Here? she asked, squeezing lime juice on her dead grouper. Nothing but poor fishermen around here.

Well, Ill tell you something about this place. Its mighty tricky business sailing in and around these reefs. Not a year goes by in which some boat doesnt stack up on the reef out there, and the local folks salvage what they can from the wreck. I have a feeling theres a lot of sailing supplies on Ambergris Cay. All we gotta do is nose around a bit.

After dinner, we wandered around the village, passing the time of day with folks and asking questions about recent shipwrecks. They told us about a sailboat named Big Trouble, said she came to grief on the reef about two years earlier, but she took a long time to sink and nearly everything had been salvaged. The word was that a schoolteacher named Juan was the man to see about Big Trouble.

We received directions to Juans house and set off. I knew wed found the place when I saw an aluminum mast lying between the house and the garage. My heart started to race.

Juan, a small, dark, uncertain man, met us at the door. After I told him what I was looking for, he took a key from behind the door and walked us to the garage. When he threw open the doors, I caught my breath, Juans garage was nothing but a sailboat waiting to happen. There were bags of sails, sheet lines all beautifully coiled, two big Lewmar winches and nine smaller ones. From floor to ceiling there were boxes, crates and cupboards full of neatly arranged hardware from the sailboat, a 39-foot Erickson that had lived up to its name.

You interested in selling any of this?, I asked.

Yes, he said, all of it.

My heart banged away like a bell clapper in a Spanish mission.

How much do you want? I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. Make me an offer, he said.

Oh, God, I hated this part. I stalled for time, fished out a cigarette, lit it and drew a deep breath.

Im not a rich man, Juan, I said finally. Used to be a schoolteacher like you. I build things with my hands now, grow a few pineapples-enough to keep bread on the table and thats about it. But, I need to build a boat, and I finally got a little money together to get some things, and well...what I mean is...would you take $2,000 for it?

He rubbed the end of his nose and looked down at his feet.

I got a partner, he said. I gotta ask him first.

A partner? My heart sank.

Well, okay then, I said. When can you talk to him?

This afternoon, he said. I meet you tonight; 7 oclock at the bar on the waterfront.

There wasnt anything for Sunshine and me to do but wait. We took in the local sights but I couldnt see much for all the salvaged treasure sitting behind those two garage doors. By six oclock I was a wreck. Over and over, I preached to myself about keeping a positive attitude in spite of the fact that I knew I offered only a small fraction of what that stuff was really worth. But, I argued with myself, who were those guys going to sell it to if not me? Who was going to brave the currents, mudflats, reefs, and storms, to find a tiny little cay off the coast of Belize to pick up the salvaged rigging from a boat called Big Trouble? And how would they transport all that gear once they got here? That last question had me bothered too. If Juan and his partner did accept my offer, I didnt have the foggiest idea of how I was going to get it all out of Belize and into Guatemala without paying customs (which I couldnt afford) and without a boat of my own to haul it with.

Sunshine and I were in the bar early; Juan showed up late and his news was that his partner said it isnt enough money.

I felt desperation rear its ugly head.

Ill give you $2500 for it, Juan, Thats all the money I have in the world. I cant take living on land anymore. Its been eight years since I tasted saltwater or felt the waves rolling under me, and I need to get back out there. I dont have more than $2,500 or Id offer it to you. I can tell you one thing: isnt anybody alive whod appreciate that stuff more than me, or put it to better use.

Juan wiped his forehead. Okay, he said.

Its yours. But you got to get it out of here this week.

Wait a minute! You dont understand, I said feeling the sweat trickle down my back.

Im teaching Sunshine how to sail, which is how I got here in the first place. But her boat is way too small to haul anything. I have to get her and the boat back to the Rio Dulce, go to Guatemala City to get a visa, and then back to the River to pick up my money. I need at least two weeks, Juan, and even then Im gonna be bustin my ass.

Okay, he said. Two weeks. No more. Exactly two weeks. If I dont see you then, the deal is off. We forget it.

I danced and jumped and twirled and carried on all the way back to Sunshines boat. Id done it! I had the rigging! All I had to do was put a boat underneath it. Hot Damn!

Untie the lines, Sunshine; were going back. Now.

The next day, we were passing by the mouth of the Monkey River on the Belizean coast when we spotted a trimaran. A Hartley design. There was a fellow standing on deck watching us. When we got close, he waved and yelled, Hey! Arent you Mark Hassall? Were on our way to visit you.

Id never seen the guy in my life, but hed heard of me and wanted to talk. I hated to waste one precious minute of time, but I couldnt say no. We rafted alongside and introduced ourselves. He was Mike; his wife was Sally.

I know Belize real well, Mike said at the end of our visit. Ive been sailing around those reefs for years. Ill sail you back there to pick up your stuff.

You will? Thats great. Oh, God, that would be just wonderful. The thing is, I have to be back to Ambergris Cay with the money in two weeks.

Mike assured me theyd be sailing for the Rio Dulce in a couple of days time enough for Bonnie and I to get our visas and pack. I told him Id cover his expenses for the trip, and we made an agreement to meet at my place on the River just as soon as possible.

Sunshine and I got back to the house in a little less than two days, but Bonnie and I were reluctant to leave for the City to pick up our visas for fear we wouldnt get back in time to meet Mike and Sally. We decided to forget about visas and take our chances.

We waited and waited. Two days, three, five...a week and no Mike. I didnt know what to do. Should I keep waiting and hoping that he would turn up, or should I find some other way to get to Ambergris Cay? I was sure Id made myself quite clear about the time constrictions I was working under, and I couldnt imagine what had happened to him.

Then, late in the evening of the seventh day, Mike turned up. He offered no apology and no explanation.

Wed kinda like to see the Rio Dulce and Lake Izabal before we take off again, he said. Maybe do some fishing.

Wait a minute, Mike! You dont seem to understand. I only have a week left, and then I lose all that rigging. This is very important to me. Ive got to get there as soon as I can!

Well, he said, the other thing is, my motors not working.

I didnt stick around to hear any more. In half an hour I had made an outboard motor bracket for his trimaran wing, took the long-footed Mercury off Sunshines boat and stuck it onto Mikes. With that, Bonnie and I picked up our bags and walked on board. I knew by now that Mike was the kind of guy who says whatever sounds good at the time. I knew he didnt want to take me to Belize, but hed made the agreement and I was now dependent upon him. Id be damned if Id let him spoil my chances for getting my rigging.

Talk about a slow boat to China. It took five and a half hours to motor the 25 miles to Livingston with that little 4 horsepower motor of Sunshines. We checked out of Livingston, headed to sea and, immediately, found ourselves in a northeast blow, right on the nose. It was a rough beat. Halfway to Ambergris, Mike decided hed had enough. He dropped anchor in the shelter of the next reef.

For two lousy days we hung on the hook, going stir-crazy. The atmosphere on board was every bit as unfriendly as it was outside. All I could think about was the time, and how it was running out. If Id thought I had a rats chance, Id have jumped overboard and swum to Ambergris Cay. By the time we were able to sail, I had only two days left. Mike pushed hard, and on the day the contract expired we made in to Ambergris.

It was afternoon. I ran ashore, straight to the schoolhouse and burst through the door. A whole classroom of startled black faces and white eyes popped up, Juan, standing at the blackboard, looked stricken.

Juan, Im here! I cried.

Absolute silence. Not a child moved. Not an eye blinked. Juan stood bolted to the floor, his mouth open.

Oh, he said finally in a weak voice. Oh, my God, youre here.

Yeah, Im here.

He swallowed hard. You got a boat? he asked.


You can haul all that stuff?

Yes. Im on a trimaran that one right out there, I said, pointing to Mikes boat tied to the dock.

Oh, said Juan, Again. I didnt like the way he said it, and his eyes refused to meet mine.

I have to talk to my partner, he said.

Listen, Juan, I said, You and I made a deal, the terms were clear. Ive got the money, Ive got the boat, and I made it here in two weeks.

I have to check with Bill, he said stubbornly. He looked miserable. Under other circumstances, Id have felt sorry for him.

Come by the school tomorrow morning, said Juan. Seven oclock.

Ill be here, I replied. Dont you worry. Ill be here.

I slunk back to the boat, plumb worn out from this ordeal, and it didnt help my spirits any when I heard the sound of a motorcycle running down the beach later that night. Out of the dark came an angry American voice.

You stupid sonofabitch! You know as well as I do that stuff is worth $50,000 anyway, and you told him youd sell it to him for $2,500? You idiot! You stupid, f-----idiot!

Then I heard Juans voice. How was I supposed to know hed come back? Nobody ever has before, and they all said they would. Five times it happens, but this guys different. Besides, I gave him my word.

Well, I dunno what were going to do about that, Bill growled.

I heard no more. I went to bed not knowing what was going to happen. For the time being, the fate of my future boat lay in the hand of a Belizian school teacher and a gringo biker.

The next morning Bonnie and I went together to the meeting with Juan. His eyes looked as sleepless as mine. He didnt say a word, just motioned for us to follow. He took us to his garage, inserted the key, took off the padlock and said in a grim voice get it out of here.

Its mine?

He nodded.

All of it?

He nodded.

Oh, Juan, thank you! I pumped his hand up and down, again and again. My eyes filled with tears. Youre a good man, Juan. The best!

You pay at noon, he said grimly. We meet here.

Bonnie and I rounded up couple of native helpers and, for the next eight hours, carted what was left of Big Trouble from Juans garage to Mikes boat. By evening, the garage was empty and the trimaran was sitting low in the water. Mike and Sally were keeping to themselves. Bonnie and I had dinner ashore.

Next day, at noon, I paid off Juan and his partner. The not-too-silent partner in this deal turned out to be a big, Nordic type with huge paw-like hands that opened and closed continually as if they wanted a neck to wring. I knew Id been damned lucky to get that stuff by him for $2,500. And he knew that I knew. We said quick good-byes.

Bonnie and I ran back to Mikes boat just in time to see it pull away from the pier. It took a few seconds for my brain to convince my eyes they were seeing right. But, after several minutes of hard staring, there could be no doubt about the obvious. Mike was sailing off with my rigging. Then I remembered, Mike wanted to build a boat, too. Hed talked about it when Sunshine and I first met him at Monkey River; that was part of the reason he wanted to meet me - because he knew Id built three trimarans already.

The boat continued to head out to sea. There wasnt a thing I could do if he decided to keep the rigging for himself, except start over again. No point going to the Belizean police; I was in the country illegally.

Bonnie and I stared at each other, speechless. In the cockpit of their boat, it looked as if Mike and Sally were having a heated discussion. I was too stunned to be angry, yet. I couldnt believe what was happening right in front of my eyes. It was absurd. Something welled up in my chest but I didnt know if I was about to laugh or cry. All I knew was that a plug had just been pulled, and I felt like I was swirling down the drain, butt over brains, into a black hole.

Finally, I turned to walk back to the bar. If it was going to happen, so be it; but I didnt have to watch. I started slowly up the pier. Bonnie caught my sleeve.

Mark, she almost whispered. I think hes turning back.

On second thought, maybe I should watch.

Yes, he was coming back. The weighted-down tri moved like a heavy old turtle in the water. My mast stuck out beyond the deck some 20 feet fore and aft, and the decks were piled with boxes and bags of my gear. It certainly did look to me as though Sallys conscience couldnt quite pull it off, and Mike was headed back to the pier. He ran her close alongside, and Bonnie and I jumped aboard. Nobody said a word. Bonnie and I sat on the foredeck and watched Ambergris Cay grow small and dim.

At long last Mike hollered at me from the cockpit. I aint talking this shit to Guatemala. Too risky. Im dropping it off a helluva lot sooner than that you just tell me where.

I considered our situation. As far as I could see, we had only one option: Hard Luck Charlie. Charlie lived in a house made of driftwood, broken bottles, cement and rock on the Belize coast (about 16 miles north of Punta Gorda) with his wife, five kids, a small zoo of animals and, usually, a couple of down-and-outers who figured life with Charlie was better than nothing. A boatload of sailing gear hadnt ought to disrupt their lives all that much. They might not even notice. In fact, Id offer Charlie the wind generator hed been wanting to get off me for years, in exchange for watching my stuff.

It would work. I knew it. And after the dust had settled, I would make plans for bringing the rigging all the way back to my house.

I leaned back against an ice chest and thought of my Australian friend, Thurston, from Rabaul, New Guinea, who used to say, Itll awl ba awl raht in the end, youll find, mite.

2. The Design, Materials , and Money

There was no question in my mind about who was going to design my big work-boat. Id built Jim Browns off soundings, and Talofiafaoe had been a 37-foot Searunner.

Jim Brown was definitely the man to put my dream on paper. So, in the summer of 1981, on my way from Guatemala to New York (I had agreed to sail with a fellow on his 29-foot trimaran from New York to Guatemala that summer, just for the hell of it and hell it was), I stopped in North, Virginia to talk to Jim. We hadnt seen each other for quite a while, and I could hardly wait to lay my dreams before him and let the big man work his magic.

I flew into Richmond late one July night. Jim was there to meet me. It was a long drive to North, and we covered a lot of ground in those hours: news about families and friends, trimarans wed known and loved, the future and the past. I told him about my plans to build a big tri, the masterpiece of my building career. I told him I wanted it to have a complete wood-working shop on board, and I wanted it to be comfortable because Bonnie and I were going to live on it for the rest of our lives.

But Mark, he said, do you have any idea what it costs to build a boat like that these days? It isnt like it used to be back in the 60's; the price of materials has skyrocketed. Even if you do manage to build it, the cost of maintaining a boat that size would keep you a slave forever. Youre talking about a big boat.

I know.

Have you come into some money, or what?

Nope. Ive got $135 and a few cents. Woulda had more, but somebody broke into my motel room in Livingston the night before last, and cleaned out my wallet.

And where do you plan to build this boat? he asked.

Next to the house.

In Guatemala?

Sure, why not?

Neither of us spoke for some moments as the reasons of why not ran through his head and out of mine with the night breeze.

Im going to build that boat, Jim.

He chuckled and drew a deep breath. I know, he said.

Ive already got the rigging, I smiled at him.

You do?

Yup. Got it from a 39-foot Erickson that sank off the coast of Belize. All you have to do is design a boat to go with it.

Let me get this straight: Im going to put a 62 trimaran under a 39 Erickson rig?

Sure. Why not?

He chuckled again.

As it happened, Chris White launched his 52-foot constant camber trimaran, Juniper, the week I was at Jims house. Jim and I were invited on her maiden sail. We spent the better part of the day trying to find wind. Late in the afternoon, it found us. The free-standing masts suddenly bent at an alarming angle and then quickly twanged upright again. Juniper shot forward at such an incredible speed that we all grabbed at whatever was handy to keep from falling overboard.

17 knots! yelled Chris. My God, she went from 0 to 17 in a couple of seconds! Have I got a boat or have I got a boat?

Its no boat, I yelled. Its a goddamned slingshot!

Sleep was a long time coming to me that night. I kept feeling that sudden burst of speed, the stomach-squeezing rush that ripples through your guts when you skim over the awesome power of the ocean like a breath of air. Id been on land too long. However, one thing I now knew for certain: my boat would be constant camber, too. Both Chris and Jim believed it was the strongest construction method available to a builder, and neither of them saw any real problems with building a constant camber boat in the tropics, other than the obvious nuisance of having to import the resin and the fiberglass, cut down the trees, make my own plywood, my own sawmill, my own power plant, and scrounge the rest of the materials to out fit a 62-foot boat. It wasnt going to be easy. But, it was not impossible.

Sleep came to me, finally, and all night long I dreamed I sailed my big boat. She surfed over great cresting waves with breathtaking speed and grace. Her double masts pointed to infinity against the moons pale light, and beneath my feet she rode strong and steady a magic carpet upon which I could live out my days.

My bed was in Jims study, and as I awakened the next morning, I gradually became aware of Jim sitting hunched over his drafting table, in deep concentration. The early morning light reddened his hair to a bright henna, and the high-intensity lamp revealed lines in his face which Id never noticed before. He is my age, but it came as a sudden shock to think of Jim as fifty. Somehow, twenty years had gone by since the day I first met him on the dock at Monterey, California; and here we were a couple of middle-aged boys still playing boat.

I got out of bed, tip-toed to his desk and peeked over his shoulder.

Your new vessel, he said without looking around. Ive been at it for three hours. Hows she look?

Great, wow God, shes gonna be something.

What are you going to name her, anyway?



Not What, That.


Yeah. Whats wrong with That?

Let me get this straight. Youre going to name this boat That?

Thats right.

Thats the worst name I ever heard. He shook his head. Whatever made you decide on that...I mean That?

Well, way back in `72, Bonnie and I sailed into Capetown, South Africa. Wed just tied up to the pier at the yacht club when some starched white fellow comes marching up to the boat with a big sneer on his face, and says, Whered you come from in that?

Southern California, I say, strutting my stuff.

Youre a goddamn liar, he says, turns on his heel, marches back to the clubhouse and slams the door.

I promised myself then that the next boat I would build, I was gonna name it That in honor the sonofabitch.

When I returned to the Rio Dulce, after my visit with Jim and the delivery sail from New York, I was faced with the fact that I needed money if That was ever going to be more than a joke. I needed to buy one hell of a lot of wood and resin. I broadcast the word among family and friends in the States that I wanted work up there, and then let circumstances take care of themselves.

The Mitchell Brothers came to my rescue. They said they had a 36-foot fiberglass trawler that needed a cabin, and I was hired if I wanted the job. Boy, did I want the job! I flew to the States as fast as I could. It was October 1981.

Art and Jim Mitchell own and operate the OFarrell Theater in San Francisco, one of the worlds most famous erotic theaters. Art was also my son-in law. He and my daughter, Karen, met me at the airport in their mouse-grey Mercedes Benz limo.

It was a rare autumn day in the Bay area; the air was clear and crisp, and Art opened the sun roof. I stood up through the hole, and waved to everybody. Hello, America, how are you? Whos in the White House, and who won the Oscar, or isnt there any difference any more? Hows your cholesterol level, and your GNP? Are your teeth flossed and your hands soft? Whats on TV tonight? Is your seat belt fastened and the phone bill paid? Are you winning? Are you losing? Or isnt there any difference any more?

I had my own parade through downtown San Francisco. The prodigal son returns. People stared. People waved. People smiled. And, they all wondered who the devil I was, carrying on like I just won the World Series or walked on the moon.

Art had made arrangements for me to work on the fishing boat in the OFarrell Theater parking lot across the street from the theater itself. First, he took me around and introduced me to the staff. In the office there was Vince, the accountant; and Barbara, the secretary; and Jack, the maintenance man. In the dressing rooms there were naked girls. Art flung each door open and announced, Girls, like you to meet my father-in-law, Mark Hassall. Hes gonna be working on our boat across the street in the parking lot. They smiled, shook my hand, welcomed me to the family and said that if I needed anything, to be sure to let them know. I said I would and, then, thank God, somebody shut the door. Dont get me wrong; I like naked girls. I mean, I dont mind if theyre naked. I take a liberal view of most things. Naked girls are people. Fine people. It takes a minute to get used to fine people sometimes, thats all.

It took me two months to finish the Brothers fishing boat. The day I was done, they loaded a briefcase with three hundred and fifty 20 dollar bills; then the three of us (Art, Jim and I) drove to System Three (then in Richmond). I handed the money (which was more than Id ever seen in one place in my life) to Tom Freeman, and Tom shipped six 65-gallon drums of resin to Miami, Florida by truck. From there, it would be taken on board a container ship to Puerto Santo Tomas, Guatemala. I figured in a month or maybe two the barrels would be sitting in my shed at the Rio Dulce.

Back in Guatemala, I turned my attention to the other major component of my boat: wood. A friend of mine by the name of Guillermo Pira owned a sawmill not too far from the Rio Dulce, at a place called Rio Hondo on the Atlantic Highway. Guillermo was a tall, handsome fellow about 40 years old. He was upper class Guatemala; well-educated and articulate. His family owned an even larger sawmill on the south coast. Guillermo and his girlfriend, Vicki, came to the River often. We were old Catamaran Bar buddies from way back. Guillermo led a commuters life, constantly on the move between his apartment in the city, his business in Rio Hondo, and the mountain southwest of Lake Izabal where is trees grew. He was an intense man, driven by family expectations and his own need to succeed; he was also a good man, and I liked him very much.

He thought my boat project was pretty exciting stuff. He liked a good challenge himself, and he enjoyed watching somebodys fire burn bright, too. Anyway, when I returned to the River and seriously started considering where and how I was going to get wood for the boat, it was only natural to turn to Guillermo for help.

Tell you what, he said over drinks at the Catamaran Bar. Im going up to the lumber camp this afternoon. If you want to come along, you can take a look at the standing wood, and I can tell you what I know about different varieties.

The lumber camp was some 2,000 feet up Guillermos mountain, and we arrived there by skidder, an amazing articulated machine with eight-foot diameter wheels that rolled easily over fallen trees, streams, boulders, whatever. Guillermo acted as though he was driving a tricycle down a sidewalk, but it made me plenty nervous. The incline became so steep, I didnt see how any machine could stay upright.

My God, man, I wailed. Take it easy!

He laughed.

I never saw anything like it; that silly machine seemed to defy the law of gravity, and no matter how precipitous the angle, we stayed upright. Finally, we reached the area where the men were felling trees. It was noon and they were sitting on a log in a cleared area, eating their tortillas and beans.

From up there the view was spectacular. Off to the north, Lake Izabal glittered like a chunk of aquamarine, and to the south lay, the Motagua River Valley. The Motagua Valley was once part of the rain forest but had long since been turned to cacti and barren rock by mans insatiable appetite for wood. I only wanted a few trees worth, but it made me feel guilty just the same to contribute to the deforestation.

Guillermo and I left the skidder at the camp and continued on foot. I told him I was looking for a wood which was lightweight, strong yet flexible, and capable of being impregnated with resin.

We walked the mountainside all afternoon, taking samples of wood to test and weigh. I would decide which wood was the best on the basis of those samples. We agreed that I could use his sawmill to cut the wood, and that Chung and I would do the work ourselves, thereby saving a great deal of money. I agreed to supply the carbide blades to fit the gangsaw. Guillermo gave me a quote of $7,000 for 14,000 board feet of lumber. We shook hands on the deal, and went back to the Catamaran Hotel to seal it with a few drinks.

The only problem with the arrangement was that I didnt have $7,000. Fact is, I didnt have much of anything when it came right down to it. The rigging was stowed in Belize; the resin was somewhere between San Francisco, Miami and Guatemala, and the wood wouldnt materialize until more money did. It was now the spring of 1982 Id been working on the boat for two full years and, so far, had absolutely nothing to show for it. It was enough to discourage a man.

Bonnie and I talked it over, and it seemed clear that I was going to have to earn some more money in the States. Once more I put the word out that I needed work and, then, waited to see what fell out of the bushes.

Again, Art and Karen came to my rescue. Karen wanted a greenhouse built onto their large country farmhouse. I agreed. Two months later I was back in the Rio Dulce with the title to a piece of land in my bay that I had talked Karen into buying a couple of years ago. She gave it to me in payment for the greenhouse. In turn, I sold it for exactly the price of the wood - $7,000.

I had expected to find the resin shipment waiting when I returned. After all, it was over six months ago that Tom had shipped it out, but nobody at the port of Santo Tomas had seen such a shipment. There was no phone system in the Rio Dulce, so I made a special trip to Bananera, 30 miles away, to call Tom Freeman in Richmond, California. He assured me the resin had been shipped to Miami, but where it had gone from there, if not to Guatemala, he had no idea.

I havent even received a bill of lading yet, Tom, I said. Even if the resin turns up, I cant claim it without the bill of lading.

I sent it months ago! he informed me.

Well, it never got here, either. Send me another one, would you?

Sure, he said. No problem. Ill put it in the mail tomorrow.

I had no choice but to keep waiting.

In the meantime, I went to Rio Hondo to see Guillermo, and to tell him that Chung and I could start cutting wood any time.

I hopped on a chicken bus (for those of you who dont know, a chicken bus is a beat-up old school bus from some place like Peoria, Illinois, which hauls the vast majority of Guatemalas population and their chickens, pigs, goats, and produce from one place to another) and jumped off at the dusty little village of Rio Hondo. I walked to the sawmill.

However, the strangest sight met me there. The place was deserted. There wasnt a soul anywhere, and a chain and padlock prevented me from going inside. Was this Sunday? No, it was the middle of the afternoon and Wednesday. Maybe it was a holiday of some sort. I couldnt imagine what holiday, but I never paid much attention to some of the lesser known Church and State holidays anyway. If it was a government holiday, that would account for the mill being closed. Damn, that meant Guillermo was in the city, and I made the three-hour trip here for nothing.

I walked back to the village, and stopped in a bar for a drink.

Is this a holiday? I asked the old man sitting on a three-legged stool over in the corner. He was listening to a battered radio and drinking Gallo (Guatemala beer). He owned the place.

No, seor, no holiday.

Hmmm you dont, by any chance, happen to know why the sawmill is closed, do you?

Si, seor, he said. He had two teeth in his mouth and a couple of missing fingers. Bar business must be kind of rough in this town.

Why? I asked with all due patience.

Seor Pira is dead.

What? Guillermo?

Si, seor. Guillermo Pira.

What happened?

He took a long gulp of beer and lit a cigarette with shaky hands, enjoying the drama on this otherwise dull, hot, boring day.

Finally he spoke. Seor Pira was riding that machine of his up the mountainside, and the thing fell over on him. Crushed him to death. They had to...

I held up my hand. Thanks, I said. Ill just pay for my drink here, and be on my way.

I stepped into the street feeling like Id been hit between the eyes with a sledgehammer.

I was a bit sorrier for Guillermo than I was for myself, but not much. It was a major setback and, furthermore, I was going to miss Guillermo. I had no idea where I was going to get wood for my new boat. I headed back home, depressed and thoroughly discouraged. Maybe my big boat just wasnt meant to be. Perhaps it was all there was to it. A whole string of days went by long, black days, and I did nothing but wait while I piddled at odd jobs and mourned the loss of my friend.

But my boat dream would not die, and it wasnt long before I found myself asking around about wood and sawmills. Two things I learned, the more I talked to people: Spanish cedar is an excellent wood for boat building, and there was a mill in San Andreas, near Flores, where I could get Spanish cedar. But San Andreas was far away, and there was certainly no guarantee theyd give me a deal I could afford on 14,000 board feet of lumber.

Then, one day, a large brown envelope arrived in the mail and turned my world right-side-up and shiny. It was from Jim Brown.

I tore open the envelope, and pulled out six pieces of blueprint. Two sheets for the boat itself, three sheets for the sail plan, and one for the mold and resin-applicator tray. She was 62 feet long and 40 feet wide. Her mid-section was a full wood-working shop (16x19); her cockpit was aft with a spacious sterncastle under the doghouse; and forward of the shop was a cabin with two bunks and two closets. She had a mini keel, and she was rigged as a staysail schooner.

I ran screaming and hollering to Bonnie, lifted her off her feet, kissed her, hugged the dog and danced all over the house, before I grabbed a bucket and a shovel. I walked to the end of our property where the oil pipeline ran. I knew a spot back there where the clay was green and good for making things; my mother had told me so. She was a potter and knew things like that. I scraped a huge wad of the stuff and took it back to the house. I filled a small box with clay, cut out a piece of cardboard to the curve that the plans specified, and skreeted the clay out with it. I laid in a couple layers of fiberglass matr and resined it.

Fifteen minutes later, after it had hardened, I lifted out the mold I needed to build the model. It was necessary to build a model, for the constant camber concept isnt based on a table of offsets but rather on a uniform curvature which is tortured slightly into the proper shape.

In other words, unlike traditional methods of boat-building that begin with full-size drawings from which the dimensions are taken (known as a table of offsets), I would be projecting the drawings on a compound curved panel. So, I took one of my new constant camber fiberglass panels (3/8-1), laid it on the blueprint as though it were the side of the boat and projected Jims lines onto it. A pair of scissors, a 1/32 shaved here and there, a strip of Scotch tape down the keel, and I had my main hull. Two floats, a couple of sticks for crossarms, the decking, and I had the boat in miniature. Now it was just a matter of making it 32 times bigger.

By the time the parrots were heading home to roost that night, I had the model of my big boat built and sitting on the table. My, but she was a looker. I had to see what she looked like in the water, so I plopped her into the River and snapped a picture. Jim always said that I was the fastest boat builder he had ever met. In the morning, Id mail the picture to him with a note that said, received the plans this morning, built the boat this afternoon, and launched it before dinner. Thanks. Mark.

I retired to my chair that night with an extra large olivo in my glass. The sun was going down in a glorious splash of orange and purple, and life seemed so full of promise, it was almost more than I could bear.

I leaned back into the richness of it all, cradled Bonnies hand in my own, and promised my wife the world again.

Wouldnt that be something honey? Think what it could be like to go around the world again and visit some of the places we did thirteen years ago!

She smiled, squeezed my hand and got up to stir the rice while I watched a fluttering white line of cattle egrets skim the rivers surface on their way home to roost, and wondered what the hell had happened to my six barrels of epoxy resin.

3. Work, More Wood, Marquito

Nothing comes easy in a country like Guatemala except sunshine and rain. Anything else requires hard work. Thats why I like it there. It always seemed to me that the civilized world misses the point. There, the fruits of labor are highly valued but not the labor, and every man is made poor by that notion. From that standpoint, I was a rich man, and nothing made me richer than the struggle to acquire materials for my my six barrels of epoxy resin.

I made several trips to Puerto Barrios (a two-hour ride on a chicken bus) to check with the shipping agent, only to be told the resin wasnt there. It was now nearly eight months since it had been shipped from the States, and I was worried. Here, let me explain that Latin bureaucrats are tricky customers for us gringos. An American makes assumptions based on his own notion of rational behavior and clear communication. For the Latin, none of that matters. What is, is; the rest is just so much horse puckey.

The fact that the shipping agent in Puerto Barrios said my resin was not there did not mean that it hadnt been there and, after posing the right question, I was able to discover that they had mistakenly shipped it through to Guatemala city weeks ago. In a panic, I caught the next bus to the City. Unclaimed goods were usually auctioned off within a few weeks.

I contacted the head of the shipping company immediately and asked if he could see to it that the barrels be sent back to Puerto Barrios.

Sure, he said. You pay shipping costs and well send them back.

I cant afford to do that, and besides, it isnt my fault that the stuff got shipped here.

He turned a deaf ear. I knew him slightly. Hed always considered me part of the hippie garbage that spilled out of the U.S. in the70s and would just as soon I fell off the face of the earth anyway.

It took three separate trips to the shipping company before I located the right guy. Funny how theres always one somewhere in the woodpile the guy with a heart, the guy whos willing to do you a favor. I learned later that he got into big trouble with the boss over me, and for that I was sorry.

Extricating goods from the arms of the government has given birth to a whole class of professionals in Guatemala: the tramitadores. There are hundreds of them, with offices clustered around bureaucratic installations. Many have no office at all but simply a card table, with a manual typewriter on it, sitting in the middle of a busy sidewalk. I located a good tramitador who discovered the resin was sitting in a storage warehouse on the other side of the city. It took him four days and 15 pages of paperwork to break it loose. He kept the matter hush-hush (lest the resin be confiscated by someone else) and worked with the determination of a rat chewing through floorboards. When the paperwork was in order (the purpose of which is to make sure nobody can figure out what the hell happened), I hired a truck to move the resin back to the shipping companys dock that night. I called my inside man at the company from a phone booth.

The resin is now at your dock, I said.

Bueno, he whispered. Ill get it on a truck soon as possible.

Thanks, I said, I dont know what I would have done without your help.

Neither do I, he replied.

When the resin finally arrived at the River, Chung and I were ready with a plan to get it across to our bay. We had tied three canoes together and laid boards across the whole works to make a platform. We dropped each 600-pound barrel from the truck onto a big tractor tire, rolled it to the rivers edge and up onto the boards. With my little 4-horse outboard, we pushed a ton and a half of resin across the Rio Dulce and into our bay. We picked four of the strongest men in the village to push the barrels off the barge, up the hill, and into our new shed.

Chung and I had built the shed a few weeks earlier. We built it up on the hill, behind my house, where the land levels off. It was 70 feet long, 43 feet wide, with 16-foot ceiling joists. There were no walls, but neither was there a roof, and a roof I needed very much in order to keep the wood that I still didnt have dry. My son-in-law, Art Mitchell, was visiting at the time. He overheard Chung and me discussing the number of palm leaves we were going to have to cut in order to thatch the shed.

Ah, hell, Mark, said Art, fishing in his pocket, Forget thatch. Go buy yourself some corrugated iron, and he shoved $2,000 into my hand.

So, now I had a shed big enough to build a locomotive in, and more epoxy resin than anyone else in Central America, and not one scrap of wood. Itd taken me three full years to get this far.

There is a mill in San Andres (near Flores) about 250 km of bad roads north of the Rio Dulce, in the Peten. It was one of the biggest mills in Guatemala, and I arrived there one day to see what they had to offer a poor gringo boat-builder. After I talked to the manager and told him what I wanted, he took me to see the Spanish cedar which they were currently under contract to sell to boat builders in New Orleans. It was gorgeous stuff, and I could see why boat builders value it. It was clear, straightgrained, strong and relatively lightweight. It was sawn to 2x12x20 lengths, and was selling for $1.25 per board foot.

I had no idea it would be so expensive, but there was no question but that I had to have it. I sat the manager down and told him about the boat I was going to build, and within an hour he was offering to sell the wood to me for 70 cents per board foot. I bought 10,000 bd. ft., and we made a little side agreement too. For an extra 500 bd. ft., Id give him one of my little high-speed shoe boats. Since not one board foot of lumber is allowed to leave any mill in Guatemala without the government first getting its share of the money, I had to write a check before I left. The wood, they promised, would be on the road within a week. Not trusting the mail system, the manager and I went to the local airport to find somebody who would be willing to hand-deliver the check to the proper authorities. Eventually, a lady turned up whom the manager knew, and she promised very prettily to be our courier.

I went back to the Rio Dulce to wait. And wait. And wait. Three weeks went by, and there was no sign of the lumber. By now, the wet season was upon us, and it was raining every day, all day, in heavy, warm avalanches of water.

Bonnie and I decided to take the bus into the City (six hours of rough jostling on a chicken bus), fly from the City to Flores and walk the rest of the way to San Andres, if we had to, in order to find out what had happened to the lumber. We waited two days to get seats on the plane.

Eventually, we stood face to face with the mill manager who told us that the lady who promised to deliver our check had left the envelope in the back seat of a taxi in Guatemala City. A search for the check had been made, but the authorities, and everybody else involved, gave up within a day because nobody had the slightest hope of ever finding it anyway.

Ten days after the check was left in his taxi, the driver walked into the central lumber office in the City and handed over the envelope and all its contents. That, plus the deplorable condition of the roads, was the reason my lumber was still stacked at the mill in San Andres. Back to Square One.

One thing was for sure: I hadnt spent three miserable days travelling to San Andres just to go back empty-handed, nor was I about to wait six months for the rain to stop before I got my lumber. I went in search of a truck driver.

It wasnt that easy. Every man I approached, if they bothered to reason with me at all, told me I was crazy. The roads were impassable. Period. No puede. By late afternoon, I needed a little nip of gin to shore up my resolve. I slipped into a bar and downed three of em. No puede, my ass.

Thats when I found Roberto. I was wandering down a side street in town when I happened on a fellow with his head buried deep in the engine of an old flatbed Bedford.

Excuse me, I said. does this thing run?


Well, Im looking for somebody to haul a load of lumber. You be interested? (using their lingo).

Haul to where?

The Rio Dulce.

The Rio Dulce?


Shit, man, youre crazy.

Desperate is more like it. I said. I turned to walk away.

How much you pay?

Three hundred quetzales. I knew thatd nail him.

Sure! I haul for you.

Great. Lets go load er up.

He was right, the thing ran. It just didnt have a starter. So, I pushed and got it rolling while he clutched it into gear.

Early the next morning, when the cocks were still crowing, the three of us Bonnie, Roberto and I climbed into the front seat of the truck and started off for the Rio Dulce. We made good progress, 150km to Los Angeles by 4 oclock that afternoon. We were in good spirits, laughing, singing, telling stories. Roberto was making an easy 300 quetzales (1 quetzal = 20 cents of a dollar), and I was just a few short hours away from having a shed full of lumber. But, we certainly werent going to be able to get to the River before dark, and none of us wanted to spend the entire night together in the truck cab, so Bonnie and I decided to catch a bus back to the River. That way wed be ready with our canoe barge for unloading when Roberto arrived the next morning.

However, a few miles outside Los Angeles, the road disintegrated and the bus got stuck. The ruts were four feet deep and getting deeper by the minute. By then, it was dark. The bus was full of crying children and squawking chickens. We knew that if we didnt keep going we might easily be stuck for longer than any of us cared to think about. Every able-bodied man got out and pushed. The rain drenched us to the bone within seconds, but we kept going. Occasionally, the road was solid enough for us to climb back on board. Wet as we were, the air inside grew steamy and rank with the smell of baby piss, chicken poop, sweat and stale tortillas. At three oclock in the morning, we pulled into the Rio Dulce, tired, sore, and cranky, but thankful to have arrived at all. We heard stories about people who were trapped in a 3-day, 3-night bus ride from Flores to Guatemala City, a distance of only 446 km.

Roberto did not arrive the next day. Nor the next. By the third day, when there was still no sign of him, I was plenty worried. I couldnt wait any longer, and I announced to Bonnie that I was setting out on foot to find Roberto and my lumber. There wasnt any point in trying to stay dry so I wore nothing but a T-shirt, jeans and a pair of flipflops. I was on the road about an hour when a truck happened along and gave me a 40 km, lift. At the end of that 40 km, I came upon the biggest mess I had ever seen in my life. There must have been 100 trucks going north, 100 going south, and nobody was going anywhere. The road was no longer a road but a mud lake full of partially submerged vehicles, some laying completely on their sides with their contents floating in the goo.There were food trucks, beer trucks, diesel trucks, kerosene trucks, and several trucks carrying a dismantled oil rig. There were livestock trucks, full of cattle, lying in a massive heap in one corner of the tilted truck, bawling like a herd from hell. Loose chickens, goats, pigs, children, Indian women in their bright costumes ran hither and thither, all covered with mud. There were trucks full of spilled candy, soda and plastic toys. One hundred-pound sacks of rice, corn, and beans, were stacked on plastic sheets on higher ground some split open, leaking rivers of color through the mud.

It looked as though it would take an act of God to clear up a mess of that magnitude. Instead, there was one man with a big tractor doing his best to get the wheels of commerce moving again, but even he spent most of his time trying to get unstuck.

The Indian women, bless their resourceful souls, had taken their meager food supplies and firewood to higher ground where they made ground tortilla coffee, tortillas and beans, for anyone who needed food and drink. The men were busy running cables between trucks, digging out buried axles, some with shovels, some with their hands, and hauling sacks of produce to higher ground. The cooperation was wonderful, and all this while the rain fell so heavily that it was like moving around underwater.

My flip-flops were worse than useless; the mud sucked them off every time I took a step, so I let the mud eat em, and I continued on, barefoot. I had a feeling Roberto was in this godawful mess somewhere, but so far I hadnt spotted him. I hoped like hell wed lashed on the lumber well enough, but what if we hadnt?

I slogged past the northbound trucks, sinking nearly to my knees with every step. Finally, I reached the southbound trucks and, there, 15th in line, sat my lumber and Roberto. I scraped off as much mud as I could and climbed in beside him. He was grateful for the company. In two days and two nights hed made a little less than 4 km. I stayed with him all day; we made little progress, but the fact that we made any was just short of a miracle.

I left him again at sundown since there wasnt room for two of us to sleep in the cab. I hiked to the end of the line, thinking I would get a ride with the first truck to break loose, but none did.

There wasnt much else I could do except keep walking. All night, I walked barefoot through the pitch-black jungle and the pouring rain. Sometimes, unable to see, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled to keep from breaking my leg in a bottomless rut. There were other four-legged night critters out there too. I heard them in the bushes and sometimes saw a pair of iridescent eyes trained on me but, by then, I looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and whatever they were, they kept their distance.

Now and again I stopped to rest, remembering the days long ago (in California) when I used to drive to a lumberyard after breakfast, and before lunch, the boards were stacked in my back yard. It may have been easier I thought, wiping my hands on the bark of a tree so I could unzip, but not half the fun. After all, what can you say about a trip to the lumberyard except that prices had gone up? You sure couldnt sit your grandchildren down on your knee some day and tell em how you crawled through the jungle with your mouth full of mud on a dark and stormy night. To my way of thinking, thatd be real poverty.

Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, when I had made it past the worst, a van came by, and I was able to ride the rest of the way to the River.

It was another two days before Roberto turned up. A more patient, long-suffering soul there never was. Chung and I had brought our 3-canoe raft to Fronteras, and Roberto helped us unload 10,500 board feet of lumber. It took us five trips back and forth (a distance of 3 miles one way) to complete the job. I paid Roberto, fed him dinner, and wished him Godspeed.

That evening, Chung brought some of his homemade pineapple hooch to the shed, and we sat in the gathering dark listening to the rain pelt onto the corrugated iron roof. On one side of the shed stood six 55-gallon drums of resin, on the other stood a tower of air-stacked Spanish cedar, and in the middle was a huge empty space for one hell of a boat.

It was then he told me about the baby.

Marta, she getting big, he said, grinning and holding up his glass.

Big? Seemed to me Marta was skinny as a rail and getting skinnier, what with the three little girls to tend to.

Si. Baby coming.

Ill be damned. When?




Well, heres to a boy, I said, holding up a shaky glass.

He grinned and poured.

One night in early May, Bonnie and I put on our best costumes for the yearly festival at Fronteras. As usual, there was to be a talent show, and they had asked me to dance. Everybody came, all decked out and drunk as skunks. I danced with every woman in the place, and when there werent any of the left, I did a Russian folk dance by myself. It was an annual tradition. Everybody stayed into the wee hours of the morning to watch Don Markos dance, and I gave them a show theyd talk about until next years festival.

It must have been close to 4 oclock when Bonnie led me to the canoe, settled me in a corner, and started the outboard for home. Wed no sooner tied up to the house when Chung appeared, looking like hed put in one stinker of a night. While we were out dancing, he'd delivered a baby.

Its a boy, he announced proudly.




A boy! I hollered, grabbed his arms and danced him all around the deck. He laughed and kicked up his heels with me. We fell in a heap by the front door. He removed himself from my arms and said solemnly We name him for you, Don Markos. We call him Markos Cruz Alvarez.

Ah, Chung, I cried, grabbing him to me, tears running down my cheeks, thats the greatest honor Ive ever had.

You come see, he said.


Si. Now.

I walked up the hill propped between Bonnie and Chung. Down the part, through the lemon and banana trees, over the sleeping pigs and chickens to his home, a large round cane house thatched with manaca. It was by far the nicest house in the village. He opened the door. Inside it was dark but for a single burning stick of incense, and silent. The babies were sleeping. On the dirt floor, directly in front of the burning stick of incense sat Marta, cross-legged, as all Indian women did after birth. She would sit like that for three days while her organs resumed their natural place. The baby lay beside her.

She unwrapped the babys rag bindings for us to see him. She had tied a bright colored piece of cloth around the umbilical cord. He was incredibly tiny, as most Indian babies are, but his color was good.

We were offered seats. Chung shooed a sleeping chicken out of an old wooden chair for Bonnie, and I got the hammock. Bonnie and I longed for nothing more than bed, but this was a sacred time for Chung and his wife, and we knew it. Chung had bought real beer for the occasion. It was absolutely the last thing either of us needed or wanted, but it wouldnt do to refuse. He popped the top, a noise which made the girl babies, sleeping in their bunks behind a partition, stir in their sleep. We drank our beer in silence, watching the still figure of Marta in the dim light. She looked like a goddess sitting there so straight, black hair braided down her back, her bright woven shawl gathered around her shoulders, staring intently at the burning incense with her newly born babe tucked beside her. Chung stood behind her, the man of the house, and drank quietly to his new son.

It was noon the next day before Bonnie and I could bear to face sunshine. Bonnie had just put on the coffee water when Chung appeared at the door. His face was drawn and pale.

Marta is feeling bad, he said.

A little later in the day, he appeared again, His eyes were big with fear. Marta is in pain, he said. Not like the other times. This time is different.

He was right. This time was different. Marta was clearly very ill. There was no question that she needed immediate medical attention. She was burning with fever, her pulse was rapid, and she looked like hell. I jumped into my launch and sped across the River to El Relleno, the little community at the south end of the Rio Dulce bridge, and begged to borrow the old VW from the wife of the road construction overseer who was one of the few people around with an automobile. Meanwhile, Chung took his four babies to Martas mother who lived a few houses away from them.

We wrapped Marta in blankets, gently lowered her into the launch, sped to El Relleno, laid her as comfortably as we could into the back seat of the VW, and took off for Puerto Barrios and the nearest county hospital. Two hours later, in the hospital waiting room, we were told that the doctor would see her shortly and that there was nothing for us to do. We might as well go home. We left, assured that all would be well, and that we could pick her up in a couple of days.

Early next morning, Chung was eating breakfast, listening to the Puerto Barrios radio station as most people did because messages were sent to individuals over that station, there being no phone system. He hoped to hear that Marta Alvarez was ready to go home but, instead, they announced that if Concepcion Alvarez was listening, he should come to pick up the body of his deceased wife.

We borrowed the old VW again; Chung, his wifes brother Mateo, and I. At the county hospital, they opened a drawer in the morgue and showed us Marta. We were told she must be removed immediately, but that we couldnt move her unless we had a coffin. I had brought 50 quetzales with me, but the cheapest coffin we could find in town was 150 quetzales. We went back to the morgue. I told them the situation and promised that by tomorrow this time we would be back with a suitable coffi