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Puerto Barrios

By Lorraine Caputo:

Photo: Por Andy9696down - Trabayu propi

The Bananero stands, right hand on hip, momentarily taking a rest from his work, a racimo of yellow-green bananas atop his left shoulder. He winces under its weight. Blue pants held up by a yellow rope, large bare feet planted firmly upon his pedestal.


The bronze-black skin of his naked chest gleams in the rain, his back to the great port built by that Octopus, United Fruit Company. He faces its plantations of the Motagua River Valley.


Around him the steady shower has driven away the usual makeshift market stalls. Around him the traffic honks, bathing him in fumes.

 

Across the bridge that spans a stagnant river clogged with trash and banana-tree trunks, golden-tan runoff streaks the green-black water. The rain cannot wash away the stream’s rancid smell. Homes hang along its banks.

 

Down the neatly gridded streets, into the former Company town, crisscrossed by old rail lines leading to the passenger station and those branching off to the dock. Garbage strewn deep along the sides of the road rots in the mud.


In front of the rubble of the old market, women vendors sit under dripping multi-colored parasols. Garífuna and ladinas sit side by side selling pan de coco and tortillas, plums, and mangos.


Bicycles and motor scooters splash mud up from the stone-block pavement. Their riders hold umbrellas aloft with one hand. A red delivery wagon drawn by a lone chestnut mare rolls by. The driver tips his Panama hat with the twist of a clove-colored wrist. On the other side is an ad for the historic Hotel del Norte: restaurant, pool … bar, private bath … sea view.


The former Hotel Cine, Caribbean blue, sags its three stories into the earth. A descendent of that Bananero sits in a ground-floor doorway, sewing a jacket. His gnarled deep-brown fingers guide the leather beneath the needle. His thin legs pump the treadle, his white nappy head bobs in rhythm with the machine.

 

Semi-trucks from the fincas rumble by down towards the port. A sign proclaims: THIS ROAD PAVED BY COBIGUA (aka Chiquita … aka United Fruit). Rear-wheel protectors flap their blue Chiquita seals. On the side of each trailer, the Banana Lady gracefully raises her left hand. She balances her tropical fruit hat with a hesitant smile. Bunches of bananas surround her.


These trucks idle, jamming the road, waiting to enter the shipping yard. An armed guard opens the gate for each, registering the load. The containers stack one upon another in front of a small stand of baby banana trees.


Across the way, in another yard, the Dole trucks drop trailers awaiting their ship to come in. On the sides, the Dole sun shines in the drizzle. Across from that gate is an office: STANDARD FRUIT OF GUATEMALA (aka Dole).

 

Two white ships lay berthed at wharf-side. On their bows, in blue letters, is written: CHIQUITA LAS AMERICAS. Banana-yellow cranes reach for the containers and place them on deck, stacking them three high, blue seal upon blue seal. The spume of dark-grey smoke from the ships’ stacks is almost invisible against the clouded sky.


Two giant white tugboats head for one ship ready to be escorted out of the hill-rimmed bay to the sea to begin its three-day journey, bringing these bananas to U.S. tables. On the other side of Amatique Bay is Santo Tomás de Castilla. From there Bandegua (a.k.a. DelMonte) ships its yellow fruit to northern markets.

 

The old Hotel del Norte, the color of the flesh of bananas and trimmed in banana-leaf green. Built in the early years of this port, at the turn of the century, the wooden building bows with its age. Staircases rise a-keel.

I can almost hear the echoing footfalls, the murmured plots of the Company barons—how to obtain more lands in the territory disputed by Guatemala and Honduras. Whatever it takes for those fincas, the railroads, the profits—be it negotiation … or war. I can smell their Havana cigars in this light and airy place near the sea—and their pier … the tinkle of ice in glass, the aroma of rum.


The dining room—massive wooden sideboard–lined with wine goblets and dessert cups, tables dressed in white, the plates and bowls, the silverware perfectly set. A waiter attends his guests, towel over left arm. His skin appears blacker against his white jacket.

 

At evening time, down by the rubble, a woman and her daughter go from restaurant to shop begging for alms. The child stumbles along on the toeless stubs of her feet. (And I wonder: is her birth defect, perhaps, caused by the pesticides used on those fincas?) Outside on the sidewalk sing blue-suited, blue-scarf-tied mariachi. The wet roads glisten under the lights of stores and the rare streetlamp.


All night, the sky above the shipping port glows eerily orange.

 

Lorraine Caputo

Lorraine Caputo is a wandering troubadour whose poetry appears in over 400 journals on six continents, and 23 collections of poetry – including In the Jaguar Valley (dancing girl press, 2023) and Caribbean Interludes (Origami Poems Project, 2022). She also authors travel narratives, articles and guidebooks. Her writing has been honored by the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada (2011) and thrice nominated for the Best of the Net. Caputo has done literary readings from Alaska to the Patagonia. She journeys through Latin America with her faithful knapsack Rocinante, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth.

Find out more about Lorraine Caputo:

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