Luis y Ivan

photo by joel martin

"We do hard work."

The sun is hot. It’s a profound statement that was mentioned more than a couple times as we sat around a volunteer house in Cofradia, Honduras, and continuously shifted between getting website work done, and running to the store every 15 minutes for another bag of water (Yes! they sell water in BAGS in Honduras!). We had heard that morning that there was a swimming pool near the house, and when we realized we couldn’t take much more of this back and forth, we mobilized to hit up the pool in proper fashion.

We descended the depths of Cofradia to do so. Quite literally we walked down a couple hills into the lower section of town located right along the banks of the river, and meandered through a maze of streets that essentially all looked the same and had no road signs and continuously asked “Donde esta la piscina?” until enough people pointed us down a long stretch of road and we finally arrived at a massive fenced-in piece of property with lush, tropical bamboo and mango trees ringing the outside of it. What we found inside, however, was even more impressive. Thousands of rocks had been excavated and arranged to form a pool that must have been 40 cubic feet in volume. The landscaping was immaculate, with jungle pathways leading to different patios, metal aviary cages built around the trunks of small trees, and above it all a diving board perched 15 feet above the water. That is, if there had been any water. Our hearts sank as we glared down at the empty void that would have been a lovely place to swim if it had been filled with water.

When we looked up we saw that there were two new kids standing there with us.
Louis and Ivan were brothers who lived next door to the pool and were tasked with cleaning it every week or so. They had somehow integrated seamlessly right into the group without even saying hi. They just began talking to us with great big smiles on their faces and it was as if we never needed an introduction at all.

Luis and Ivan spoke English, and they spoke it well because they had attended the bilingual school in Cofradia that we were volunteering at. Seeing our disappointment in the pool being empty, they hurriedly assured us that we could still go swimming, because tomorrow they would come by our house and take us all upriver to a fun little swimming hole.
And that’s exactly what they did. We walked with them for about thirty minutes to a riverbank even deeper in the Cofradian depths, and got our little escape from the hellish sun. It was brilliant. On the way back I asked Luis and Ivan what they did on their day to day. “We just do hard work, man” they said. And it was true. Luis and Ivan work odd jobs that range all the way from physical labor to fixing electronics whenever they can to scrounge up a bit of money here and there. It’s really not that easy in Honduras. People make enough money to live but not a ton beyond that. They rarely get to leave home and see worlds outside of their own. I was surprised when I saw some fresh looking Converse All-Stars on Luis’ feet and so I asked him about them. He told me they were four years old. Four years old! I was amazed. For four-year-old shoes on the raggedy streets of Cofradia, they looked amazing. He had spent three straight months stocking up enough money to take a bus over to the mall in San Pedro Sula just to buy them, and then come right back.

It dawned on me that him and his brother had never really been too far outside of the small surroundings of Cofradia. I remembered that I had heard that there was a waterfall called “Pulhapanzak “somewhere nearby where we were. I looked it up that night and found that it was an hour and a half away from us. Perfect. The next day we strolled back down to the pool (which still wasn’t filled!) to tell Luis and Ivan to come meet us at our place around 6:30am. “I usually wake up at 9, man” Ivan said while grinning, but they both agreed to come see us then, and at 6:30 the next day, there they were.

We drove out to the waterfall. We were excited to have two new temporary van-mates, bringing the van up to its full capacity with seating for six. As we drove along the countryside Ivan told us about his dreams to someday buy a strip of land out here and start an aquaponic farm, a sort of closed off eco-system where a controlled body of water with fish helps to cultivate the nearby crops, and visa versa. He seemed to know a lot about it and I couldn’t help but feel that if Ivan and Luis truly wanted something, they could get it. As they said themselves, “We do hard work.”

That morning when we arrived at the waterfall there was not a soul in sight. We ran over to watch the cascade, and stood agape as the monstrous waves careened off the cliffside and split into a billion different directions far below. Only 100 or so kilometers away from was the most violent city in the world, but here there was nothing but the six of us, and this incredible, powerful force of nature. Honduras may be one of the most dangerous countries in the world, but that morning together at that waterfall was a testament to the fact that there is mostly beauty here. And in the face of beauty like this, nothing bad can survive.