Friend of IT Roger Hamilton isn't afraid to dribble fruit juice down his chin in the name of research...
OK, it’s not one of tourism’s top ten. Still, Honduras’ Bay of Tela looked great in the aerial shot, a crescent-shaped tropical paradise anchored at both ends by national parks. But on the ground, I quickly tired of seeing dead and diseased coconut palms and hearing the roar of bulldozers carving out a sprawling golf and condo community. Land prices were soaring and squatters were laying claim to beach frontage even as the native Garinagu were happily selling their quaint communities out from under their feet.
So I turned my back on the beach, and a short taxi ride later, joined four workers and scientists eating dusky red passion fruit and spitting the seeds in a plastic pot.
Seed collecting not your taste? There’s more to the Lancetilla Botanical Garden than wiping passion-fruit juice off your chin. It’s the second largest collection of tropical plants in the world, with some 1,200 species. A botanist with the United Fruit Company started it in the 1920s with a collection of banana plants. From that humble start, the garden grew and grew, along with United's success in creating banana republics. Governments rose and fell, banana workers struck and rioted, but through all the commotion, the garden kept on photosynthesizing.
My guide was a young man wearing a smile and a spiffy uniform. As we strolled through this 3,200-acre Garden of Eden he plucked low-hanging fruit for my admiration and delectation. He unsheathed an ornate knife and cut them open, each a different texture, a different pastel hue, each with its own suite of molecular chains that suffused my olfactory neurons with the aromas of four continents.
Shouts of children and the barks of dogs roused me from my reverie. I accepted a cup of coffee from my guide’s wife and a bag rambutan fruit, which is native to Southeast Asia. I eyed the grape-sized orbs armored with red husks bristling with fleshy spines, like arboreal sea urchins. A sharp squeeze between my thumb and forefinger popped a ball of pulp into my mouth. Wonderful life, wonderful fruit.
Of all places, Roger Hamilton found his dream job at a bank. Until recently, he edited the magazine of the Inter-American Development Bank, which took him all over Latin America, and particularly to the places in between. In the Galapagos, he joined a fishing boat crew cracking open sea urchins with a rusty hammer. In Bolivia, he practiced his Spanish elocution before a plaza full of Indian leaders who spoke mainly Aymara. He sat down to a candle-lit dinner of stewed armadillo and monkey with a rubber tapper family in the Brazilian rain forest. His traveling motto: When things go wrong—wrong road, swamped dugout, muddy landing strip—things get interesting.
Photos: Roger Hamilton