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(Off Topic) Father’s Day “Crash” Memorial: Senor Ellison Esta Aqui

Posted by CMH Gourmand on June 18, 2017

We are going off the topic of food (although there is an interesting note about the Wendy’s in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and I did trick my dad into eating grilled bull balls). My Father died five Father’s Days ago so the statute of limitations regarding some of this story is now up. I will spend part of my day today going to a bar I despise, sitting at my Dad’s name plated stool, drinking a bad beer, probably trying to pick a fight with someone (in his honor) and buying a lottery ticket before I leave. This story is a preamble to what eventually led to his death: neglect by his adopted family in Honduras. I wrote this in 2003 (and only updated few words as I post this). I made four more trips to Honduras prior to my dads death in 2012. The second trip was pretty comical, it involved a cross-country trip to the Mayan Ruins of Copan, my dad almost being arrested for peeing in the public square there, several attempted shotgun marriages of this writer to various Honduran cousins, and etc. Subsequent trips were less entertaining and involved me paying off various bribes, dealing with my dad being an illegal immigrant, my step brother nearly getting arrested by the marines at the US Embassy and thus me subsequently pushing him against a wall and threatening to beat the shit out of him and anyone else he wanted to bring to the table. There were many other less entertaining events and adventures. His emigration to Honduras started out mostly well before it turned into a horrible shitstorm and this is the story of how it began.

Senor Ellison Esta Aqui


Learning to Do Nothing:
A curious reflection on the journey of a man, with his father to the Central American country of Honduras; specifically the southern region and the city of Choluteca


There comes a time in a man’s life when the son becomes the father and watches by as his “son” does some pretty unusual things.
-Jim Ellison, 2003

I have been around the world a couple times and back again, and hope to keep doing so. The more I travel, the longer my list of places to see gets. However, Honduras never really made my list. In January of 1999, my father went to Honduras for the first time with a group from the watering hole he frequents known as El Dorado. Prior to 1999, EL Dorado, burrito and maybe taco, were the only words of Spanish my father knew, although I suspect he figured they really originated from Texas. The “gentlemen” from El Dorado are a rough and tumble bunch but know the area well from many hunting trips there – primarily for doves in theory but in practice it was to “hunt” for two-legged animals as well. My dad fit in well with this crew, so much that they named him “Crash.”

Dad’s trips to Honduras became much more frequent – climaxing in the period January 2002 to January 2003 when he sojourned there 5 times, usually calling me at the last-minute to find a good flight for him – so I knew how much this was costing him. I also knew this was money he did not have. This piqued my interest. My intuition and some snickering I would occasionally hear from the El Dorado boys indicated something was going on. However, Ellisons don’t talk about much of anything except for how to avoid other Ellisons. While having dinner one night in February of 2003 I noticed something odd about my father – well, something new – a wedding band and quite stylish at that – very much not something he would pick out. I asked him point-blank if he went and got himself married, he nodded. In Honduras? “Yep.” Well, with that the deal was done, Honduras moved from number 117 on my list to number 1, bumping Iceland back several months. The Ellison boys were off to Honduras. I booked the trip. I was not getting any usable information from my dad so I consulted other sources of knowledge. The El Dorado boys were drunk at the time I interrogated them so I could not get any authoritative information other than if I “wanted to get into trouble or out of it” a gentleman named Omar was the person to speak with down there – however his last name and phone number were not available. Two books from 1983, a travel guide from 1999, and some Web sites gave me enough information about Choluteca to determine it is the (my analysis) “West Virginia of Central America”. It was also the “murder capital of the world”, oh boy! My dad spent his first 18 years in West Virginia and I reckon I have enough of the state in the recessive cells of my DNA to let me adapt in my own way.

In Houston, our flight was delayed for an hour due to reports of visibility problems in Central America and in particular Tegucigalpa. It seems this is the time of year that everyone in Central America burns their sugar cane fields so with current weather conditions, the smoke was not going anywhere except for Tegucigalpa. This was not a good thing. Flying into “Tecuz” is one of the finest experiences in modern air travel. The airport runway is hacked out of the stone at the top of one mountain surrounded by several others. The brakes of the plane go full tilt on impact and typically there are only a few inches of runway to spare at the end. The road has to be shut down at take off so the taxi’s, bicycles, and street vendors are not blown to El Salvador by roaring jet engines at take-off. It is always in the list of top 5 most dangerous airports in the world. I looked forward to that quite a bit. We departed Houston for a 2 hour, forty minute flight. Upon approach we were informed, belatedly, that we were going to circle to see if visibility would improve. And hour and one half later the pilot let us know that it was time to give up – he could not land and we were heading to San Pedro Sula in Northern Honduras. And anyway – we were almost out of gas.

In San Pedro Sula we took care of customs, relieved ourselves, and eventually sauntered onto a bus to take us to our destination. There were also some self-employed gentlemen with large sums of US Dollars and Honduran Limperia’s acting as roving ATM’s to meet our monetary needs. After everyone was rounded up, bottles of water, miscellaneous Wendy’s sandwiches, and various Biggie size drinks were loaded unto the bus to pacify our gringo mouths while the airline tried to figure out how to pack all of the medical equipment one of the medical missionary groups had brought with them onto two coach buses. With some creativity and an extra mini van, the mission was accomplished and we were on our way. My dad was a bit surly at this point because he could not figure out why the above process would take slightly more than an hour. I promised him I would disown him and go home from San Pedro Sula if he caused any more trouble. We began our bus segment of the trip. A five-hour tour….. a five-hour tour.

The trip was interesting; the buses drove through the center of town, past swarms of young kids selling all types of food and beverages. Then we scooted through villages and mountains, past swarms of young kids selling all types of food and beverages. As the scenery faded and we started to make some time, the buses stopped. It seems there was some type of mutiny in bus number one. Twenty odd American women needed to pee and there was no bathroom in the bus. We had a toilet in our bus so the gringas were herded onto our bus but at the rate of one female every 10 minutes – we were never going to leave. So after the third woman emerged from the fragrant sauna which was the on board bathroom (right next to my dad) the driver told the rest to cross the highway, do what they needed to do and get ready to move in five minutes. This was a good thing, for many reasons, the chief benefit being that if one more missionary started talking to my dad about God and how much she had to pee, there was going to be a lot of paperwork for me to fill out at the Embassy.

Arrival in “Tecuz”

After the bathroom mutiny was put down and my father was appeased, we continued on to Tecuz. We arrived at 7:30 p.m., 8 hours late. My step mother Miriam and party had been waiting there the whole time, not really knowing what was going on. This was after getting up early in the morning for the three hour bus ride to the airport. She was as happy to see us as we were to be almost done with our initial journey. Now she could eat and not wander around the airport trying to figure out what was going on (This was before cell phones were commonly used). My dad found his man Carlos, who is his personal car rental guy at the airport and picked up his Montero. Carlos was happy because now he could go home as well. We loaded up our tribe and headed to the Pizza Hut across from the airport to provision ourselves before the 2 1/2 hour journey to Choluteca. In addition to Miriam, there was my stepbrother Roger (Row-hair), Miriam’s sister Ingrid and nephew Fernando. Well, Fernando Jose. As it turns out my dad thinks it is immensely funny to say Fernando Jose repeatedly. “Hey Fernando Jose…ha, ha, ha.” “Fernando……Jose…..ha, ha, ha.”

Language Lessons

My dad did not tell me much to prepare for this trip except for a few names of key people, the name of the city we were going to and that “Miriam speaks English real well and many people also speak a lot of English and most of the people understand English even if they do not speak it much.” Boy was that a misperception. Miriam speaks English about as well as I speak Spanish – Kindergarten level. Roger, no habla ingles – but he does speak a lot of Spanish….rapidly. Ingrid and Fernando Jose – don’t seem to speak anything at all, expect that Fernando Jose will smile and grimace after the third or fourth time my dad would chuckle out a “Fernando Jose”. My dad also implied he was becoming a bit of a whiz with Spanish. That was also a grave misperception. I was able to identify 10 – 11 words in his vocabulary while driving – including righto, lefto, and straighto. Occasionally he might say, “hey boy, what does that word mean?” He did not understand Miriam when she repeatedly yelled “Cuidado” (careful), “lento” (slow), “Peligroso” (dangerous), “Tumblos” (speed bumps) and “muchas curves” (many curves).

Later, while not driving, I did overhear a conversation between dad and Miriam, it reminded me of the black and white Tarzan movies of the 1930’s – “Me and boy sleep now”, “Senor Jim pee pee now, comprende.” Oh, the language of love! As it turns out this was a big change from when things kicked off for these two in 1999. Miriam told me that they had met and danced briefly one night. My father obtained her phone number somehow and called her when he returned to the USA. She did not know who he was or understand most of what he was saying. He then had a friend at work write a letter to her in Spanish for him to send to her. Then things just took off from there. After eight days of observation I can say that in spite of my father’s inability to speak Spanish and Miram’s questionable at best English, the communication between these two was much better than the communication I observed between my parents during their last years of marriage.

Driving to Choluteca

My good friends the Lopez sisters are from Puerto Rico. Two of the sisters are married to two other very good friends of mine and a third dated my good friend and former roommate. Therefore, I had six different sources of information about trips to Puerto Rico and an interesting phenomenon called “slug people”. In Puerto Rico it is custom for people to stand, sit, or recline right on the edge line of the road and watch cars go by or occasionally see how close they can lean into the road to watch the action and not get hit. Apparently, this is a custom in all of the Spanish speaking regions of the Caribbean. Not only were there slug people, but there were drunken cowboys on bikes maneuvering in such a manner on the road one might think they were breaking a bull. That was hard to dodge at 45 – 70 miles per hour. Another common sight was two people on one bike. Roughly 80% of bikes on the road have two passengers. One-person pedals and steers, the other person sits on the main bar sidesaddle. That is quite a masterful display on bumpy rocky roads. The 20% of bikes with only one passenger usually featured a person hauling tools, or a mattress, or some other large unwieldy object.

Choluteca, the West Virginia of Honduras, which is the West Virginia of Central America

My father had a pretty difficult life growing up. He did not have running water in his house until he was a high school junior. He hunted so the family could eat. He feels younger in Honduras, the climate is much better for his many health problems so he usually has a spring in his step down there. He also does not have any running water in the Ellison-Rodriquez compound, which is also a way for him to feel young again. I was not made aware of this until I was in the bathroom and tried to flush the toilet. Nothing – nunca. Not a problem on my part, I am not a high maintenance type of person but I like to know these things before I engage in certain activities. I settled into Roger’s room, had a short conversation with him about the operation of the fan and the location of a water source, and then I went to bed. The compound consisted of three small 20 x 20 buildings, a small water tower, and a central yard, all connected by 10 foot high stone walls with barbed wire on top and a 2 inch thick steel door to drive the car through. So began my first day in country about 26 hours after we departed.


We spent the next seven days exploring the sights of Southern Honduras. Apparently, one of the major sights at the time was a very white male from Ohio with blue eyes speaking fragmented Spanish while accompanied by a posse of 3 to 8 step-relatives and an older looking version of himself that would occasionally say “Fernando Jose” then laugh. This never ceased to fascinate people. This aside, there was quite a lot to see and do.


Cedeno is a nice little black sand beach town on the Gulf of Fonseca. There are several beachside shacks that serve some fine seafood and offer a place to observe the various people and activities on the beach as well as the occasional roaming pig. Or the less occasional roasted pig.

Hacienda Gualiqueme Hotel
Tel. 882 2750
Choluteca, Honduras C.A.

This is the most famous and popular hotel in Choluteca, (there are about three). The name has something to do with the very large tree in the center of the courtyard. This hotel is a one story, sprawling compound with a large courtyard, a pool and landscaping. The entire hotel was buried in over ten feet of mud during the hurricane of 98. They did a hell of a job digging the thing out. Most of the city’s infrastructure was wiped out by this hurricane and is just now starting to be rebuilt. This is a good hotel and I would suggest staying here if one was in Choluteca for whatever reason. It is probably the only place you could stay and wake up alive the next morning.

Isla del Tigre (Tiger Island)

I found out about this place doing my own research and pretty much demanded to check this out. We drove to the small fishing village of Coyolito and took a little boat over to the cone shaped (former volcano) island and the town of Amapala. We then paid for a ride to the Hotel Playa Negra. This place is busy in December and January as a local getaway spot but for the rest of the year it is pretty dead. We had the whole hotel and beach to ourselves. The beach looked like something out of an Ernest Hemmingway story. There was a small cabana on the beach where we were served paella and beer. There were fishing boats 150 yards down the beach with men mending their nets and preparing their catch for market. An occasional burro would wander on the beach and we watched two little boys dig for crabs. It was great. I swam in the Pacific Ocean as if it were mine. At that time about 2 square miles of it were mine.

Parrilla El Torito – Choluteca

We ate at this restaurant three times. It is great, the owner is very kind. The menu is English on one side and Spanish on the opposite. Some of the English words are creatively misspelled and don’t make sense. In some cases, there may be 14 items on one side and 20 on the other – so it is difficult to determine which items correspond with the opposite side of the menu if you don’t read Spanish. That just makes it more fun.

San Marcos

We drove to this small town near the Nicaragua border. It is famous for it’s market, which was closed. There is a nice restaurant in town with trees growing inside and a fine ice cream place with no name. At the border we met a German couple that was traveling from Argentina to Alaska on horseback. They were about 1/2 through their trip and if they were allowed to cross the U.S. border they estimated the whole trip would take four years. The horses were a bit of a problem at borders because of foot and mouth disease and various other maladies. The border guards did not know what types of forms would be needed to cross into Honduras and they we not sure who they could contact for further instructions. So the German couple was trying to figure out how to get the right forms to the border so they could cross. While this was an inconvenience it was not as bad as Peru, in that, the horses were almost shot there because the couple had the wrong paperwork.

Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia

This is a tourist driven area that has a landscape that looks like western Oregon – large rolling hills and small mountains with lots of pines mixed in. The climate was cool. There were many clusters of nice houses in the area – most occupied by staff from the U.S. Embassy. The villages sell any type of tourist thing you could think of including some nice hand woven hammocks but it you want a real deal just buy one on the road in between Choluteca and Tecuz. You can also buy parrots, coconut milk, water and anything else along the road – if you drive slowly enough.


We drove back to town to see the National Museum, which is housed in the green palace-like former governor’s mansion. This is located in the center of downtown Tegucigalpa – a maze of narrow one-way streets and insane taxi drivers intent on killing as many people as possible. The museum was closed because someone had stolen a valuable treasure from the museum that morning. The outside looked cool. Also of note in town is Pollo Campero (country chicken), a restaurant across from the airport. This is a major Central American restaurant chain known for chicken cooked the Central American way. There are three of these restaurants in the U.S, and they have made a fortune feeding homesick Central Americans and gringos. When the L.A. location opened there was a line for ten hours to eat there. I was unable to eat here because it was closed for Mother’s Day. It looked good.

Where School Buses go to die – or be reborn

Have you ever wondered what happens to school buses when they retire in the United States, well, unlike old people from Ohio, they don’t go to Florida; they go to Honduras for a new life. This is odd because on occasion, the buses still have the full name of the school on the side such as “Redneck Springs Exempted Schools” or “Coonskin Creek High School”. More often the names are blacked out or painted over but these things are everywhere – in the cities as public buses, on the highways as “Greyhounds”. Usually the name of the driver or some inspirational slogan is painted on the back – kind of a large bumper sticker. The buses are well cared for and seem to be living a good life other than working 16-20 hours per day

Local Culture

In total, I estimate I met 1279 step relatives in 8 days. Whenever we went somewhere – we would pick up several people, visit a while with others, drop some people off, pick some more up, and take a quick turn at the last minute to hit a country road to visit with some more relatives. This was good for my Spanish practice. It was also an unusual experience for the relatives because the only other gringo they had ever met was a man who laughs, drinks a beer or two or three and occasionally says “Fernando Jose”. At one time, I think every one of these people was in our rented Montero – at once. This is a family oriented country; the people can be generous and hospitable. They have a lot of questions about the United States. My younger male step relatives were disappointed to find out the USA is not populated entirely by supermodels. I was in cities and country farms and everywhere in between. Some people have to get a ride to a drop off point then ride a horse for an hour to get home. Others travel for hours just to get to work or school. There is no complaining – I doubt most people I know could deal with day-to-day life in Honduras. The scenery could be great but everyone litters – that was the only fault I could find (on my first trip, that changed quickly on my subsequent visits) but that is just how it is. My father and I both like to cook, we live by ourselves and are known to do our own laundry. This type of behavior is very uncommon in Honduras even for gay men – which we are not – even though that is not a problem. I kept finding that my clothes would disappear and come back clean the next morning. I will say this for my dad, he cannot speak Spanish and may never learn but he remembers the names of each of those 1279 relatives and various other people and makes his best effort to pronounce each name correctly.

Goat and Bull Balls

We ate well. Fresh goat cheese was a delicacy for us gringos. We got a big ball of it from the grandmother of my father’s goddaughter (Hicela Suyana Mendoza) when we were out in the country visiting and picking her up to take her to school. My dad and I were fond of all the goat had to offer, especially in grilled form. We spent the better part of our last day grilling goat meat for our adios fiesta (start time 1:00 so people show up about 5:00). My stepmother was kind enough to get Bull Balls for dad but I had to promise not to tell him what they were. In fact, I spent the better part of the day building up this special delicacy and acted slightly depressed when the dog ate one of the four we has spent an hour cooking. Anyway, he ate it. I told him what it was. I had to swear an oath not to tell the El Dorado gang what happened. FYI – Bull balls taste like liver – I suggest you go with the goat.

In Review

For an only child, with virtually no family and a pretty dysfunctional family on my dad’s side when it does show up – meeting and living with my 1279 step relatives while on an unplanned Spanish language and cultural immersion course was a unique experience which could not have been conceived of even for a Seinfeld episode. I learned a lot, acquired S.A.S.S. (Sudden Accelerated Shit Syndrome), learned to love all things the goat gives us and spent some quality time with my dad, new family additions, and two great dogs named Porsche and Spy. I also meet some good hombres that work for Trek Safaris (the company that carts the El Dorado Gang on Hunting expeditions) when they can, including the famous Omar. Omar turned out to speak fluent English, to be quite a world traveler and well versed in just about everything as opposed to my vision of a dangerous mercenary pirate from a bad B movie. Unfortunately, I did not meet Omar until my last day. I’ll have Omar’s number for the next time I am in Honduras. Honduras is no longer 117 on my list of places to go to. Plus I found out that my blue eyes – are quite an asset in Central America – as my stepmother kept telling me. Hopefully she will give up on marrying me to my 16 year old step cousin.

2 Responses to “(Off Topic) Father’s Day “Crash” Memorial: Senor Ellison Esta Aqui”

  1. First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.

    I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.

    I’ve had a hard time clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out there.

    I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Appreciate it!

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