Thoughts after one journey and before another
“Tell me,” she said, “why gringo women wear such ugly shoes.”
She said it in Spanish, her tongue forming the precise syllables that I envied and still failed to produce after years of practice.
Her name was Viviana, and she was my Spanish teacher. We were practicing my conversation skills in a thick-walked courtyard not far from the ruins that gave the town of Copan Ruinas, Honduras, its name.
The thick-walled building was roofed with red tile and boasted a profusion of bougainvillea and other flowers I didn’t know the names of.
As far as I was concerned, it was perfect.
“They’re more comfortable,” I said, “and there isn’t room to pack lots of shoes in a backpack.”
She looked at me as if I’d attempted to rationalize eating children in order to save on grocery costs.
“They’re ugly,” she said. “And these do not take up much space.”
She swung her leg out from under the small wooden table that held my notebooks and some grammar worksheets, curling her toes her shoe twirled away from her foot.
The shoe was nothing but some straps and a heel.
I grew up among ranchers and dairy farmers. Men and women alike wore button-up shirts tucked into jeans belted with buckles won at rodeos, hats that kept the sun and rain out of their eyes, and cowboy boots.
Cowboy boots have heels, sure, but not like these.
I’m not sure where the line is, if it even exists, between high heels and stilettos, but I wondered which side of the line the shoe dangling at the end of Viviana’s incredibly shapely leg was.
She moved her foot back under the table.
“Those aren’t shoes,” I said. “They’re sandals.”
She made a face and waved away the distinction.
“Wait. Show me again.”
She moved her foot out from under the table once more.
“You can’t call those shoes. They have no sides.”
I didn’t care about distinctions among types of footwear. I just wanted to look at her leg again. She knew it.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, curling her toes one more time. “I walk all over town. I walk down this street from the bus stop.” She nodded to the steep, cobblestone street outside the gate to the language academy. “Even when it rains.”
It occurred to me that walking the hilly streets of Copan daily probably explained the wonderful musculature of her calf.
My mind bogged down attempting to come up with a way to say something in Spanish about her legs that was flirty without being crude.
The look on her face told me she’d caught my train of thought. She smiled and leaned forward.
It wasn’t the first time our conversational practice had veered into flirting during my lessons.
She was young for a teacher and I was older than most backpackers, so we were about the same age. Over the course of my first week at the language academy, we’d established this, along with the fact that we were both divorced.
I should have asked her out. Right then.
But I didn’t.
Not out of any high-browed reason, but because I lacked the confidence.
I let the moment slip by, we talked of other things, and her legs stayed under the table for the rest of the lesson, which would be my last at the language academy, due to an unplanned departure to hike the tallest mountain in Honduras with some French Canadians.
I wouldn’t call it a regret — I’ve got bigger fish to fry in that pan — but if I had that trip to do over again, I’d ask her if she wanted to get dinner with me.
Or, maybe just to get an ice cream and a walk in the town square, which was what couples of all ages did most nights in that cute little town.
In fact, I sat on a bench in the square and watched couples of all ages do exactly that after eating dinner alone and before going back to my room at the hostel.
Not that I think it would have changed either of our lives in any way, but because it would have been a good time, some laughs, and a pleasant memory, at the least.
It’s been 10 years and another divorce since that trip.
I’m selling my stuff and packing for a longer trip, one I hope I can stretch into a permanent vacation.
So I’ve been thinking about lessons learned and intentions.
And if I’ve learned anything in the last ten years — and especially the last one — it’s the importance of not letting any spark of connection go by.
Which is why I’m starting this next trip with a stop at a friend’s house.