in Nicaragua
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A Man and a Woman on Vacation in Nicaragua

Peter

03/01/99

Corn Island, Nicaragua

TURTLE MEAT

We are often asked what we eat while on one of our vacation/adventures. Corn Island has almost any item that you want to eat. The stores are not exactly chuck full, but if you stand around long enough to let your eyes get adjusted to the dark interiors you can find a lot of things. They have mayonnaise and mustard, powdered milk and rum, beef and chicken, soup mixes and cracker jack, etc.

Another way to get some delicious food is to buy it from the many street vendors. For example they make an item called patty. It is seasoned meat rolled into a golden brown corn dough and than grilled till it's slightly crispy. It is truly delicious. Kim and I eat 2 or 3 almost everyday, sometimes more if it's to be our main meal.

But the one item that most people seem to enjoy and talk about the most is turtle meat. But, you are probably saying to yourself, isn't that illegal? Why yes it is, in most of the world that is, but there are still pockets of the world where people openly and lawfully kill and eat the turtle. Corn Island is one of those places. Try to tell the people that almost the whole rest of the world has banned the killing of turtles and you get at least open disbelief and sometimes out right hostility. These people have been eating turtle and then making jewelry out of the shell for centuries, and they are not about to give it up just because some white do-gooders tell to. And, by the way, it is the cheapest meat on the island. Even cheaper than fish.

It's interesting, in a cruel sort of way, to see them bring in the giant beasts to butcher. They keep them turned over on their backs, first in the backs of a truck for delivery, and then just laying in the sand, some times in full sunlight for days on end until the time comes to butcher them. They pay them no mind what so ever. I have heard a few stories told by the locals of outsiders upon seeing how the magnificent endangered beasts are treated have bought the whole turtle and then asked to have them set free. The islanders do this willingly, because they know that the rough treatment that the turtle has already received usually means that he will die a short time later. Sometimes they can even catch the poor sickened guy again and cut him up and sell him as they had originally intended to do. They say, what the heck, if it makes the gringos feel good and they are willing to pay top dollar they will accommodate them.

One day Dee Jerry, a good friend of ours, dropped by just to talk. Jerry, like a lot of others, was always bringing us presents. He was a fisherman who, after he sold most of his catch to the local fish company, was always giving away the leftovers to his friends and neighbors. We were no exception. He would never take any money for the seafood, so we devised a plan to equal the score. His wife Ella was one of the local food vendors. She made coconut cake and bread, soda cakes and our favorite patty. In fact she made the best patty on the island, so Kim and I, even though we loved the darned things so darned much anyway, probably ate many more than we wanted to. We also gave away a fair share of them to anybody who happened to drop by. And at Ira's somebody always seemed to be dropping by.

Still we could never seem to equal the score, so generous was Jerry's gifts. So Kim, ever the good neighbor, decided to make some delicious marinated BBQ'd chicken, potato salad and Cole slaw and then to take them up a plate. It seemed like that evening half the island decided to show up at Ira's. As the crowd continued to thicken I had to go back to the store to buy more chicken. Still, in the end, we were able to fix a fine plate to take over.

Several days later Jerry showed up returning our plate with some delicacy that Emma had fixed up especially for us. It had fried sweet bananas, rice and a generous helping of something that looked like hamburger helper. "Dis is somtin special. My wife only make it for us and odder good folks dat we like. Somtin real special." Jerry said beaming with pride.

I looked at Kim and could read her mind. Her eyes said that we could just never seem to get ahead of this game. I reached down with my hand and took a big finger full of first the meat and then the browned bananas. It was heavenly and I told Jerry so. I asked him what is was as I handed over the plate for Kim to try it. "It's turtle meat dat my wife cook up special wid erbs and spices."  I tried to pass the plate to her, but she backed away as if it contained poison. "Ouh," she said, trying to save herself in front of our bewildered guest. She continued to move toward the tent saying, "This is much too good to eat now. We have to save it for dinner."

I took the plate over to our makeshift kitchen, just a board between two coconut stumps, and covered it up. Later, after Jerry left, I went in the tent to see Kim. "That was close," she said Can you believe I almost ate it?"

"Actually, I replied, "It was about the best meat dish I have eaten in a long time."

"That's fine for you, but I just couldn't eat it. Have you seen the way they handle the poor things?" I admitted that I had, but told her that since it was a done deal, I intended to finish the plate. I smacked my lips so much and tormented her about how great it was that I finally convinced her to try a bite. Actually bite is an exaggeration, it was more like a morsel. She took the piece off the end of my extended fork with clenched teeth and half closed eyes. She looked like she was going to spit it out, but in the end she swallowed it like a good girl. At first she had her face all squanched up, but in a few moments her face relaxed and she commented to me how it was really quite tasty. I thought to myself that she couldn't possibly have tasted anything from that tiny speck she ate. Then I suddenly had an evil thought and said, "I'm going to tell Tony." Tony was her son and he was an Wetland Biologist, and, although a really nice kid,  he was pretty serious about saving the planet.

She said quite agitated now, "You'd better not." I didn't say anything, but just continued to smile at her.

The next day Jerry returned to see us. We returned his plate--this time empty, because we couldn't think of anything else to do. The last effort we had made was just too much, and it had back fired on us anyway. We talked it over and said that we would just continue to buy extra patty and sweet bread from Ella.

Jerry asked us how we had liked the turtle and I told him it was great. He had a huge boil on his arm and just to make conversation I said that I had heard from Lorraine that eating too much turtle meat was one of the causes. He replied that, " I really doesn't eat much turtle meat. I eats mostly fish. Besides you and Kim eat more turtle meat den I does. An' you don have boils."

This really peeked Kim's attention. She asked him what he meant. He said, "All dem patties dat you guys is always eatin' I doesn't eat dem so much."

"Patty, patty what do you mean. Peter you told me that they were made pork."

Jerry quickly stepped in, "She used to use pork. Den it got too expensive an' she switch to turtle."

I looked at Kim and her eyes we so wide I thought they were going to fall out on the sand. I said isn't that interesting, and then I let out one of those mean laughs. Kim calls it a Florczak laugh. She says my whole family laughs the same way when some real bad misfortune falls on some poor unsuspecting soul. Like "Man Falls Through Roof and Lands on His Pet Pit Bull."

After Jerry left I just quietly said, "Wait till I tell Tony now."

 

 

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Thanks, Kim and Peter (about the authors)