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The whole entire trip of mine and Jane’s was on an ever-escalating scale of ridiculousness – Burning Man was fairly special in itself, then working for Vlad the circus clown, crashing anarchist parties in San Francisco, taking up residence on a drug-riddled island of all manner of lunatics, being attempted-robbed by a trouserless man in the night… It went on and on, but I do believe that the ridiculousness reached its pinnacle in March, when I was shot by a crazed German. The story unfolded as so…

I’d been at work on a Sunday night in Babalu, the bar and restaurant that I worked in on Utila. That place is a story in itself, working for Dado, an old Italian lothario who stalks about the bar like a cat and has the moustachioed face of some 70s dictator, on the run from war crimes charges. He will ‘employ’ (tips only) tourist girls to work in his bar and quickly weed out any who don’t pass his tests: pretty, intelligent, constitution for drug and alcohol abuse. I’ve seen him find excuses to fire girls within a week under the pretence of inability to count or some other misdemeanour, but really it is because they’ve failed on one or more of these three trials. Apparently he has taken a few young, fresh-faced things and turned them out months later, addicts and emotional wrecks. Fortunately for me, I was nowhere near fresh-faced to begin with.

Magenta is another of Dado’s former employees, one who could keep up with his substance abuse challenges better than even I and therefore holds a golden place in his heart. An Amsterdam lass with an English mother and resulting perfect English articulation, Magenta is a true party girl a little older than me, straight out of the rave scene. Her and her man Steve, a jolly Welshman of similar demeanour, make a fantastic couple. They’ll spend Sundays, their only day off, in Babalu, and that night I was walking home with them when they invited me into La Cueva, the bar they were managing, for a wee drink.

Cueva isn’t open Sundays but Steve had the keys. We dropped off a borrowed bicycle then sat at the empty bar where I had my first drink of the evening – Steve’s latest concoction, a sugarcane and ginger-infused rum. We chatted about Utila life, our accents, families, friendships, relationships. Steve was getting agitated being in his work place and wanted to move on. We got our shit together and were about to head when we heard a noise in the alley at the back. The front door was bolted, the back door was not locked but shut – nobody should have been coming in…

The door flew open and a man entered – the barbecue man. Though I didn’t know the barbecue man, he’d been in my head that night because Kim, a friend of mine, had been in Babalu earlier and told me about an incident in Cueva the previous evening.

“The barbecue man spoke,” she said in a weighty tone.

“Who’s the barbecue man?”

“The barbecue man from Evelyn’s. He hasn’t said anything for four years, and last night he spoke!”

Evelyn’s is the restaurant next door to Cueva. Apparently there is some long-running dispute between the two owners, but that local stuff was little concern of Steve and Magenta’s. However, the previous evening the barbecue man, this odd-looking German bloke with a mass of bushy, dirty blonde hair, like some reject from Spinal Tap, who never spoke to anyone, who’d been on the island for years but didn’t have any friends, who just stood all night every night barbecuing meat and fish outside the restaurant, came in and caused a ruckus. He accused Steve and Magenta of trying to poison his dogs, and laughing about it, when in actual fact they were discussing the poisoning of a friend’s dog, and not laughing about it. But he was not to be convinced otherwise. “This is war,” he declared, and stormed off.

Something about the incident had really freaked Kim out – the way he spoke, something unhinged in his eyes – and she told me she hadn’t been able to get it out of her head, she couldn’t sleep for it and when she did she had nightmares. But still, nobody had taken his statement quite so literally as it turned out he did…


It was late on a Tuesday night, tripping on mushrooms on the upper deck of Tranquila bar; a not-unusual Utilan weeknight. Unexpectedly, the plague of pishy pop came to a halt mid-song, and was replaced by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd – unbelievably apt. That soon got rid of the poppy-pish customers, but of course we lingered on, spending some hour or two giggling, making patterns in our heads of the trees and the ripples on the water.

At closing this little hobbit-sized fellow, a bandana tied round his shaved head in the fashion of a 50s housewife, came up the stairs collecting empty bottles. He instantly singled out the DBA as a gullible tourist, suggestible tourist, fellow miscreant, I don’t know, but made a bee-line for him and launched into a fervent and animated story about a shootout that afternoon over drugs and money during which he was wounded (he pointed at his arm  – there was nothing to be seen). As soon as he was done with all the gangster talk, the little chap walked over to the stairs, mounted the banister, and slid down, grinning inanely, like some insane Mary Poppins, the bow upon his tiny gangster head completing the look. Jane and I cracked up.

It transpired that the guy was fresh out of jail on Roatan, the neighbouring island, and was working off a 62 Lempira ($3ish) debt to the manager by tidying up the bottles. The true extent of his crazed nature was revealed as we tried to leave, when he began, with the fervency of the guns ‘n’ money story, proffering sex with 14 year-old girls to the DBA and our newfound miscreant, Justin. At some point during the incessant flow of filth, Mary Poppins mentioned his ‘two apartments’, with satellite TV, that all of us would fit into – for only $500! (It was unclear whether this included the underage hookers or not). “But I have my own apartment, with a TV and everything, why would I want to go to yours?” I could no longer hold it together and turned away in a fit of laughter.

Somebody brought up the need for rum. “We can go to La Pirata”, Mary Poppins chimes in, “and get rum, and then we can all go on my ‘mopeds’ to my ‘apartments’”. There was not one moped in sight, certainly not a fleet of them. Justin also burst into laughter. We turned and faced the wall together.

At the mention of La Pirata, a heinous bar filled with flashy lights and crackheads but the only one open that late on a Tuesday, Mary Poppins embarked on a new tact: “Come to La Pirata, there will be 13 year-olds dancing on the pole, like this” – he requests that somebody hold his hand so he can demonstrate. Jane joins the cracking-up now too; we’re all hysterical except for the DBA, who has had a look of dumbstruck terror on his face the entire time.

Since no-one would hold his hand, Mary Poppins proceeded to launch himself onto a nearby wooden post and execute a move which he called ‘the sledgehammer’, complete with sexy sound effects. Good gracious.

It had been a good quarter-of-an-hour now that we had failed to escape the insane Mary Poppins, and I was fearful of him following us home. I realised the only means of shedding him was to follow him to Pirata – and then flee! We needed rum anyway…

As we walked along the road, Mary bounding about the place beating up rubbish bins and the like, I began to wonder if in fact he knew exactly what he was doing – if it was every bit his intention to emulate Poppins, with his head scarf and his banister-sliding, and the joke was in fact on us

The only other occasion Jane and I had entered La Pirata was the night we unwittingly consumed space-cake – not an enjoyable experience. Now we were about to enter, with incredible reluctance, under mushroom influence. At least this time we had our sense of humour to get us through.

It was every bit as horrific as we had feared – unnecessarily flashing lights, teeth-grindingly bad music, Tony Red-Hat malingering in a corner (the crackhead who the previous week had threatened to beat all our heads in with a lead pipe). Much to our surprise, the minute Mary Poppins had seen us inside he pointed out his friend who was going to ‘look after’ us and take us to a house party, and promptly left! Job done! When it became apparent that the bar weren’t going to sell us rum for anything short of extortion, we could at last make good our getaway, and in a true Monty Python style dashed for the spiral staircase and fled, crying “Escape! Escape! Run away! Run away!” as we went.