My Dinner Was Infinite Toothpicks With a Side of Cockroaches

Wait until you see the picture…

Time To Read: 4 mins | December 14, 2016

The first cockroach was funny.

The second cockroach, which chased the first out from under the storage cabinets and across the high-end tequila bottles, was a bit more concerning.

The third cockroach, which the bartender grabbed barehanded off the register and flung at his coworker, was objectively terrible.

So I’ll concede that I probably shouldn’t have eaten there.

‘There’ is a waterside sports bar located in Flores, a tiny Guatemalan city with the world’s most epic moat. Or, more accurately, a 2-square mile overly developed tourist town located smack in the middle of a lake. The water comes right up to the roads, and the island’s brightly colored buildings are never built shorter than three stories. It’s a squat tropical pillar of hotels and restaurants with only one road in or out, and all this is surrounded by glass-smooth agua to damn near the horizon.

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Tolkein couldn’t have designed this place.

That said, it’s a sleepy little village. When I announced I was spending nearly a week here, the other internationals on my bus were shocked, because after taking a handful of cliché pictures and visiting some nearby ruins, there’s nothing to do but eat, drink, and — I’m assuming this isn’t just me — masturbate.

But if that’s not a recipe for getting your backlog of articles done, nothing is. So I settled in for a calm several days, only venturing out for food and drink, as both writing and jerking off should primarily be done from home.

Which brings us to tonight, when I stopped at the cockroach-breeding center for dinner. In my defense, they’d cleverly designed the place to look like a casual beach dive bar; I only learned about the tiny, crunchier inhabitants after I ordered.

I shouldn’t have let it get that far. I mean, they had a sign out for cheap beer, there was a UFC fight on the TV, and, shit, I got to sit on the edge of a remote rainforest lake. Life could be worse. But a quick chat with my server was enough to convince most would-be patrons to get the hell out of Dodge.

This is a rough approximation of my Spanish conversation with the bartender, with explanatory notes as necessary:

Me: “I’ll have the nachos with guacamole” [In Central America, once south of Mexico, ‘nachos’ generally just means chips. So I was ordering chips and guac. Easy peezy.]

Bartender: “We don’t have nachos.”

Me: “Excuse me?” [Of the 8 food items on the menu, three were classified as nachos. Two were shrimp dishes that sounded identical, and the other three were packs of cigarettes. Not kidding.]

Bartender: “No chips.”

Me: “No chips?”

Bartender: “No chips.”

Me: “You have shrimp though, yes?” [Desperate though I may be, I wasn’t about to order Marlboro Reds for dinner]

Bartender: “Yes, clearly” [‘Claro’ is common phrasing down here, the equivalent of an American saying ‘of course’ or ‘obviously’, but usually considered less aggressive or snobbish. That said, in this asshole’s case, he was definitely confused why I wouldn’t believe his restaurant had shrimp, but no tortilla chips. Don’t worry, I don’t understand that, either.]

Me: “Well give me the shrimp” [Pointing at the fancier sounding of the two offerings].

Twenty minutes later, this came out. I make an effort to not post any photos not taken with my DSLR, or for that matter use embedded visuals at all, but in this case, I was laughing too hard to abstain:

Three things to note here. One, the bartender is now ‘claro’ furious with me, because I’m audibly chuckling at my dinner. Next, you can’t see it, but there’s a huge black hair hanging off what the menu called ‘salad’, but what I call crudely cut cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions stacked haphazardly on human follicles.

But my favorite detail, the part of this meal I’ll never forget, are the toothpicks. Of course, if one orders a club sandwich, or perhaps a bacon-wrapped filet, the chef will include one or two wooden splints to hold together the presentation.

My sad cold shrimps, lukewarm fries, and vegetable stacks earned 7 toothpicks total. That’s two for the prawns, two for the cucumbers, and three for the fries. All of which, I should point out, aren’t connecting anything to anything else. They’re just, there. What went through the mind of the chef — or, more likely, the drunken arthritic dishwasher covering for the one teenager on the island whose house got Food Network – that put this together? Do Guatemalan’s think tiny smooth twigs symbolize class? Was he worried about maintaining the organization of his thin plastic plate? Did these 7 bits of food somehow piss him off in particular?

I’m telling myself I paid ten bucks to watch a UFC fight on a lake’s edge in Guatemala, and my grumpy roach-loving hosts were kind enough to feed me. I can live like that.

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photo: the edge of flores, guatemala. this particular stretch of coast needs botox

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.

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