Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This n That

We started out the day on Sunday with an earthquake! The first tremor hit around 3:30 a.m. and registered 4.7, the second hit at 9:30 a.m. and just about shook me out of the porch swing. Don was in getting ready for church and came running out, wondering if that was an earthquake. We have since learned that it was centered in the ocean just east of La Ceiba and that this is not an unusual happening.

Sunday afternoon we attended a fundraising event called Sundae by the Sea, an annual event to raise money for the Clinica Esperanza. This is a wonderful clinic started by Peggy Strange, R.N., in her kitchen in Sandy Bay seven years ago to meet the medical needs of the community. It has grown, moving from her kitchen, to needing a waiting room under her house, to the former hotel rooms in the SonRise church building, to a brand new 4500 sq. ft. clinic across the road, treating over 1,000 outpatients per month. Ms. Peggy also offers many community health and education programs. The clinic is staffed by a medical director, pediatrician, dentist, medical advisor and pediatric emergency physician, Ms. Peggy, and over 110 volunteers. There are currently several residents and interns from the U.S working here. The newest addition is a pediatric inpatient unit and a birthing center. The clinic relies completely on donations for all medicines, equipment, supplies, and staff. Ms. Peggy is a highly respected, deeply loved and very humble woman, giving God all the credit for the success of the clinic.

It was a fun afternoon, held at Fins & Flippers on Osgood Key, a small island owned by Anthony's Key Resort. (This is where many cruise ship passengers come to spend the day.)
It is a beautiful place. The food was wonderful, the live entertainment excellent, and the auction was lots of fun. We saw people we had just met Friday at the foreign residents' meeting, people from our church, our neighbors, and sat to eat and visit with a new friend from the Thursday night inter-island Bible study group that I've begun attending. We enjoyed meeting her husband who is quite the photographer and was running around taking pictures all afternoon. I haven't heard how much money was raised. They still need $40,000. to complete the pediatric/birthing center.

Yesterday we were in and out of the bank in record time! And I successfully made a deposit and converted some dollars into lempiras. Yay!!!
We took our Rav4 to the Toyota mechanic who works for the Kia dealership. He came highly recommended as a good, honest mechanic and a Christian. The problem: one of the constant velocity joint boots is torn. This both lets the grease out of the joint and allows dirt to enter the joint which will grind it up. It must be fixed. (Thank you, Don, for that explanation.) We're waiting for him to call us with the estimate, then he'll have to order the parts from La Ceiba on the mainland. And we still have not made the effort to find freon to fix the air-conditioner. Mañana.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Gardeners for the Gartners

I'm going to try very hard not to complain about this. I realize how very blessed we are to live in such a beautiful place in the midst of a tropical garden. It is amazing, and we take such delight in sitting out here on the deck looking at God's creation.
We are also very blessed to be able to hire gardeners to take care of all these plants, especially given that we live on a very steep hillside. Don's first and last attempt to climb out on that hill resulted in him sliding down hill and slamming into a tree (thank God for that tree, otherwise he may have slid another 1000 ft. and disappeared forever into the ravine - ok, maybe that's a slight exaggeration!). So we are happy to delegate that job to someone else.
Last Saturday, we had two brothers work for us, trimming and cleaning up the yard. Their dad had worked for us for several days two weeks ago, but he didn't work out too well. The last day he was to work for us, he sent his sons instead. The older boy is maybe 15 or so and works regularly for Merlin. The younger brother is somewhere around 10 or 12, still pretty small. They worked more quickly and efficiently than their dad, and we were pleased with them. They are young and agile and seem to have no problem scampering up and down the hillside as they clear and haul the clippings down into the ravine at the bottom.
So, last Saturday the boys showed up again and not having Merlin here to interpret, I had to pantomime what I wanted them to start doing; they seemed to understand and got right to work. Don, in the meantime, had dashed off to the ferreteria to buy a hoe. When he returned, they began clearing the weeds and grass from the hillside. They also had clippers to use in trimming some of the shrubs.
Sometime later, Don came in and said "honey, you'd better come out here and look at this. They've cut down your favorite bush....Now, be calm. Don't go out there and yell. What's done is done." So, with great effort, I went out quietly and peered over the deck, and sure enough, they had chopped it in half. This is the Pride of Barbados shrub that you see in the photo at the upper left of this page. It is gorgeous. Or was. It's true that it had grown way above the deck, but the hummingbirds and butterflies liked it that way. So did I.

This is my beheaded Pride of Barbados.

It's hard to question why they did it with my very limited Spanish and their zero English. When they saw my very sad face, the older brother indicated that it would grow back, and I'm sure it will, but it will take several months. I was noticing how he had cut the hibiscus bushes back, and he cuts back pretty severely, by at least 1/3. Thankfully, the rainy season is just starting, so everything will grow more quickly.
We were expecting another older man to come today who has worked for us before. He never showed up. We still have lots of clearing, trimming, raking and planting to do. All the banana and plantain trees need to be thinned out and cleaned up, and there are many of them all the way around our property.
Here is the overgrown hillside.

Thinned out line of banana trees.

Lest you think that this is a real luxury (ok, I guess it is), I should mention what we pay them. The standard rate is 250 lempira per day, or $13.00. And let me tell you, that is backbreaking labor. They earn every penny of it (well, except maybe for the dad...). No kid in the U.S. would do that kind of heavy labor for that little money. During the rainy season, we'll need someone for about 2 weeks every month, after that, maybe only one week per month.

Just an aside, from Don:
When our shipment left our house in St. Louis in July, it had "Gartner" written on all the papers. When it arrived at Jackson Shipping in Tampa, FL, we became "Gardner". When it arrived at Jackson Shipping in French Harbor, Roatan, we became "Gardener." Now I know how our ancestors got their names changed when they immigrated to the United States.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Politics on Roatan

We, along with all other foreign residents of Roatan, were invited to attend a meeting yesterday with the Roatan governor, Arlie Thompson; the mayor, Dale Jackson; and the congressman, Jerry Hynds. We had no idea what the meeting was about, but apparently this is an annual event. We decided to attend and met our new neighbors and friends there.

The purpose of the meeting was to address any concerns we might have over ALBA, the agreement the Honduran president Mel Zelaya recently signed with Venezula's Chavez. The Honduran forums have been buzzing with discussions of this topic for days. Another hot topic has been the fact that there seems to be some problem with accepting the new U.S. ambassador's credentials.

Jerry and Arlie had met with the president last week and offered his explanation for this agreement, that it was about getting financial aid to help with a number of unmet needs in Honduras, 500 million dollars being pledged and not about a military or political alliance. Jerry also said that it didn't stand a chance of being approved by the Honduran congress. They assured all of us that it did not affect our status or safety here in the Bay Islands. Also, Zelaya said there was no problem with accepting the U.S. ambassador, that would all be taken care of in good time.

They opened the mike for questions and several people, business owners, expressed concern about the negative publicity this has generated and the effect it will have on tourism. Another person reported that there is actually very little attention being paid by the American media due to preoccupation with the U.S. elections, only a little banner running along the bottom of CNN's screen. The Europeans must be more aware and more concerned; it was reported that they have expressed a reluctance to come here until this is all settled. It may be difficult to tell what effect this actually has on tourism until January as this is the slow season (rainy season starting).

We were reminded that the U.S. Coast Guard has a presence here, and someone else mentioned that the U.S. Navy has also recently established a small base on one of the smaller Bay Islands, and that the U.S. Airforce has a base on the mainland. Jerry said that the U.S. is still on good terms with Honduras and will remain so as they needed to keep these bases opened here.

Other longtime Roatan residents mentioned that they had seen similar political situations come and go. The panel made every effort to reassure us that this, too, would turn out alright. We are separate both physically as well as business-wise from the mainland, so this would really have little effect on our lives here. Jerry, Arlie and Dale assured all of us foreign residents that Roatan wanted us, needed us and depended on us for the well-being of the island.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Word From Don on Honduran Living

Living here changes you. There is a pervasive torpor that seeps into one’s body and soul, a tendency to listlessness. You get up in the morning with the intention of getting some task done. You have a leisurely breakfast. You sit and look out over the sea. It is warm, with a refreshing breeze. It is quiet, with only the sounds of the sea and some birds flying over. Slowly, you feel evermore lazy. That task you were going to do doesn’t seem so important anymore. Well, there’s always mañana. A morning swim or snorkel seems a better choice. Then maybe some time in the hammock.

Things that once seemed important seem markedly less so. Indeed, it becomes a chore even to take care of the things that are important. That manaña mentality is infectious. A tendency to degeneracy must be fought. Devotion to [at least some] discipline must be embraced in order not to simply let everything slide into ruin. We hope that we have halted such advance before we become utterly worthless. I think we are near stability, anyway.

Such listlessness implies a gearing down. Life proceeds at a slower pace here. A lot slower. Alpha types are advised to stay away. The “Give it to me and give it to me now” attitude will not work, and trying to “force” something to happen will probably cause even more delay. Impatience is punished.

The upside is a more civil society. People here are more patient, because they have learned that they must wait for much, and they expect to. For those of you who are old enough to remember (that is, over 55) this used to be the case in the States, too. Back in the fifties and sixties, there was a book called the Sears Catalog. You didn’t just go down to the store and buy whatever you wanted. A lot of things had to be ordered from the Sears Catalog. Then you waited for two or three weeks for them to arrive. People in the States back then were more patient, too. Well, that was then and this is now, where if someone has to wait two minutes for his Big Mac, he is ready to loosen some teeth.

But here there are often long waits for things that in the States now take no wait at all. Those under 60 may wait in line in the bank two hours to make a deposit or withdrawal. The same is true when paying your telephone bill or your property tax or any number of things. Jeanette and I are privileged at the bank. Old folks and pregnant women get to use a special teller, so our wait is usually quite brief. Besides that, we get to sit in chairs while waiting. Life is good for the old folks.

Even with the long lines – and probably because of them - people here are more patient, more courteous, less annoyed and irritable. If someone is blocking another’s path, typically the person who wants to get through will simply wait quietly - with no body language or mumbling - for the other person to move on. I think that most Americans should live here for a year and get an attitude adjustment.

All of this will change your outlook. Something else that will is the fact that in a lot of ways every day is the same. The same in that the day of the week doesn’t matter. The weather is more or less constant, and what we do is up to us; there is no agenda, no schedule. There is seldom any need to do anything, really. One day slides into the next, and then the next.

Paradoxically, even thought this is true, this is also a land of adventure, chaotic at times, frustrating at times. As I said, impatience is punished, patience is rewarded. It is also true that ingenuity and resourcefulness are rewarded. Those who can devise a “work-around” when something fails or doesn’t work as expected will do well. (And there are no codes or government interference to hinder you.) Helpless people will do poorly. It does not pay to be dependent on others for most things here. Likely you will pay much, wait a long time for resolution, and repeatedly be taken advantage of.

While the weather is a constant, change is the other constant. As ingenuity and resourcefulness are rewarded, so are flexibility and spontaneity. In the States there is a mind-numbing consistency. Every town and city looks the same. The highways look the same. The cars and trucks look the same. An Applebees in Seattle will serve a meal that tastes exactly the same as one in Tampa.

Here there are no Applebees (yet, anyway). All of the restaurants are locally owned, and no two are alike. Here a restaurant may serve you an excellent meal on Monday and one that is inedible the next day. Or the item you enjoyed on Monday is no longer on the menu. Or the restaurant may not even exist the next day. Grocery stores may have apples (or any other product) one week and not the next. Events are cancelled an hour before they are to start, with no explanation given. You may be promised a service (an installation or repair) on Wednesday and a week later are still waiting. On the other hand, there are also pleasant surprises. Someone may just show up at your door and give you some shrimp or lobster because they have plenty and simply want to share.

A lot of things happen spontaneously. You get up in the morning intending to do something. Someone stops by unexpectedly. You are invited to go somewhere. You say, “When are you leaving?” They say, “Now.” You jump in the car and go, having already forgotten what you had intended to do. When there is an opportunity, it is wise to take it.

But for now, I fear I have worn myself out writing. Maybe a little siesta will refresh me. If not, by then it will be Margarita time. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write more. But maybe not.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wild Menagerie

We have no pets, at least we thought we didn't, and hadn't since our cat died in 2005, but we've since learned differently. It seems that we are now living with or are surrounded by all types of critters. Here's the rundown:

1. Kamikazi hummingbird. Oh, sure, he looks innocent enough sitting up in this tree, but don't let that fool you. He's quite the dive-bomber and manages to scare us daily by zooming right past our heads or flying right up to our faces and hovering scant inches from our noses. He's very curious.

2. Bluehead. That's what we call him. We're very fond of this guy. We actually have a large assortment of geckos and lizards living with us. Can't keep them out. They don't really bother us much, except for their droppings, and they often startle us when we catch their quick movements upon entering a room or moving something around.

3. The wild bunch. These cute puppies belong to Dennis and Merlin, along with two other dogs. They love to come visit us and always cause mayhem, yesterday jumping up on my clean sliding deck doors and today trying to steal my flip-flops, then Don's. We had another beautiful black lab with a red collar show up one day, very thirsty, and he spent the entire day with us; we haven't seen him since.

4. Chilly-Willy. A Red Chilean tarantula who either lives in or around our front flower bed. He isn't poisonous and eats lots of insects, so we like him.

5. Leaf-cutter ants. We don't like these guys, although they are rather fascinating to watch as they run along in a straight line carrying my flower petals with them. They can strip a plant of all leaves overnight. Unfortunately, we have a lot of them. They just move around from plant to plant.

6. Leaping Lizards and Iguanas. We have a number of young iguanas and monkeylalas living in the shrubs along the front of our house and along the road. They're fun to watch, too, as they jump and chase each other. Monkeylalas are funny, they run upright, on their hind legs and can run across water.

7. El Gato. At least, I think the cat is a male. He frequently comes by when we're grilling fish. He's a beautiful cat, black with white mittens and tail tip and a red collar.

8. Merlin's rabbits. She started out with 6 and was convinced that they would not reproduce that much. HA! She has over 30 now. It's really difficult to count them. All the neighbors take their fruit and vegetable scraps up to their pen.

9. Termites. We just had the exterminator come out this week to inspect and then treat. We live in an all wood house, a target, and they are just everywhere anyway. We had noticed their trails up the piers supporting our house. Fortunately, they had done very little damage, just a nibble here and there. The exterminator will come monthly now.

10. Bats. Yup. We haven't seen them, but suspect that they are hanging out in the beams of our covered deck at night, sending their droppings onto the deck furniture. Dennis suggested leaving a light on at night and that seems to be keeping them away.

11. Butterflies. We live in the midst of a big flower garden: hibiscus, morning glories, bougainvillea, trumpet flowers, bird of paradise, cannas, zinnias, coleus, and much, much more (things I don't even know the name of yet), so we have a variety of butterflies, moths and hummers all over.

12. Ants. As if the termites and leaf-cutters weren't enough. My least favorite are the tiny "sweet" ants that are literally everywhere. We also have some black ants with white wings, some reddish ants & some pale ants at various times. Ugh. I'm bring back lots of Combat gel for ants on the next trip.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nearly Vegetarian

For years our son and daughter-in-law have been touting the benefits of a vegetarian diet. They are not vegans; they do eat some fish and dairy. I can generally take-it-or-leave-it when it comes to most meat, but I do love a good cheeseburger once in awhile. Don, however, is definitely a carnivore.

We knew when we moved here that we would not be able to continue eating a typical American diet. It's just too costly. Many American brands are available here now, but with import duty, the prices are absurd ($7.00 for a box of cereal, $8.00/gal. for fresh milk). And the price of meat! Through the roof. The Honduran beef is not that great; the good meat is imported from Iowa. We were kind of excited when Alba Foods reopened last week because their meat looked good when we were last there. They've changed. The only fresh meat was deli type meats, and I'm not so sure that they weren't also frozen in transit. The other meat offerings were in a deep freeze and the prices posted on the wall above: Sirloin steak - $17.00/lb.; t-bone steak - $15.00/lb; salmon filets - $17.00/lb; hamburger - $4.00/lb; pork chops - $10.00/lb. With the exception of the hamburger, we decided that we did not need to eat meat. We can buy fresh fish for $4.50/lb, fresh shrimp for $5.00/lb, and Honduran hamburger for under $2.00/lb (and it's not bad in tacos or spaghetti). A whole chicken is around $6.00 and a package of 4 frozen chicken breasts is $10.00!!

We've learned to convert prices from lempiras to dollars when considering a food item, or non-food. Bounty paper towels are available for 54 lempira, or $2.86/roll. 15 fresh eggs are 48 lempira or $2.54 (and by the way, their eggs are often not refrigerated. I try to avoid those.) We buy a l liter box of ultra-pasterized milk to use in smoothies for 31 lempira or $1.64 and 32 oz. container of fantastic vanilla yogurt (probiotic) for $3.20. A small jar of pickle relish is $2.33. A 46 oz. can of orange juice is $3.33 (and much better tasting than their fresh - far less sugar).

So what do we eat? We've learned to really like red beans and rice and I use the leftover beans in burritos and make fabulous bean burgers. I fix chicken occasionally in the crockpot and use it in a variety of ways. I buy huge bags of hydroponically grown (on the island) mixed lettuces for $3.20. They are much better than any I've ever bought in the US, so we eat a lot of salads. I buy fresh vegetables from the vegetable & fruit truck that's always parked near the beach in West End, all very reasonably priced. We often get free avocados, limes, mangos, and papayas from Merlin, and we have a steady supply of free bananas from our own trees. We eat pasta, pizza (usually out), lots of seafood, cheese, loads of fresh fruit, tons of tomatoes and peppers and lots of eggs. We also eat smaller portions now and if we've had a big meal at noon, we're not too hungry at dinner time.

Not really vegetarians, but we're certainly getting closer. That should please Dave & Tracy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Banking Update

Ah, success! After 5 trips and many hours of waiting, we now have a joint bank account. Today we apparently had all the proper paperwork in hand and thus got the green light to proceed. The young woman who waited on us spoke pretty good English but was certainly not chatty. She looked over the letter of reference from our US bank and my passport, asked a few questions and then disappeared. She was gone a long time, no explanation given.

When she returned, she said ok, we will need to complete some paperwork first, so take a seat. There was only one chair and I had made Don sit in it and talk to her, but now we traded places. Don had warned me that the questionairre took about an hour to fill out; he wasn't kidding. She filled out the double-sided form in long hand and asked amazing questions: did you go to high school or college? What is your degree? Do you work? How many children do you have? Are they dependents? How much time do you spend here? Do you own your home here? How much is it worth (land and house). Do you have a car? What is it worth? What is the license number? What is your monthly income? What is the source of that income? How much do you spend each month? Do you have any other Honduran bank accounts? Honduran credit cards?
What is the name of a personal reference here on Roatan? Address? Phone number? What is the name of a family member in the US? Address? Phone number? When I told her my dad's name was B. L. Parker, she wanted to know what the initials stood for and had me write down the spelling of his name. So I wrote Buron L. Parker, handed her the paper and said "that's why I told you B. L., it's just easier".

Whew! Don said that she had asked him if he was a fisherman! He doesn't know why she would ask that. I was hoping she would ask me; I guess I don't look like a fisherman. She had also asked Don how much money he would be depositing in this account monthly.

I cannot imagine why they need to know all of that. Well, they don't need to know, but why do they ask? Why do they care?

When she had finished filling out the form, she had the bank manager look over the form and approve it. Then she entered all that information into the computer. She entered my passport number at least 3 times. Don and I had to sign the form and 2 other papers, then she left again. She made copies of everything and attached my name and passport number to the inside of the bank book which is used for all transactions. And that was that. Once again the banking took 1-1/2 hours! But at least the bank is nicely air-conditioned and a great place to people watch.

We celebrated our success by having lunch at Nardo's, a neat little dockside restaurant right across the street. They serve amazing black Angus burgers, huge and yummy, and the best french fries on the island. (Ok, we don't eat healthfully all the time!). There was a cruise ship in port, visible from our table. Several passengers wandered back there to look around, none were brave enough to eat there.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chungo, again

If you read my blog entitled "Shipment Trickery", you'll recognize the name Chungo. We did not realize at that time that he was the man who owned the little car wash/gasoline/restaurant business just down the road from our hill. The car wash seems to service mostly taxis, the restaurant is very small, a covered patio with a few plastic tables and chairs, and a kitchen with a window for ordering and picking up, kind of a fast-food place serving locals. We were not even aware that it was a gas station until last year while waiting for hurricane Felix to hit Roatan (which it most thankfully did not).

Dennis had stopped by the day before the hurricane was to hit and advised us to go immediately and fill our gas tank. Once the hurricane hit and we lost power, we would not be able to get gasoline for awhile, for who knew how long. We were going to run up to Coxen Hole and he said "no, you want to avoid that if possible as the lines will be quite long, but there is a little gas station just down the road where the car wash is located." He led us down there and we were confused when we pulled in and did not see any gas pumps. A man (Chungo?) came out to see how much gasoline we wanted, and we said "just fill it up". He said he couldn't do that and we asked why not. He said because he didn't know how much that would be and he only sold gasoline by the gallon. So Don checked the gas gauge, estimated what we needed and told him 8 gallons. He nodded his head and went back inside the building behind the little restaurant. A few minutes later he returned carrying a gallon milk jug full of gasoline, a plastic funnel and a rag. He put the funnel in the gas tank filler, stuffed the rag in the funnel to strain out any impurities, and poured in the gasoline. He repeated this procedure eight times and we had 8 gallons of gas! I don't remember what he charged us, but it seemed a little bit less than what the other gas stations were charging.

We are currently paying around $5.29 US for a gallon of gasoline. There are a lot of things on the island that are done like they were in the States back in the 50s. There are no self-serve gas stations here. When you pull up at the pump, a man, or often a young boy, will approach and ask how much you want. You need to be clear on the price per liter and able to calculate in your head to make the conversion to be certain you are being fairly charged. We have since learned that it is far simpler to say we want cinco siento en total (500 lempira in total, equal to about $27.00 US). And then you tip him, maybe 10 lempira (50 cents). I've never seen them clean a windshield, check the tires or any other type of service, just pump gas.

You can see some interesting things while waiting for your gas. There are always some men, or teenagers, walking around with an armful of DVDs, trying to sell them. They will always approach you and ask if you want to buy some. I don't know where they get them and from what I can tell, they're mostly movies I've never heard of but seem to be violent action films. They're pretty cheap, $5.00-$8.00, but we're not buying. Let me know if you want some.

P.S. All the pictures you see running in the slideshow are now photos that I've taken here. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 21, 2008


O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Don and I love early mornings. We love to grab our coffee and our Bibles, sit out on the deck and watch the dawn unfold. God has blessed us with many spectacular views, such as these, and although the sun comes up in the east, behind us, the reflection of the sun lights up the sky before us.
Some mornings we see a cruise ship slowly sail by, headed for the dock in Coxen Hole. Other mornings we see the large hawk sitting the the tall tree across the ravine or the turkey buzzards catching the currents. We can see fishermen heading out in their small boats for the day at sea, and we can watch the tide coming in, waves breaking over the reef. Some mornings the moon is still up and a few stars are out. It is very quiet and peaceful, a perfect way to start the day.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Amusing Tidbits

One of the grocery stores we frequent has an interesting feature: they have a guard at the door who marks your receipt as you're leaving (just like Sam's Club) and then opens the door for you. I guess he's also watching for shoplifters. One of the funniest things to happen with this guard is the day he bagged my groceries for me, then as I walked the 3 feet to the door, had to mark my receipt! I nearly laughed out loud and had to run to the car so I could have a good chuckle.

The first year we came to Roatan, the largest grocery store on the island had an armed guard at its entrance, which made us a bit nervous. Merlin assured us that the crime rate was very low, not to be worried. Perhaps so; all those armed guards we've seen here and there should deter crime. This store no longer employs an armed guard or even a receipt checker.

The banks all have 2 or even 3 armed security guards at their entrances, each with a pistol and a pump 12, and if you look especially suspicious they will first "wand" you, like at the airport! They might also deny you entrance. They don't like the banks to get too crowded either and if there are a lot of people inside waiting in the long, slow lines, one of the guards will move through the crowd, giving everyone "the look". They really get worried if a couple of people get too close to the office door and will disperse them. At some banks the guards will only allow a very few customers inside at a time, although that seems to be more on the mainland than here. The banks on Roatan are also payment centers for a variety of utility bills, car licensing, etc., which accounts for the slow moving lines. They are beginning to use computers more and more, but much is handwritten and entered. There are a few ATMs popping up but these seem to be for credit card cash advancements rather than withdrawals from a bank account and they are usually out of order. And no one does any check writing. The bank even has different lines for single transaction or multiple transactions, as well as the previously mentioned line for older people (60+) and pregnant women.

There had never been a bank robbery on Roatan until just recently. Actually, the robbery occured outside the bank when the pickup truck making the money pickup (or delivery, forget which) was robbed. Yup, that's right. A pickup truck. No armored cars here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Adventures in Coxen Hole

Today we went to the Flying Fish fresh fish market in Coxen Hole. The men were still unloading the fish from these holding tanks, and two fish inspectors were on board checking things out and having a big argument over some of the fish which were then thrown back into the tank. They looked like very large fish. Soon they were all laughing and then each inspector chose which fish he wanted and took a nice big bag of fileted fish with him.

We had been trying to go to this market for some time, but never seemed to hit it right. We learned that the boats come in on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. 90% of the fish is exported. The remaining 10% is available for purchase on Thursday and Friday only. They had fresh grouper and red snapper today and fileted it for us while we waited (and watched), and then vacuum packed it for freezing. While we waited, we watched all the activity outside, the young boys and girls in rubber boots scrubbing out the holding tanks with soapy water and push brooms, then rinsing well. The inside of the building also appeared freshly scrubbed. We were tickled to see a boy on a bicycle riding away with two large fish, maybe 20 pounders, draped over his handle bars.

We bought 6 snapper filets for $4.50/lb. and one large grouper fillet for $6.50/lb. They even packed it with a little bag of ice to keep it fresh for the hot ride home.

Have I mentioned that the air-conditioner in our car stopped cooling? Dennis led us to a place in Coxen Hole, which we would never have found on our own, where they repair air-conditioners. It was way back behind G & G Hardware, down a deeply pot-holed road. I really should have taken a picture of this place. It looks somewhat like a junkyard. Merlin talked to the repairman, telling him what we needed and asking if he could just add some freon to it. He said yes, but we had to go back to the hardware store and buy the freon. The store was out of freon, which was just as well since we didn't know which kind of freon we needed to buy. So, we put that off for another day. It's not that bad riding around with the windows down. We don't drive very far and really, I've given up worrying about my hair. I do think we should get it fixed before rainy season starts in a couple of weeks because we may not be able to keep the windows open.

Driving, Roatan Style

We were very thankful to learn that we probably won't need to get Honduran driver's licenses since we will only be living here half the year. We feel pretty confident of this information which came from our insurance agent who is also the governor of the island.
Our insurance covers anyone who drives our car, any damage to our vehicle and any damage done to another vehicle, person or property, regardless of who was at fault. In the event of an accident, the law requires that all vehicles be left where they are until the police arrive and assess the situation. You are expected to stay put as well, however, if there are injuries, either to yourself or another person, you may leave and go get medical care, then come back. And your rates will never increase just because of an accident.

Getting a driver's license here is interesting in many ways. First, you don't actually have to be able to drive. That's right. The driving test is just a written exam (so you must be able to read); there is no on-the-road driving test. You must also prove that you can see, and don't think that you can bring in the results of your recent eye exam! No, you must go to one of the official eye doctors for drivers and get a paper of certification to bring back (and pay, of course). Next you must have an AIDS test (don't know if you must pass or not), and you must have your blood pressure tested. Then you get your picture taken, preferably with a buddy as the camera apparently takes two pictures, kind of like passport photos, hand over your money and you're safe to drive. You don't even have to have car insurance. That seems to be optional.

We have just observed two new stop signs on the island this past weekend. There are no traffic lights and precious few stop signs. There are very few signs of any kind and no street name signs, no yield signs, no warning signs. They could probably use a few curve or hill warnings, but then again, no one would pay any attention. The roads do not have any markings and drivers pass anywhere they want whether it is safe or not. Doesn't matter if you can't see. There are some mileage signs and some directional signs pointing toward West End or West Bay, etc.

We have encountered crazy things on the road, and it can be very dangerous at night (no lights). The other day we came upon a herd of cows sauntering down the road in Flowers Bay. We have seen the chicken cross the road many times. At certain times of the year, you'll see lots of big white crabs running down the road. People walking, riding bicycles on the road, in the dark. Most people here do not own cars and so rely on taxis, buses (really passenger vans), bicycles, catching a ride on the back of a friend's bicycle, horses, or their own two feet. One of my favorite sights is the ice cream man who rides a bicycle fitted with a cooler full of ice cream behind his seat. He really has to work at it to get up and down these hills. It is also very common to see a truck full of people standing in the back of it. Sometimes we'll see dump trucks packed full of workers on the way to a construction site. The other day, we were behind a big flatbed truck loaded with rebar so long that it extended over the cab and hung off the back. Two men were standing behind the cab, one holding a push broom ready to push power lines up out of the way as they passed (see above photo).

If there is an accident, you may see a branch from a tree thrown out into the road as a warning. Along the unpaved roads, it is common to use ropes for speed bumps. If you drive into Jonesville or Oak Ridge, be prepared for an amazing series of speed bumps. We counted more than 20 in Jonesville, and it is not a big town. It is also extremely common to find a taxi stopped in the middle of the road, waiting for a fare, or maybe just talking to someone, or backing up on the road to go back and get a fare.

So, if you feel adventurous, come on down and go for a drive!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

New Friends, New Sites

We have some new neighbors and friends, Colin and Kaleen and their 12 year old daughter, Kelly. They are missionaries who just moved here to establish an alcohol/drug rehab facility (there is none currently and the need is great) and also to build and set-up another orphanage. They have established orphanages in a number of foreign countries over the past 20 years. Very interesting people; we've enjoyed getting to know them.
Colin has made several trips here, making contacts with officials, contractors, church leaders, ex-pats with big hearts, all sorts of people. He's gotten to know the owners and several residents of Infinity Bay, a beautiful, upscale condo development on Tabyana Beach in an area known as West Bay. He suggested we all go there to snorkel Sunday afternoon after church.
What a fantastic place! Just lovely, with an amazing infinity swimming pool running down the center of the place and overlooking the ocean. The best part for me was that the reef is just a short swim out from the beach. The water was crystal clear, the sand snow white, the water warm but not hot. We swam out a little ways and then just drifted over the reef, and then I noticed that the water color deepened to a darker blue as the ocean floor dropped down, probably 20 feet or so. The coral formations formed walls through this channel where lots of big fish swam. Some of them were quite curious and would swim right up to my face, others just nipped the backs of my legs.
We swam back in and joined a group of residents at a large table; Colin made the introductions. One of the residents went and got arm bands for all of us so we could use the pool (otherwise restricted to residents and paying guests). There was a local musician playing the keyboard and singing; several people would get up to dance to the island music from time to time. A buffet was set up under some palm trees. An outdoor bar was busy serving all types of beverages. The service was excellent. We ordered an early dinner later in the afternoon.
Very interesting group of people at our table. One of the couples recently retired from the States, bought a condo and live there 10 months of the year. The wife is a speech therapist formerly from Fenton, MO! Small world. One of the men, Vern, is one of the owners of Infinity Bay and also a master plumber/septic tank wizard. Don said he is one of the foremost experts in the country on designing and building environmentally friendly water and sewage systems. He was quite a character. Don also enjoyed talking to another man about alternative power systems, like wind, solar, etc.

There were a lot of people there and many of them, we were told, were wealthy mainland Hondurans, there for the holiday weekend. This past weekend was the annual celebration of Honduras' Independence from Spain in 1821. There was also a big yearly deep-sea fishing tournament going on, and the winning fisherman and fish had just been announced, at least informally. We were told that the winner was a 700+ pound, 14 foot long Marlin caught by the son of a man sitting at the bar. A lot of people took water taxis or the Infinity Bay boat over to West End for the official announcement. A big street carnival was also set up in West End. Colin and Kaleen wanted to go. We talked about going , but decided to avoid the crowd and go home, being tired from the sun, wind, and water. As we drove home and passed the road to West End, we were amazed at the number of cars parked all along the 2 lane black-topped road
as the police had blocked off the entrance into West End and only permitted foot traffic . A good idea since that road is an unpaved, narrow, sandy dirt road, heavily traveled by tourists and taxis and always crowded, even at non-holiday times.

We all had so much fun, that we decided to make this a regular weekly outing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Island Wakes and Funerals

These are our friends, Dennis and Merlin (pronounced Marilyn). We were privileged to share a very sad event with them this weekend. Merlin's 18 year old grandson was killed in a motorcycle accident on Saturday night when an impatient taxi driver attempted to pass him where he should not have.

As is the custom here, they had the body embalmed and paid someone to prepare him and dress him. Merlin and Dennis paid someone to make a casket and bring it to the home of his parents on Sunday. The grandson's body was also brought home on Sunday, and the wake began. A traditional island wake may last 1-3 nights and the family of the deceased is expected to provide plenty of food and alcoholic beverages for all visitors. It is also customary to hire a band or at least one musician to play very loudly all night. By the time the funeral is over, the family is absolutely exhausted and considerably poorer.

Merlin is very tired of this custom. She said they play their music so loud that you can't hear yourself think much less hold a conversation with someone else. When the musician showed up at her son's house, Merlin sent him packing and told her son that he really couldn't afford to pay him and she certainly wasn't going to. She also spoke her mind on the amount of food and alcohol to be served. She really didn't want any alcohol, but was apparently overruled.

We did not attend the wake, in fact, we didn't even realize that they were already holding it until late in the night when we heard music drifting up the hill from Shane's house and a few times heard loud wailing. We also heard cars coming and going. Sound travels very well at night on this hillside.

The funeral was held on Monday afternoon, again at the parent's home. We attended and had offered to do whatever needed to be done. They asked us to drive some of the guests to the cemetery. We walked down the hill to Shane's house at 3 p.m. The open casket was on the front porch, surrounded by family and the preacher. Elsa, the mother, was at the head of the casket, leaning over her son's body. That alone was heartbreaking to watch. The yard was full of people standing or sitting. Many people were sitting outside their cars in the shade. Shortly after we arrived, Dennis and Merlin arrived and stood in the yard. Dennis was busy taking pictures for Merlin's daughter who lives in Florida and wasn't able to get here. The girls and women were all dressed up, wearing mostly browns or black. The men were dressed mostly in long slacks, although a few were wearing shorts, like Dennis and Don. Some wore long-sleeved dress shirts but no one wore a suit or even a sport coat.

The preacher started right on time and seemed like he was just getting warmed up, preaching on the importance of getting right with God before it's too late, when he suddenly stopped. We learned later that Merlin had told him to only preach 20 minutes, no more. (Dennis and Merlin once attended a funeral where 7 preachers participated, taking turns preaching, and the service lasted 7 hours! They left for awhile in the middle of it, went and got a beer and some lunch, came back and it was still going. Then, at the cemetery, all the preachers had more to say. Merlin wasn't about to let that happen here.) While he was preaching, a cell phone rang and a young lady standing in front of us answered it and had a discreet conversation. A young man who was standing on the porch not 3 or 4 feet from the grieving mother, answered his cell phone and held a conversation during the service! Just like in the States. Good grief!! A young lady read a poem and named all the surviving family members. Someone else read a Psalm and then led the singing of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". As soon as the singing began, the mother began wailing and screaming. It was gut wrenching. When they attempted to close the casket, her hysteria increased and she refused to let them close the lid. Several women standing around her comforted her, and a young man calmed her down and finally convinced her to let go. She was led from the house and the family followed, giving the young pallbearers room to come up and remove the casket.

Everyone headed for a vehicle, and there were many, so many so that ours was not needed. We rode with Dennis and Merlin in the long, slow procession to the cemetery in Flowers Bay. The cemetery sits just across the road from the sea. On the way to the "boneyard" (as Dennis is fond of saying), they told us about the rush of all the preparations, of hiring men to prepare a tomb. This cemetery is on a hillside, rather steep. The caskets are all placed inside concrete tombs and sealed shut. The tombs are dug partially into the hillside but are mostly above ground, New Orleans style. Some of the tombs are stacked up double, some have been decorated with ceramic tile, some have small tombstones or the names engraved in the tomb. Dennis had all the necessary sand, cement, concrete blocks, etc. on hand, being used in the construction of his latest house, and he delivered these to the cemetery early Monday morning. The tomb builders were paid in rum, which is also traditional, but were encouraged to finish the work before sampling the rum.

When we arrived, being one of the last vehicles to do so, the 2 lane blacktop road was lined with cars and trucks, including the pickup truck which had carried the casket and the larger truck which had carried the uniformed band members in the open bed. (The band members had marched in the Independence Day parade earlier that day.) Many more people were there than had been present at the house. Merlin said a lot of people had come from French Harbor just for the burial. He was a very popular young man. There were so many people already gathered around the tomb that we couldn't get very close, so we stood up higher on the hillside and still were unable to see very well. The wind was blowing so hard that we also had difficulty hearing. There was a big group of singers standing near the tomb who must have sung at least 10 songs, mostly old gospel type songs. Wish we could have heard them better; they were pretty good. A group of young school children came in, still wearing their school uniforms from the parade earlier, and carrying simple plastic wreaths. These were the only flowers I saw. The family seemed to be scattered all around, just as at the funeral. One of Merlin's daughters stayed on the sidewalk just outside the cemetery, holding her sleeping son. Saw a young man talking on his cell phone while leaning on another tomb nearby. A number of people talked throughout the graveside service. The tomb builders began sealing the tomb shut while everyone was still gathered about. The singers had stopped, but began singing again.

Finally, people started drifting away, out to their cars, stopping to talk along the way. Everyone wanted to stop and have a word with Merlin, so our progress was very slow. Then everyone just went home. The family didn't gather for a meal together. Unlike in the States, friends and neighbors do not bring food to the home, nor do the churches provide a funeral meal. Some funerals are held in churches, some at home as this one was. There was no opportunity at the funeral or graveside for us to extend condolences to the parents. Perhaps this is all done at the wake, I do not know. I don't think it is customary to send sympathy cards, in fact, I have never seen any type of greeting card on this island. (My cousin, Robyn, who works for Hallmark won't like hearing that!)

Dennis and Merlin were exhausted, as was the rest of the family, I'm sure, having all been up since the accident Saturday night. And today was a normal work day for everyone, even the grieving parents.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Attempted Banking and Other Perils

Our efforts to open an account here have been a lesson in patience (I've had a lot of those lessons lately). When we were building the house and up until we actually arrived here, all our banking was handled by our friends, Dennis and Merlin. They set up an account and we wired money down to cover expenses which they then paid. Once we were moved in, we wanted to open our own account, of course. Here's what transpired:
The first week we were here, we went into Coxen Hole with Dennis and Merlin, went to the bank and they withdrew money from our account. While there, Merlin asked the accounts person if we could open an account there without a residency card. The woman, who spoke only Spanish, said yes, and that we would need to bring copies of our passports and our last bank statement. We said, "hmm, that could be a problem as we don't have any statements with us and we do all our banking electronically anyway (an unheard of concept here). Could we make a photocopy of our last statement and bring that?" We were told yes.
A couple of days later, Merlin stopped by on her way into Coxen Hole to see if we wanted to go back to the bank. We will need Merlin's Spanish speaking skills to translate for us. We had not yet made the copies of our documents so we opted to wait until the following week. We still did not have our internet yet, so we had to go up to their house to access our account and make the necessary copies on Dennis' copier.
The next week, we followed them into Coxen Hole with instructions to meet them at the bank. We did, after we found the right bank again. We first went to HSBC instead of Banco Atlantida and knew it didn't look the same (we're quick that way), so we backtracked down the street to the right one. We still didn't get the account opened. First they didn't want to put Dennis or Merlin's name on our new account which we wanted as a safety measure for our kids in case we were to die. Then they wouldn't accept the copies of our bank statements. Apparently they really wanted a letter of reference from our bank in St. Louis saying how long we've had an account with them and if we're in good standing. Seems to me they could tell that from looking at our bank statements. And why didn't she tell us this last week? She did say it was ok to have the bank e-mail the letter of reference to us and then we could bring it in to her. The copies of our passports seemed acceptable, but we will bring in the originals next time, just in case.

On the way home, we went to the aduana office to change the title on the RAV4 that we bought from Dennis. They didn't like the copy of my passport, not easy to read the number, but they agreed to try it and if it was not acceptable, they would call me to bring in the original. Don wanted this car to be in my name only. Dennis and I had to sign the application for change of title and place our thumbprint by our signatures. Then we paid the aduana 3850 lempiras (a little over $200.). Dennis had to go get his passport (he's a Canadian citizen but a Roatan resident).
They will prepare the new title and I can pick it up later in the week. I will use the new title to renew the license plate, BUT not until October! Until then, I can just keep using the same license that Dennis paid for. When I renew the license, I just go to the bank, present the laminated title and $200. US/registration and they will print out a new one saying I'm good for a year. That's it.

The next week we were to go back to the bank on Monday, but Dennis was unable to go, so we agreed on Tuesday. Don and I went to French Harbor and attempted to pay for our groceries with our Visa; it was denied. We stopped at another store and again our Visa was denied. Curious; we had just paid it off and had a lot of available credit. We checked our Visa balance when we got back home and went up to Dennis' to use his computer. There was a mysterious charge of $550. from last Wednesday. It wasn't from anything we had charged. We hadn't even gone out last Wednesday (I know, I keep a journal). Don sent an e-mail to our banker in St. Louis asking her to look into it.

Tuesday I woke up sick as a dog, probably from the conch I ate the night before, so I was indisposed and unable to go. Don and Merlin went, taking all the copies, the reference letter from the bank and passports. They had to make two trips as Merlin forgot the bank book from our account that is in their names. Finally they got the bank account set up - in Don's name and Merlin's. Yup, they went ahead and allowed it this week. Dave and Rachel were listed as beneficiaries. They wouldn't put my name on the account since I wasn't present, so yet another trip awaited us! Don was told that he can add as many people onto the account as he'd like.

Now here's another fun fact: every trip to the bank can take anywhere from 1-1/2 to 2 hours. You can see why we dreaded yet another trip. It's best to go early in the day and it helps if you are above 60 because they have an old people line that moves much more quickly and has chairs so you can sit while you wait. Pregnant women are also allowed to use this line. Also, this teller
speaks English.

The next week, while Rachel was here, we went back to the bank (we are such suckers for punishment) taking our passports with us. Don withdrew money from the account and told the teller that he wanted to add Rachel and I to the account as users. We had to go see the "add people to the account" person, who spoke some English. That was ok, we had Rachel, who speaks fairly good Spanish. We explained what we wanted, presented our passports which were scrutinized and then taken into another cubicle and presented to another woman. She came back and said we would each need to produce a letter of reference from our banks back home unless we had an account with Banco Atlantida already! I was flabbergasted. I explained that she already had a letter of reference from our bank and since we had a joint account, it also applied to me. She said I would have to provide another copy as all their copies of documents are sent to the mainland and not kept there and they would need to see my letter before they could approve adding me to the account. Rachel said "forget it, just leave me as a beneficiary."

We heard back from our banker in St. Louis. Our Visa had been frozen due to suspected suspicious activity which is why we weren't able to use it. She said it had been used to make a purchase of computer software online or by phone, so no signature or actual card required. She gave the link to the website but it didn't seem legit to me, seemed to be a site for buying domain names. She said the block on our card would remain until we asked her to remove it. That's the only credit card we brought with us. Without it, we're limited to cash only, which means standing in the bank line every week for 1-1/2-2 hours. We had to report the card as lost or stolen in order to protest the charge, so we did. They will, of course, issue a new card but we had to work around the usual procedures since all our mail is being forwarded to Rachel in California and the post office will not forward credit cards. Also, how to activate the card? Usually you call from your home phone to do so. We sent a letter of authorization to our banker granting permission to mail the card directly to Rachel. We're waiting to hear how to activate it.

And the bank account here? Still in Don and Merlin's name. We did print another copy of the e-mailed letter of reference but haven't gone back to stand in line.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

SonRise Calvary

We were delighted to find a wonderful new church home-away-from-home, SonRise Calvary. It is a small, very informal, very welcoming church body. The first ones we met were Tia, the preacher's wife, and her mother, Kathy, who greeted arrivals. Next we met 2 of the preacher's sons and another young man, formerly from Montana, who is the worship/song leader and plays the guitar. The worship starts with Donnie leading singing, 2 or 3 songs in English and then 2 songs in Spanish. I knew the songs just from the melody but was thankful to see the Spanish words being projected up front. The scripture reading is in both English and Spanish, and then the Spanish speaking people are dismissed to a separate room for the sermon in Spanish while the English speakers remain where they are. Pastor Chuck is a very good preacher, funny, Biblical, thought-provoking. No communion; don't know how they do that yet.
After worship, they serve a meal and everyone is invited to stay and fellowship. Amazing that they can feed everyone every week. Simple meal, but good. There were the children from the orphanage across the road and many who were in children's classes or the Spanish worship whom I had not seen before.
The church has a coffee house and is open every morning serving espresso, lattes and pastries. They have wi-fi (at least as long as the one son is in residence) and a small library of books. They also offer men's and women's Bible studies on weekday mornings, Wednesday night service and Friday night prayer. A lot going on for such a small church. They really stress faith in action (a familar message from back home at Lafayette!).
Don and I have been having communion at home on Sunday nights at the same time that our Life group back in St. Louis is having communion. We love to feel that spirit of unity.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Shipment: Trickery?

Three weeks after our arrival, we learned that our shipment from the States had arrived. We picked up the bill of lading from Jackson Shipping in French Harbor and took it to a broker at the Aduana (duty) office in Plaza Mar. The broker wanted a detailed list of the contents and the cost of the items, which Don had. He looked it over, figured out the duty and called us the next day with the total. Dennis and Merlin loaned us the money so we wouldn't have to go to the bank first, told us to rush down to the Aduana and pay him before noon so the broker would have time to go to the bank and we should be able to get our shipment that same day. We didn't understand that at all, but off we went. We went back to the Aduana office and paid him $1290.42 US which included his commission. He gave us a receipt and left immediately for the bank. He said if he was able to deposit our money before 3 p.m., he would call us and meet us at Jackson Shipping. (More of the fun of banking on Roatan in another blog.)
Around 2 p.m. the customs agent called and said he was on his way to French Harbor and we should meet him at Jackson Shipping. Off we went. Both he and the broker were there. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. The agent gave Don a couple of hard looks, like he was sizing him up. I guess he decided that Don didn't look like a smuggler or a crook because he took out his official seal, stamped our papers, and handed them to us saying "ok, all done".
We called our friend, Dennis, and told him we were finished and ready for Chungo to come with his truck and pick up the shipment. He regularly uses Chungo for pickups and deliveries.
We were called inside to the office and asked if we had pre-paid the shipping. We said yes. She asked for copies of receipts and manifests which we didn't have since we used a moving company to deliver the shipment to Jackson Shipping in Tampa and they were to pre-pay the shipping costs out of the money we had paid them. Besides, we were already on Roatan before the shipment left Tampa. She called the Tampa office, but it was after 4:30 ET and they had closed for the day. We would have to check back the next day. We called Dennis back, asked him to call Chungo and cancel for today.

The next day we called Mitzi at Jackson Shipping and learned that the shipment had NOT been prepaid and that we owed $1072. US. We don't know what happened with Cord Moving. Don will have to contact them. Dennis and Merlin loaned us another $1000. so we wouldn't waste the morning at the bank. Dennis called Chungo to meet us in French Harbor. This is where the story gets really interesting.

We got to Jackson, paid, got a receipt and waited for Chungo. The warehouse guys asked who was picking up the shipment. They shook their heads at the name "Chungo" like they had never heard of him. We said that Dennis Smyth used Chungo all the time for deliveries. They told us that his name wasn't Chungo, it was Nando. Now, we should have been suspicious but we know how Dennis gets names mixed up, so we just accepted this as fact. The guys said Nando's truck was not big enough to hold our shipment. One of them supposedly called him and then went out and got a friend with a bigger truck to come. He just started backing in to the warehouse door. Don stopped him and said NO. We have an agreement with Chungo-Nando. I called Dennis who agreed that they were pulling a fast one. He said Chungo went to the other shipping company by mistake but was on his way. The warehouse guys kept arguing with us (mostly in Spanish, so it was a pretty one-sided argument). When Chungo-Nando showed up in his blue truck, it looked pretty big but wasn't tall enough to just lift the containers up onto the bed. The containers had to be opened, the contents taken out and rearranged to fit the space. All the while, these warehouse guys and the other truck driver are shaking their heads and muttering. The warehouse manager sat in the shade tinkering with a motor, unconcerned with the action.

Even more fun, Chungo-Nando spoke NO English, but, thankfully, one of his helpers did. He kind of took charge, asking us questions, following our wishes. Boy, was that stuff well packed. The crates were incredibly difficult to open. They used a fork lift to move them out to the truck and then crowbars and hammers to pry the containers open. Interestingly, Chungo-Nando didn't seem to know where Dennis lived or where Sandy Bay was, despite having hauled many loads for him and supposedly living not that far away. We tried giving directions, but in the end, they just followed us. The 3 guys quickly unloaded the truck, putting boxes where I pointed. We paid Chungo-Nando double what Dennis had suggested because we felt bad about him making that wasted trip the day before.

Discovered that Chungo is NOT Nando. We don't know what happened to Chungo. Dennis had stopped him on the road from French Harbor and sent him back to Jackson Shipping. The only guy we ever saw show up was Nando. Chungo does speak English, has a white truck, lives down the hill from all of us. Nando was clueless for a good reason: he wasn't Chungo. So what went on? Clearly the warehouse guys were manipulating the situation. Well, the mission was accomplished anyway. Just another example of the perils of not speaking Spanish well enough. We still felt really bad about Chungo and a little bit peeved that we had paid Nando so much. We never have learned what happened to Chungo.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Slingbox Adventure: Hope and Despair

We were so thrilled to have internet, but we still had no t.v. HughesNet is only an internet provider. We considered getting a Directv satellite dish and service from Paradise computers at a cost of $1900. for the dish plus installation plus whatever programming package we would choose. That seemed ridiculous. We considered tapping into our friend's satellite and running a cable to our house, but we weren't sure if the distance would be too great. The cable t.v. company had attempted to run a cable up our hill, got about 2/3 of the way up and the string (literally a string!) that they were using to pull the cable through the underground pipe broke. So they quit! That was one year ago. Who knows how long it will take to find another piece of string and give it another try.

Our son-in-law, who is just so knowledgeable about all things electronic, suggested a Slingbox. We had never heard of it, didn't know what it was or what it did. He said his company uses them a lot. It's a device that attaches to the host t.v. and via the internet can then be viewed remotely on a monitor or even a t.v. Huh? Lance said we could try out the one his company owns and if it worked well and we liked it, he would buy one and attach it to his t.v. at home allowing us to access whatever programming he gets, plus his Tivo. Sounded good to us. He had to e-mail instructions to us. We then downloaded the software for the Slingbox and followed his remaining directions for connecting to his t.v. at work in L.A. We got stuck and had to call our daughter, so she tried it herself in order to talk us through it. A small t.v. screen popped up on our monitor, we pressed play and viola! there was Dr. Phil!! We were so impressed. Lance had said we could play with it for about an hour until it would be needed by some of his colleagues. So we channel surfed. Rachel also tried to change channels and received a message saying that Roatan had control!

There was a fly in the ointment, however. Remember in my previous blog when I mentioned that we had a cap of 200MB per day on downloads? Well, we greatly exceeded our limit that first day. The Slingbox download alone was quite large, but the streaming video was huge. We noticed that our computers were operating very slooooowly that second day. When Don went online and checked our usage, he saw the overage. We made one more stab at t.v. viewing on day 3. We watched 15 minutes of the Los Angeles morning news and then later checked the usage posting (there's about a 2 hour lag) and found that 15 mins. translated to 57MB. Just one hour of t.v. viewing would exceed our daily limit. Clearly this wasn't going to work.
So, we still have no t.v. and with that daily limit, I'm not even going to be able to watch LOST through the internet.

We're currently looking for a Directv dish that Don can install himself like he did at our St. Louis house. Paradise Computers sells a small dish, smaller than what our friend, Dennis, has. He said the difference is that Directv has a second satellite that sells programming to Central America and uses those smaller dishes. They are too small to be able to pick up the programming from the larger satellite that we get in the States. We're holding out for the larger dish and LOST.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The satellite connection

Encouraged by our success with the cell phone, we began exploring other options for internet connections. DSL was out, at least for the foreseeable future. Our friends had graciously been allowing us to use their computer to check e-mail. We didn't want to wear out our welcome at Dennis and Merlin's home and had no desire to go hunt up an internet cafe everyday. We needed a better solution.
We discovered HughesNet, a satellite internet provider, quite by chance. Their office in French Harbor is in the building next door to our insurance agent. We stopped in, asked questions, brought home some information. They offered a rental plan: $200. US installation and $99./per month, or purchase plan: $800. installation /purchase and $79./month with a 24 month contract. Two companies offer HughesNet, so the next day we checked with the other company. They had no rental plan and charged $1900. US for purchase, plus installation and $99./month with an 18 month contract. We decided to go with the first company, went in to sign the contract and make the payment. The office manager asked if we could take the equipment, including the dish and a ladder with us. We thought this was rather interesting. We understood why when the installer arrived the next day on a motorcycle with two tool cases and a large spool of cable. He said maybe in a year or two he could afford to buy a car. Very nice young man, worked for about 3 hours in the 95 degree heat, sweating buckets, setting up the satellite dish and connecting the modem and the wireless router. Don helped him. Julio was very impressed with Don's cordless drill, apparently those aren't available here. When he was nearly finished, he made a phone call and asked someone to come pick up the ladder. He left his business card and offered his help if we run into any problems. Don gave him a very nice tip (tips are standard practice here for virtually anything). He showed us how to access our account at HughesNet to check our download usage (limited to 200MB per day).
Yahoo! We were connected to the rest of the world. We took my laptop into our one air-conditioned room and sent off e-mails the the family.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting connected

We discovered that getting connected with the outside world is not an easy task here. We explored many options only to learn that there were no new phone lines available, then that changed to a possibility if we bought the wire and hired a guy to install it. The wire proved quite expensive and we would have to measure the distance from pole to our house to determine the amount of wire needed, then go to La Cieba to get the wire. We went to the phone company office where our friend signed the paperwork for 5 new phone lines; we can't have one in our name, but we did get a phone number. However, we were told that there were no DSL lines available and wouldn't be before maybe April. Our friend will check with another contact and see if a DSL line can somehow become available sooner.
After measuring the length of phone wire needed, 1500-1600 feet, we learned that the phone company wouldn't run any more than 1200-1300 feet. Thankfully our friends had not bought any wire yet! Our friend spoke with someone else at the phone company and was told that they could get cable run for 8-12 phone lines for about 85000 lempira ($4497.35 US), but still no DSL. We gave up on the idea of a land line at that point and got a cell phone.
When Rachel arrived for a visit, we went to the Claro store to buy a phone. She was our interpreter as the staff only spoke Spanish. We bought the cheapest cell phone available, about $20 US and bought 2 phone cards for 600 lempira ($60. US). We don't know how many minutes that yields but were told that we could call the States for just pennies per minute. The first person we called was our son, Dave. Rachel made the call and it scared him to death. He thought something was dreadfully wrong and was very relieved when reassured differently.
Next we called my parents who were just thrilled to death to hear from us. It was so good to talk to everyone after a month of silence. (We had told everyone not to expect any phone calls from us except in an emergency. When we called Roatan from the States, it cost us $5.00 per minute!)
We still aren't sure what the per minute cost is for these calls. I have made several 20-30 minute calls to the States and still have a balance of 530 lempira, plus I have a bonus balance of 850 lempira. I had to ask what that was. The bonus can only be used to call other Claro customers locally. That's cool.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Welcome! Come on out on the deck and visit. The view is fabulous, sunsets spectacular. I'll share some adventures of living on Roatan.

Some good things about living here:
snorkel before breakfast
don't have to wear shoes
bananas, mangos, avocados plentiful
January temperature never below 70 degrees F.
lots of good seafood
abundant dive sites
ocean breezes
cheap cell phone rates (even to the States)
so far, we have no t.v.

Some bad things about living here:
high gasoline (over $5.00/gal. US)
electricity expensive (7x St. Louis rates)
frequent power outages
difficult getting a landline phone
so far, we have no t.v.