Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I think it's spring - at least according to the calendar. Not according to parts of the midwest that have been hit with snowstorms - glad I'm missing that! We're past the rainy season here and have definitely left the cooler temperatures behind. The winds are beginning to shift back around to the east, to our sorrow, since our deck faces west. This is our first time to be here in late March and we've noticed that just this week, along with the hotter temperatures, there is a haziness early in the morning and again late in the day which we've never observed before. Some mornings the ocean view is obscured by this haze and yet, looking up, the sky is clear. The sunsets have also been hazy and are not as pretty as when there are some clouds to add interesting depth and color to the sky. We have been spoiled, haven't we?

I'm constantly noticing some plant or tree or flower that I've never really seen before. The trees down our hill are all blooming, some are purple, some pink and some appear to be white. I think some of these are what Merlin calls samwood trees. The woodpeckers really like them for some reason, seems to be their favorite tree.

I was just lamenting how frustrating it can be in trying to take care of business here, always seems to require 2 or 3 or more tries. For example, we bought paint for the interior walls, painted and realized it was dreadful, watery, streaky paint. So back we go to the paint store, shell out another $70. for 2 gallons of paint. Luckily, the paint mixer guy realized that he had mixed the wrong color before we left the store, or that would have been another trip back.

This week's agenda includes getting new 90-day visas and getting a new electric meter. We already had one try for each of those and got nothing much accomplished. Dennis and Merlin went with us to RECO, the electric company, so Merlin could translate and explain what was needed. It took Merlin a long time to explain to the office girl and even longer for her to actually understand. We have an electric meter and service to our house, of course, but the meter is in Merlin's name, the bill comes out in her name, but we pay for it. They need to get a another meter for their newest house, so - get this - apparently they cannot have another meter in their name, so we have to get one in our name and have it installed and give them back the one we've been using! They already have at least 6 meters for various houses on this hill. I can't imagine why we can't keep our meter, change the name on the account, buy a new meter and give it to them. That makes sense to me, but apparently only to me. So, in order to do this, RECO must come out and do a visual inspection, then we need to give them a copy of the signed paperwork from when we bought the property from Merlin and 1900 lempiras, then, assuming they don't think of some other silly obstacle, RECO will come out and change the meters. Oh yeah, and don't miss the part about how we have to buy the meter. It could be worse - Dennis and Merlin also had to buy the transformers! So, tomorrow we'll go back to RECO after we make certain that the inspection happened today. Then we'll deal with the visas.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Last Look at Cayos

Playing school - guess which one elected to be the teacher! She was bossy, too.

Their school. Only kindergarteners go here. First - sixth grades go by boat to Cayos Grande, older students must go to the mainland. One girl just left for Cuba to attend medical school!

This fooseball table seemed very out of place here, but I guess they all need a little recreation.

These men were doing a little carpentry work.

Dirty clothes pile. Clothes are washed by hand and hung on a line, a tree branch, a pile of rocks, or most anywhere to dry.

Iguana. I don't know if Garifuna eat iguanas, but many Hondurans do.

This precious little one had a small Bible opened on her lap like she was reading it, although I doubt that she is able to read just yet. This was during our evening worship time.

I loved this little one's big smile. Most Hondurans do not smile for the camera.

One of the women on kitchen duty.

This man was making jewelry to sell to visitors. He was smoothing the rough edges of a ring made from wood, which our friend Kellie then bought for $5. Several of the women also make and sell jewelry, all very inexpensive. I bought two necklaces for $10.

This little naked boy was getting picked on by the bigger kids and needed consoling. He didn't want me to put him down either! We found the Garifuna people to be warm, friendly and charming. I hope to go again some day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunset, Sunrise, & Snorkeling on Cayos

Sunset on the leeward side of the island

Sunrise on the windward side - where our cabin faced.

We snorkeled only on the leeward side - much calmer. We swam out to the reef, and although there were some fish along the way to the reef, there was really no coral until we got further out. Where the color changes to dark blue, the water was very deep, lots of big coral formations: fans, brain coral, tubes, vases, sea rods, corky sea fingers, sheet coral, anemones. The most unusual fish we saw was a flying fish called a flying gurnard. It is dark gray with white spots and when alarmed, will extend its pectoral fins into wings. We also saw pipefish, barracuda, French angel, butterfly fish, wrasses, hamlets, basslets, parrotfish - all kinds, blue tang, grouper, squirrelfish, and much more. Just beautiful.

Truly paradise. You should come.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Garifuna Village

This is one of the Garifuna homes in the village of Chachahuata. It has "windows" on the sides to allow light and air flow. They all have curtains hanging for privacy. There is plenty of air flow between boards, too!

A view into the center of the village. The building under construction on the right is the new cultural center.

A Garifuna woman cleaning a fish. The evening meal we were served was a fish soup, full of vegetables like potato, carrot, onion and plantain, and a very large, 2 inch thick slice of barracuda. We had a little table discussion about whether barracuda can be poisonous at certain times of the year. Our friend, Merlin, says it is and always lets someone else eat the barracuda first (and live) before she'll try it. We heard that the local people test the safety by dropping a chunk of the fish on the ground, if the ants won't eat it, they won't either. Apparently, it was safe; we all survived, and the soup was delicious!

A mud stove, fueled with wood. They boil water in the tea kettle and pour it through a filter filled with coffee to make a cup 'o joe - just like I do when our power is out! Their coffee is very strong, very black, but smooth and delicious.

The children showing off a litter of kittens and offering them to us. They were only about 3 weeks old, so Anna explained to them that the kittens needed to stay with their mama for a few more weeks. Kellie really wanted to bring one back and even called her dad to ask permission (denied). And yes, cell phones worked here. The Cayos are only about 10+ miles from the mainland and lots of cell phone towers. Even the Garifuna have cell phones.

A little girl of about 5 years of age, performing her morning chores.

This goal post looking thing was constructed for beach volleyball for the kids. I didn't see anyone playing, nor did I ever see a ball or a net. The hammocks under the thatched roof were a popular spot to rest and visit for both residents and visitors. Great place to watch the sunset. In the very early morning, as Don and I walked around the island longing for someone to get up and make coffee, we saw people sleeping in these hammocks, on mattresses drug outside, and even in a pop-up tent on the beach. We met a man who lives on a nearby island who had rowed his boat over to Chachahuata during the night when the wind caused waves so high that he was being swamped. He said it was very, very difficult and tiring to row, but too dangerous to stay put. He slept on the windswept beach, soaking wet and no doubt quite cold.

Why were Don and I up before almost everyone else? We are just early, early risers, and we had gone to sleep quite early. The village only runs a generator to supply power for lights from 6-9 p.m. and each room has one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Some of the rooms had candles, but ours did not. And let me tell you how dark, dark is in a place that has no lights at all. The night sky is quite spectacular and many stars were still visible when we first got up. Very cool to be on a little flat island where you can clearly see both sunrise and sunset.

Women dancing the Punta, a traditional Garifuna dance, while the drummers provide the beat. They also chant or sing in their native dialect the story of the Garifuna people while they dance. One of the council leaders later told us their history in English. There is a Garifuna village on Roatan that has an annual reinactment of their arrival here centuries ago,complete with costumes and boat landings. I'd like to see that.

Friday, March 27, 2009

In Search of the Pink Boas

After lunch and a snorkel, we were ready to venture out in this boat, the Miss Angely, for a short ride over to Cayo Grande, home of the pink boa constrictors. Apparently this is the only place in the world where they are found. Marcos was our guide, assisted by the boy who is baling out the boat. I soon understood why he was baling; the boat sits rather low in the water under a load of 6 people and 1 dog. The waves were high enough to give us all a pretty good dousing. Karl and Courtney and Karl's dog, Uno sat in the first seat and received the brunt of the spraying. It wasn't long before Uno made his way further back in the boat, but even then, the rocking motion was too much for him on top of his lunch feast of fish heads (cooked), and pretty soon he barfed - right on my knee. Oh well, another wave soon took care of that!

Once docked at Cayo Grande, we began the search. The first spot didn't pan out, but a boy who lives on that island offered to lead us to a likely location - up hill, a steep, steep hill. So we climbed, and climbed but didn't see any snakes hanging from the trees. We reached the summit and started down the other side. "Hold it right there! If we go down, do we have to come back up here in order to go back down the other side?" "Yup", he said. "Ok, then you go on and I will wait right here - if you find something, holler and I'll come", I said. I'm glad I made that choice because they found nothing. We returned to Chachahuata disappointed, not to mention hot and tired.

So imagine our surprise the next morning when one of the men brings this small pink boa out of his hut. He had found it a month ago and brought it back to show his children, then it got loose in his hut and he had been unable to find it until that day! So we all got to hold it. I don't know if the adults get pinker with age. As you can see, only the head is pinkish on this young one.

This is the man who found the boa and me holding the boa, which blends in rather well with my pink shirt. I could feel him applying pressure against my arm as I held him. Interesting feeling - glad he was small.

To my right is the guest quarters of 8 rooms. By each door you can see the red 5 gallon buckets of water for all our washing needs. Our room, behind me, was on the windward side of the island. We soon discovered that living on a tiny island like that with very strong ocean breezes keeps everything coated with salt. Our skin felt sticky, our clothes were well salted, our glasses were constantly filmy despite frequent wipings and dunkings in the buckets of water.

Don and the boa.

This is the outhouse, being cleaned by one of the women. The big blue barrel is full of sea water for flushing the toilet. Bring your own toilet paper.

The people live on fish, rice, beans and plantains.

We saw several of these little "sailboats" come in. This one had a white plastic sail. The others had black sails that looked like recycled garbage bags. But they worked.

An outdoor kitchen where dishes are washed.

That table with the smoke rising from it is a stove. They also use mud ovens, both fueled with firewood. The co-operative kitchen had a larger propane stove for preparing guest meals.

These boys are bringing firewood over from one of the larger islands.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Trip to Cayos Cochinos

This is the boat, owned and operated by Greg Baldwin, which brought us to Cayos Cochinos on Tuesday. There were 13 passengers plus Greg, first mate J.J., and two dogs. We had a pretty bouncy trip over but we were all ok until we stopped to fish along the way. You can see that the boat is outfitted for deep sea fishing. Some of the men in our group were anxious to try their hand at fishing and Greg was happy to oblige them, calling this area "some of the best fishing around". Greg had spotted some tuna running along side the boat. While sitting there bouncing, some of us began feeling queasy - some a little, some a lot. Poor Kellie was miserable and was finally quite sick. That got some attention and we were soon on our way again. Sadly, not one fish was caught. We did see a lot of dolphins jumping across our wake. Three times Karl spotted a suspicious white box floating in the sea. This is also an area known for drug drops/pickups.

Is this perfect or what!? This is Lower Monitor Cay, inhabited only by the Garifuna people. It's about 1/3 mile long.

The village of Chachahuate covers the whole island and is home to 63 Garifuna people. The Cayos Cochinos has been a Marine Biological Reserve since 1994, so no commercial fishing is allowed within an 8 kilometer perimeter. The Garifuna survive by fishing. They were helped out by the World Wildlife Foundation who came to the island and helped establish another way to earn a living - tourism. The WWF helped build cabins for lodging tourists, put in two composting toilets, and a cooperative kitchen for feeding the tourists. The kitchen is run by a co-op of women who take turns cooking for guests, each one responsible for feeding 25 people. They are supervised by Roman, one of the council members. If you want coffee, he will designate who makes it. It seems to work well. There are also a couple of small pulperias where anyone can buy snacks, cold drinks, a few medications, some grocery items. There is no fresh water on the island, it must be carried in by boat. We were told to bring bottled water for ourselves or survive on soft drinks, coffee, or beer. We were later given a 5 gallon bucket of fresh water primarily for washing up, although the man who delivered the buckets indicated that it was ok to drink it. We didn't.

On the boat, waiting for the small boat to ferry us to shore.

Pelicans waiting for someone to throw fish guts out into the water - a frequent occurence.

Don, taking in the pristine beauty. The island straight ahead is Cayo Pequeno.

Once settled into our spartan rooms containing a bed (Don and I had a double bed, most cabins had bunk beds), a table, 2 plastic chairs, a small mirror on the wall, and one light bulb hanging from the ceiling, we were shown the location of the bathroom and shower. The bathroom is a small outhouse (a one-holer, as we would say in Missouri), with a composting toilet and a bucket of sea water to flush it with. There are actually two outhouses, back to back. The Garifuna use one, visitors use the other. The shower house was larger and upon investigation was found to contain 2 bunk beds and a shelf with a bucket of water - empty. We thought we must be in the wrong building, but no, this was it. You shower by taking your big bucket of water and pouring some of it over your head with a smaller bowl. We then had time to walk around the island, meet some of the people, take some pictures before gathering in the thatched dining room. We were soon feasting on an incredible fish dinner - each person got a whole fish, plus rice and beans and fried plantains. The fish was sooooo good!

Then it was time to snorkel....

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Off on an Adventure

We're going on a little overnight trip to Cayos Cochinos, a group of 2 small pristine islands and 13 smaller cays, a 45 minute boat ride from here. We'll be staying in Chachahuate, a Garifuna village on Lower Monitor Cay. Rather primitive conditions, I think. The World Wildlife Federation built some cabins and a kitchen for the Garifuna people to host visitors, othewise they survive by fishing. The snorkeling and diving are apparently quite spectacular there. The whole area is a Marine Biological Reserve.

Back tomorrow!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Guard Rail, Roatan Style

This is how they do it here. This hole is actually quite deep. I'm impressed that they even tied a bit of blue plastic to the tree branches.
I'm not sure if this is the spot where the Caterpillar ran off the road, but our friend Courtney told us a funny story about the Cat the other day. She was driving behind him, going very slowly up and down the hills and around the curves, afraid to pass him. She didn't know if he was drunk or just a lousy driver, but he was weaving all over the road. And then she watched in horror as he ran off the road, down a bit of a hill into a ditch, breaking off a chunk of the road, and then tipping over and breaking in half (that's how she described it). We did notice some very deep ruts nearby.
Don said that it's not all that easy to drive a Cat; apparently you drive with foot pedals, so maybe the guy really didn't know how to operate it well. He'll probably never get a chance to learn; I imagine he's unemployed now.

Scenes from the Road and from the Hill

As we were standing here at the bottom of our hill waiting for a taxi yesterday morning, I took this photo of our neighbor's pizza place just across the road. We were on our way in to Coxen Hole to pick up our car from the mechanic, go to the bank, grocery store and buy a new movie.

This is the entrance to our hill, directly across the road from the pizza place. The large tree on the right behind the white post is an avocado tree in bloom. Behind that tree is the home of Merlin's daughter, Laurie - owner of the pizza shop.

This is our very steep hillside below our deck and that is Merlin going down hill. We tried to talk her out of it since Don had once slipped and slid almost all the way down to the ravine. She didn't think the hill looked that steep and anyway, said she was used to climbing hills like that. She wanted to see if the large bunch of plantains were ready to pick and couldn't see them anymore from our deck. Then she wondered if someone had taken them or if they were just hidden. And yes, someone had.

While down there she decided to pick some pigeon peas from a large bush close to the bottom of the hill. She hadn't planned ahead to do this and had nothing to collect them in except her shorts pockets. At this point she decided that the hill was really quite steep.

Here she is trying to climb/crawl back up hill. She had already lost her flip flops going downhill and climbed back up barefoot. What a gal! She said she'll have one of her young, agile workers go down the hill and gather the rest of the peas tomorrow, let us shell them, and then she'll make us a big island lunch Tuesday with the peas, coconut milk and who knows what else. She's already planning a feast for when Rachel comes featuring corned beef, rockfish, crab, coconut milk, and vegetables. She said Dennis won't eat it but she likes to make it occasionally. She's also trying to talk us into eating iguana sometime. We told her to try that on Rachel. Island people really like iguana apparently.

Last night's sunset: The sun was just disappearing behind a low cloud and produced this aura.