Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hiking Carambola Mountain

Don was working up at church today, doing some more repairs on Esmerelda's apartment. Debi and I decided to take her daughter, Emily to Carambola Gardens and do the mountain hike. I wouldn't call it a real mountain, but that's what it's locally called.
We all love to take photos. We found lots of mushrooms growing along the way.
Just before the summit, there is a spot where you can look out toward the west and see our hill. That's Dennis and Merlin's new house, and if you click to enlarge the photo, you can even see their swimming pool and the gardener at work! Our house is not visible from this angle.
Once at the summit, there is a lovely little sitting spot that overlooks Anthony's Key Resort.
Debi, who may be a bigger flower lover than I am, spotted some sunflowers growing and had to go after a seed head. This was a brave act on her part as we had just seen a big snake a few minutes earlier and she hates snakes.
Debi trying out my Tilley hat. Looks pretty good!
From that platform overlooking Anthony's Key, there's a great view of the dolphin pens. Click to enlarge and you'll be able to see people swimming with the dolphins.
Debi and Emily under the massive Cohune Palms as we start our hike back down.
It was a perfect day to go to the garden. Not too many tourists (only one cruise ship today and it wasn't in yet). Not too hot. Good breezes. Lovely.

Full Moon

I woke up around 4 a.m. today and it was so light already that I thought it must be time to get up, then I realized that it was the light from the full moon. I couldn't go back to sleep, so I wandered out onto the deck, looked at the stars, saw a shooting star (love that!) and a little after 5 a.m. got my camera out. The sky was so pretty. I like the glow of the moon on the water AND that you can see some lights on in some of the houses. It was worth getting up!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's Beginning....

This is Semana Santa, Holy Week. In Honduras that equates to holiday time, and on Roatan, for most visitors, party time. Typically, this is a busy, noisy week with hotels and rental units full, beaches packed,  restaurants busy,  and grocery stores cleaned out. And normally, the residents stay home.

We're already seeing an increased influx of visitors and traffic as well as an increased police presence. The police have been very visible on the roads and in the most touristy areas. Today we found them sort of directing traffic. Mainly they were keeping vehicles from entering West End which caused a bit of a backup. An empty field just outside the entrance to West End was being used for parking. This is a very good thing in my opinion. The beach road in West End frequently gets clogged up with taxis, vans/buses, construction trucks, and pedestrians; it is even worse during Semana Santa.

We were helping our friend, Kris, move again. She found a cute little cottage in West Bay just a short walk from the beach. Fortunately, we only had to make two trips today. Lots of extra traffic along that road this week. And, also fortunately, the rain held off until after we had carried in the last load. We saw more police at the intersection to West Bay Road and in West Bay by the deli where we ate lunch.

We're pretty well stocked up and will probably stick pretty close to home, other than church or getting together with friends, for the rest of the week.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Visa Time

Well, it's that time again. Time to renew the visas. Can't believe we've already been here 3 months, but we have and our expiring visas prove it.  You may remember that we had tried to renew them a bit earlier in the month, only to be told that it was too early, come back the last week of the month. We were told to come on Monday as there are no cruise ships in port, otherwise it is very difficult to catch the immigration officer in his office. We asked our friend, Luz, who is a native Spanish speaker, to come along with us "just in case".  I really didn't think we would need her - surely we could handle this by ourselves! But Don wanted the added security of someone fluent in Spanish. As it turns out, she was invaluable.

We picked Luz up early this morning and were at the immigration office in Coxen Hole by 9 a.m. No one else was waiting ahead of us and no one was in the office. We waited, and waited, and waited. No one came. I had noticed a small bit of paper taped to the top of the door earlier and finally had the good sense to go over and read it. It said "favor llamar" and listed 3 phone numbers. Hmmmm. Perhaps we should call one of these? I called Luz over to look and she agreed we should try that. I gave her my phone and she called the first one. No answer. Tried the second one. The man who answered told her that the immigration officer was at the airport checking in the Canadian flights. He gave her a number to call there, and she did. The officer said that he was tied up at the airport all morning.  She explained what we needed and asked if we should come there.  "Oh, they'll have to go to Tegucigulpa (on the mainland) for that," he said. "No, no, they are getting their residency and already have their constancia," Luz told him. That was the magic phrase! He agreed to meet us there at 2 p.m. I think without Luz, we would have been sunk.

At 2 p.m., we returned to the office. He was there. We presented our paperwork, he looked it over and then filled out the extension papers. He handed those to us and instructed us to go across the street to the bank, pay the $20/per person fee and bring the paid receipts back to him. Long line in the bank. Luz and I sat down to wait while Don stood in line for an hour. Not that many people ahead of him, but every single person had multiple transactions and took about 15 minutes to complete. We were thankful for our comfortable seats and the air-conditioning. Don was able to sit in the seats reserved for older customers for most of that time though, only standing the last 20 minutes when he was next in line.

Finally, armed with the receipts, we returned to the immigration office, waited a few more minutes for the people ahead of us to finish and were able to complete the renewal process. We left a copy of our constancia with him but have no hope that it will ever be found again. We've seen their "filing" system: bundles of papers stacked wherever there is room, included a couple of small stacks propping up the ceiling at the top of one wall. We'll bring another copy next time. He shook our hands and said see you May 2nd (when this visa expires)! Yup. We'll have to repeat this every month (that we're here) until our residency comes through. Then, hallelujah! we'll be done with the visa business.  We were back home by 4:15.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Turquoise It Is

Yesterday we went to Turquoise Bay with a group of friends. It's a beautiful spot.
They sure picked an apt name - turquoise it is.

Debi had made arrangements for Alejandro to take us out in his boat. Don enjoyed the view.

Debi and I loved the boat ride out to the reef.

Snorkeling over part of the reef, looking for the lionfish Alejandro had spotted. He was down pretty deep, hard to spot
Beautiful water, beautiful snorkeling. The coral is much prettier here.
Alejandro has constructed a very large shark pen now populated with 14 nurse sharks (not dangerous), several turtles, stingray, blue trunkfish and at least one lionfish (see above). This guy was hanging out on the ladder into the tank. Bob flipped him off with the tip of his fin and he came up close to the surface where I could grab this shot.  This is a side view. His head is facing left. Not the greatest shot, but you can see his stripes - mostly black and white, like a zebra, and his fringes. Those fringy projections from his back are the poisonous ones - do not touch!!
One of the turtles coming up for a breath. The water in the pen was rather murky, so I stayed up top where I could get better shots.
We didn't see any turtles out on the reef but some in the group did see some stingray swimming past. The coral out around "The Gate" was fabulous. Much healthier and more colorful than on the west end of the island. We also saw lots of starfish, conch, sand dollars and colorful fish, although nothing very large. It's a beautiful spot to snorkel and commune with nature.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Walk Through Flowers Bay

Debi called early this morning and invited me to go for a walk in Flowers Bay. This is a treat because not only do you get the ocean view while walking, you get to walk on sidewalks!! 
I love these tiny churches in the most interesting locations!
So glad I remembered to bring my camera today. This little bridge leads out to a bench nestled in the mangroves. Peaceful little spot to sit and rest.
Just enough break in the early morning clouds to allow some silvery beams on the water.
Here's the little bench in the mangroves. Might be a good spot to fish.
At first glance, I thought this was an outhouse perched on top of a large septic tank (for those extra large needs!), but upon closer inspection, I noticed a green hose coming out of the concrete tank and coiled up on the top of it. They surely wouldn't be pumping anything other than water out via a garden hose. Maybe this is an outdoor community shower. Comes with ventilation, too...the door is just leaning up against the opening, leaving a nice crack for airflow.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Elevator

Don has a great story to share, so he's writing today's blog.

Conversation with a nice lady from Oak Ridge:
The lady and I were in the Tigo store in the MegaPlaza in French Harbor.  Me waiting on my friend Rick to get his phone repaired.  She waiting for her number to be called.  (These Hondurans are rapidly getting up to date; now they have these same “Take-a-number” dispensers that we have in U.S. post offices.)
A chance remark in the store elicited a comment from the lady, I nodded my agreement, and a conversation ensued.
She said she had been living on Roatan since 1975.  Now this alone will always hook me.  Anyone living here that long has a thousand page book of stories.  I was fortunate to hear one before her number was called.
She said her father first came here (Honduras) in 1949.  I asked her why.  She said to install an elevator.
Now this seemed pretty unlikely to begin with.  “An elevator?” I said.  “Here on Roatan?”
“No,” she replied.  “In the Banco Atlantida building in La Cieba.  Have you ever been in it?”
I said that no, I hadn’t.
“It’s a two story building,” she continued.  “The building has a very nice, wide stairway to the second floor.  Do you know why the elevator was installed?”
I shook my head.
“Over on the mainland the elite, the tall dogs, don’t drink rum.  They drink scotch.  Several times a year the board of directors of the bank held their board meeting in a room on the second floor.  During the course of the meeting a great deal of scotch was consumed.  So much so that, more than once, one of the board members fell down the stairs after the meeting.  They decided this had to end.  That is why my father was called to install the elevator.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

Still No Bimbo

We went to French Harbour today to grocery shop. We haven't been in awhile and after Debi told us that the shelves were pretty bare, wait until the end of the week, we had stayed away. We should have waited a bit longer; the shelves are still pretty bare of many items.

We've had a stormy week, lots of rain and wind which makes for a very rough sea. When the water gets that rough, the cruise ships can't navigate the narrow channel through the reef into the Mahogany Bay docks and the ferries don't run, which means no new food shipments. There was virtually no produce to be had, but I don't generally buy my produce at the supermarket anyway. There was also no Bimbo bread! although there were some other types of bread available.

While we weren't able to get everything on our list, we got enough to make do. I noticed the pickup trucks lined up, waiting to get their produce which was being unloaded at one of the docks in French Harbour. That's good news. The sky is now completely clear so I think I'll run down to the West End and check out the veggies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More Vehicle Adventures

It was too good to be true. We got our car back from the repair shop and the air-conditioner worked! For 14 days. On the 15th day, it was putting out hot air. But, good news! Don found two cans of refrigerant in the grocery store. He had brought an adapter back with us in January which fit nicely on the can and would enable him to simply recharge the a/c unit. The refrigerant was cheap enough, about $5.00, maybe we would just keep it recharged, Don said. So, after church Sunday, Don put the adapter on the can and took it out to the car. Only to discover that the connectors had been changed and the adapter no longer fit. This put Don in a very bad mood and he decided he had had enough and we would just ride around hot from now on. Which wouldn't be quite so bad if the driver's window would go down, but it won't, so the driver gets the most benefit of the heat.
So, 12 months, 2 mechanics and $800.00 later, we're still hot. And likely to remain that way.

Yesterday Don caught a ride into Coxen Hole with our friend Bob, who was going to the bank. Don was making a second attempt to pay the electric bill. Last Friday he went in to the office in Coxen Hole where we have paid the bill the past two months. The office was completely rearranged and he was told that he could no longer pay the Reco bill there. Where can I, he asked and was directed to Credomatic. He wasn't sure what or where that was, and lacking good direction, he came home. Yesterday, he was ready to try again. He asked at Bob's bank, at our bank, and was finally directed waaaay down the street. That turned out to be yet another bank, but not Credomatic. Bob drove down and picked him up and they decided to circle back around (all one way streets) and make another attempt. Bob parked the car on the street and they began searching. Finally, Don found it...almost next door to Bob's bank where he had started out, but it was tucked back a bit and there were no armed guards outside the door like at most banks. He entered a small foyer and there was the Credomatic door with the armed guards just inside. Success!

When he came out from paying the bill, he discovered that Bob was getting a parking ticket! Wow! This was a major event. I've never known anyone to get a parking ticket on this island. There actually is no parking allowed along the one-way Main street, but the signs are few and far between and everyone parks there anyway. There aren't many other options, only a few small parking lots are available. It seems the new mayor is cracking down on all the laws on the books that have seldom or never been enforced. Don suddenly noticed that there were very few cars parked along the street. The fine was pretty steep - $26.00. The policeman walked with Don and Bob over to the Municipal to pay the fine, which Don insisted on paying since he felt partially responsible.

As we have said before, every day is an adventure here.

Leaping Lizards

I was standing in the kitchen making lunch when I heard crashing noises coming from the trees outside. I looked up just in time to see a long tail? snake? what is that? dangling from a tree limb. For a brief moment I did think it must be a snake, although it didn't look like the boa or a coral snake. Then, interrupting my thoughts, came more crashing noises and movement in the trees - ah, iguanas playing a game of chase. I snuck outside onto the deck as quietly as I could and snapped this picture of a female green iguana relaxing in the sun high up in the Cohune palm. I remember a young island boy telling us how to differentiate between males and females: the females have the striped tails.
This handsome fellow was wandering around near a flower bed. We had never seen such a colorful small lizard before. I like his spots, very distinctive.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Bimbo Bread Man Is Missing!

This is serious! What has happened to the Bimbo Bread man? We've noticed a shortage of bread in the stores for a while now. Sometimes there is no bread to be had and seldom any Bimbo bread. Our pal, Debi, had  wondered about the scarcity recently while in one of the stores and asked the manager about it. He replied that the Bimbo Bread man was missing! No one had seen him in several days and he was apparently the only Bimbo delivery person for Roatan. What could have happened, we wondered.

Tonight, we were escaping the heat and having dinner at Blue Bahia. During a conversation with the owner, the subject of bread came up and he mentioned that they have had to resume baking their own bread because they could not find buns in the stores. He even called Bimbo to ask what was going on, where was the bread? The Honduran office referred him to Miami. Miami wanted to know if he was interested in picking up the Roatan route; no, he replied, he just wanted some buns. They told him to call Bimbo in Mexico. The office in Mexico asked if he was interested in picking up the Roatan route. No, he tiredly replied, he just wanted some buns. They didn't know where the bread man was and couldn't help him with his request for buns. So he had resigned himself to baking his own buns again. He said all of that run-around now made since after hearing our story about the missing Bimbo Bread man.

Only on Roatan.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No Tammy

We're bummed. We've been looking forward to seeing Don's former secretary, Tammy, and her husband who were due in today on the Carnival Dream. We had planned to meet them in West End after they finished their excursion and show them around. Shoot, we've been cleaning all morning, getting the house ready for visitors.

Our friends, Bob and Debi, were also expecting friends on that same ship who were bringing shoes and school supplies for the island children. They also had friends coming in on another ship today and have been busy planning logistics for picking up and touring with so many people.

Debi just called from Mahogany Bay (the newest cruise ship terminal) to say that both ships due in there today had left the island; the sea was too rough for them to get into the bay and there were already two other ships at the older terminal in Coxen Hole. That news really surprised us because the sea is not at all rough on the north side of the island where we live. Both cruise ship terminals happen to be on the south side where it is apparently much windier today.

So, we're all bummed and I'm certain that all our friends are even more disappointed. Probably no one is more upset than Carnival Cruise Line who spent 67 million dollars building the Mahogany Bay terminal last year and who frequent has ships turned away due to rough seas.

To Leave or Not To Leave

About a week ago, Don suggested that I start looking at plane fare, exploring our options for "making a visa run". We still don't have our residency yet, although it is in the works, and we are now in the 3rd month of our 90 visa we received when we went through immigration January 2nd. So I began looking at trips to Belize or Costa Rica. It seemed like no matter where we went, it was going to cost us nearly $2,000. to leave the country for 3 days (airfare, hotel, meals, etc.). I even looked at flying back to the States - cheaper.
In the midst of all this searching I began to wonder whether we really needed to leave. I seemed to recall hearing that once we had applied for residency and had our constancia (file number indicating that the paperwork had been submitted and was in process), that we no longer had to leave the country every 3 months.
Yesterday, Don called our Honduran attorney, Cristiana, and asked her. She said "that is correct; you do not need to leave." The procedure now is to take our constancia and passports to the immigration officer and get our visas extended - at a cost of only $20. per person per month. Ok, that seems much more reasonable.
We did not have copies of the constancia but Cristiana did. She was going in to Coxen Hole yesterday afternoon and suggested that we meet at the immigration office. We met her there at 4 p.m. and she showed the paperwork to SeƱor Ramon Paz. He said the only problem was that it was too early to renew; our visas were good until April 2nd, and he could not renew them this far in advance. So we are to return on the 29th (a non-cruise ship day) and he will take care of it. On cruise ship days, he is extremely busy at the cruise ship terminals and it is difficult to catch him.
Cristiana said that we may even have our residency in another month. She is going to Tegucigulpa today and will check on the progress. Having the residency will simplify many things here and save us lots of money. Not that I'm opposed to travel; I love it! But there are cheaper ways to travel than flying out of this island. For now, we'll just stay put and enjoy this bit of paradise.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Catch Up Time

I know, I know. I've fallen behind again. Sometimes I just get busy living life and forget to write about it.

We've really been blessed with cooler weather again this week. Another nor'easter moved through on Tuesday, bringing rain and clouds. The clouds stuck around most of the week. Today we have a beautiful sunny day, but it is still cooler than usual. I'm lovin' it!

There hasn't been as much snorkeling going on this week either. I did go out Monday afternoon with Debi and Emily while Don was helping Bob do some wiring in his shop, but the winds had already picked up so when we got out of the water, it was chilly!

Don has been helping the Canadian team build a house for ConcepciĆ³n in one of the colonias. He said she is probably one of the poorest people up there. Her present house, the one being replaced, is  smaller than our breakfast room, maybe only 8 feet by 10 feet. That's her entire house, complete with a dirt floor. She does have her own outhouse though. The new house will be about 20 feet by 24 feet - a mansion! Her only income seems to come from collecting and selling aluminum cans.  She watches her grand-daughters during the day, and Don has fallen in love with one of these girls, Lady. He said she's just the most delightful little girl, very polite but inquisitive. Lady's 10 but is very small for her age, about the size of an 8 year old. Don has been practicing his Spanish with her in the mornings; she goes to school in the afternoon.
[Note: the island schools are so crowded that the children go in shifts: 7-12, 1-5, or 6-10 p.m.]

Don and I have managed to knock out the screen door from the guest quarters to the deck TWICE this week. The other day, I came home to find the screen door laying on the deck getting surgical intervention from Don. He took the screen with him when he walked through the door and had enough force to separate the door at two corners. He fixed those with brackets and screws and straightened the frame pretty well so that the door was again operational. It lasted about 5 days before I walked through it and bent it out of whack. Once again, Dr. Don was able to resusitate the door (with his trusty hammer!) and it still works (although it drags a little).

A sad note - Don's long-time friend and former business partner, Jon Maciejewski, passed away this week. We will miss him.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Road Repairs

Once again I've found myself without my camera when a great photo op presented itself. I really must go back and get one of the guys doing the road repairs. In the meantime, I'll try to describe the scene. The road between West End and Flowers Bay is dreadful, full of potholes, some quite deep, and I find myself having to go over that road rather frequently since our friend Kristin moved. We also have to go over that same stretch of road to go to Tabyana Beach at West Bay, a favorite snorkeling spot, so I was quite happy to see that the road was finally going to be fixed. When I saw the crew's set-up, I was really intrigued.

The road crew seems to consist of about four men. They have a dump truck full of gravel parked beside the road and just behind the truck they have built a fire. Over the fire is a 55 gallon drum split in half vertically where they are making and mixing their own asphalt. Near the fire is what appears to be a propane gas tank, another 55 gallon drum and a couple of wheelbarrows. One man tends the fire, one carts the asphalt mixture to the next pothole, one fills the hole and smooths the asphalt with a rake, and I guess the other man must have a hand in the mixing of the materials. It is a slow, labor-intensive process. They started working on it last Friday and haven't covered much distance, but what they have done looks good. I haven't noticed the usual acrid smell of tar, so I don't know what they are using in their mixture. If my Spanish was better, I suppose I could ask.

Don went over some interesting roads today, going back into one of the colonias to start working on the next house. A team from Canada came in yesterday and Don is helping them build a house for a woman from our church named Concepcion. I'll have to send the camera along with him one day. He said the roads get pretty rough when you start going up over the hills and, of course, they're not paved. Concepcion's house will be at the top of one of those hills.