Saturday, January 29, 2011

The New Normal

I've been thinking about how life here on Roatan has become so normal for us, and perhaps that's why I haven't been blogging as much as in the past. So, this morning as I was cleaning, I took note of some of our new normals. Mold or mildew. Living in the tropics, no surprise. The dark boards in the above photo are from mildew. That's because the plastic gutters above drip at every junction when it rains or after a heavy dew. We hate the plastic gutters, but that's all that is available here. You cannot get them to not drip. Believe me, Don has tried. We get mildew on the west side of the house, which seems odd, given that that side also gets full afternoon sun. We are very thankful that we have not had mold growing in our closets or on our clothing like many of our friends here.
I really like these white concrete steps, but they are a dickens to keep clean. Enrique had done a wonderful job of scrubbing all the mildew off them the day before we returned, but you can see that it is returning. We've still been getting a fair amount of rain which exacerbates the growth. Our green and yellow trees are beginning to form a canopy over the stairs so we're getting more leaves and leaf particles (thank you, leaf cutter ants!) dropping on the stairs everyday. They must be swept daily or the wet leaves leave dark stains on the concrete.

Gecko poop. A constant battle. Not only on the floors but occasionally dripping down the walls. Yeah, I know. Pretty gross. We have vaulted ceilings with exposed beams and the little geckos consider that their personal playground. Eliminate them, you say? Not sure that would be possible. They are everywhere on the island, as common as dust. They do a good job of eating insects, too. So, we have a love/hate relationship. The daily floor sweeping often includes a little wipe down of the walls.

I must admit, I was a bit surprised to see how quickly clean windows become dirty up here on our hill. The salt from the ocean apparently travels with the breeze and deposits itself on my clean windows. And we have a lot of large windows. The screens are also a challenge to keep clean but do a good job of stopping dust, pollen, etc.  I no sooner get them blasted off with the hose, than someone lights a fire to burn their trash and the wind carries little bits to the screens. Sigh.

And I haven't even mentioned our outdoor living area, the covered deck. We get a lot of traffic through here and some travelers leave their calling card. Geckos, small  lizards, hummingbirds, bats (at night), the occasional cat, leaves and flower petals and general all-purpose dirt.

So what do we do all day? Clean. Oh, not all day. We are retired, after all.

I know, I know. It's a rough life here. But this sure beats shoveling snow!!
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Visit With The Walkers, photos included!

We were so thrilled to have our dear friends, Scott and Glenna Walker, visit us today. They came in on the Carnival Dream, spent the morning on the beach in Mahogany Bay and then devoted the rest of the day to us. We picked them up at the lovely Carnival Cruise Center. Very pretty, but as Scott said, "it's like Disney World. Not real." They wanted to see how we lived and what our life was like here.

We drove them up to our house to see where we live and check out our fabulous view. It was going to be a pretty warm day, and our deck gets afternoon sun and consequently gets pretty warm late in the day, so we visited our house first thing. They really liked our view and sitting out on our deck. Then we drove in to West End for a late lunch. Don wanted to take them to one of our favorite places, Half Moon Bay Cafe. After Scott asked the blessing over our meal, our waiter, Alex, commented that in the two years that he has worked there, that he has only seen people pray before their meal a handful of times. Those other times were probably us!
There's always a very nice breeze off the ocean and a pretty view. Here we all are, waiting on our lunch.  We had such a great time catching up, telling them about our life here, hearing about their recent move to Ft. Lauderdale, trading news of other church friends and sharing the news that we are finally going to be grandparents. They, in turn, said that they are expecting their sixth grandchild!

After lunch, we drove them down the West End beach road. It's one of those places that you either love or hate. They loved it! Much more character than at the cruise ship dock. They have been to West Bay on previous cruises, so we didn't go there. We took them into Coxen Hole via the Flowers Bay road which is a pretty drive and talked non-stop the whole time.

 had told them about the Made in Roatan shop that our friends, Bob and Debi, built to allow local artists have a place to sell their work. It is a non-profit shop, so you know where the money goes. Glenna bought a pretty necklace made by young Pedro who always loves to pose for a photo with the customers. Debi told me that Koki, the artist who sells some of his paintings in the shop, had a couple of larger paintings for sale next door. I went to see them and wound up buying a large painting of Cayos Cachinos for $30!

We popped into the pharmacy where they were amazed at how much cheaper drugs are here, and then we drove them through the market to see where the locals shop. They were very interested in where we shop, what we eat here, how it differs from the U.S.

And all too soon our time together was over. We delivered them back to the cruise ship and made them promise to come back. Such a blessing to spend the day with them.
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The Swearingen's Visit

For the second day in a row, we've been blessed with visitors from our church back home coming in on cruise ships. Today we met our friends, Ron and Judy Swearingen, who are in our Life group back in St. Louis. We saw their ship go past our house this morning on its way in to Coxen Hole. We gave them directions to the Made in Roatan shop and met them there. We introduced them to our island friends, Bob and Debi, who built and run the shop. Such fun to have new friends meet old friends!

We drove up to the market, parked and walked around, showing them where the locals shop. Along the way I managed to buy some Honduran red beans, a nice pineapple and a red onion. We also took them into Warren's, an older grocery store on the main street, just to have a look around.
Next stop, our house, after showing them the sites along the way. They loved our view and all our beautiful flowers. We sat and visited awhile and let them use our phone to call their daughter in New York who has been ill. They've been very concerned about her and it's so hard to not be able to call from the ship.
We took them to lunch at Cannibal's, a great little Mexican place in West End. They also loved the atmosphere of West End. Then we drove to West Bay, walked on the beach, looked at some of the fancier resorts and then drove up through Lighthouse Estates. Judy is a realtor so she enjoyed looking at the variety of properties and houses. It was a beautiful day, not as hot as our day with the Walkers yesterday, so it was nice to be out doing some walking. We also had more time with Ron and Judy. Finally, we wore them out and they were ready to go back to the ship for a little snooze before dinner. We drove them back through Flowers Bay and dropped them off at their ship. They'll have to come back so they can see more of the island. Thanks for coming to visit, Ron and Judy!!
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Getting Residency

The big day finally arrived yesterday. We now have residency in Honduras! A little less than 2 years has passed since we first met with our attorney, Cristiana Carbajol, to begin the process. She gave us a list of documents that we needed to get which would be attached to the application. We went back to the States  to begin gathering these items. We needed 1. a copy of our birth certificates, 2. a copy of our marriage certificate, 3. a police report showing a clean record, 4. a letter from our bank, and 5. proof that Don's pension was adequate. This quickly got a bit interesting. First, we couldn't find my birth certificate and concluded that the passport office must have kept it, so I had to apply for another. Second, we couldn't find our marriage certificate. Then we wondered if we had ever received a copy after it was recorded. No matter, we had to apply for a certified copy, once we remembered in which county we had originally applied for the license.  Then Don had to take all the notarized documents in to the Secretary of State's office to get the apostile (official certification). We eventually got all the documents together and mailed them to Cristiana in Roatan in late fall 2009, and she quickly filed them. Of course, there was a hitch. The proof of pension wasn't satisfactory. The government wanted an official letter, etc. etc. Don finally produced something acceptable and then we settled down to wait. Cristiana thought it would come through before we left the island last year, but it didn't, not until the fall. Did we need to make a special trip down to finish up? No, we could wait until January and just pay a fine (they love fines here), so that's what we did.
We were planning to go last week, but the official we needed to see was out of the office.  Just as well. A 3 day north'er blew in late last week with high winds and lots of rain. The ferry often doesn't run in that type of weather.
So, yesterday was the day. We had to be at the ferry by 6:30 a.m. We met up with Cristiana, her husband and baby, and another couple getting their residency. The ferry ride to La Ceiba takes about 1-1/2 hours. We were at the immigration office before 9 a.m. and were surprised to find about 10 people ahead of us. Processing each person took about 15 minutes, so we waited a long time for our turn.
Unfortunately, Don and I had not eaten breakfast and neither had Cristiana. She called our van driver (whom she had hired for the day and who was driving Cristiana's hubby and baby around to do errands) and asked him to pick up some baleadas and water and he did!

This is Bill and Susie at the counter with Cristiana on the right.
We soon found out why it took so long.
Cristiana passed our documents, approval, passports and photos to the agent who began filling out more papers by hand, filling out other forms on the computer, gluing our little photos to other papers. He took another photo of us with a webcam, then we all had to be fingerprinted. He sprinkled Ajax cleanser in our palm and sent us to the bathroom to wash up.
It was now noon, but we weren't finished yet.
Next, we had to taken one of the new forms, go to the bank and pay the fee and fine, about $360. US for both of us and get a receipt. We also had to stop at a copy center and make copies of our passport pages. These all had to be returned to the agent, but Cristiana gave them to our (trusted) driver to take to the agent after he first dropped us off at the mall to have lunch and shop. She sent the driver through the Wendy's drive-thru with instructions to get lunch for himself and take some to the agent.

Hondurans are pretty thrilled with their nice malls and food courts, more than we were. There were lots of food choices in the food court from traditional Honduran food to Burger King, Popeye's, and Wendy's. My meal was cooked to order Honduran. Don had Wendy's. After lunch, we had a couple of hours to shop before heading back to catch the last ferry.
Here's our group, waiting outside the mall for our driver.  Our driver got about $40. US for his day's work (very good wages here), plus tips.
We were back home about 12 hours after leaving.  A long, but productive day.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More on 3 Baptisms

The newly baptized Ken gives shy Lady a hug. Ken is apparently also quite fond of Lady, as is Don.
This lovely young lady is Tonya. We learned today that her parents had moved back to the mainland, leaving her and her siblings all alone. We are pow-wowing on how we can help these kids.
Concepcion, Lady's grandmother (she's only 39 years old!).
Tia and Chuck. Tia joined Cindy is singing a hymn of praise following the last baptism. Beautiful voices. Beautiful day.
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Three Baptisms

We had three baptisms today after church. Everyone walked down to the beach and filed out onto the dock.
Ken (on the left) was the first to be baptized. His girlfriend, Cindy, sang for him (and us!). Ken is from Ottawa and was one of the team leaders last year when Concepcion's house was built up in the colonia. He's here to prepare for another team coming in.
Pastor Chuck, Ken, and Larry as Ken makes his confession.
Lined and waiting for the next dunkee.
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Our Jungle

A collage of our jungle paradise. Can't believe how much everything has grown during rainy season! The gardener is coming tomorrow!
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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Return

We're back! After a six month absence, we are back on the island, enjoying the warmth of the sun, the sound of the surf on the beach and relaxing outside on our deck, in January, in the midst of a tropical garden. Ahhhh!

It is always hectic preparing to leave right on the heels of the holidays and having had a houseful of family for the previous week. We decided to delay our departure for a few days to allow more time to put away Christmas, cleanup, pack and take care of all those last minute chores. We even spent the night near the airport which was lovely and allowed us to relax a bit and get a little longer to sleep in the morning. We simply got up, got dressed, grabbed a cup of coffee and the  4 a.m. shuttle and were whisked to the airport. Flying out on a Thursday morning was a huge improvement over last year's Saturday, January 2nd departure where the chaos nearly caused us to miss our flight. This year, the airport was pretty quiet. We checked our bags and sailed through security (only Don got scanned), arriving at our gate with plenty of time for Don to enjoy some Dunkin Donuts and catch up on CNN.

Uneventful flight to Houston. Great breakfast at Ruby's Diner outside the international terminal (the BEST breakfast burrito!). Delightful seatmate on the flight to Roatan who was returning to Honduras for a high school reunion. I was still incredibly tired from the hustle and bustle (and lack of sleep) of the previous couple of weeks and had hoped to nap on the plane, but that just didn't happen.

Our return was fraught with the usual host of glitches that we have come to expect. Despite recharging our Honduran cell phone before leaving the States and adding a new phone card, we could not complete a call.  I tried to call our friends, Bob and Debi, to say we landed early. Fortunately, Bob was waiting for us with our car. We dropped him off at his shop, gave Debi a big hug and took off. After a quick stop at the grocery store, we realized that we still had Bob's keys so we ran back by his shop and dropped those off (since we couldn't CALL him).

Our house looked absolutely terrific. Debi had hired Stephanie and Kendy to clean the house and, boy!, did they ever!! And Enrique scrubbed the mold off our white concrete stairs and scrubbed the heck out of our deck. It was spotless, inside and out!! Love those people! And Debi for arranging it all. Such a blessing.

We soon realized that our internet service had NOT been restored and we could not call HughesNet since our phone wasn't working! We couldn't call family to let them know that we had arrived safely, and we couldn't call Bob and Debi to say we were just too tired to come over and celebrate Epiphany with them and were instead going to bed.

Our U.S. cell phone can only be used on the wi-fi setting in Honduras since we are not willing to pay $5.00/per minute to use the cell tower transmission mode. Without internet, we didn't have wi-fi service either. Our only recourse was to drive up to French Harbor, get the cell phone re-activated, get the internet re-instated, do some serious grocery shopping at Eldon's and refill our propane tank.  That didn't start out too well. The Claro store wasn't open yet, the HughesNet office wasn't open yet, and when we came out of the grocery store ladened with cold and frozen foods, our car wouldn't start! Thankfully, that moment of panic was short lived. Don has able to wiggle the battery cables and eventually it started. we decided we'd better keep the car running during our remaining stops and then hurry home in case this car was set to be squirrely all day.

The internet office was open and Carolina determined that there was a problem with our credit card. Yes, because the office in Tegucigulpa was trying to use the wrong card. I gave her the correct information and she said service would be restored right away. Off to the Claro store. After a long absence, the sim card must be replaced or minutes added to reactivate the phone. I had added minutes but it still wasn't working. The girl checked something on her computer, tried the phone, and Viola! It worked. I bought an additional phone card while there. Don took the gas tank next door to have it refilled and we went home.

Still no internet. Don thought maybe the signal was being blocked by our fish tail palm that is now taller than the roof, so he began trimming. This was no easy feat and I wish I had grabbed my camera. He leaned the ladder up over the deck railing, braced against the wall of the house and was leaning way out, armed with a machete, whacking at branches. That wasn't good enough, so he screwed the machete handle to a four foot board and leaned out farther, trying to reach the tallest branches. Good Night!! I ran over and stood on the last rung of the ladder as he leaned out farther and farther, praying the whole time that my weight would keep the ladder from tipping over the railing. (see, those cookies paid off!!) The board soon broke, leaving the machete embedded in a branch way out there. I grabbed our heavy rake and he used that to retrieve the machete and hold the branches closer so he could finish trimming. Whew! We both survived that adventure!

Called Rachel to check-in and learned that my mother was quite upset that she had not heard from us. Called my parents. My mother was out; talked to my dad and reassured them that we were fine. Made a couple of other local calls and then, ran out of minutes!! What!? Good grief. Thankful that I had bought the additional phone card.

No signal, so he scrubbed the dish. Nope. Nothing. Called Carolina. She said it would be restored soon and would call me. The system came back on just as we were preparing to go meet Bob and Debi for dinner. Don quickly tested it. Yes, it was working! Yippee.

The car worked, the phone worked and now internet. But wait! There's more. Later, I discovered that I couldn't connect my new laptop; I needed the security key for our wireless network. Well, that opened a big can of worms. Don could not find the notebook where he had all that information recorded. He could not access his router to pull up the information; the connection kept timing out. He was getting more and more frustrated and angry. It had been a long day. But, I was able to use my U.S. cellphone to call Rachel and Lance and beg for help. Lance was able to hack in, take control of our computer and fix the problem. Love that man!!

We were too tired to do any more and simply went to bed, thankful to be able to communicate again.