Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Automotive Experience on Roatan

The Automotive Experience on Roatan

Guest Commentary
Don Gartner

A while back I wrote about auto repair on Roatan.  A couple of recent events prompt this brief update.

After having had bad experiences with two mechanics, Jeanette and I have finally found one who does good work for a decent price.  He was trained as a mechanic on the mainland.  An added bonus is that he speaks excellent English.  He has done three or four repair jobs for us.  His name is Fredy.  (Yes, a single d.)

One day after Fredy had completed a minor repair, we went to his shop to pay and pick up our car.  I climbed into it, turned the key, and nothing happened.  Fredy came over and checked the battery.  Dead.

I said, “Well, I’m guessing you’ve got some jumper cables.”

Fredy smiled and said no.  Then he walked over to the shop and came back carrying another battery.  He said, “Don’t try this at home.”  One of his workers got into the car, ready to turn the key.  Fredy checked the polarities of the car battery and the one he had brought out.  Then he simply turned the new battery upside down and set it on our car’s battery, terminals to terminals.  His worker turned the key, our car started, and Fredy removed the new battery.

These Hondurans can be pretty clever.

They also know how to take advantage of opportunities.

Recently a new friend was looking for a car or truck.  A couple weeks went by, and he said he had finally found one.  It turned out we knew this vehicle.  Another friend of ours had it last year before he left the island.

Now this is an interesting vehicle.  It is an Xterra.  Looks okay, but it needs a lot of work and is probably unsafe to drive above about twenty miles an hour.  But that is not the interesting part.  Like many vehicles on the island, it has no paperwork.  That is, no title.

That’s really not much of a problem, usually.  Vehicles have to be registered every year.  It’s the equivalent of renewing your license in the United States.  You take your current registration card to the local office, pay your money, and get a new card, which is supposed to be carried in the car at all times.

The Xterra had last year’s registration card.  Normally, no problem.  Except that somewhere along the line its license plates had disappeared.  No doubt someone needed plates and stole them.  (The police generally don’t care if the plates match the number on the registration card, only if you have plates.  Any plates.)

Somehow, our new friend found out about an enterprising individual on the mainland who could get him plates.  Well, not exactly “get.”  He would make the plates.  To be clear, he was not connected with the police or government in any way.  His business was hand-making license plates.

We first saw the Xterra from a distance of maybe fifty feet and remarked that the plates really did look official.  It was a high-quality job.  When you get up close – a few feet away – you can see that they’re hand painted.  Hey, no one cares.  Our friend was all set.

Counterfeit license plates.  Who would have thought?

If there’s an opportunity to make a buck, these Hondurans will find it.

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