Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tales of Shopping

Shopping here is always an adventure, whether it's for food or household items. This week's adventure included both.

Meat. Never too sure about this one. The beef choices are limited, especially US beef (which is expensive), so we have been sampling the Honduran beef. It isn't as flavorful but is very lean, being from grass-fed cows and is reasonably priced. I found some stew meat, which looked good - nice color, and bought a package. We put the groceries in the car and started driving. I smelled something odd and wondered what that was. On the way home from French Harbor, we stopped at Coxen Hole. When we got back in the car there was a strong, unpleasant something dead. Now I was really wondering. As soon as we got home, I found the source - the stew meat. It looked good but smelled really, really bad. Now why didn't I notice that while still in the store. Not driving all the way back to return it, so I stuck it in the freezer until I decided what to do with it.

I've had better luck, usually, with hamburger. I can find Honduran ground beef for about $2.50/pound. I have gotten used to the taste and don't notice a difference when it's used in chili or spaghetti. This week I purchased 3 pounds of very nice looking (and smelling!) ground beef. (Sometimes the stores have none, so when you find it, you buy several.) Once home, we decided to have burgers for lunch, so I opened a package and tried pulling the meat out to make patties. Very strange stuff. Didn't want to release from the package, not sticky like glue, but more like clay or paté. It didn't want to form patties and stuck to the waxed paper. Extremely lean meat; absolutely no grease cooked out. One patty crumbled as I tried to flip it. The odd texture was apparent upon taking a bite, too. It tasted ok, but really didn't have much flavor and just had an odd feel in the mouth. I really wondered what we were eating. Thankfully, we felt just fine after eating it.

I considered taking the bad, frozen stew meat and the odd hamburger back to the store, but after reading an account of a boy who was shot by a guard while trying to exchange a stale loaf of bread, I decided to forget it. (That incident happened somewhere on the mainland, not on the island, so rest easy, Mother!)

Our other shopping tale concerns trying to buy a replacement kitchen faucet assembly. I had complained that I wasn't getting hot water and the water flow had really slowed down from the kitchen faucet. We have one of those small on-demand hot water heaters under our kitchen sink. Don said the water flow was insufficient to activate the water heater, so no hot water. He checked the water pressure coming into the house and it was really good, but something was limiting the flow from the faucet. He took the faucet apart, trying to increase the water flow, but without luck. Now it didn't want to shut off completely. He said we would just have to replace it.

Off to look for replacements. First stop, Serrano's Hardware in Coxen Hole. (This is the store that reminds us of Hood's - you never know what they will have. While in there, I found those foam squares that interlock to make exercise mats...perfect for my exercise ball and easier on the back than our tile floors!) They didn't have the right type faucets. The stores here don't carry big assortments like Lowe's or Home Depot; you have limited number to choose from. I have one of those sinks with four holes: one soap dispenser, one sprayer, two for water but operated by a single handle. Don wants me to replace it with one that has separate hot and cold water taps. We drove up to French Harbor to Ace Hardware. They were out of the reasonably priced ones that would work but expected a shipment within a week. We made another stop at another hardware store and they didn't have any that I liked that would work. None with sprayers. But, they were also expecting a shipment in soon. So, we'll be going back to French Harbor this week. In the meantime, we have to turn off the water just so, or it drips.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

After Rina

We were very fortunate to have had little damage from Rina's winds and heavy rain. We lost  a lot of leaves and small branches from the Coral trees. We worked on cleaning those up and Don had to shovel some mud back up where it came from. We both noted, again, how bad the earth smells here after a rain. Wonder if that's because Roatan is a volcanic formation? Don also had to clean out some trenches at the base of our retaining wall. Yes, we could have hired someone to do that work, but after sitting around for a few days, Don was glad to have some physical labor to do.

The day after Rina passed by, we had beautiful blue skies and plenty of sunshine. We kept the breeze for another day before it died down to a dead calm. Yesterday was hot, humid and still until late in the day.  Thankfully, the winds returned, cooling us off again and bringing a little rain.

We do have beautiful sunsets here, especially after a storm.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Weathering The Storm

We're very thankful that Hurricane Rina has passed to the north and east of us. Roatan sits at 16.〫N and Rina is already at 17.4〫N. We are, however, getting plenty of wind here on the north side of the island, and we've already had about .7 inches of rain today, plus whatever blew in horizontally and missed the rain gauge. The little hummingbirds are having a tough time hanging on. It feels chilly at 71〫so Don has on his long pants and I'm wearing socks, but it's refreshing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Too Much Pride?

                                                 This is my pride and joy: Pride of Barbados.

We were surprised at how much the Pride had grown during our 6 month absence. Right before we left in the spring, Don had cut the bush way back. We've been reluctant to trim it again because it is a haven for butterflies and hummingbirds. It does block our view, but only of the opposite hillside. With rainy season upon us, I suppose we'll have to start trimming before the Pride overruns us.

It's another cool (72 degrees), windy, rainy day. I'm watching the rain blow past the windows at 45 degree angles and then horizontally. Don is wearing a long-sleeved shirt (with shorts and barefeet) and we've just finished cups of hot tea. I'm thankful that we don't have to go anywhere today, but tonight is our pizza and card playing night with the Cowans, so we'll be out.

It's not often that it is easier to do something here than in the U.S., but we were able to renew the car registration yesterday in just a couple of minutes. Amazing. We purposely drove to the bank near French Harbor because it is usually less busy and some of the tellers speak English. It's an easy process here: no inspections, no proof of paid personal property tax( they don't even have such a tax), no proof of anything needed and no DMV. I simply handed the bank teller my registration card from 2010 and said I wanted to renew and handed her 1500 lempiras (about $70.) She printed out a new card for 2011, stamped it paid, had me write my cell phone number on her copy, and we were done!

Which reminds me of the fun I had in St. Louis, trying to renew my car registration before we left the country. It's not due until February, but I'm not going to be there then. I read on the DMV website that you can renew up to 6 months early, so I got my car inspected, found my paid personal property tax receipt and went to the DMV. And was turned down. Reason? I didn't have my 2011 paid tax receipt. "How can I have a 2011 receipt? Those bills don't come out until November, and I will already be gone." She shrugged, suggested that I go to the county government office and get a waiver or pay early. So I did. Nope, not possible to pay early; they don't know what the tax rate will be (really? it's only a month away). Waiver? Nope, not eligible. And my inspection certificate is only good for 60 days, despite what the paperwork says (120 days).

This leaves me with only two options: wait until I return next year and pay the fine, or have someone else take care of it for me. We'll try the second option, if I'm really lucky the personal property tax bill will come out early enough for it to get forwarded to California, paid, mailed, stamped paid and returned, and then put in the hands of our friend, Carl, before the car inspection expires at the end of November. Carl won't be able to get the car re-inspected because it is in Alabama. Carl suggested that it might be easier to just sell the car in Alabama. Puedes ser (could be).

So, sometimes life is easier down here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Brown Bight

What a storm! Roatan has been hit with some kind of tropical storm. Yesterday morning, we woke to hard driving rain (which we knew had begun around midnight). At times the visibility from our deck was 0. At other times the rain was coming in horizontally. Our rain gauge measured 5.25 inches yesterday but probably missed all the horizontal rain. Everything on our big covered deck was drenched. The power was out all over the island. Ours was restored after about 4 hours, others were not so lucky.  No one went to school and many did not go to work. Three cruise ships came to the island and at least a couple of them were able to dock in Coxen Hole. Bob and Debi reported a good day at the Made in Roatan shop as tourists could do little else but shop.
         The above photo is of Gibson Bight as seen from our deck. It is brown due to all the run-off.
We had never seen the brown run-off extend so far out, even past the reef. You can see how the tree in the bottom right is still being blown by gale-force winds. These photos were taken after the rain stopped yesterday. The winds never stopped, and we had an additional half inch of rain last night. Looks like this storm will stick around all week.

We were sitting high and dry. Many people on the island were not so lucky. So many have lost their homes in the mud slides and fierce deluge of water flowing down the steep hills of the colonias. Many roads are closed due to mud slides, making it difficult to reach some of these families. Some homes along the beach have up to 3 feet of water in them. Embankments have given way, washing mud and debris inside buildings, including our church. The Toddler Ministry rooms are covered in mud as is the apartment next door. With the power out, they had no way to pump water and couldn't clean up.

Reports have trickled in from friends around the island. A children's center and some schools have been designated as evacuation centers for those families who have lost their homes. Those who were lucky enough to only have 3 feet of water in their homes have still lost what little they possessed.

The storm has not yet passed. There will be many more stories and much work to be done once it is over with many opportunities to help. Please be praying for these families.Posted by Picasa 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Catching Our Breath

We are glad to be back, unpacked, plugged in and finally settled. It has been one crazy summer for us, and we needed the rest.
The highlight of our summer was the birth of our first grandchild, Simon Nathaniel Blickhan Gartner. He is just the most beautiful baby...and I'm not kidding!!
Photo taken by Simon's aunt, Christina Blickhan.

Besides Simon's birth and a few trips north to visit him, we spent much of the summer packing, pitching or parceling out the contents of our St. Louis house. We're so seldom there; it seemed like a burden to try to maintain it in between our jaunts around the country. And we were blessed with a beautiful solution: our daughter's best friend and her family have moved in to care for the house. They hope to be able to buy it in the future. They have promised to host an annual family reunion for the two families - ours and theirs.

We finished our summer by spending a few weeks in California with our daughter and my sister, then another visit with sweet little Simon, back to St. Louis to wrap up a few things and say goodbye, and then drove to Alabama for a week with my parents before flying back to the island. Exhausting!

So where will we go next year when we return to the States? Perhaps to your house. We really have no plans other than spending a fair amount of time in Wisconsin with Simon, perhaps renting a little place, otherwise, we'll be nomads wandering around the country.   That will be another exciting adventure!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Great Internet SNAFU of 2011

The Great Internet SNAFU of 2011
This is too good (bad) not to write about it. (Don is contributing this, with some comments by me.)

Saturday, 08 October

We arrive on Roatan and proceed to our house.  I set up the HughesNet modem and turn on the power.  The modem has four lights lit.  I need five.  The transmit and receive lights are lit, but the system light is not lit.  I’ve never seen this configuration.
I power up the computer and bring up a browser.  Immediately a window pops up.  It says our HughesNet service has been suspended.
WHAT?  We’ve been paying for it all year.  Payment is withdrawn monthly automatically from our checking account.  Who suspended it?  Why?
There is a 1-866 number for questions.  The problem is that we have no phone.  The Blackberry is the world phone.  We have a separate phone for calls inside Honduras.  It can also be used to call outside the country.  That phone needs to be activated if not used for three months.  We have been out of the country for six months.  We are out of luck today.  We have a cleaning crew at the house.  By the time they finish, it will be too late to go to French Harbor to have the phone activated.

Sunday, 09 October

No action.  Everything is closed.

Monday, 10 October

We go to French Harbor and get the Honduras phone activated.  The HughesNet office is right up the street, so we go there next.  The office is empty.  No sign of HughesNet, no sign on the door telling where they moved.  This is common here.
We call the 1-866 number.  No connecto.  We try again.  Same result.  We think okay, they moved somewhere around here, and French Harbor isn’t that big.  We’ll find them.  We drove around French Harbor for an hour.  We asked people where they moved.  No one knew anything.
We stopped by a real estate office who also used HughesNet, or so we were told. They looked up Carolina Castro's phone number. Carolina ran the now missing HughesNet office. I called her and asked where she was (meaning, where is the office located now). She replied, in her broken English, "Coxen Hole, near Serrano's."  Okay, now we knew why we couldn’t find the office in French Harbor.  We also knew where Serrano’s (a big hardware and lumber store) was located. 
We had other business we had to take care of.  Late in the afternoon we drug ourselves back home.

Tuesday, 11 October

We set out for The Hole.
We drove up and down the street that Serrano’s was on.  No sign of the HughesNet office. We stopped at Serrano's and Jeanette went in to ask Deborah if she knew anything. No, she did not but suggested asking next door. Two men were outside the building next door. Jeanette asked them and the younger man said the office wasn't on this block, mumbled a bit and then apologized for being drunk (at 10 a.m., common here, but this should have tipped us off).  The second fellow said he thought the office was about a mile to a mile and a half down the street.)
We got in the car and drove down the street, parked, walked up and down, talked to people.  No one knew.  We stopped and had a cold drink and a cheeseburger at Nardo’s, always a good idea when in The Hole.
Okay, enough of this nonsense.  We went back to the house, got our computers, and set off for French Harbor.  We knew that both Tigo and Claro (cellular providers) had their main offices there.  They also sold the cellular modems that were a little bigger than a flash drive and that would let you connect to the internet using a cellular connection.
In the meantime Jeanette had talked to one of our friends who also uses HughesNet.  Our friend said Carolina Castro didn’t even work for them anymore.  And maybe HughesNet didn’t even have an office anymore.  She said someone by the name of Sammy was now the rep.  She would try to get his phone number so we could call him.
In French Harbor Jeanette went into the Tigo store, got one of the modems (~$30) and bought one month of service for 500 Lempiras ($26.46).  No contract required.  She installed the software sitting there in the office.  It took her about five minutes.  She was instantly connected to the internet.
We walked over to the Claro office.  They had almost the same deal ($30 modem, $26.46 for a month of access).  Their deal was a little better than Tigo’s, because they gave you 7GB of download per month compared to Tigo’s 5GB.
They plugged a modem into my computer and began installing the software.  I don’t know what was going on, because We sat there and sat there, and most of an hour passed.  Finally one of the fellows who was supposedly installing the software came over to me and asked if I had my power supply (charger) with me.  I said no.  He said the computer’s battery was almost discharged, and they couldn’t finish the installation.  I asked if I could finish it when I got home.  He said he thought I could. We left.
We got home, I charged the computer, then entered the installation routine.  I don’t know what they were doing in the store, because I did the installation start to finish in ten minutes.  The window said the software installed correctly.
It didn’t work.  It would not connect to the internet.  I uninstalled the software and re-installed it.  Same result.  No connecto.  I had some rum and Coke.
Jeanette came along a little later and said there was good news.  Sammy had called.  I asked how he even knew our number.  No idea.  Sammy said he would look into what had happened – why our HughesNet service had been suspended and what needed to be done.  Okay, fine.  At that point nothing was going to cheer me up.  Talk’s cheap.  More rum and Coke.

Wednesday, 12 October 

Okay, back to French Harbor for the third straight day.  I went into the Claro store and told them what had happened.  I showed them that it wouldn’t connect.  One of them knew what the problem was right away.  Claro is a big company, providing service to both Central and South America.  There are two different Claro operations: Claro and Claro Honduras.  The only option showing on my connection screen was Claro.  One of the fellows changed a few parameters, so that my connection screen now showed Claro Honduras.
Success!  Finally connected.
When we got back to the house I fired up the HughesNet modem.  All five lights lit.  I started my computer and pulled up a browser.  Sure enough, HughesNet was now working as well.
All is well with the world once again.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Back on the Island

We're back! Actually, we've been back since Oct. 8th, but faced the usual challenges of restoring internet service and activating our phones...more on that later. On our first night back, we were blessed with this lovely sunset and gorgeous view. So peaceful.
I captured this full moon shot on our second morning back (mucho early). It was so hot and sticky that we slept in our one air-conditioned room, the guest bedroom, for only the second time since 2008. When I awoke the next morning and wandered out to the deck, I was in awe of the beautiful full moon reflecting off the ocean. Unfortunately, my little digital camera doesn't do justice to the real thing. At times like these, I wish I had my son's camera. And knew how to use it.

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