Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wrapping Up Another Year


It's been a busy month in a laid back island sort of way, not like a U.S. busy month. We were very blessed to have a week long visit from Rachel and Jason who arrived with suitcases full of gifts for the island kids.

We had our annual Christmas party for our group of sponsored kids. We do something different every year (just to keep them guessing!), and this year we took them all to Guava Grove for lunch, swimming, and gifting. The kids are always excited to see Rachel. We missed having our co-sponsor coordinators, Larry and Susan Campbell with us.



                                                          Of course we snorkeled!

                                                                      And fished.


                      And enjoyed a sunset cruise and fresh sashimi (tuna caught by Jason).

                  We served lunch to the hardworking people who live and work in the dump.


One of the visiting team members delivered the gospel message and Oscar translated. So very proud of this young man! This is part of the value of a bilingual education.


We had plenty of gifts for the children. This sweet girl is clutching a stuffed unicorn (sent down by one of Rachel's co-workers) in one hand and her cup of chicken rice soup in the other.


                                                    So excited over her fairy princess doll!

                                  Lunch on the beach? Tables set in the water on Pigeon Cay.


                                    Jason and Rachel awaiting their steak and lobster lunch.

                                        Always comes too quickly. Time to say goodbye.


The next day began the series of island Christmas parties which took the place of the food and toy drives. We headed east to Punta Gorda for the first party. This little cutie had no idea what was going on.

                                                      Perfectly color-coordinated.


                         Santa makes his grand entrance to the cheers of happy children.


The next Christmas party for us was held in Pensacola (no, not Florida - community nestled in between Flowers Bay and Gravel Bay.) Right on the beach with fabulous breezes. Both clowns showed up this day. This is the balloon clown.

                                    They were very happy with their balloon  creations.


                       The face painting clown. Why so serious? We're having fun here!

We had so many toys this year including these tables full of stuffed animals brought to us by the Carnival ship crew. We also had toys and new shoes from a number of cruise ship passengers. This is the first time that we did not run out of toys before every child had been given one. Nidia had a lot of leftovers with she sent to the children on Helene.

A wild and crazy game of musical chairs. Extremely competitive, these kids would dive for a chair, sometimes 3 of them on one chair. We had 2 minor injuries and one broken chair.

         Fellow elf Debbie-Leigh Crofutt and I taking a very short break in the madness.


Christmas Eve in the lobby of Infinity Bay Resort. R-church meets here on the top floor. We had a beautiful candlelight service. This is Oscar who I was bragging about earlier.

After a delightful and delicious Christmas dinner at the Cowen's, I mentioned that our family always played charades. Everyone thought that was a great idea. Debi is taking her turn. There were about 12 of us which made for a good game.

Another Christmas is over, another year gone by. Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Shaming of Roatan

In light of all the crazy things going on in the United States lately, I thought I would share some of the bizarre happenings on Roatan.

About a week ago, 60 DEI agents arrived on the island. They seem to be comparable to IRS agents in the U.S. They have been inspecting businesses, not only to insure that taxes have been paid, but to look for any other possible error or omission such as failure to have an email address on their customer receipts or using a logo on their receipts which has not been copyrighted with the DEI(?). The receipts are very strangely issued a range of effective dates. If a company is using a receipt with an expired effective date, they are fined and/or closed down, even if they have already applied for new dates but have not received them. This really makes no sense.

They began their inspection tours with one of the biggest businesses on the island, Sun Corporation, which owns Eldon's grocery stores, gas stations, Bojangles chicken stores and Pizza Inn stores. They promptly shut down Bojangles because they did not have an L (for lempiras - the currency here) before the amount owed on the receipt. They also did not have an email address on their receipt. Their next move was to close the big Eldon's grocery store just up the hill. They went into the store, wearing bullet proof vests and carrying automatic rifles, and ordered everyone out! Eldon was able to quickly show his compliance with everything else and that all taxes had been paid  and reopen his stores.

Other businesses were not so fortunate and 40 businesses were quickly closed. Another big business, a lumber/hardware business was shut down for 5 days for not having the L on their receipts and even though they told the agents that they could have that corrected on their servers within an hour, they were still forced to close. They were told that they were being shut down to "shame" them! Even though they were in full compliance with everything else. They stuck big signs to the door and windows saying the store was closed. They are not even fining them, just "shaming" them.

A small souvenir shop was closed and fined heavily. Do you think a small souvenir shop has an email address? Some of the smaller businesses have preemptively closed shop, hoping the DEI would go away. That so angered the agents that they sought a court order to force the shops to reopen just so they could close them again.

Some businesses have printed out the receipt requirements from the DEI's own website and shown it to the agents to prove that they are in compliance with what they know to be required. It seems that these agents are enjoying their power and have been throwing their weight around. They were initially scheduled to be on island for 2 weeks; that has now been extended with 40 agents remaining through Christmas.

What this means for the island is that many, many workers are now out of work. No work, no pay. Many of these workers only earn $10 - $15. per day and live hand to mouth. And Christmas is coming. Missed income will make it just that much more difficult to provide any kind of Christmas for their families.

This is also high season on the island. Does it makes any sense to close businesses thus limiting services to tourists as well as decreasing the amount of taxes that could be collected? Just read that of the 3000 businesses on Roatan only 830 are registered as being in compliance with the new invoicing system the DEI requires.

Business owners are so upset with the high-handed tactics being used that they have appealed to the Chamber of Commerce who has scheduled a meeting of shop owners, and DEI agents for today. Hopefully, something will be worked out.

In the meantime, is it safe here? Yes. Can you still buy what you need? Yes, grocery stores and gas stations are open.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Spectacular Sundays

Occasionally, the morning will be so crystal clear that we can see the mountains on the mainland 40 miles away during our drive to church. This photo was taken with my phone through the windshield of our car.  It is dangerous to stop on the road to West Bay with all its hills, curves and lack of shoulders, otherwise, I would have hopped out of the car for a better shot. 

This is our spectacular view from the 3rd floor conference room at Infinity Bay where our church meets. Yes, we have to keep the drapes drawn to prevent our minds from wandering during worship! This spot is where we often have lunch after church and always where we head out for our snorkel. There is a nice cut in the reef straight ahead that affords a trail of sorts meandering through the reef allowing good viewing of all the beautiful fish and sea creatures. And if you swim out far enough to where the water is deep blue, the floor of the ocean drops away. It's breathtaking and a trifle scary!

Our women's Bible study group meets on Wednesday mornings at 11:00 at a new Peruvian restaurant, Machu Pichu. They generally open to the public only for dinner. They have graciously allowed us to meet here and serve us a delicious lunch in a quiet, air-conditioned, and otherwise empty restaurant.  The men's Bible study also meets here for breakfast once a week (at 6:45 a.m.!). It has been wonderful having this nice place to meet, to study the Bible with friends, and to enjoy a time of fellowship over lunch followed by a time of praying for each other.  Our group size varies as people come and go from the island. We miss Heather (3rd person on left) who just returned home to Indiana after 3 months here.

I need to be taking more beach pictures! More to come....

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Settling In

Returning to the island after a 6 month absence is always an adventure. Things can change quickly here making settling back in a bit more of a challenge. For example: we had suspended our cable service while away. The cable office had moved last spring to the second floor of Plaza Mar, above the grocery store. We were told that we could stop in there on our way home from the airport and have our service reinstated. Sounded so convenient since we would be stopping at the grocery store for essentials on the way home, BUT the office moved while we were away. Thankfully, our friend Lynne, who had picked us up, is also a cable subscriber and knew were the new office was located. So she drove us down to Main street in Coxen Hole only to find that the office was not open on Saturday - or maybe it was only open in the morning. We rarely watch tv so that part didn’t bother us, but we get our internet via cable, and that did bother us.

Monday morning found us back at the cable office where we reactivated our account and, of course, we expected that it would instantly be turned back on. Nope, it would take 3-4 days. Groan. Actually, the cable guy came by late Tuesday afternoon and let us know that we were up and running. 

We have in the past had to re-register our cell phones upon every return, which requires a drive to French Harbor to the Claro store and is a minor nuisance. This year we left our phones with friends, Larry and Susan, and had them keep the phones active by using them once in awhile and also, the big factor, adding more saldo (balance) to the phones every 3 months, otherwise the minutes expire and the phone will need to be reregistered which also results in getting a new phone number with the added hassle of letting Roatan friends know the new number. Our strategy worked beautifully; the phones were in good order. I did require an intervention from our young friend, Juan. My Blackberry was receiving 10-12 pop-up messages from Claro everyday, and I was being charged for each one. They were all ads for services that never interested me and annoyed the heck out of me, as well as draining my balance more quickly. Juan called the main office on the mainland and got it stopped.  Thank you, Juan!!!! 

Our car, which we bought shortly before we left in the spring, had to have the registration renewed in July. Nope, they would not change the renewal date even though we bought the car in March. Friends to the rescue again - Franklin took our old registration to the bank, paid the $200. fee and received the unofficial new registration. Apparently, the bank was out of the correct color of paper needed, and their laminator was broken. They stamped the registration as paid but said a return visit would be necessary, so Don took the paper into a branch of our bank. They had the necessary supplies but were reluctant to print it for us because the renewal had been paid at another bank. Don played dumb, and they finally relented, charging him just a couple of bucks.

The car battery was completely dead. Dennis had charged it a few times, but it finally would not hold the charge. So, we borrowed our old car back from Larry, and went to town for a new battery ($130.). The a/c was also not working, but it is legal to buy cans of freon (or whatever they call it now), so Don was able to recharge the a/c himself. Ahhhhh! Blessed relief! Thankful for a husband who can do all these things. And thankful for all our Roatan friends who made our reentry more pleasant!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Return to Island Life

It has been a long time since I have blogged, partly because the newness of island life has worn off and many oddities have become sort of normal to us, and partly for other reasons. While back in the US this summer, some people asked why I stopped, so this is for them.

We’ve been back for one month. So nice to be settled back into our own place after 6 months of constant traveling, staying with family or friends, and sacrificing the privacy to just BE. Still, we don’t really complain. We chose this lifestyle, and we realize how blessed we are.

Here are some random thoughts and comparisons of our life in both countries:
  1. It is so quiet here on the island. So quiet up on our hill. Very little traffic noise from down the hill, rarely noise from a plane. No construction noise. We do have a lot of noisy roosters early in the morning, an occasional cow mooing down the hill, a weed eater running now and then. So quiet that you can hear the rain approaching through the trees or across the ocean, getting louder as it draws closer. So quiet that you can hear the chorus of birds all around you: parrots, grackles, woodpeckers, vultures, hummingbirds and others that I don’t recognize. 
  2. The airports, so vastly different. The Roatan airport is small, crowded and noisy on Saturdays, not so much on other days. It’s almost like a social gathering, you see so many people you know there to pick up or drop off someone, you stop for hugs and a bit of conversation. Being greeted by airport volunteer greeters whom we know is so welcoming. 
  3. Immigration - much improved in the past few years on the island. We now have agents who speak English! as well as Spanish. The volunteers greet and direct new arrivals, answer questions, keep traffic moving through the immigration lines and they are friendly! Yes, they smile! Residents (that’s us) have their own line which is much shorter than the visitor line. Everyone coming in has their photo taken, compared to their passport or residency card, and are fingerprinted by placing their fingertips against a small screen which is connected to the computer system; I’m not sure why, perhaps checking for criminals? I doubt that most criminals would enter that way. And the computers! Big improvement from even a couple of years ago when no computers were used and it took an hour or more to pass through. And the airport is now air-conditioned throughout!
  4. The price of electricity on the island has dropped by 25% since 2013. We still pay 30¢ per kWh as compared to about 8¢ per kWh in St. Louis. Air-conditioning, clothes dryers, etc. are used sparingly. It has been so hot here since our return that we did use the a/c every afternoon and at night for sleeping. Thankful that it has finally cooled off, although nighttime lows are still in the upper 70s and daytime temps in the mid-80s. Not much variation.
  5. Grocery prices have really jumped here. I’ll write more about this another time, but I was surprised to see the cost of ground beef (Honduran beef) had increased from about $3 per pound this past spring to  $4.17 per pound. Interestingly, I paid not much more for a package of stew meat.  Prices on chicken feet remain very low at about $1.00 per pound and gizzards are comparably priced…not that I intend to buy either one. 
  6. Comprehensive car insurance is cheaper ($278) than liability which runs $300 per year for ANY vehicle and has a maximum benefit of $14,750. Comprehensive is not available for a vehicle older than 15 years. 
  7. Shocked and appalled to see a bag of frozen tilapia from China on the island. Don learned that because the US is now buying much of its seafood from China that the fishing fleet here on Roatan has dropped from around 500 boats to less than 100!!! 

More to come later.