September 30, 2006

Prince Charming

What do you want?

I don't want a kiss

Contemplating the future

La Gringa's gardening background

Not much to tell here. I don't come from a family of gardeners. My first experience with gardening was in my father's vegetable garden. It was located at the 100-year-old abandoned family homestead of my great-grandparents in Michigan − without electricity or running water − which we visited only sporadically on weekends and holidays.

I remember eating raw green beans right in the garden once and thinking how wonderful they tasted. But mostly I just wanted to go swimming so I didn't learn much here.

One time when I was about 5 years old, my father let me plant the radish seeds, telling me to plant them an inch apart. I was a very serious child, trying always to do everything exactly right so as to not disappoint anyone. Many years later my father told me, "When those radishes came up, by God each one sat exactly one inch apart, no more, no less."

To this day, I can't imagine how my father gardened there. We lived several hours away so the garden was neglected for weeks at a time. The way we micro-manage our gardens today, analyzing every yellow leaf tip and fretting over every insect makes it hard to believe a garden could just grow! Maybe insects weren't such a problem before we started blasting everything with chemicals, ruining the balance of nature, and building up the insects' tolerance for stronger and stronger chemicals.

I didn't do any more gardening until many years later when I bought my first house. It had two small trees in front, a little bermuda grass, and nothing but dirt in back. So, I began to learn about gardening out of necessity. I made a lot of mistakes but over a 10-year period, it turned into an oasis of shade and color, complete with a little vegetable garden, grape vines, and a peach tree. I regret that I used gallons and gallons of chemicals during this period but that was the advice I received at the time.

My next project was a 50-year-old badly neglected Texas Ranch-style home that needed complete remodeling as did the yard. I could see the potential as there were very large 50-year-old Red Oaks, two Redbuds, and a Dogwood, but there were also several dead or dying trees, tree stumps, and some horribly overgrown and misshapen Japanese privets and English ivy. It was easily the ugliest property on the block, maybe the entire neighborhood! I became very popular with my neighbors when the improvements began.

Two seemingly insurmountable problems led to my investigation of organics. The first was that although the lawn was coming along nicely after a year or two, each spring it would be overrun with sprouting weeds. I would spread the 'cides to kill the weeds like all my neighbors but still ended up on my knees for days pulling out weeds.

When I realized that this wasn't working, I started listening to the Saturday afternoon gardening radio shows and began to learn about organics from Howard Garrett, the Dirt Doctor. I decided to try it and what do you know?! After a year, I had the best looking front yard on the block and didn't have to spray or pull weeds either. This is a picture of the front yard.

The second problem was a very large Red Oak tree whose canopy shaded the terrace and driveway in back. Every year it would be invaded by aphids or some other insect whose sticky goo would drop to the terrace floor and cover the cars. It was so bad that my shoes would literally stick to the ceramic tiles on the terrace and the car windows would have to be cleaned anytime the car was parked in the driveway overnight.

When I quit spraying, we never had that problem again, either the tree became healthier or the beneficial insects began doing the job that the sprays just couldn't do or both. I was convinced that organic gardening was the way to go. This is a picture of my greenhouse. I really miss it.

Of course, there are many more and certainly loftier reasons to be an organic gardener but I have to admit that these insignificant problems were my first impetus. For 10 years I maintained a strictly organic garden to the amazement of my neighbors. When I sold the house to move to Honduras, it was only on the market for one weekend before a bidding war upped the offer to more than my asking price. The buyers said that the garden was what sold them on the property.

I've learned about organic gardening from books, the internet, and various gardening discussion groups on the internet. That's the same way I'm learning about tropical gardening. I'm not an expert in either by any means.

Here in La Ceiba, time and time again people have told me that it is impossible to have an organic garden or to grow organic vegetables in the tropics. Whenever I mention any gardening problem, the answer I receive always includes some miracle 'cide in a bottle that will solve all of my problems.

Obviously, it isn't impossible because we do have an organic garden and we do raise vegetables organically, despite the lack of packaged organic fertilizers. It isn't perfect but neither are the chemical gardens. I can't change the customs here but practicing organic gardening makes me feel good to know that at least we are not damaging the environment and that we, our pets, and the wildlife around us are safer for it.

Richard Gere came to Honduras

Photo: La Prensa, Honduras

This is old news, but it was big news in Honduras. Last March actor Richard Gere and his family vacationed in Copan, site of the famous Mayan ruins. It's not often that we get movie stars on the mainland of Honduras. It was front page headline news − the entire front page of the paper and all of pages 2 and 3.

The picture above probably shows him asking the photographers for the hundredth time to please not follow his family around taking pictures. Judging by the number of photos in the 3-page spread in the paper, that wish was not respected. The following picture is of his wife, actress Carey Lowe, probably saying for the hundredth time, "Take the picture and then leave us alone, please!!"

Photo: La Prensa, Honduras

He and his family visited the ruins, ate meals on the open-air patio, and did all the normal touristy things, without an entourage or even a body guard. Very daring in this country, when Lonely Planet does not recommend that even average tourists wander around the ruins without an escort due to the danger of robberies and rapes. He was offered security by the Policía de Turismo (Tourism Police) but turned it down.

Apparently, the first day no one in Copan even knew that a movie star was there until other tourists started mentioning him. Then the photographers showed up. The newspaper article stated that his wife stayed in the room a lot and noted that Richard didn't dress like a movie star and needed a shave. The bartender said that he was nice, but "no tan guapo" (not as good looking) as in the movies.

The newspaper interviewed a waiter who reported how much Richard drank the first day (two beers), every single thing he ate, and that he liked pupusas (a thick corn masa stuffed with cheese or pork rinds). The bartender expressed her disappointment at the amount of tip Richard left for a drink in the bar.

In the original newspaper article, I specifically remember that they reported the tip was "only" $20 which, at the time, I remember thinking was as much as a waiter probably normally makes in two days. Interestingly, I checked La Prensa's archives and the amount was changed to $2 in the archived article. And then later again, it was changed to a $12 tip! A $12 tip for two beers sounds pretty darn good to me. It was a shame that they misreported that in the paper version.

Movie stars are used to that sort of coverage, but in a country that is desperately trying hoping to increase tourism, I just wish they would have treated him a little better.


Isn't he gorgeous? In my opinion, the older he gets, the better he gets. I love that grey hair and nobody looks better in a tuxedo than Richard Gere.

September 28, 2006

La Gringa meets Bound for Ceiba

Somehow when I started this blog I thought I could be anonymous. Mysterious and anonymous. I liked that idea. It made me feel a little more free to say whatever I wanted to say. I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could be tall and thin and beautiful. Maybe even a blonde. Yeah, uh, that's right. I'm a tall, thin, blonde for anyone who was wondering. Ummm, probably about 25 years old. Yeah, 25, that's right. See? That's my picture above.

Who is going to know the difference when I'm way down here in Central America and most of my readers are way up there in the USA, Canada, and Europe?

Well, it was not to be. People actually come to La Ceiba from other countries. Why didn't I think of that? So far my future visitor list includes a Canadian couple, a French couple, and another American couple.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Bound for Ceiba from The Southern Leap. Gosh, she is who I wanted to be: tall, thin, blonde, and beautiful. She was here checking out properties for a business she plans to open.

We got together for coffee one afternoon during her short trip. We went to a little sidewalk cafe that was open for lunch. When they closed at 2 p.m., they cleared the table of everything and hinted strongly that we should leave but we just kept talking. (Sometimes there is an advantage to not speaking Spanish very well − I can play dumb. Besides, we were hardly going to steal the chairs; they weighed 75 lbs. each.) She's a great person and I really enjoyed our 3-hour chat. She even brought me some real, honest-to-goodness chocolate chips! How nice is that!

Next month the French couple is coming down. We're going to go out to dinner. It is such a small world!

But don't worry, this is my blog and I'm still going to say whatever I want to say! I just won't be able to be a blonde anymore − that picture is really Bound for Ceiba. Isn't she gorgeous? Sorry for the fib. ;-)

Blogging by candlelight

I wonder how many people draft their blogs by hand with pen and paper? Maybe a lot, but I wonder how many use pen and paper by candlelight? That's what I'm doing. I feel a little like Abraham Lincoln.

Can anything be worse than not having electricity? I'll tell you what is worse: Having 30% of your normal electrical power. This has happened several times lately. Today we went to 30% power for several hours, most of it after dark, of course. That means that all the light bulbs try to shine. All the appliances try to run. All those LED displays try to light up. I'm saying 30% power, but of course I'm only guessing. The 60 watt light bulbs look to be about 20 watt strength.

We always turn off the main breaker as soon as we notice, but no telling what is happening to the refrigerator motor, ceiling fans, and light bulbs in the meantime. Recently El Jefe talked to someone at the power company about it, but he just shrugged, saying that San Pedro and Tegucigalpa get all the power and we only get whatever is left over, which is apparently not enough.

Of course, if you are reading this, then that means that the power came back and I'm happy again.

September 27, 2006

Geckos - Our other household members

This little gecko was hiding behind my spice rack. He was in plain view, of course, until I ran to get the camera. Every time the flash went off, he found a new hiding place.

I won't call him a visitor like I did the scorpion. He and several of his family are permanent indoor residents. I don't mind. Geckos eat insects and that's a good thing because we have plenty of insects in the tropics. And it is a good thing that I don't mind because it is virtually impossible to keep them out. They come into the house from between the windows and the screens and under the doors.

I've seen some babies as small as about 1/2 inch (1 cm.). The largest I've seen is about 4 inches (10 cm.). I think we have both geckos and anoles. One type is longer and thinner and the other is more chunky looking. I'm pretty sure this is a gecko, but someone correct me if I'm wrong.

We also see iguanas of up to 3 feet (1 m.) in the trees in the yard and another type of medium-sized lizard that seems to run on its back legs seeking insects in the vegetable beds. Luckily these larger ones aren't interested in coming into the house. I'm not sure I would be so tolerant of them.

I often see a gecko lurking under the upper kitchen cabinets in the evening. I think it is because the undercounter lights attract flying insects so it is sort of a gecko-buffet at night. Other times they sit clinging to the upper part of the wall or even on the ceilings. It is amazing how quickly they can climb a wall. It's also amazing to watch how quickly they move when they are catching insects.

It can be a little disconcerting when you catch sight of something out of the corner of your eye flashing across the wall. But better a gecko than a cockroach, right? We don't have any of those!

September 26, 2006

Toucan pictures

One good thing happened today. Well, two counting getting my blog back from "Beta hell," as Gardener in Mexico put it, but I count that as only canceling out the bad thing of losing my blog Sunday night. I was downloading some photos from the camera and found that El Jefe (the boss) had gotten some great pictures of the toucans.

You can't know how exciting this is for me. Toucans have been coming to some Miconia trees that grow wild on our hill as well as some of the trees surrounding our yard for 5 years, but we've never been able to get one single picture.

This is a tree across the street from our house. All kinds of birds love this poor old tree. Ordinarily we can't get a good picture because of the foliage. This little guy was kind enough to give El Jefe a profile.

Here are three toucans. If you enlarge the picture (by clicking on it), you can see another one looking in the other direction behind the toucan to the right. Aren't they wonderful?

Even Ceibeños are impressed to see the toucans here because they just aren't seen that much in residential areas. Several workers from across the street gathered around to watch them. Maybe it is the no-chemical use that attracts the birds.

I've marked five toucans in this picture. You'll just have to take my word for it. :-) I know the picture isn't detailed enough to really see them.

When our Miconia trees have berries, the toucans come almost everyday at 4 p.m., never earlier. I don't know where they go during the day, but we always see them between 4 and 5 p.m. They are creatures of habit.

Today's Harvest, September 26

Well, I actually had about 50 of these. No, wait, it was, uh, 50 lbs. of these. No, uh, it must have been more like 100 lbs. Yeah, that's right, it was 100 lbs. of chiles, but I've already canned them all so I can't show them to you. Sorry. Maybe next time. ;-P

Clearly La Gringa is being punished for her spoof on spammers. First takes La Gringa's Blogicito to never-never land and now this pitiful harvest. It is a beauty, though, isn't it? I think it is an Anaheim but Chloe, the Rotten Rottweiller, ate the label.

I cut it up into slivers in our salads and it was nice and picante (spicy). I wasn't expecting it to be that hot and didn't use latex gloves when I cut it. Later, even after washing my hands several times, I rubbed my upper lip and my lip was burning the rest of the evening.

I'm usually very careful about using gloves because once I cut up a big batch of jalapeños and my hands were on fire for 3 days. I tried everything, including rubbing my hands with lemon and soaking them in soapy water for an hour. I honestly thought I was going to have to go to the hospital but I held off and finally the burning went away.

So the moral of this story is twofold: Always wear gloves when cutting chiles and never make jokes about becoming a multi-millionaire. (Three-fold: Never tell a fib about your harvest.)

La Gringa is back!

The 'Happy Day' picture above is from Bruski Bibs. It's a baby sheet and it looks just how I feel right now.

Oh, happy day! Sometime between 40 and 46 hours after I clicked the button to switch to Blogger in Beta, my blog reappeared. Hooray! I was a nervous wreck thinking that all my hard work over the past almost three months was gone. I did a quick check and everything seems to be there and working. I'll have to check it out more later.

The reason I don't know exactly when it came back is that our power went out about 3 p.m. and didn't come back until almost 8 p.m. Jeesh, what a day.

I have to thank my good buddies, Gardener in Mexico, Central American Rhapsody, and The Southern Leap, for posting the 'public service announcements' about where to find my temporary emergency blog (which I'm keeping, by the way, just in case). If La Gringa ever disappears again, check for me at Blogicito.

Okay, back to work.

Whaaaaaah! La Gringa was lost in limbo

Originally published on my 'emergency blog' slightly changed to avoid confusion--LG

I decided to take the plunge. Go for it. It's been a month or so since Blogger in Beta came out and it seemed like they had worked out most of the problems. I thought.

I really wanted the 'category' function of Blogger Beta. I think it would be helpful to my readers. Some people come to La Gringa for the 'gardening information,' others come for the 'life in La Ceiba' articles, and apparently a great number come to find out 'what the weather is really like in La Ceiba' before planning their vacation. I did some research and there are ways of doing that with the old Blogger, but they seemed a little complicated for this non-programmer.

The other day, I noticed that when I logged in there was a new area saying that I could switch to Beta. Silly me, I assumed that meant that my blog was suitable for migration (not all blogs are for various reasons).

Apparently not! I clicked the "switch to Beta" button thinking that it would ask me something, show me something, tell me something, or at least say "are you sure?" Nope. Just a note saying bye-bye and we'll send you an email when it's finished.

For the first few hours, I wasn't too worried, not knowing how long it was supposed to take. Then an internet friend from Mexico wrote to say "Are you worried? Mine transfered instantly." Yikes! If I wasn't too worried before, I certainly was then.

The first 24 hours, I couldn't sign into either my new or old account. My old account told me that it was merged with my new beta account and to log in there. My new account told me my email address didn't exist. I finally clicked on change the password and Google/Blogger allowed me to change the password on my non-existant email address.

Then I could sign in, but I saw the same thing you did: "This blog is currently moving to Blogger in beta. Please check back in a little while."

So finally today, 36 hours after the changeover, I decided to set up a temporary blog. I'm not sure what good it will do, since La Gringa's readers will probably never find it.

If you did find the temporary blog, thanks for looking for La Gringa. I'm back to posting on this blog now and I'm very glad to see you back, too!

September 23, 2006

La Gringa's lucky week

Originally I didn't think it was a good idea to put my email address on this blog but I did it anyway. Boy, am I glad I did! I'm about to become a multi-millionaire.

On September 19, Peter West, ( ) a former personal aide to Liberian President Charles Taylor, wrote to say that he needs La Gringa's help in moving some funds out of the country. He didn't talk numbers but he did say we are going to share the money. He even included a Spanish translation of his message − how considerate. I have only 7 days to get back to him.

The next day, Mr. Adams Mente ( ) from the Ivory Coast of West Africa wrote to say that he wants to come to stay with La Gringa while he completes his education in my country (Honduras?). Poor boy − he's an orphan and he's going to transfer
U.S. $8.5 million to my account so I can invest it for him. He's in a bigger hurry. He's waiting for my "urgent call."

The very next day, a Kuwaiti Jordanian, Mr. Nedal Jrab ( or ) wrote me a long email. It's a very sad story; it basically shows that money doesn't buy happiness. Since he's dying and already has given most of his property and assets away, he has only
U.S. $120 million left. He wants La Gringa to take charge and give it to charity, "setting aside 10% for your time and effort," of course. Sounds fair to me.

Coincidentally, Ali Hussein ( ), a businessman from Basra, Iraq, wrote to me as his "Muslim brother" the same day. Ali was a little less formal. I guess I don't have to call him 'Mr.' Well, he was a little vague but here's what he had to say:

"As you and I know about the unrest in my country, I went to use this means to apple for your help to relocate my family to your country (Honduras?) and if there is any lucretive business i can invest over there place do tell me. I just lost my wife some month ago because of the unrest here in Basra and 8months baby with me now."
The day after, Mr. Tarnue Weah ( or ) wrote from the Republic of Mauritus. He's dying, too, and his last wish is that La Gringa fund an orphanage with his U.S. $2 million, with 10% going to me to "prepare you for the task ahead," of course. He has done a thorough search on La Gringa and only needs a few details from me, then we are all set to go.

Now I'm a little worried about Peter's forgetfulness, because he sent me another email only 3 days after his first. Oh, I see now: he has changed his email address to and instructed me to "kindle contact me with my privet email ID" ( peterwest ). Wow − his private email. I guess that Mr. Jrab thought I needed another reminder, too. It came today. He hasn't changed his email address. It's still or .

I've also gotten three of these but I'm not sure if they need my help or not:
★ ライフライン ★




I did some calculations and even if the vague gentlemen have only $1 million each, the 10% cut for me (that seems to be the going rate) adds up to
U.S. $13,250,000. At 18.90 Honduran lempiras per dollar, that will give me 250 million lempiras, all in one week. I think I'll buy La Ceiba! That's me in the picture.

(I've read that there are computer spam bots that search the entire internet for email addresses. Well, I certainly hope they don't pick up the addresses mentioned above. I'd hate for Peter and Ali and all the rest of the gang to start getting a bunch of spam.)

I did have to remove the live link to my email because I'm going to be much too busy handling all of these millions to take on any more new projects. If you want to reach me, you'll just have to type in my gmail address from the graphic in the 'About me' section or go to my profile for a clickable link. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I'm sure you understand. ;-D

From the tropics to the far north

Here in the tropics, things grow fast and big, and we can grow vegetables year round. I like to rub that in a little bit with my northern friends, since there isn't much else to brag about in Honduras. Oh, except for those mangosteens which I enjoy flaunting to los Norte Americanos. By the way, we bought some more the other day. :-P

All the rest of my gardening experience, except for planting radishes in Michigan when I was 5 years old, has been in Dallas, Texas, where we also have a pretty long growing season. I always assumed that the further north you are located, the shorter your season and the smaller your crops. Seemed logical to me.

So I was shocked when I clicked a link to this Alaskan site, The Northernmost Jew. You must click this link and see this 73 pound cabbage grown in Alaska. It seems that Alaska's 24-hour daylight days have a tremendous effect on gardens. There is also a picture of a 81 lb. kohlrabi. The author apologized for not getting a good picture of the 1,019 lb. pumpkin. I would have liked to have seen that.

I also learned that not only does Alaska not have a state income tax, but this year the state paid each and every resident, including children, $1,106 to live there. I learn something new every day. Now, click that link!

September 22, 2006

Day 6: Water


Running water ...

What more could you ask for?

September 21, 2006

Day 5: No Water

A common saying here in La Ceiba is "We can live without electricity, but we can't live without water." I don't agree with this. We can get water in buckets and bring it here. We even have a big water truck coming daily to fill the cisterns for the people who have them. (Not us, boohoo.) We have to buy purified water for drinking and cooking anyway.

But when the electricity is out, I can't use the stove or, more importantly, the computer, or turn on lights, or make a pot of coffee, and I have to worry about all of the food in the refrigerator and freezer spoiling. So if I have to choose, I'd choose electricity over water.

Okay. That's my general attitude − but at Day 5 of No Water, I'm starting to lose patience.

The first couple of days, lack of water is a good excuse not to wash the dishes. After that, there's no way around it. They have to be done. I fill the sink part way with cold water and boil some water to add to the sink. Hardly anyone washes dishes with hot water. The maids (when I'm lucky enough to get one) always complain about it. But I don't feel like the dishes are really clean unless the water is hot.

I started noticing 'things' floating in the buckets of water. Dirt doesn't float, neither does sand. Oh, I don't even want to think about what that might be. So today I used purified water to rinse the dishes after I washed them. But then, I started thinking that any bacteria in the water would not be killed by just adding hot water to the cold, so now I guess I'll boil all the water to wash the dishes.

For handwashing, I keep some containers of Wet Ones antibacterial wipes in the kitchen and bathrooms or we wash our hands by pouring water from a pitcher. It always helps to have someone to pour the water for you because it's really hard to wash your hands one hand at a time. Try it sometime.

For bathing, we take bucket baths. Everyone in Central America knows what that is, but for the privileged masses, here is a description: You put a 5-gallon bucket of water in the shower. You take a plastic bowl, scoop up some water and pour it all over yourself. Then you wash, then you rinse with water scooped up and poured from the bowl. I need a minimum of two gallons. Shampooing is similar and boy, do you need a lot of bowlfuls of water to rinse out all that shampoo.

I think Gardener in Mexico mentioned that if you keep the bucket of water in the sun that you can actually take a warm bucket bath. It is so hot here that the cool water usually is not too uncomfortable except for shampooing. Brrr! It makes me shiver to pour cold water over my head.

Morning activities: I always keep a liter bottle of purified water in the bathroom to rinse my mouth after brushing my teeth. Most people think that's a little extreme, but you never know what kind of crud is going to come out of the faucets. Better safe than sorry, I say.

For washing up, I use the plastic bowl of water, pouring it into my hand and splashing it on my face. I wear contact lenses and I don't trust this water we have been getting, so I've been rinsing my contacts with purified water.

Toilets: We pour water into the toilet bowl or the tank to flush the toilets. This is disgusting, but we only flush them a couple of times a day or when necessary, if you know what I mean. Poor El Jefe's back is breaking from hauling eight 5-gallon buckets of water every two days and then moving them around the house. If we flushed every time, he would have to refill the buckets every day.

Most homes have underground or above ground cisternas (cisterns in English; usually called tinacos in Mexico and some other Central American countries). We don't. We were told that it wasn't necessary here in this colonia because we have ample water in our neighborhood well. Another big mistake. Our well does seem to have sufficient water but when the electricity is out or the pump malfunctions, there is no way to get the water from the well to our houses.

Our plan is to get one of those 500-gallon fiberglass tanks and put it on a raised platform. A pump will be required to fill the tank, but when the power goes out, gravity will provide water to our household system. How pretty that will be in the landscape. NOT!

This is definitely something that we need to get started on soon.

The worst and most annoying thing about not having running water is that I still reach for and try to turn on the faucets about 40 times a day. Every time I use the bathroom, I still try to flush the toilet − then I remember. I still try to wash my hands − then I remember. I still try to rinse the food off of dirty dishes − then I remember.

Today while washing the dishes, even though I had a pitcher of water right in front of me in the sink to rinse them, I tried to turn on the water five times.

Yesterday, I noticed that the front lawn and plants looked dry. (Yes, wouldn't you know it, it rains every day for the last four months and now that we need it, it doesn't come.) I went to the garage to get a sprinkler. I dragged over the hose cart, unwound the hose, ran the hose from the cart behind some shrubs and connected it to the faucet. It wasn't until after I turned on the faucet and listened to the sound of sucking air that I remembered that WE DON'T HAVE WATER.

After drafting this article, I went out to check on what is left of the vegetable garden. I thought the soil looked a little dry so I went over and turned on the soaker hoses. Sucking air sound. Once again, I forgot that WE DON'T HAVE WATER.

Running water − It's a hard habit to break!

La Gringa goofs

I'm sure it's not the first time, but it is the first time that anyone has told me. Alberto wrote to tell me that I had misidentified one of my found plants as Dracaena surculosa. He is a landscape designer in Panama so I'm sure he knows.

Here's the picture of the plant in question.

When I was trying to identify it, I found this picture in my 'Gardening in the Tropics' book.

At first glance, the picture looked so similar that I looked no further. I remember thinking, "Dracaena? How strange, I thought they had narrow lance-like leaves." But I was in a hurry to post and didn't check it out on the internet.

After getting Alberto's email, I did do some checking and I think he's right that my plant is a Dieffenbachia. The stem is thinner but looks the same as the Dieffenbachia maculata. Also the pattern of splotches of white originally looked more like dots, but now that the plants have grown, the dots look more like the streaks of the other Dieffenbachia. It definitely isn't the maculata, though, and it is staying much smaller, so far anyway. It has white splotching on the stems of the leaves, too.

At first, I thought it might be Dieffenbachia seguine, but my American Horticulture Society encyclopedia says that seguine has a white midrib and these have a green midrib. After looking at 100's of pictures on the internet, I still don't know what variety it might be.

Latin is the international language of botany. While I'll never be a botanist or anything even close, I do think it is important to include the Latin names of plants when I know them or can find them, because most plants have a different common name in every area where they are grown and certainly every country has their own local names.

So, thanks Alberto, for setting me straight! If anyone has any idea about the name of this variety, please let me know.

September 19, 2006

How to have a better banking experience in Honduras

In the last article, I wrote of some of the frustrations of banking in Honduras. In this article, I'll tell you how to make your life a little easier.

All banks offer accounts in U.S. dollars and Honduran Lempiras. Although the exchange rate has been stable for more than a year, it's best to maintain accounts in both currencies. Some companies, such as cell phone, cable, and others, bill in U.S. dollars and charge a higher exchange rate if you pay in Lempiras.

Some banks also offer accounts in Euros, but Banco Atlantida on more than one occasion has refused to make withdrawals from a Euro account explaining that they don't have any, telling the person to come back next week. (A Banco Ficohsa representative told us that this is completely illegal.)

If you have monthly income from the U.S., have it sent to a U.S. account from which you can write checks and have online access. Write a check from your U.S. account and deposit it to your Honduran account. You'll need to plan ahead because the cash won't be available for at least 3 weeks, but you'll save a lot of money on bank transfer fees or courier services. Mailing checks from the U.S. through regular mail is out of the question.

Before opening an account in any bank, read their brochure or internet site to find out what services are offered. Do not rely on what the clerk will tell you. Not all banks have online access or the ability to accept payments for utilities or government-related things, such as taxes or car registrations. It is not unusual to have to withdraw money from one bank and physically take it to another bank to make a payment, which can mean an hour or more in each bank. Checks will not be accepted. And don't even think about sending a payment through the mail − this is Honduras.

Ensure that your joint accounts are properly set up or you will find that your husband or wife cannot replace a debit card or order checks without your permission. Don't take the clerk's word for it. Verify it with a supervisor.

Set up online banking access for your Honduran account. Transfers between accounts (dollars to Lempiras, Lempiras to checking) can be made online, but be sure to print out a copy of any dollar conversions to take to the bank to get official divisas if you need them for your residency requirements. (And don't believe the clerks when they tell you that they don't give divisas for online transactions − it is required by law.)

Utilities, cell phone bills, and car registrations can be paid online. Since bills are rarely sent and the mail is unreliable, online banking is the best way to keep up with these bills. Payments to third parties who have accounts with your bank can be made online as well.

Get an ATM debit card. Five years ago only some of the gas stations and larger stores accepted debit cards. Now more and more stores and some smaller restaurants are accepting them. There is no fee for ATM cash withdrawals on certain 'premier' accounts and even on smaller accounts, the fee is only 10 - 30 Lempiras (approximately $.50 to $1.50) depending on whether you use a ATM machine within your bank's system. An ATM card is not only more convenient, it is much safer than carrying around wads of cash. Just be sure to ask if there is an extra charge; some stores add anywhere from 3% to 10% for the privilege of using a card.

Online banking and an ATM card will greatly limit your need to actually go to the bank. When you do have to go in person, try to plan your trip for Monday through Thursday but not on the 15th or end of the month. Don't go at lunch time because invariably the only person who can help you will be at lunch.

Keep your American credit cards and pay the monthly bills online with your U.S. account. Honduran credit card companies charge monthly interest and service charges totaling approximately 60% annually. Yes, 60%, you read that right!

Don't expect to be able to pay by check anywhere. If you have been doing business with someone for awhile, you may be able to write a check but most one-time or large purchases will require a cash payment or a direct bank deposit to the person's account. If you do make a direct deposit to someone's account, be sure to get a legible copy of the receipt.

And finally, save your debit card receipts and check your accounts and balance them monthly with a calculator. In Honduras accounting systems, debits do not have to equal credits.

The frustrations of banking in Honduras

Banking can be frustrating in Honduras, and probably in most other Central American countries. Here in La Ceiba, efficiency is an unknown characteristic. Opening an account routinely takes 2-3 hours. Go to a bank on a Friday afternoon or Saturday and you can easily spend more than an hour in line. Some of that time may be spent standing in line outside in the sun just waiting to get into the bank. Have a problem with your account or need a special service? Well, it's best to have a glass of wine or take a tranquilizer before you go − and don't make any appointments for the rest of the day.

Even if the bank isn't crowded, you will still have the pleasure of having a guard wave his metal detector over you and stick the nose of his rifle in your purse − that is if they allow you to carry your purse into the bank − most don't. They routinely tell El Jefe to lift his shirt to show he isn't carrying a weapon when his belt sets off the alarm. Once at the counter, most of the bank tellers will treat you with an attitude ranging from disdain to downright rudeness, not even acknowledging you when you say buenos días (good morning).

We've had accounts at many of the banks in La Ceiba. In the beginning when we came here, we transferred a large amount of money to buy property and build our house (that money is long gone). Since two banks went bankrupt right about the time we moved here, we weren't too comfortable putting it all in one bank. We started with the biggest bank, Banco Atlantida, the oldest and supposedly the most secure. The service was appallingly rude and inefficient. The other banks were smaller but not much better. When I got to the point where I was hyperventilating every time I even thought about going to Banco Atlantida, I knew it was time to close those accounts.

A few examples, just so you won't automatically think that I'm just another demanding American:

Once my computer generated bank book did not add up correctly. While the ending balance seemed right, it appeared to have some transactions missing. The customer service representative told me I would have to pay for her to give me a computer printout of my account activity. I said that I wasn't going to pay for her to show me what should have already been printed in my bank book, but I had to go to an assistant manager to get it done.

One time we had to withdraw approximately L.160,000 to pay for construction materials. I asked for it to be in the form of a check, since I didn't relish the idea of carrying that amount of cash with me to San Pedro Sula, which is a two-hour drive away and a very dangerous city. The bank teller insisted that they charge 1% for typing a check. I said that I wasn't going to pay a single penny for a check, went to the bank manager, and guess what? I didn't have to pay. That rule is only for those who don't have an account at the bank. A mistake which would have cost me L.1,600 (at that time about $100) if I hadn't complained.

Another time we were paying approximately $5,000 to a supplier who didn't accept checks. In Lempiras, this is L.94,500. The largest Lempira bill is L.500 so $5,000 equals 189 bills. Try putting that in your wallet. Oh, wait a minute. I wasn't allowed to carry my wallet into the bank since it has a metal clasp and wouldn't go through the metal detector. Since robberies outside of banks are common − in fact it is sometimes suggested to be a result of a signal from a teller to his/her cohorts outside − I thought it reasonable that the cash be put in an envelope. Nope, banks don't give envelopes away. So I stuffed the money in my pocket and left.

One bank lost my Honduran identification card while making a copy of it. It was late in the day and the representative blithely suggested that I return the next day and it would probably turn up. You can't do anything in Honduras without your ID card. In fact it is a law that you carry it. Merely not possessing an ID card gives the police the right to take you to jail. I said I was not leaving the bank until they found it. Although I got some menacing looks from the guard, the disgusted clerks kept looking until they found it − on the copy machine, which was where I had suggested that they look in the first place.

Finally we found Banco Ficohsa, which is the only Honduran bank to have mini-branches in the U.S. Apparently they have a customer service training program or maybe it's just a better place to work and the employees are happier. They actually smile, greet customers, usually even remembering our names. They act as if they appreciate our business. We have gotten to know one of the assistant managers. He is very friendly and whenever there is a problem, he usually can take care of it.

Many of the banking laws in Honduras are to protect the banks not the customers. When a U.S. check is deposited, the funds will be withheld by the bank for up to one month before the customer can access them, even though the transfer is usually effected electronically in 3 or 4 days. Western Union transfers and even bank wire transfers are routinely 'misplaced' for 3 or 4 days or a week or more before the money is available to the recipient and of course no interest is paid for the use of your funds during that period. Every bank book (there are no monthly statements for savings accounts) is preprinted with the notice that the "bank reserves the right to demand a 90-day written notice prior to withdrawing any amount of money" from your account.

When using the debit card, we sometimes suffer the rath of store clerks tossing the card back at us and shouting "Denegada!!" (Denied!!) for all to hear even though our balance is well over the amount of the amount we are trying to charge. Ficohsa always apologizes for the embarrassment but can't seem to figure out what is the problem.

Just recently some of the banks seem to be competing for customers offering (they say) higher interest rates and special services. It's not perfect but we are still much happier with Ficohsa. At least they smile and say they are sorry when something goes wrong.

In my next article I'll write about some of the things you can do to make your Honduran banking experience a little better.

Update Tuesday, September 19

Just a quick note to say that we were 8 hours without cable, 28 hours without internet, and are on our third day without water. All that, of course, is interpersed with the usual one or two power outages per day. El Jefe has 5 gallon buckets of water in the bathrooms, shower, and kitchen. We used 20 gallons yesterday -- mostly for flushing the toilets. Life in the tropics!

I'll be posting later when I get organized, provided our internet connection doesn't go out again. Blogger or my connection will not let me post a picture.

Did you think I was off pouting about my guest map?

(Actually, I'm smiling now because the map is getting some nice entries. Thanks!)

September 18, 2006

Found foliage plants

We found this Caladium bicolor growing wild beside a road out in the country. It was spreading almost like a weed in several areas. Luckily I had my little shark shovel in the car, so we brought some home with us. It has gone dormant during the dry season (summer here) the last two years. Each time I thought it had died, but as soon as the weather gets a little more rainy, it comes back again from its rest. This photo shows the new leaves sprouting. It has spread somewhat but still stays in a neat clump in the corners near the front porch.

We also found this Dracaena surculosa in the same area. [Update 09/21/06: This plant was misidentified. It is a Dieffenbachia.] We dug up a couple of the taller plants. When we returned home I cut the plants into 6" pieces (15 cm.) and stuck them into the ground in front of two low windows. The cuttings rooted easily in this tropical climate. I was expecting them to quickly grow too tall for that area, but so far they have stayed a nice 24" (60 cm.), just the size I need.

While we were still living in an apartment, I bought a concrete pot containing a Dieffenbachia maculata, common name Dumb Cane. It was about 2' tall (60 cm.) and had only 4 or 5 leaves at the time. It was terribly root bound and suffered from neglect for another two years until I had someplace to plant it. By that time, it was about 4' tall (1.20 m.) and still only had 4 or 5 leaves.

The plant was so unattractive that the only thing I could do was cut up the stem into 6" pieces (15 cm.) and plant the pieces. I planted some laying sideways underground and others standing up buried about half-way. The ones standing up seemed to develop faster.

This picture was taken in June and now the plants are getting too tall for the area. I think they make a nice backdrop for the other plants in the
jardinera (window box) so I'll probably dig them up and cut off and plant the tops. I've done this once before and the decapitated heads quickly recovered from the surgery.

September 17, 2006

La Gringa's empty guest map

¡Que lástima! (How pitiful!) There have been 100 visitors from 18 countries and 15 U.S. states since I wrote the last article mentioning La Gringa's Guest Map but only three people have placed a pin on the map. Boohoo! I wonder if I wasn't clear and visitors have been clicking on the world map instead of the globe in the 'Something New!' section.

Guests can be anonymous

Just in case you are shy (or the paranoid type, as I am) the notations on the map can be completely anonymous. Only two fields are required, name and comment. Name can be fake ('La Gringa fan' is even better ;-D ). Comment can be 'Hello from Kampala, Uganda' (or wherever you are from) if you can't think of anything clever to say.

You don't have to enter your email address, in fact I suggest that you do not since I have read that spam bots search through websites gathering email addresses. You may enter your blog's URL for display, if you wish. And don't forget to select your country from the drop down list so that your flag will show with your entry − not required, but nice.

It's easy to put your pin on the map

I'm doing all the work here. Don't you think it's the least you can do for me? Here, I'll even put another copy in this article so you don't even have to go to the sidebar to look for it:

Just click on the globe and read the instructions. It's not so hard and if you make a mistake you can cancel your entry and start over.

Hundreds of prizes

The first 100 visitors will win the right to a healthful, refreshing mangosteen juice served on my lovely tropical orange terraza as soon as my crop comes in (currently estimated to be in the year 2014). You, too, could be lounging in that colorful handmade Honduran hammock (see photo below).

More begging

Okay, please? Have I begged enough? Will you put your pin on the map just to make me happy? The sooner you do it, the sooner I'll quit whining!

September 15, 2006

About La Gringa's Blog

First I have to warn you that I AM a new blogger and having had a 4 year hiatus from the internet, I am probably even more unsophisticated than most. So please forgive me as I revel a little.

I started La Gringa's Blogicito on July 15th partly as an outlet to air my frustrations and partly to alleviate the burden from a couple of internet friends who were struggling to keep up with my endlessly long emails talking about life here in Honduras. Today is the second month anniversary of this blogicito (bad name but in Spanglish it means little blog).

Yesterday the blog had its 1,400th visitor (that is if you can believe these wacky counters!). I know there are plenty of blogs that get that many visitors a day, but I marvel every single day at the number of people from all over the world who come to read this whiny drivel!

In the two months since then I've written 52 articles (wow! can this be true?). Google Analytics tells me that 'The state of fast food in La Ceiba' has been the most popular article in the past month (surprising) followed by '
Vegetable Gardening − Tropical Style' (not so surprising except that is was one of my first articles).

Almost every day something happens, or I see something, or someone says something that gives me an idea for a blog article. I'm starting to see with new eyes the things that I have gotten used to in the 5 years that I've been in Honduras. I've also used my digital camera more in this two months than in the previous 5 years.

Visitors have come from 56 countries, including China, Korea, Malaysia, Bulgaria, Uruguay, Trinidad, Canary Islands, Dubai, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey, just to mention a few of the more exotic non-English language countries. My Clustrmap has dots from 45 U.S. states − or will the next time it's updated. I'm still hoping for 5 more dots! Google Analytics tells me that visitors primarily come from Florida, California, and Texas in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Panama (thanks guys for your encouragement!), Australia, and the U.K. Just lately the blog has been getting several visitors from Honduras and that worries me a little − I'd rather keep a lower profile here!

Amazingly, La Gringa's
Technorati rating has risen from being rated 1,630,257th (haha! − was that out of 1,631,000 blogs?) on August 15, to number 175,529 in one month. It's amazing because a search on Technorati for 'La Gringa', 'blogicito', or any combination of these words results in nada (nothing)! I don't know how these ratings happen but it's pretty cool. I feel almost famous! It may be like a house of cards and come tumbling back down again so please indulge me while I enjoy it while I can.

I really am having fun writing this blog − I hope I can keep up the pace. I've 'met' some really great people from blogging, made some new friends, and discovered hundreds of other blogs that I want to keep up with. I definitely need to get them all set up on
Bloglines, a blog reader list. I'm falling way behind on my reading.

Being an immigrant in any foreign country is not easy. Being a spoiled American (yes, I will admit it!) in a poverty stricken, forgotten country is really tough sometimes. This blog makes me feel more connected to the world and a little less isolated. It helps me to stay a little more sane in this crazy country. It has also helped my relationship with
El Jefe (the boss) because now instead of complaining to him all the time, I can just 'blog it.' My hope is that in turn this blog will give the readers a little entertainment or insight into life in La Ceiba, Honduras. Thanks everybody for 'listening' to me!

Okay, now I'm embarrassed that I've written this article. Honestly, my point is not to brag but rather to thank all of you who have visited, especially those of you who have left such nice comments, and to invite all of you to come back again. If there is anything in particular that you would like to know about Honduras or my gardening experience here, please feel free to email me or leave a comment. I'm not an expert on Honduras by any means but I'll do my best to find out and write something on the topic.

There is a new La Gringa's (empty) Guest Map on the sidebar today. Please click on the globe and put a pin in the world map to show everyone where you are. Don't be shy. And please leave a comment to let me know if you have a question or suggestion! New ideas are always welcome!

September 14, 2006

Blog Day 2006

A day A few days weeks late

I was reading GardenVoices on September 1st when I found out that the official Blog Day 2006 was August 31st. Too bad. But it's better late than never. And since everything moves slower in Central America, I declare September to be the official Honduras Blog Day month. I really thought it was going to take me that long to finish this article.

The idea of Blog Day, which started in 2005, is for bloggers to have one day dedicated to getting to know bloggers from other countries and areas of interest. On August 31st, every blogger was to write a recommendation of 5 new blogs, thus encouraging blog readers to expand their horizons and enjoy a few blogs from around the globe.

This sounded like a great idea. I planned to limit my selections to Central America, since I truly believe that this is the most forgotten area of the world. Africa may be a bit poorer but it certainly gets more attention. I originally wanted to find one blog from each of the seven countries in Central America. In fact, I spent days searching for Central American blogs and the pickings are slim in English language blogs.

I wanted to avoid gardening blogs since the point was to find other areas of interest. That wasn't a problem, because I didn't find ANY gardening blogs, other than Gardener in Mexico, which I already recommend in my blogroll. I also wanted to choose blogs from people who live in the country permanently, not tourists, missionaries, or Peace Corps volunteers.

There are lots of blogs from Panama and Costa Rica, which both have large expatriate communities, but after more than a week of searching, I finally had to give up on El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. I found a few blogs but they hadn't been updated in weeks or even months. There also are many Mexican blogs in English, but (in case you didn't know it) Mexico is not part of Central America.

La Gringa's five selections

So, without further ado, here are my selections. I hope you will take a look and enjoy them as much as I do:

Belize: Back to Living in Paradise is written by American expatriate Lee, who writes about Belize and her life on a tiny island. I haven't read her whole blog yet, but I learned that Belize only gained independence from England in 1981. Lee describes herself as follows:
"I was a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown before I retired at the age of 40 and moved to Belize (5 years ago). I live 20 miles offshore on a teensy tiny island called Caye Caulker, where I have an art gallery featuring my art and local Belizean artists. Now, I'm a woman living in the moment accepting all the gifts that the universe has to offer."
For a good laugh, check out Lee's rough guide to dating in Belize.

Costa Rica: Colones are the monetary unit of Costa Rica, currently valued at 540 per $1 U.S. With his blog My Dos Colones 38-year-old Nebraskan Jon is giving the world his 'two cents' on life in Costa Rica. He gives detailed reports about the cost of living as well as sports and cultural information. Jon lives in San Jose with his Costa Rican wife and their 3 year-old son. Anyone thinking of moving to Costa Rica will find his blog extremely valuable and even if you aren't, you will find it an interesting and well documented view of life in Central America.

Panama: A Neotropical Savanna is a brand new blog from American expatriate Mary, who has set herself the difficult but admiral task of learning to identify native plants of Panama. She describes her blog as follows:
"I spent a few years at sea, and I never came back from a cruise without having learned something new about the ocean or what lived in it. Now I'm starting over, learning something new about the savanna ecosystem nearly every day I step outside. When we look to the south, we see the Pacific Ocean, far in the distance. If we were to climb to the top of Volcan Baru and look north, we'’d see the Caribbean Sea."
Armed with three botanical tomes, Mary is just beginning her adventure.

Call me biased, but since I only had four countries, I picked two blogs from Honduras.

Honduras: Central American Rhapsody - A cautionary tale is a story of life in Honduras as told by Jill, a 25-year-old American expatriate living and teaching 6th and 7th grade in San Pedro Sula. Jill is a Morman originally from Chicago who reminds us that 'Banana Republic isn't just a store at the mall.' She has been here in Honduras for two years but may be leaving next year to attend law school in Washington, D.C. Jill's blog never fails to make me laugh, especially the tales of her students.

Honduras: I assumed that most of my readers are English- language so I wasn't planning to include any Spanish- language blogs. But when I ran across this one, one of the very few blogs from my new homeland of Honduras, I just couldn't pass it up.

No-blog is the blog of a witty young computer programmer in San Pedro Sula. Rafael describes the focus of his blog as "anything that occurs and calls his attention, generally about the Internet and the things that happen in Honduras." He questions the happenings of Honduras with intelligence and a fine sense of humor.

His articles had El Jefe
and me laughing out loud. I have translated part of one of his articles in the post below. Rafael was pleased to have his article translated for English readers and graciously gave me his permission to include more articles in the future. (Whoopee! A guest blogger.)

Want more?

If you are interesting in reading other blogs from these or other countries, three good international blog sites are Global Voices, Globe of Blogs, and Expat-Blog where you can search for blogs by country. Links to these sites are also in my links section if you decide to visit them another day. To borrow a line from Global Voices, "The world is talking. Are you listening?"

10 reasons to love my homeland

− excerpted and translated from 20 razones para amar a mi patria by Rafael

  1. I don't have to worry about getting anywhere early; nothing whatsoever starts on time.
  2. I don't have to worry about terrorism; no terrorist is interested in putting bombs in this country.
  3. I don't have to suffer for my soccer team in the world cup, because they are never going to qualify for the world cup.
  4. I don't have to hurry to pay my property taxes; the government always gives amnesty to the delinquents.
  5. I don't have to worry about running red lights when I have 'money for cokes.' (La Gringa: 'money for cokes' is the Honduran euphemism for bribe)
  6. I don't have to worry about buying original software; this is pirate paradise.
  7. I don't need to go to a movie theater to watch a new movie; I only have to walk two blocks for a pirate to offer the complete line of new DVD releases.
  8. I don't have to worry about taking a lot of luggage when I travel; some robber is always in charge of unburdening me.
  9. I only need to walk 20 meters to the corner pulpería to taste the best beer in the world: Port Royal.
  10. And if I die and go to hell, I don't have to worry about the heat; I live in San Pedro Sula.
And you, aren't you glad to be Honduran?

Rafael was pleased to allow me to translate his article for English readers and graciously gave me his permission to include more articles in the future. For more views in Spanish from Rafael in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, visit his No-Blog.

September 13, 2006

Vacant lots everywhere

There is a man weed-eating the vacant lot next door again today. It is the third time in as many weeks that someone has been cleaning up his lot. The first time required two men whacking their way through the jungle with machetes because my neighbor hasn't maintained his lot for more than one year! The weeds were at least 3-4' high (.91-1.22 m.) throughout his property.

I was very appreciative that finally they were cleaning up the lot. I was even hoping that he was clearing the land to start construction of his house. The weeds aren't that bad for us because of the muro (concrete wall) between our properties − we don't have to look at them − but some of these tropical weeds had reached gigantic proportions and their huge seed heads were bobbing above our 10' wall (3 m.).

Honduras does have laws providing that property owners must maintain their lots and if they don't, the cities can come clean it up and charge a big fee and a fine. Like many laws in Honduras, this law is rarely enforced and would never be enforced against important or wealthy people. My neighbor has nothing to worry about.

The hill in front of our house was cut through to make way for the street and sidewalks so our house faced an ugly scar of orange laterite soil in the vacant lot across the street. I beautified the view in front of our gate by planting some heliconias and gingers in front of the orange cliff. It's so much more pleasant to look out our gate and see a splash of green leaves and bright flowers. My helper was a little afraid to do the planting because this vacant property belongs to one of the most important people in town. I joked that we should send him a bill.

These plants are herbacious, easily removed when need be, and make his property look better so I didn't think it did any harm. A friend of mine came over a few weeks later and said, "I know that you planted those flowers across the street!" I denied it. Haha. I see from this picture that I need to do some weeding over there before someone comes with a machete and hacks everything down.

I'd like to plant more on some other lots around here just to make the neighborhood look better. Only about 20% of the lots have houses and it seems that most of the rest are being held for investment purposes. The lots on the east side of ours are for sale, too. I need to divide a bunch of plants soon and I may transplant some there.

I had hoped that the lot next door was being cleaned in preparation for construction but El Jefe informed me that the lot is now on the market. The owner has started building in another colonia (neighborhood). Boohoo! I was hoping to have a neighbor. They seemed like nice people (despite the neglected property) and my nearest neighbors are a block away. Sometimes I get afraid when I'm here by myself at night. It would be nice to have a neighbor nearby.

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