June 14, 2008

Remembering 1950 La Ceiba

The following guest blog article is from Ed, a retired banker and motorcycle service technician (interesting combination!). Ed is happy in retirement now as a competitive rifle shooter attending shooting matches, and also serves as a board member of a local medical clinic in West Virginia.

Ed lived in La Ceiba, Honduras, for three years starting when he was 14 years of age. He and his sister have considered visiting Honduras again, but he says, "The more research I did plus your blog made me realize that the memory I have of what La Ceiba was then is a far cry from what it is today. I'm reminded of Thomas Wolf's dictum...."

Map showing the dock, old railroad tracks and the Mazapan area.
Map and photos are current day

This will be a brief recollection of La Ceiba through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy in 1950.

My three year adventure in Honduras began when my family and I boarded the Vaccaro lines' SS Contessa in New Orleans. The Contessa was a banana boat that plied the route between New Orleans, Havana and La Ceiba. The voyage took about a week or so.

The family move to Honduras was occasioned by my stepfather accepting a position with the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company in La Ceiba (now Dole). Our stay lasted three years − three truly sublime years of my life.

Standard allowed us to bring the family car, a '49 Nash. Overkill in a town with a 15 mph speed limit and all of one mile of paved road that ran from San Isidro (main street) out to the airport. The rest of the streets in town were dirt and gravel.

There was one gasoline station (Esso) located east of the central Plaza (parque) that sold gas for the outrageous price of 75 cents a gallon; three times higher than in the US! The gas pump was a relic from the 1930s. On top sat a large glass cylinder graduated in gallons into which one cranked the pump handle until the gas level in the cylinder filled to the desired amount wanted. The hose and cut off valve were inserted into the cars tank, and the valve opened, and down flowed the gas filling your tank, unless, of course, one had over estimated the amount needed to fill it tank and the rest overflowed onto the ground. No convenient auto cutoff valve.

I'm getting ahead of the story.

Dole pineapples packed for shipmentThe ship tied up alongside the huge pier that jutted quite a ways into the Gulf. Much longer than the length of the ship; 300 feet, and had plenty of room fore and aft of the ship. The size of the pier is hard to convey but, the narrow gauge railroad (3ft) locomotive and several boxcars were easily contained within the length of it. It was big! Just off the end of the pier were the prison with guards and watch towers and rifles.

Company execs met us ashore, and took us to our temporary housing. Our permanent house was being built and not yet finished. The trip down San Isidro and into the Mazapan zone (where all the gringos lived) was a bleak one. Some sidewalks, small mom and pop stores, very rundown, dusty dirt streets. And most ominous, uniformed policia carrying rifles standing at all corners giving the us the evil eye.

The summer heat rolled over and engulfed us. It was going to be hot for a long time. On the ship, there was always a good breeze, even in the cabins through open ports. On land the heat was oppressive. And in 1950, in Honduras, air conditioning was unheard of. Even the Hotel Gran Paris couldn't boast of A/C. It did have a swimming pool within its surrounds.

Building in Mazapan area, La Ceiba, HondurasInto the Mazapan district, our temporary housing and all of the Company properties were pointed out to us. The one room schoolhouse (that I attended) close by, the commissary (run by the Company) where one could buy almost anything. The Company owned-and-run ranch supplied beef to the commissary. The commissary was open to the public, but the 'natives' were too poor to shop there.

Company employees were fed in the communal mess hall (until permanent housing was ready) which was a large wooden building with many many screened windows and shutters that could be lowered to cover during storm season. There was a small swimming pool adjacent, and I spent a lot of time there.

To picture where our house was, if one stood in front of the Hotel Paris and followed the street to the gated Mazapan, and kept walking about a mile you'd be at our house. On the left, down a crushed stone drive lined by several palm trees stood our little house. It was built on a concrete slab on top of 8" by 8" piles. Painted white with green trim. I'd guess about 1000 sq ft. Two bedrooms, bath with flush toilet (I don't remember having to not flush the toilet paper) and our own septic tank. The yard sported the usual shrubs and grass − really quite attractive. The under house area had walk around clearance and a space to park the car during the rainy season.

pineapples at the Dole plantNo telephones and no TV. You supplied your own entertainment with visits to the neighbors, card games and parties (canasta was big). Endless parties and daily sundowners held off boredom and supplied an opportunity to gossip. Gossip was VERY popular.

Thank you very much, Ed, for sharing this story with the Blogicito readers. We would love to hear more about the olden days if you or any of the readers would like to share more stories.

If you would like to submit
a guest blog article, it will be greatly appreciated by me and my two bum fingers. Send it to me at my email address in the "About me" section at the top of the page. Photos are welcomed, too. Don't worry about formatting or spelling. You can send it as a text file or just include the text in your email.

Newer posts Older posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...