March 30, 2007

Honduras Maps

Topographical map of Honduras

I have always loved maps! Whenever I've gone on a road trip in the U.S., I spend hours and hours following along on the road map, looking up the "sites of interest." Geography was one of my favorite classes. I'm not sure if it is even taught anymore. Every time I open an atlas, I just get lost in time.

There aren't a lot of good updated maps of Honduras. We had a large map which had some handy street maps of the larger cities. Someone stole it out of our car!
I was able to find these maps on the internet which I thought might be of interest to you.

Most of these are from (of all places) the
University of Texas Library. The site indicates that these are in the public domain so it is okay for me to use them and okay for you to copy them if you wish. You might get a better copy if you go the link below each map though.

Topographical map (shown at top)

You can see that most of Honduras is mountainous. The large flat area to the east called Gracias a Dios is primarily swamps or wetlands and is only sparsely inhabited. It includes the area variously called
La Moskitia for the native Miskito indians, La Mosquitia in Spanish, or the Mosquito Coast in English that was the setting of the Harrison Ford movie by the same name.

The CIA Factbook states that Honduras contains 112,090 sq. km. (43,278 sq. mi.), about the size of Tennessee. The major roads are marked in red on the above map. You can see that there aren't many.

You will probably have to click these maps and enlarge them to be able to read them.

Amazing that only 6% of the land is considered arable. Much of the country is covered with mountains.

Population (as of 1974, no less!)

Completely, horribly outdated, but it will still give you an idea of how the population is distributed across the country. I imagine that many of the small towns haven't changed a whole lot, while the larger cities have become much more populated. The CIA Factbook estimates the current population to be 7.3 million, of which 40% are under the age of 15. The median age is 19.5.

Population estimates vary widely but just to give you an idea, the capital city of Tegucigalpa has an estimated population of about 1.5 million, the industrial capital San Pedro Sula about 1 million, and La Ceiba, the third largest city, about 250,000 including the surrounding aldeas (villages).

This is very old data (1983) but ....

There are many more maquillas (factories)
now than there were in the 1980's, especially in and around San Pedro Sula, El Progresso, Puerto Cortes, and other areas.

This is one of the only Honduran government issued map that I could locate. Honduras is divided into 18 departamentos (states). The yellow one at the top is Atlantida and that's were La Gringa lives.

The weather is great!

This is "our" mountain

Our weather has been wonderful lately. Generally, this is the time of year when the weather starts getting very hot. The days have been hot and clear, but a strong breeze helps to keep the house cool despite the heat outside.

Almost every evening around 6 p.m., we have been getting some rain for a short time. The cool night air is great for sleeping. Some nights it has been down in the 70°
s F (25°C) when I go to bed.

Last night in particular, it seemed really cool. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the weather sticker on my blog. Wow! It was -9999 degrees. It didn't seem quite that cool to me.

I don't need to translate that to Celsius for you, do I?

March 29, 2007

Road trip: El Olvido

El Ovido, Atlantida, HondurasThe pilot and car on the zipline to El Olvido, Honduras

Amazingly, I still have photos to show you from our road trip.

El Ovido, Atlantida, HondurasWe passed El Olvido on the Cangrejal Road to Yarucca. El Olvido is a very small village on the opposite side of the river. The only access over the river is by this zipline, an aerial man-powered car. It costs 10 lempiras (about 53 US cents) to cross each way.

The "pilot" said the village is called
El Olvido (The Oversight) because they have been forgotten by the government. They have been asking the government to build a bridge for many, many years. I'm a little confused as to whether this is part of El Pital or if El Pital is another place.

El Ovido, Atlantida, HondurasI asked the attendant if this was the only access, how were the houses built? I assumed he was going to tell me that there used to be a bridge, but no! All the materials were transported across the river by this zipline.

El Ovido, Atlantida, HondurasThat is so hard to imagine. Our house, for example took tens of thousands of bags of concrete, while this car probably could not carry more than 10 bags at a time. Then there is the iron and wood and all the other materials involved in building the houses.

Honduran quiltA group of women who live here have formed a cooperative which sew quilts in order to try to better their lives. Their products are available for purchase over the internet at this site.

I hope you'll read this internet site and particularly the "women's stories." Their stories are typical of so many of the lives of women I've met here in Honduras. That one page will show just how hard the life is for many Honduran women.

El Jefe and blogger Katrina took the zipline while I stayed behind to take pictures. They enjoyed the ride and said that the trip back was much faster than the trip over.

El Ovido, Atlantida, HondurasHey! Is that El Jefe with his arm around Katrina?

March 28, 2007

What world does this guy live in?

Honduran Minister of Tourism

Honduran Minister of Tourism Ricardo Martinez would like to see 50% of the Honduran population traveling this Easter week. What world does this guy live in? Here is an excerpt from Honduras This Week Online (HTW):
He welcomes the expected increase of 200,000 national tourists but he would like to see more, if it weren’t for the limited hotel capacity. “1.8 million Hondurans traveling during three days is not much. We would like to see at least 50 percent of the Honduran population traveling.

Apparently no one told him that 60% of the population lives below the poverty line and would have a tough time coming up with bus fare for their families much less money for restaurants and hotels. Not to mention the fact that some portion of the population will have to work in those restaurants and hotels and drive the buses, etc.

I really think this is so typical of the elite who become politicians. It's a little like the former (I'm happy to say former) minister of education who told teachers who hadn't received their government paychecks for months that they should just take out loans to meet their obligations. They really don't have a clue.

The HTW article also states that "Honduras is expecting 1.8 million Honduran and 60,000 foreign travelers during the upcoming Semana Santa (Holy week). Easter Week is an important source of income for the Honduran tourism industry, as Honduran and Central American visitors spend an average of $250 per visit, North Americans $1,000 and Europeans $1,200."

The minimum wage in Honduras is around U.S. $100 per month.

March 27, 2007

A new maid, again

terrace, La Ceiba, Honduras
I've been keeping a secret from you. We have a new maid or housekeeper, empleada, whatever you want to call her. Here in La Ceiba, the Honduran ladies usually call them muchachas, which literally means girls. Not very politically correct, but that's what it is.

She started last Wednesday but I didn't want to mention it just in case she turned out like the last one who left after two days. Here it is Tuesday and she's back again. ¡Ay caramba!

She is a Garífuna from Corozal, a little town east of La Ceiba. (The Garífunas have an interesting history.) Josaly has four children, the youngest of whom is only six months and she does have a husband. Her husband is a fisherman and he also makes jewelry and souvenirs out of coconut shells. I'm going to try to get her to bring some one day so I can take some pictures.

I don't know why, but I was telling her (or trying to tell, I can never be entirely sure with my Spanish) about how I don't understand why we can never keep a housekeeper. I said that I don't think I am so bad and she sort of snorted and said "no, you're not." She said it like she meant it, not like it was an obligatory answer, so I felt good about that.

We agreed to discuss the cultural differences so that neither one of us has hard feelings. I also told her that in my culture, people never, ever tell a woman that she is fat − let's nip that one in the bud!

Josaly also gave me the inside scoop on one of our previous maids. She said P drinks (a lot) and that's why she missed so much work. Ahah! P was the one who asked me to give her the bottle of rum she found in the cupboard for her 5-year-old's birthday party.

I know it is too soon to be hopeful, but so far she has been very pleasant, seems to like the animals, and is a good worker. She's not yet convinced about not using chemicals and bleach everywhere, but hopefully we'll get there!

With Frank still here and now Josaly, I'm spending a lot of time supervising and speaking Spanish. By 4:00, I think I'm more exhuasted than they are. My brain is exhausted anyway.

March 26, 2007

World Water Day

Waterfall in balneario Bahr, in the community of Yojoa, HondurasWaterfall in balneario Bahr, in the community of Yojoa, Honduras

March 22, 2007 was World Water Day. And guess what? Sunday we had no water! How ironic. Or how prescient.

Not having water at least part of the time is the norm in Honduras; having running water 24 hours a day is a luxury.

Most times when we don't have water in our colonia (neighborhood), it is because the electricity goes out and once the neighborhood tank empties, there is no water until the electricity comes back on. Sometimes the pump breaks and parts have to be ordered from another city or country. Sometimes construction workers break a pipe and we have no water for a day or two until the pipe gets repaired. That is more frequent than you might imagine.

El Parque Nacional Cerro AzulIn much of Honduras, though, there is no running water. In some areas big water tanker trucks deliver water to people who bring their buckets to the truck to fill up. Some companies, such as some of the coffee companies, supply water for free as a community service.

In other areas water is obtained daily from the nearest river, often by children who don't go to school as it is their responsibility to supply the daily water needs of the family. You can imagine how many trips it takes for young children who can only carry one or two gallon jugs of water at a time.

In many communities where there is running water, it is often for only one or two hours a day and then it is turned off. During the dry season when the rivers dry up, it's not unusual for many areas to go a week or even longer without any water at all. And then when it is turned back on, people may have an hour or two to fill all their water containers before it will be turned off again.

Some municipalidades (municipal governments) cycle the water between colonias because there isn't enough pressure to provide water to all at once. Interestingly, though, the wealthier neighborhoods rarely have this problem and almost always have water 24 hours per day. Sometimes during the rainy season, the water has to be turned off because of the amount of sediment in the rivers.

The problem is getting worse all the time because of the continued deforestation of the mountains. The government has proclaimed a good part of the country's forests as protected areas and has strict laws about cutting trees, but for the most part, the laws are ignored and not enforced. We have seen big flat bed trucks full of huge freshly cut trees going down the highway on Saturday afternoons and Sundays when most of the government is shut down.

As you can imagine, every household maintains their own supply of water in whatever types of sinks and buckets and containers they can scrounge up, most without lids. Those who can afford it have an underground cistern or above ground tinaco (fiberglass water tank). The most commonly used container is a pila (an outdoor concrete washtub).

People have to maintain their own water to survive, but a side effect is that those containers can be a haven for mosquito larvae. Like most of Central America, Honduras has very high rates of malaria and dengue fever. I am very skeptical of any statistics because you have to consider that the majority of cases never get reported since many people can't afford go to a doctor, many others don't have access to a doctor, and there is no treatment for classic dengue anyway.

While there are many measures that can and should be taken to reduce the incidence of these diseases, the need to store water is not such an easy one to solve.

Many other diseases are prevalent because of the contamination of the water. There is always more sickness, especially among children, during the rainy season. The newspaper reports seem to imply that the increased illness is a direct result of rain. Many people actually believe that rain makes them sick, not realizing that the ground contamination of the water is a more likely culprit.

Rivers, streams, and the ocean are used as convenient trash receptacles throughout the country. Motor oil and every imaginable type of contaminant are poured into the sewer drains and on vacant properties to later drain into the rivers and ultimately the ocean. O
pen sewer lines are common and a big cause of water contamination.

While some of the problems can be blamed on those who may not know any better, much of the water and land contamination is a result of the mostly foreign-owned maquillas (factories) who no doubt have to follow stricter practices in their own countries. The runoff of chemicals from maquillas and foreign-owned mines, and chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides from the agricultural fields are a serious problem in this country.

It isn't only Honduran waters that are being damaged. According to the World Resources Institute:
"More than 80 percent of the sediment and 50 percent of the pollutants entering the coastal waters of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef originate from human activities in nearby mountainous Honduras. The analysis is the first to determine the origin and volume of sediment and pollution that run off agricultural lands, via the region’s vast river networks, into the neighboring Gulf of Honduras and Caribbean Sea. The waters are home to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef – the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere, stretching for more than 600 miles, and shared by Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico."
Throughout this article are photos of some of the beautiful water sources in Honduras as shown in a recent La Prensa article. It's hard to imagine that a country with so much water has none for many of its people.

Rainy season or dry season, there is always a problem getting water in Honduras. The problems will only get worse if the government continues to allow the deforestation of the mountains and doesn't take sanctions against those who contaminate the water we have left.

March 24, 2007

Trying to catch up with the Garcias

(No, ours isn't quite this old, but....)

We are so behind the times. We don't have IPods or Blackberries or camera phones. I wouldn't even have a cellphone if we could get a telephone line here in the house. Our stereo is about 10 years old, our TV is about 16! The VCR is probably about 9 years old. The computer is almost 6 years old. The only new thing I had was my camera which I broke! So much for those "rich Americans."

We used to rent movies about once a month and spend the whole weekend watching them. We haven't done that for ages (like more than a year). The last time I asked El Jefe to pick up some movies from the rental place while he was in town, he told me that he has been trying but almost all they have are DVD's and he can't find any video tapes to rent. So again I say, so much for those "rich Americans!" Apparently locals all have DVD players and we don't.

El Jefe went to San Pedro Sula yesterday and while there, he bought a DVD player! He's out renting movies right now.

March 22, 2007

Puppies for sale, I think

6-week-old Chihuahua6-week-old Chihuahua

6-week-old Chihuahuas

El Jefe is taking the flyers below to the two veterinarians today and a couple of agropequarias (feed stores). I had these two individual photos on it. El Jefe made me take them off. I think he doesn't want to sell "Blackie."

Actually, we need at least a few more days to wean them. They are being stubborn about that, even though they have mouthfuls of tiny, sharp teeth that Zoe is not appreciating these days.

This is stressful! I want to keep them all, or at least Blackie and the runt of the litter. Will anyone take as good care or love them as much as we do?


Se venden

6-week-old Chihuahuas
Cachorro Chihuahuas

Tenemos cuatro machos puros, tendrán 6 semanas el 22 de Marzo. Tenemos la madre y padre.

Telefono: x-xxx-xxxx

6-week-old Chihuahuas

Honduran "garden" snake

Ferocious even with its head cut off

Frank found and killed this snake in one of the jardineras (concrete planter boxes). It looked harmless to me, but no one asked me before they killed it.

Frank always likes to show me the scary things and then seems a little disappointed that I say, "Pobrecito" (poor little thing). He knows that I take pictures of weird things for the internet so he always brings them to me.

This is terrible to say, but it stayed alive for quite some time after Frank cut it in half. While he was posing it with a stick for the photo, the snake opened his mouth to attack. The tail end keep slithering for almost an hour.

The snake measured one meter (39 inches).

May he rest in peace.

March 21, 2007

La Gringa's FAQ

Every good website has a FAQ (Frequently asked questions), right? So here we go.

How do I find stuff on your blog?

I'm embarrassed to tell you how long I read blogs before I noticed that
Blogger search box in the upper left corner! It really works. If you are looking for something specific, like, say Dijon mustard, you can search this blog by using the search box. Dijon mustard gives five articles − I'm obsessed! I also have a Google blog search box in the sidebar.

Another way to find what you're looking for is with the list of topics (categories) in the sidebar. If you came to this blog to read about food, for example, click on the topic in the sidebar and you'll get all of the articles related to that topic together on one or more pages.

But I want to know something else!

If there is something particular you are interested in about La Ceiba, don't hesitate to ask. New ideas are always welcome. If I know something about it or can easily find out (I'm basically lazy, you know), I'll be happy to write about it. Don't try to give me a job though, because I'm not going to do it. ;-)

How can I remember to come back here?

Well, you could bookmark it, but that is so 20th century.

Click 'Subscribe' beneath the blog title to see the options to subscribe to La Gringa's feed for your Yahoo, MSN, AOL, or Google homepage, Bloglines or just about any other newsreader. Go ahead − try it. It won't bite. You don't even have to know what a feed is.

Newsreaders are the way to go. It's really the only way to keep up if you like to read several blogs. I used to like the Bloglines newsreader. I'm now checking out Google Reader. I think I'm going to stick with Google Reader but they are both relatively easy to learn to use. And like all my recommendations, they are free.

But if all this is just too confusing, you can subscribe to have a daily email delivered to you.

Why don't you answer my comments?

I do! I do! You just forgot to come back to see. In the "Subscribe" section, you also can sign up to receive all the comments in your newsreader, too. That is so that if you leave a scintillating comment and want to see what I and everyone else has to say about it, you can get the feed instead of coming back to check the comments. You can also sign up to receive follow-up comments on a specific article by email, but only if you comment on the article.

Don't you like me? Why won't you give me a link?

I love so many blogs and consider bunches of you bloggers as real friends! But I made a decision a long time ago that I was going to highlight only Central American and Mexican blogs on my blogroll. The reason is that I feel they are largely ignored by the rest of the world and for the most part, are difficult to find. So I'm just trying to do my part for the under-appreciated.

What are "Shared Items?"

of features that I like about Google Reader is "Shared Items." If I like an article on someone else's blog and I think that my internet readers, who obviously are extremely intelligent and have excellent taste in blogs, might enjoy it, too, I just click to add it to my shared items. If you look on the side bar on the right, down towards the bottom, you'll see "La Gringa's shared items." You can click on an individual article to go to that blog or you can click "read more" to see all my shared items. From my shared items page, you can click to go to any of the other blogs.

La Gringa's guest map

Look for the "Guest map" link at the top. Click to leave a message, mark your location, and upload a photo if you like. Feel free to look at the photos and comments left by other guests.

How much time do you spend on your blog?

Way too much!

Who are you? Are you a real person?

Yes, I am real. Yes, I live in La Ceiba, Honduras − you don't really think I could make this stuff up, do you? Come on! Besides, if I was fake, I wouldn't be constantly admitting all the stupid stuff I do, now would I?

What's your name? Why don't you use it?

Well, I've really never liked my name if you want to know the truth. When I would meet someone when I was a little girl, people would always say, "Oh, that's my grandmother's name!" No little girl wants to hear that. I always wanted a name like Suzi or Debbie, or at least a cute nickname like everyone else. Now I have one!

I write about my life here in Honduras and the things I see around me and in the newspapers. It's not always pretty. I've been griped at by real estate agents, tourism people, and others who don't want me to write the truth as I see it. One reader kept asking where my house is located. A couple of others said that I should get my
@$# off the internet or out of Honduras. This is a dangerous country. For those reasons, I won't use my name in this blog. If you know my name, I hope you won't use it either.

How much does it cost to live in Honduras?

I answered this as best I could in Cost of living in La Ceiba. Prices of just about everything have risen tremendously since then, so I really need to do an update. Like anywhere else in the world, it depends upon where you live and how you live.

How much does a house cost in Honduras?

That is a really tough question to answer! I did the best I could in this article.

What is the crime situation really like in Honduras?

I know that you are asking me this because you want me to say it is no worse than some parts of the U.S. I really can't say that. The
2006 murder rate in Honduras was 46.2 per 100,000 population, with some states being as high as 71.7. That is compared to an average of 8.8 worldwide. The 2005 U.S. average was 5.6 per 100,000. Home burglaries and petty theft are rampant. Being a relatively well-off person in a poverty stricken country makes you a target in some respects and helps to insulate you from much of the crime in other respects. If you want to learn more, read the Honduran 2007 Crime and Safety Report.

What is the weather like in La Ceiba?

Hot and humid most of the time. I wrote more in How is the weather in La Ceiba. You can also click the "Weather" topic in the sidebar to read me complaining of it being too hot or too cold.

When is the rainy season in Honduras?

There is no one rainy season in Honduras. It varies depending upon the part of the country you are talking about. On the north coast, we get rain pretty much year round, just more of it during September through March. The article mentioned in the previous question gives more details and a link which explains even more.

Didn't you spell Blogicito wrong?

Yes, I did. Thank you for reminding me. I spelled it in Spanglish and admitted it in Title dilemma. By the way, if you don't know Spanish, anything that ends with a '-ito' means 'little whatever,' e.g., little blog.

More FAQs

You can read other frequently asked questions in the FAQs topic here. To see them all, click on "older posts" at the end of each page.

March 20, 2007

Disorganization and depression

Great Kiskadee, our early morning alarm clock

Just a quick note. I'm feeling overwhelmed for some reason. It's not that I don't have anything to write about − al contrario! (to the contrary!)

I have so much to say that I'm going in several different directions at once. I have articles drafted which need photos, photos which need articles, a stack of newspaper clippings that need talking about, several articles that need follow-up, and many ideas that I need to get down on paper. All that and I can't seem to finish a single thing.

I'm afraid I've become a procrastinator. Also, I have a problem with wanting everything to be perfect with all the little loose ended tied in a knot. Don't get me wrong! I know that I never achieve perfection but those of us who strive for it sometimes have a problem ever finishing anything or even starting some things for fear of not measuring up.

Another thing is that I've been depressed. We've lost two of our chickens and another one seems that she won't recover enough to be able to survive on her own. Our neighbor's dog was poisoned yesterday and I'm worried sick someone will try to poison our dogs. Our house has things that still aren't finished or are broken and we have no idea where to find a decent workman to do them. I broke my brand new camera! And just in general, I'm feeling like a loser. How's that for pouring it all out?

Reader Ki gave me one idea − he suggested that I am possibly brain damaged from bashing my head into a 2x4 a few years ago. ;-) I kind of like that idea as a built-in excuse, but does anyone have other ideas or suggestions about getting yourself (myself) organized?

I'm going to post this now before I erase it and tell you what a perfect day I had today.

March 18, 2007

Yes, we have no gasoline today

They had it. They just couldn't sell it. One of the gas stations in town was closed today. The gas pump attendant who couldn't pump gas told El Jefe that the cashier didn't show up for work today.

Can you imagine this? How much money did the gas station and convenience store lose today because it was closed? Will the other employees get paid even though they couldn't work?

I think that if it was my gas station or if I was the manager, I would be running the cash register or pumping gas, or whatever it took to keep the business going on a busy Saturday. Saturday is payday in Honduras! I would have also cross-trained employees or had a backup cashier, because surely you can't close your business every time the cashier doesn't show up?

Here in La Ceiba, managers usually don't step up to help out when things get busy. It's beneath their position in life. Bank lines can be 40 or 50 people deep, while managers and others sit around filing their fingernails or giggling on the telephone.

It's often impossible to even talk to a manager. They are usually behind solid doors and dark glassed windows and rarely ever deign to speak to a customer. Four times out of five, if you ask to speak to a manager, you will be told that they are in San Pedro Sula. Ha ha. We've heard that more than a few times. Employees are afraid to bother their managers with a question.

Owners are even a step above that. I'm not talking about the little mom and pop places. Of course that is different. Owners are rarely on site at larger restaurants or stores. They really should be. They might find out how rude their employees are to the customers or even that their employee is watching television with the doors locked to customers! I've seen this! And then eventually, I saw that that store closed down.

Only in Honduras.

March 17, 2007

More OSHA (un)approved

Honduran home constructionHomemade ladder and scaffolding

Reader Juan left a link to a picture of construction scaffolding in Mexico in his comment to my previous article. That made me think about some old construction pictures, so I decided you might be interested in the andamios (scaffolding) that were used on our house construction.

If you can open this photo and enlarge it (Google's free Picasa is excellent for that), you'll see the homemade ladder and the andamios in more detail. Braces of 2"x4"s are nailed to the window frames and/or nailed to a vertical board standing inside the house to support the tall vertical 2"x4"s outside the house − kind of like an 'H' with a short leg on one side. The horizontal 2"x10"s or even two 1"x10"s stacked together are what the workers walk on.

I'm not going to translate the measurements to centimeters because here in Honduras, although we use the metric system for most measurements, wood is measured in inches and feet. A 2x4" board would measure 5x10 cm. (As an aside, meat and vegetables are measured in pounds, not kilograms.)

The braces placed at an angle appear to be haphazard but these guys know what they are doing. Each albañil (mason) usually builds his own andamio − I would, too, wouldn't you?

The scaffolding had to be more or less rebuilt higher every 6 feet (2 m.) so the workers could reach where they needed to work.
It was incredible to see how quickly the albañiles could build one of these scaffolds, tear it down and then build another one in another location.

The back of the house is much taller than the front due to the slope of the property and the fact that we have a second story on part of the house. This roof line is at least 20 feet high. The albañiles stood on that upper horizontal board to do the stucco work. They needed the boards elsewhere so afterward they tore it down and built another one. Later the sheet rock workers came along and built their own andamio to do the soffit under the roof.

I had occasion a few times to walk on some of these andamios (not this one!). The horizontal boards would bounce and sag with each step. I was scared to death.

If you can enlarge this photo, you'll see that two smaller ladders were nailed together in order to reach the taller part of the house. It seems to be the custom with each batch of wood to cut all the small pieces needed and then nail them back together when they needed long pieces.

The same happens with the ladders. The electricista (electrician) cut this ladder in half when he needed a short one and then the tabla yeso (sheet rock) guys nailed it back together when they needed a tall one.

Amazingly, no one got hurt anytime on our construction, except me. One day the front doorway was blocked with andamio braces so I climbed in a nearby window. I was paying so much attention to not stepping on nails or tearing my clothes on nails sticking out of boards (as I did so often) that I rammed my head right into the end of a 2"x4" board which was sticking out the side of the window.

You know how when you bump your head and it hurts so much that you think it must be bleeding so you reach up to put your hand on it? Well, I did and my hand came back drenched with blood.

I sat down on the window sill a little stunned and called for El Jefe. He was busy upstairs passing out cokes and snacks to the workers and yelled, "Yeah, yeah, just a minute." I called again with more urgency. Meanwhile, blood was gushing all over the ground, dripping down my face onto my clothes. One of the workers rushed over. He took one look and yelled, "Get your #*& down here now, Jefe!" He gave me a dirty rag to put over the wound which I gladly used.

El Jefe rushed me to Hospital D'Antoni where they stitched up my head, which later swelled up like a lopsided cantaloupe. I had a black eye and I looked so freaky with my melon-head that I didn't leave the house or answer the door for a week. Uh, I won't be showing pictures of that, even though El Jefe did feel compelled to take a photo of that grotesque sight!

Believe it or not, a situation arose in which El Jefe and I had to climb all over this steep roof and measure the whole darn thing. That's a whole 'nother story, but let me tell you, this roof is steep. The workers walked all over the roof like it was nothing. I mostly crawled hanging on to those boards like my life depended on it. I'm not good with heights at all. Everyone was incredulous that a woman would do that.

We also found that we can see the ocean from our roof. Too bad we didn't build a terrace up there like many folks do.

March 16, 2007

OSHA approved

Honduran ladderMaybe not.

Tostones recipe (twice fried plantains)



2 green plantains, the fatter the better
oil for frying
salt to taste

plantain slicesHeat oil in a heavy skillet or deep fryer to 375°F. Peel* plantains and cut into 1 inch slices.

frying tostonesPlace a few plantain slices in the hot oil and cook until tender and golden in color, about 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining slices.

While the slices are still warm, smash them with your rock, a meat mallet, or a large flat bottomed cup until they are about 1/4 inch thick.

Smashing tostonesThis photo shows the size of the smashed tostones compared to one unsmashed one on the left. The size of the tostones will depend upon the thickness of the plantains and the thickness of the slices.

Return a few at a time to the hot oil, without overcrowding, and continue frying until crisp and deep golden, but not brown, about 3 more minutes. When they are perfectly done, they are crispy on the outside but still tender inside.

Tostone con mantequillaDrain on paper towels and season lightly with salt. Serve as a snack or side dish Honduran style with mantequilla blanca (similar to crème fraîche or a thin sour cream), Puerto Rican style with mojo, or Panamanian style with ketchup. They can also be topped with cheese or various other toppings or dips as an appetizer.

These tostones turned out yummy and this Popuolu has a good flavor. If you've never had plantains, you should know that they have no banana flavor. I don't much like bananas but I love plantains.

Tostones are very filling. As an appetizer, one or two good sized tostones would be more than enough. As a side dish with a full meal, one-half plantain per person would probably be enough.

Peeling Popoulu plantains*Peeling green plantains: If you've never used unripe bananas or plantains before, you'll find that you can't peel them the way you can a ripe banana.

Green bananas or plantains are peeled by cutting off the small part of both ends, then using the tip of a knife to slit the peel lengthwise trying not to cut into the fruit.

Peeling Popoulu plantainsUse your fingers or a knife to try to loosen and pry the cut edge of the peel away from the fruit. Once you have loosened the edges of the cut, you should be able to pull off the peel in sections.

I'm usually pretty good at this but these were very thin-skinned plantains which had to be peeled with a knife. Generally the peel is much thicker.

Color of cooked plantainI mentioned in my earlier article today that some sources referred to these weird shaped 'bananas' as plantains. This picture shows that whether I have Popoulus or another variety, they are definitely plantains and not bananas.

Plantains, or plátanos in Spanish, turn this bright yellow color when cooked. Bananas do not. Case closed!

It is a good thing that they were plátanos because tostones are supposed to be made with plátanos, not bananas. They may be made with bananas in some countries, but I think that would be highly frowned upon here in Honduras.

March 15, 2007

Weird banana mystery solved

Popoulu bananaPopoulu Banana

Reader Ruthy solved the banana mystery. She identified my weird bananas as Popoulu. Once I had a name, I looked it up. That's it! Different sources say that there are from 400 to 1,000 varieties of bananas so I wasn't even going to try to identify it. I was counting on my Honduran readers to help me out and sure enough, they did. Thanks, Ruthy.

We be bananas, which has a compilation of information from different sources, says that Popoulu is originally from Polynesia and is popular in Hawaii. They say that the banana has a salmon pink flesh with a slightly acidic apple-like flavor that can be cooked or eaten fresh when it is ripe. Ruthy recommended cooking the ripe ones with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Some sources refer to Popoulu as a plantain rather than a banana, but I'm not even going to get into that!

We bought several banana and plantain pups (baby plants that grow up around the mother plant) from a man who was growing them in his backyard. It's very strange that he didn't mention that these were an unusual variety.

I know that the platanos are plantains but now I'm wondering if all of our banana plants are Popoulus or if we have some 'normal' bananas.

So it turns out that Frank was right. This strange looking fruit apparently is a desirable banana. Frank also says that he can tell a banana plant from a platano (plantain), so I'm going to trust his judgment.

El Jefe wants me to make tostones. So I think I'll try them for lunch today. I'll report back.

March 14, 2007

A peek at the garden today, March 14

Heliconia rostrata, Parrot's beakHeliconia rostrata

Heliconia rostrata, Parrot's beakThe Heliconia rostrata (Parrot's beak) that we bought for L. 25 (U.S. $1.32) in El Pino is doing well. There are many new shoots and it's been blooming constantly since we planted it in September 2006. The blooms are very long lasting. This is a new bloom and the upper photo shows a full bloom. That flower is almost two feet long (.6 m.).

Russelia equisetiformis, coral or firecraker plantThe photo at right shows the heliconia next to Russelia equisetiformis (common name coral plant or firecracker plant) which also blooms pretty much all the time.

Russelia equisetiformis, firecracker plantThe truth is that I killed my first firecracker plants by forgetting to water them but these came back from seeds which had dropped on the ground. These plants stretch to about 6 feet tall (2 m.). My neighbor gave me the hollowed out tree trunk. This is a close up of the firecracker plant blooms.

weird bananasThese weird bananas look like some kind of freak of nature. They are about 6 inches long and 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide (15 cm. by 6-7.5 cm.) The picture is a little confusing because they are sitting on top of a bunch of regular platanos (plantains). Frank thinks they are bananas and a really good kind, he says. El Jefe thinks they are platanos. I'm kind of leaning toward the wild non-edible banana. We'll soon find out.

weird spiderWe ran across this spider while working on our 'wild' hill. I don't know what kind it is but it was scary looking. If you can open this in a photo program and enlarge it, you'll be able to see how freaky it is.

It was about 2 inches long (10 cm.), not including the legs. After the photo shoot, El Jefe chopped it up with a machete. I worry about poisonous spiders biting our dogs so I didn't complain this time. Besides, when in Rome.....

Clerodendrum thomsonae attacked by leaf cutter antsThe bare sticks in this photo are a Clerodendrum thomsonae (Bleeding heart vine) that has been completely defoliated by leaf cutter ants. They are called zompopos here in Honduras. One day it was fine, the next it looked like this.

Clerodendrum thomsonae (Bleeding heart vine)Here is a picture of what it normally looks like. It's hard to believe that ants can do this overnight, isn't it?

Clerodendrum thomsonae (Bleeding heart vine)And this is a closeup of the blooms. Apparently the ants don't like the blooms. They strip every single leaf but they don't touch the flowers.

Lemon treeThe leaf cutter ants decimated my Limón tree (whether this will be a lemon or a lime tree remains to be seen!) as well. I thought I took a picture of the nude tree but all I could find was this pre-ant photo.

It is a little deformed as some
Celosia argentea v. spicata grew up around it and I actually forgot it was there for awhile. Apparently it was stretching sideways to reach some small bit of light. Just imagine it now without one single leaf on it. Poor limón!

Leaf cutter ant pathThis photo shows the path the ants wore in the lawn in only one night! It looks like a well-used bicycle trail. Can you imagine how many ants and how many trips it took to do this in one night?

I have some incredible leaf cutter ant photos to show you one of these days. Stay tuned!

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