June 30, 2007

The taxi chronicles: The cheapskate passenger

street scene, La Ceiba, HondurasNo shortage of taxis in La Ceiba

Being without a car, I've had occasion to take a few taxis lately. I always like to get a conversation going to hear what they have to say. I'll be posting a few taxi stories for your enjoyment. El Jefe has taken a zillion taxi rides lately so maybe he'll give us a few stories, too.

Some background: Within La Ceiba proper, taxis have a set rate of L.15 (US $0.80) per person during the day and L.20 (US $1.26) at night. The further outside of the central area of town, the higher the rates. Those rates are not regulated and are subject to negotiation with the driver. For example, generally to get a taxi from town to our house, we will be quoted anywhere from L.40 (US $2.12) to L.80 (US $4.24) and usually end up agreeing upon L.40-50.

A collectivo taxi generally has a set route and will carry three or four people who all pay the reduced collectivo rate. Some are very strict about sticking to their route; some are more flexible and will drop you off somewhere along the way or take you to a particular destination in town instead of the collectivo taxi stand.The collectivo route that goes several miles beyond our colonia has a rate of L.20 per person, quite a bargain compared to the individual taxi rates.

We caught a collectivo taxi along the highway to go into town the other night. There was one lady with a baby in it already. The lady was being dropped off at a rather large colonia (neighborhood) so naturally the driver was asking for directions after he pulled off the highway. Each time he asked, "Straight?," the woman would respond with "Cuanto es?" (How much is it?) This happened three or four times. At one point the driver finally told her L. 20 and she scrambled to hand him the money.

Continuing along through the colonia, he would ask, "Straight, Seño*?" and she would say "Tenga!" (Take the money!), waving the bill around his ear. We finally reached an end to the road and stopped. He asked "Right, left??!" and she was saying "Tenga! Tenga!" almost frantically.

This was so strange to me. I almost thought that maybe she had never ridden in a taxi before and didn't realize that they don't know where you live unless you tell them! But that was a silly thought, because most everyone rides taxis in La Ceiba at sometime or another.

After she was dropped off, I turned to El Jefe and said, "Did you hear that? That was so strange!" He said, "You know why she did that? She was trying to get him to set a price before he realized how far into the colonia he had to drive."

Taxi drivers will often consider your set rate L.20 trip to end at the nearest entrance to wherever you are going. That is less true for individual taxis in town but more true the further outside of town you are going. You really can't blame them with the low set fares and the price of gas what it is. Usually if you want them to take you all the way to your house, they'll charge an extra L.5 (U.S. 26 cents) − That's fair, don't you think?!

Actually, in this case we drove through one or more colonias into another one. It was a long way. I would guess it was almost a mile out of the driver's way, part of it on dirt roads, and it wasn't the colonia where she said she was going which is right off the highway.

The lengths people will go to save L.5 is incredible. Especially when they are trying to trick someone out of the money.

Now before you say "Oh, she was probably a poor woman," what about the poor taxi driver? He had to pay for the gas. I don't often stick up for taxi drivers but in this case, I think the woman was wrong.

*Seño is slang. It is used when the person doesn't know if a female is a Señora (married) or Señorita (single).

June 29, 2007

El Otro Lado, otra vez (The Other Side, again)

little banana plantation, la ceiba, hondurasMario and Frank working on our 'banana plantation'

Frank, our "temporary" workman, hasn't come to work for the past two days.

A couple of weeks ago, he told me that he is heading back to
el otro lado (the other side), the U.S., the land of milk and honey, chasing his sueño americano (the American dream) to the place where everyone is rich. I'll be sorry to see him go but mostly I worry about what might happen to him on the journey. I half-heartedly tried to talk him out of it last time, but the reality is that leaving Honduras is his only hope of a decent life.

Last time he made it all the way to the U.S. border before he was caught by the Mexican officials and sent back. He was lucky that nothing bad happened to him. Lots of times these travelers get beaten, robbed, raped, or worse. See this recent article
in the Houston Chronicle where Honduran illegal immigrants were tied up in a house in Katy, Texas, while their captor (also Honduran) tried to extort more money from relatives.

Frank saw someone get his arm cut off on the last trip. The immigrants ride through Mexico by hanging onto trains or climbing on top of the train cars. If they can't stay awake, they fall and it's usually under the train. It's very common and part of the risk that many take to try to achieve a better life than they can find here in Honduras.

With it getting harder and harder to get into the U.S. and more and more people being deported every year, you might think that this emigration from Honduras would slow down. It won't. There is nothing here for the majority of people except a life of poverty and despair, so they will go somewhere. Maybe more will try to stay in Mexico or go to other countries, but they won't stay here. This Washington Post article about Honduran deportees is very informative.

Frank has been a pretty good worker since he came back although we have had some problems recently with him disappearing during working hours. El Jefe caught him sleeping in the unused maid's room once and another time in El Jefe's car! El Jefe has been wanting to let him go for quite a while now but I always have new projects that he can work on. It's a luxury to have someone working full time, but I feel that it is some small thing that we can do to help at least one person and of course, it helps us, too.

cleaning out heliconiasHe was very dependable at first, but began to slack off after he came back from his first trip. To make a long story short, a couple of months ago I convinced El Jefe to take him to a dentist to have a problem taken care of. When he came back to work (after a full two weeks off!), he was goofing off big time and in fact, was gone for several hours a day apparently visiting a friend at the construction site across the street.

inally one day, I spent most of the day looking for him. I was furious. The next day, we confronted him. I said that I was very disappointed that we had done something (expensive) for him only to be kind to him, without asking for repayment or even thanks, but he was repaying us by cheating us out of an honest day's work.

I told him that I would have to think very hard about the next person who needed help. Blah, blah, blah. I think he got my point and said "you're right." Usually in a situation like this, the person is insulted that you call them on what they are doing wrong and will immediately quit, so even though he agreed, I was a little surprised that he came back to work the next day.

He has been working steadily since then. We owe him two days pay for this week and I was going to give him some extra for the trip (prestaciones) so I'm surprised if he left without saying goodbye. The thing about Honduras is that when workers don't come to work, you just never know if they are sick or quit or just didn't feel like working that day. Usually they don't leave with you owing them money, though.

Well, despite all of that, Frank has been one of the best workers we've had and if he makes it to the U.S., I think he will do well. At least he's had a little experience with demanding gringos and he has learned a few things about painting, gardening, wood work, and the American work ethic.

June 28, 2007

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me!

Thanks, everyone, for the Happy Birthdays on La Gringa's new guestbook. It is really nice of you to take the time. I'm sooo enjoying the greetings and especially the photos. It's so much fun to put a face (or flower) to those I have come to "know" through comments and emails. What a great birthday present from my readers.

If you stumble upon this blog after my birthday, please be sure to say hello anyway! It's nice to know who is visiting. BTW, I'm still waiting for a pic from frequent commenters Wolfie, Kman, Patty, Tom, and others. I can't wait to see what kind of photo they will upload, can you?

To see all the photos (enlarged) and the complete messages, click on the black box that says "view all guests" beneath the guestbook.


Someone wrote to me that she was having problems signing the guest book. If you read this blog from an email subscription, you'll have to click over to the actual blog to see the guestbook. From any page of the blogicito, scroll down to the very bottom of the page. If you have a slow connection or a slow computer like I do, wait just a few seconds and the guest book should appear.

Once it appears, you'll see a big black arrow pointing to "sign this guestbook." Click on that and a pop-up will appear for you to fill in the blanks and upload a photo. Oh! I just thought − maybe pop-ups are the problem.

Okay, if those steps don't work, look below the guestbook and you'll see a black box which says "View all guests." Click on that and it will take you to the Slide website where you can sign it and upload a photo. I hope that works for you.

I have a date tonight, so I'll be checking tomorrow for those new entries!

Countdown to Mexico, or wherever

For anyone in the research or planning stages of moving to another country, especially Mexico or Central America, I recommend that you take a look at Countdown to Mexico.

Washington state residents Nancy and Paul began a blog of their preparations to retire and move to Mexico in October 2006. They are currently about a month away from Paul's retirement and about two months away from moving to Mazlatan, Mexico.

They researched locations, evaluating the pros and cons, and then visited the most likely. They document the process of learning the language, deciding what they can't live without and dispensing with the other "stuff," as well as preparing their house for sale. I could only dream of being so organized and methodical. This blog reads like a how-to-do-it-right book.

If you are serious about making a big move, I suggest starting at the beginning of Countdown to Mexico and reading forward. I think you'll enjoy it and learn a lot in the process.

June 27, 2007

Looking out the window

Cartoon by Dave Walker.
Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Wrong guest book

Hey everyone! Some of you are signing the wrong guestbook. Please sign the one at the very bottom of the page − the big one with photos.

If your message isn't in the Slide guestbook, please sign in again. Thanks!

I guess I need to remove the old one.

Only two shopping days left....

Until my birthday!

My birthday is coming up − tomorrow, the 28th. I'll be 29, again, heh heh. The honest-to-god truth is that most years I forget my birthday until El Jefe reminds me.

Do you know what would make me really happy for my birthday? If all of you would sign my guestbook! Not the old one, but the new one at the bottom of this page. And be sure to upload a photo, too.

Abrazos y besos!

June 26, 2007

Christmas in June or "Will you buy me some underwear?"

Nikon L12 Coolpix

Can you imagine shelling out $300 of your hard-earned money for someone you've never met, don't know exactly where they live, and don't even know their real name? Haha. Me neither. Especially so since I've come to Honduras, the land of mistrust, where a recent study shows that 47% of the people don't trust anyone and 46% have very little trust in others, and with good reason most of the time.

Reader G (I'm going to call her G because I don't want anyone else trying to fill up her suitcases on her next trip), wrote to say that she was coming to Honduras with mostly empty suitcases and would be happy to pick up some things for me if I wanted. I was really in need of poppy seeds and celery seeds, for cooking, not for planting. That was pretty easy. These can be found at any grocery store. I thought of a few other things, too.

Then I started thinking about what I really miss and can't find here in La Ceiba − cotton underwear! When I told El Jefe that I had asked a complete stranger to buy underwear for me, he was shocked to the core! But, hey, I'm wearing a pair right now and boy, do they feel good. It was worth the humiliation. One of my readers now knows what size underwear I wear.

As many of you know, my old camera won't zoom which makes it tough to get good photos of bugs and flowers, or closeups of anything. Fellow La Ceiba expat Katrina picked up a camera for me when she went home in December. Katrina brought me the camera in January, and in March, I dropped it 4 feet (1.2 meters) to a concrete sidewalk and broke it. I've been torn between wanting to replace it again and feeling like I didn't deserve/shouldn't be trusted with a new one.

Finally, I decided I was going to go for the new Nikon L12, 7.1 megapixels with vibration reduction, which strangely was selling for almost exactly the same price as the previous L6 model. The L12 also has an optional A/C adapter which I thought would be excellent for saving on battery usage when I'm uploading photos and videos.

Problem was that Amazon couldn't guarantee it would be delivered on time, even with expedited delivery. So I told G "never mind," boohoo. She suggested I check BestBuy online and miracle of miracles, they had the exact model that I wanted. Problem was that I couldn't buy it online as the only person who can pick it up at the store is the credit cardholder, with identification. G said no problem!

So, G arrived and Thursday we met with her and her friends for lunch, had a great, but way-too-short time, and I received my little Christmas bagful of goodies! I'm so excited to have a new camera to play with. Hopefully, I'll be able to return a favor someday − maybe a shopping expedition to San Pedro, G?

Oh, I also asked G if she would mail my tax return and report of foreign bank accounts in the U.S. as it costs more than $10 each to Fedex them from here. Then I started remembering those questions they ask when you get to the airport. "Did anyone pack anything for you or give you a package," etc. So, just to be safe, I left the envelopes open. So now I have a reader who could have read my tax return and could know my social security and bank account numbers. Haha. But after meeting G, I feel certain that she wouldn't even look in the envelopes.

Ain't trust wonderful? Trust is something that I really miss in Honduras.

P.S. Don't forget to sign my guestbook and upload a photo. I'm anxious to see if this widget works!

June 25, 2007

Mother nature is tough

green headed tree snake, Leptophis mexicanus, Honduras
The other day I heard a squawking noise outside. I thought it was a new type of bird that I hadn't heard before. As I was going to look out the window, I saw Frank, our workman, wild-eyed, running up the stairs to the terraza with a machete. I rushed out to the terraza to see what it was.

We found this thin, meter-long (3 feet) snake wrapped around a flower pot. As I moved the pot, the snake jumped to the ground with a small frog in his mouth. Frank was standing at the ready with the machete. The water that you'll see on the floor at the beginning was spilled from the pot tray. The puddle later on is what the snake squeezed out of the frog.

I felt sorry for the frog but it was too late to save him. I told Frank not to kill the snake and ran inside to get my camera. I took several videos and photos and cut them down to this 3 minute video. The whole process of devouring the frog took more than 30 minutes.

green headed tree snake, Leptophis mexicanus, HondurasThe snake wasn't really aggressive. I think he was kind of helpless after he had consumed the frog. I admit that I kept bumping a chair to get him to hiss and open his mouth for the photos after he had eaten the frog. It was interesting that this green snake turned blue where the frog was located inside of him.

I believed that this snake was a harmless (not to frogs, though!) garden snake. I brought Chloe, the Rottweiler, inside so the snake could get away. It was tough to convince Frank not to kill it. El Jefe thinks that Frank may have killed it afterward anyway. I hope not. Frank said it was a bejuco, whatever that is. El Jefe says that Frank should have said bejuquillo. I looked up both of these common names without finding this snake.

After hours of research, I've identified this as a green headed tree snake (Leptophis mexicanus) which is common to Central America. Its bite is slightly venomous. Oops. Glad I didn't know that when I was taking the video.

Here is the video. I think you'll like the song, heh heh. It's "Goodbye my lover" by James Blunt.

If you don't hear the music, click on "YouTube" and that will take you to the website.

June 24, 2007

La Gringa's new guestbook

Thinking that I just don't have enough junk on my blog, I've added another guestbook. This one allows readers to not only leave a message, but upload a photo as well! Pretty cool, huh?

The guestbook is at the bottom of this page. Click "sign my guestbook" and then fill in the blanks and click "browse" to select a photo from your computer to upload to my guestbook. It can be a photo of you, your garden, your pet, or whatever favorite thing you want to represent YOU. The photos will be visible to anyone looking at the guestbook.

I think that will be fun!
Is there anyone who doesn't have photos on their hard drive? If you don't, just pick a photo that you like from my blog. Right click on the photo and click "save image as" to save it to your desktop and then upload that photo. After it's uploaded, you can delete the photo from your desktop.

As always, of course you don't have to use your real name, but anyone who signs as "anonymous" will be deleted. Surely you can make up a name, such as Mrs. P, TXboy, or Florida girl or something?

This guestmap will automatically identify your location based on your IP address and put a pin on the map. If the location is not correct, fill in the correct location.

Give me a little time to approve the entry. I have to preapprove them only because of spammers. Let me know if you have any problems.

Okay, now impress me!

June 23, 2007

What's blooming in La Gringa's garden?


I've included the plant names, at least the name that I think it is.

You won't see the slide show if you are reading this by email, so click on the article title to go to the blog.


Related articles:

Etlinger elatior
Tecoma stans
Miscellaneous plants

June 22, 2007

Storm, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

These excellent photos of the terrible storm in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on June 14, 2007, were sent to me by Ángel, who received them from a friend, who received them from a friend, who.... Ángel assured me that it would be okay to post them. I don't usually post photos without permission, but, boy, I just couldn't resist the temptation with these. If these are your photos, please let me know so I can give you credit by name.

Personally, I think I would have been driving in the opposite direction! ;-)

Click the speaker symbol to turn on and off the music. If you are reading this by email, you'll have to go to the blog to see the slideshow. Click on the article title or here to be taken to the website.

For more information about the storm and links to more photos, see Deadly Thunderstorm...again at Aaron's blog Pensieve.


Waterfall, La Tigre National Park, HondurasWaterfall, La Tigre National Park, Honduras
Photo with permission: Aaron Ortiz, Penseive

I feel cleansed!

I've been complaining (as usual, sorry to say) to a few friends (and even a few strangers) about how overwhelmed I've been feeling lately. It's one thing to have tons to do and accomplish things bit by bit, and quite another to be "busy" all the time and seem to accomplish nothing. That's what I've been doing lately.

Panamanian expat Don Ray at Chiquirí Chatter is going through a similar slump that he calls "The don't wantas." He even wrote a poem about it.

Dominican expat Jen at Living Dominica says, "To keep a blog well fed, watered, bathed and groomed takes a lot of time! And I don't even take my blog out for regular exercise like most of you do." She also thinks that blogging may lead to sloth. El Jefe will tell you that La Gringa is a testament to that!

I wasn't always this way. In fact, I would say that organization and efficiency were among my best traits, along with "stick-to-it-iveness." Has the laid back Honduran culture corrupted me? No, that would be too easy to place the blame there.

The problem lies with the computer and the fact that I have allowed it to consume my life. Besides my blog, answering comments there, our Honduras Living discussion group, and having an insatiable desire to learn more about everything that interests me, I get tons of email every day, both La Gringa and the real me − yes, she gets tons of email, too, although she isn't quite as popular and her email is much more boring.

Lots of people write asking questions about Honduras, Honduran girlfriends, gardening, health care, hotels, hairdressers, and those are only the 'g' and 'h' topics. I've always tried to help when I can, but it was really draining me, especially when the questions are hard and people ask for advice about life-changing decisions. I don't want that responsibility.

Yesterday, someone sent a picture of a palm tree with a beautiful bright orange bloom and asked if I knew what it was. I didn't. After 30 minutes of research, all of sudden I thought "WHY AM I DOING THIS?" So I sent her a nice email suggesting that she send her photo in to one of the forums on GardenWeb.

Swedish Carina from the Dominican Republic at Steps and Stories has this little announcement in her "About" section:

Note before sending emails:
I get many emails, and time is always an issue. Please do not send me emails about moving here, about meeting me, about becoming a penpal etc. I simply have no time. For any other matter, just go ahead and email me!

It made me chuckle because I thought of Greta Garbo, saying "I vant to be alone," but I admire Carina's honesty. There just isn't time for everything.

What I've done over the past few days is unsubscribe from many of the numerous newsletters, discussion groups, alerts, and so forth that I was subscribed to. Honestly, I was spending more time deleting those things than I was reading them and feeling guilty about not reading them. I finally just admitted to myself that I don't have time to keep up with everything that I thought I needed to keep up with.

La Gringa has been maintaining an inventory of about 80 emails which need (need?) attention even though I read,
reply and/or delete new messages several times a day. No matter how many emails I attended to in a day, the inventory never seemed to go down. Yesterday, I went through La Gringa's email and ruthlessly deleted messages that I've been meaning to read in more detail, some as old as December!

The messages that I might reply to someday or have links that I might read or pictures or information that I might post, or whatever − I put all of those in one folder, so I'll be able to find them if and when I have the time. I couldn't bring myself to delete those.
My inbox went from almost 90 messages (half of them starred as important!) to 16.

Wow, I feel cleansed.

P.S. If you've written me in the past and we've exchanged emails, please don't take this personally. I'm not talking about you! ;-D

June 21, 2007

Sneak preview: Snake!

green headed tree snake, Leptophis mexicanus, Honduras
Do you see that lump about four inches (10 cm.) back from his head?
Stay tuned for the video.

Typical middle class Honduran homes

typical house, La Ceiba, Honduras
These photos are of typical middle class houses in and around La Ceiba, Honduras. The muros (concrete fences) in front are usually painted the same color(s) as the house. The front porches are often enclosed with decorative ironwork for reasons of security. Only rarely will you see a middle class home without iron bars on the windows.

typical house, La Ceiba, HondurasI like the little rooftop over the gate area on this house. That's where I got the idea for the little entrada entrance that we built. With the amount of rain we get in La Ceiba, it seemed like a practical and considerate thing to do. Our architect really liked the idea and sketched a design even more grand than we had in mind (see photo below).

Unfortunately, many people do not bother to paint the outside of their muros. It's especially unattractive in the the wealthier neighborhoods where the concrete walls may be 10 or more feet high. Who am I to talk, though, since we haven't painted our muro yet.

typical house, La Ceiba, HondurasFloors in middle class homes are always tiled and often the outdoor areas, terrazas and carports are tiled as well.

On the flatter or higher roofs, the rusty tin doesn't show so much. This one really detracts from the house which otherwise looks to be well-maintained. The tin is sometimes painted to cover the rust. Prepainted laminas are available which are rust resistant and more attractive.

typical house, La Ceiba, HondurasMost of these types of houses have three bedrooms, one or sometimes two baths, a sala (living room) and eating area (often combined) and a very small kitchen.

This photo is of the kitchen and dining area of the pink house. The kitchen is the area behind the half wall. Did I say very small?! Obviously, the majority of houses are designed by men, not women. Dishes and other kitchen supplies are often just kept in open concrete areas under the tiled concrete countertop, although some have wooden shelves or cabinet doors built into the concrete frame. Bathrooms usually have pretty good sized showers and never bathtubs.

new colonia, La Ceiba, HondurasNew colonias seem to be sprouting up all over La Ceiba. Many of them are called "residenciales." Residencial used to be a name reserved for the more expensive neighborhoods with larger lots, but now it doesn't seem to have a meaning any different from the normal colonia.

These new developments seem to be using more and brighter paint colors. I like to see that. They look so cheery.

June 20, 2007

It's (past) that time again

I've spent the past few days performing a unifying experience fundamental to democracy and the rule of law. I joined almost two hundred million people carrying out this vital obligation, albeit a little late. Ha ha ha. At least that is how the Commissioner of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service describes my delightful experience.

I finished my tax return. Yes, Uncle Sam can find you anywhere - although my tax instruction book (1/2 inch thick) was delivered on April 16. At least I can say that it ended delightfully − I don't owe any taxes again this year. Not so delightful in that we would be considered, at least income-wise, way below the national poverty level (U.S., not Honduran). Gone are the days where the tax return was the size of a small book and had to be mailed in a 9 x 12 inch envelope.

It is amazing that you can have almost no income, owe no taxes, and still spend hours adding the line 5 zero to the line 6 zero, carrying it to line 14 on another page where you determine which zero is smaller and multiply it by 5%, and then carry your zero back to a third page.

I confidently typed in my capital loss carryforward number from last year's tax return and then discovered that the instructions included a 15-line worksheet that needed to be used to calculate the "real" carryforward number. So after adding, subtracting, picking up this number and that, comparing numbers, and changing negative numbers to positive, the result? The number I knew it to be to start with. Who comes up with all that stuff? Must be attorneys, not accountants.

I'm not entirely sure if I even need to file a tax return, except that I have a huge capital gains loss carryover which I don't want to take any chances of losing. One of these days, I'm going to need that big time! (I bought MO at $20.)

I screwed up, though. I was thinking that the automatic extension for those living overseas was four months. Oops, it was only two months and the tax return was due last Friday. One year, I completely forgot to do my tax return! I sent two years in together and never heard a word about it.

June 19, 2007

Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort

Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort, Tela Honduras
A recent comment from "Ace of Spades" was so interesting that I thought it should be moved to the front page so all the readers would see it. The comment was on my article "Pictures around Tela" and the subsequent conversation in the comments section. In the comments, I mentioned Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort project and linked to an Upside Down World article, The Tourism Industry and Repression in Honduras.

Just a little background first: Apparently the government has appropriated land held by the Garífunas for 200 years in order to develop this grand tourist project, also called the Tela Bay Project, which will personally benefit several members of the former and current government, some of Honduras' elite, and foreign investors.

Garífuna leaders have been threatened by government officials, falsely imprisoned
, and murdered over this issue. Houses containing property deeds have burnt down and the Garífuna deeds registered in the municipalidad have mysteriously disappeared. Intergroup conflicts between the Garífuna factions also have been reported, possibly directed by government officials.

Tela Bay, HondurasThe land in question is in the buffer zone of the supposedly protected area of Jeanette Kawas National Park (Punta Sal) so there are environmental as well as human rights issues involved.

Jeanette Kawas was a prominent Honduran environmentalist who fought the powerful African Palm growers cooperative and others to have areas around Tela given protected status. Punta Sal was designated a National Park in 1994
. Jeanette Kawas was murdered in 1995. Her murder has never been solved.

Los Micos is expected to have at least two hotels with thousands of rooms, a world-class golf course, an equestrian center, condos, etc.
and is being touted as a 'sustainable tourism' project of 800 to 1,300 acres. Little information on the status of the project has been reported in the local newspapers for almost a year now and apparently no steps have been taken to begin the project development.

Here is Ace's comment:

In reference to the Garífuna repression article, I know very much of this matter due to personal experiences with companies like PROMOTUR, run by Jaime Rosenthal. I am a Honduran student currently living in the United States, my life has been rather financially difficult and still is, due to an expropriation of my land starring the man mentioned above.

I am deeply ashamed by my corrupt nepotistic government, the lack of integrity and or pride by my fellow Hondurans who seem to follow and celebrate these blood-sucking politicians. (President Manuel Zelaya -Illegal Logging Ties) These snakes not only affect the Garífuna community, they affect hungry millions each day. (70%+ poverty rate!!!)

My greatest passion in life is to bring JUSTICE to a cronyist country that doesn't know the meaning of such. And yes, I get enraged and passionate when I read articles like these. They are not new to me, the government will develop this project wherever the land is free (National Parks, Garífuna owned etc.) and put the remainder of the money in their pockets, because they can.

That is the sad truth of Latin American countries, steal from those who have a voice but can't be heard. It is just heartbreaking to watch scenes such as for Hurricane Mitch, all donations were being auctioned to the highest bidder right on the port. People still are trying to recover since 1998, and things haven't changed much nine years later.

I refer to myself as the Ace of Spades through a tradition that comes from the French Revolution where the lowest number card (the One) was placed above the King to represent the victory of the common man over the monarchy. You will definitely hear about me in the near future. Your support will be greatly appreciated!

Ace of Spades screen name linked to this article, a long, informative article
by Sandra Cuffe on Global Exchange. It's well worth reading, even though I wish the author or editor had used some paragraphs! Is Ace of Spades Sandra Cuffe? Is Sandra Cuffe in La Ceiba? Based on the history of violence surround this project, Ace is wise to use a screen name.

Jeanette Kawas National Park, Tela, HondurasPhoto: Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas, courtesy Hondubirding

There is lots of information on the internet about the Tela Bay project, much of it negative by human rights and environmental organizations.
One Tela resident said that once Hondurans start using chemical fertilizers and insecticides on the golf course, you can say goodbye to the Micos Lagoon. He expects an environmental disaster.

Here are some samples from a Google search:

HONDURAS: Garifuna people resisting on-slaught of global tourism business from Rights Action.org

Garífuna Community Leader in Honduras Threatened with Death from Human Rights first

The World Conservation Union reviewed the environmental impact study done for Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort. Their review of the study (in Spanish) was scathing! They reported that "the documentation was incomplete and
the second revised study still contains deficiencies, contradictions, and inconsistencies. In spite of the volume, the study submitted was very disorganized and doesn't even establish the environmental effect of this project for many reasons." Their review goes on to outline the many reasons.

In one article (sorry, I don't have the link anymore), I was astounded to read that one official, responding to a question about the effect of the project on the Garífunas, said that the Garífunas would benefit, too, because they would still be able to come and "dance for the tourists." This type of arrogance is just mind boggling and sounds like something that would have been said of slaves 160 years ago.

While a large, successful, upscale resort would be good for the Honduran economy − more jobs, albeit mostly low paying − why must any advancement in this country come at the expense of human rights and the environment?

Keep in touch, Ace. We want to hear more.

June 18, 2007

Cultural differences: Directions

Tegucigalpa area map, MultiMap.com

Getting directions in Honduras is an experience. Directions are often given by pointing with one's lips or chin. One of the biggest problems is that even if a person doesn't have any idea where something is located, they will give you directions anyway. We've learned to stop every block or so to ask again.

There is no such thing as 123 Main Street or "in the 3000 block of xxxx street." Directions are given as Barrio such-and-such, calle principal, yellow house across from the pulpería (convenience store). What they don't tell you is that there is a pulpería on every block, every other house is yellow, and "yellow" may actually turn out to be beige or dirty white or orange.

Also, I have no idea what they say if they aren't on the principal calle as there are no street signs in most areas.
I don't know how to tell where one Barrio or Colonia ends and the next one starts. Our best bet has always been to call when we are almost there and say "Stand outside and look for the white Jeep."

In Tegucigalpa, the capital city, there is no right or left, east or west. Instructions are always given as "arriba" or "abajo", ("go up" or "go down") followed by "recto, recto, recto," always three, never just one recto (straight). Yes, Tegus is hilly, but in many cases, I couldn't determine up from down. This satellite view is from Wikimapia, where you can zoom to see what a sprawling, complicated city this is.

We once spent a day and half trying to find a government building in Tegus. We must have stopped to ask directions at least 40 times. Either there are 500 Chinese restaurants in Tegucigalpa or we drove around in circles for two days. Luckily we accidentally ran across our hotel at the end of the first day.

San Pedro Sula, the second largest city, is laid out in a very organized fashion. The city is divided into four quadrants, southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest, surrounded by a big loop. Most of the streets are numbered, such as Calle Tres, Avenida Tres, with Calles running east and west and Avenidas running north and south.

So you would think if you had an address, it would be easy to find the location. Wrong. People don't seem to even know that the city is laid out that way. Time and time again we've asked "Is that NE or SW or what?" and people have no idea what we are talking about.

Once in San Pedro, El Jefe stopped and asked a taxi driver if he knew where a certain business was. The driver said he couldn't give directions, that El Jefe would have to pay for a ride with him. Since we had been looking forever, he got in the taxi and I followed in the car. The taxi drove halfway around the block and stopped in front of the business, charging El Jefe L.40 for the trip. He could have just pointed with his lips and we would have found it. What a jerk!

Amazing as it sounds, even calling the businesses to get directions from the employees is almost as bad. There are very few street signs in La Ceiba and even fewer addresses. Every location is defined, not by an address, but by its proximation to another location, such as "across from Panadera Coco" or next door to "Ferretería Jones." If you don't know where either place is, you are out of luck. Many people can't even give good directions to their own home.

And maps? Most people have never seen them and don't know how to read them.

Being a gringa, I couldn't bear not to have an address. We found that it was simple to get an address from the municipalidad. It only cost L.30 (US. $1.60), but then when we tried to help some other neighbors get their addresses, we found that that you can't get one if you don't register your property and/or pay your taxes. Not one of the 13 neighbors were eligible to get an address. How embarrassing.

The problem with our address is that El Jefe double checked on the number and they gave us a different number than they did the first time. Even worse, it was after I spent three days making our mosaic address sign and embedded it in concrete in the front column. But do you know what? It doesn't even matter. Nobody will know if it is right or wrong because no one else has an address anyway.

June 17, 2007

Can't I take Sunday off?

They say that no good deed goes unpunished. I told you about how I have become the official pizza traffic director for our colonia. Today we were having a really lazy day. I won't tell you just how lazy, but I will say at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, I was still wearing my nightshirt.

A Domino's pizza especialista (that is what the deliverers call themselves − haha, cute), stopped his motorcycle in front and blasted his horn. I wasn't about to go to the door wearing my nightshirt so I ignored him. But after 6-8 blasts of the horn alternating with revving of the engine, which had all six of my dogs all riled up, I was pissed! I mean, after all, if it was MY pizza, I would have answered the door, right?

So I opened the door partway, trying to stand behind the door frame, and yelled, "¡Por favor! ¡Que ruido!" (Pul-leeeeze! What noise!) He didn't apologize. He only looked at me and asked, "Mario Caceres?"

I paused for a second, thinking to slam the door shut, but since I really am a nice person at heart, I gave him directions. At least he said thank you.

I went upstairs to complain to El Jefe, who had the door shut watching a soccer game and hadn't heard anything − so he said. More likely it was because he was lounging in his boxers and wasn't about to answer the door either. He laughed and said that they probably have it in the computer to tell the deliverers to go to #212 and ask la gringa for directions.

I really need to learn some Spanish insults. You know, like the way we can say nice English words that have an entirely different connotation, like the certain way you can say pul-eeeeze, ex-cuuuuuuze me?, I'm SORRY! that get your real message across.


Hondurans in storeYou won't see any smiles here

I read a lot about Honduras and it was interesting to me, having spent most of my time in La Ceiba, that many people speak of the friendliness of the Honduran people. In my personal life, meeting neighbors or friends of friends, I have found that to be mostly true, but in the commercial world of La Ceiba (banks, stores, restaurants, etc.), I have found mostly the opposite.

You might assume that my experience was because I'm a gringa, except that El Jefe is a Honduran from this area, and I often see him being treated even more rudely for no apparent reason. El Jefe is one of the most courteous, friendly, and considerate people I've ever known and obviously he knows the culture better than I do.

I'm not referring to situations where you have a problem or are asking for something special or some special treatment. I'm just referring to going into a store to try to give them some money for something they have on hand for sale, going into a restaurant to order something off the menu, or going to a bank to make a simple withdrawal. For absolutely no apparent reason, many clerks and waiters seem to be very unhappy that you are there.

La Ceiba street sceneAt least this part of Honduras (north coast, La Ceiba in particular) is known for its rudeness, which is interesting since one goal of the country, and especially La Ceiba, is to become a tourist destination. When I first visited La Ceiba as a tourist, I found it amusing. Living here and dealing with it on a weekly basis while shopping or going to the bank or restaurants, it becomes less amusing.

Interestingly, I have shopped and gone to restaurants in the big cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro and for the most part, found the service to be good or at least average. Store employees seem to appreciate your business a little bit more. Maybe they work on commissions.

I would think that backpackers would be likely to be the least demanding of tourists, wouldn't you? At least less demanding than those who are used to luxury travel. The PassPlanet backpackers guide shows these country-wide ratings:

The Shopkeepers' attitude (24 Backpackers rated it 12.33 out of 20)

There are two worlds here : the north coast with its pushy salesperson and rather unsmiling shopkeepers and the rest of the country, more relaxed and welcoming. As a whole, shopping remains a pleasant enough experience.

The local people's attitude (24 Backpackers rated it 15.00 out of 20)

The way you will appreciate the local people will depend of two factors :where you are and what gender you belong to. Female travelers report frequent sexual harassment and weird looks from the local, especially on the north coast. I also noticed a difference of behavior there : less friendly, less relaxed, less eager to talk. It remained ok but I for sure enjoyed the countryside's hospitality more.

And let's not say it is a cultural difference, because it is just the opposite. Central American people are more known for taking the time to exchange pleasantries than North Americans. I said in "The good, the bad, and the ugly" article that some of the words that you won't hear in La Ceiba are "thank you," I should have included "you're welcome". I still get flack for writing that. Not long ago I did a little experiment to test that theory again.

We went to several small shops that have been around forever. In each store, we were super polite and smiling. After looking at the item we wanted to see, we handed it back, smiled, and said "Gracias!" In the cases of the old stores, the clerks took the product and completely ignored us. No smile, no "de nada," no "do you want to see something else," no nothing.

In one store, the clerk didn't even look at me so I said again, brightly, "Gracias!" She looked up and stared at me for a few seconds, obviously uncomfortable, but when I didn't stop smiling or look away, she shrugged her shoulders and
finally said something like "Unh..." At that point, I couldn't help laughing. You can't drag a "de nada" (it's nothing/you're welcome) out of some of these people to save your life!

Later we went to some of the new stores and franchises. The attitudes couldn't have been more different. We heard buenos dias, thank yous, de nadas, and come back again.

I've even asked a few Hondurans about use of "de nada." Having learned that is the polite way to say "you're welcome" when learning Spanish, I was confused because I almost never heard it here. They told me that it is just that so many people are "mal educado" (ill mannered).

Some tourism-related businesses are beginning to see that this is a problem and are trying to do some employee training. Employees of some of the newer stores whose owners are from San Pedro or the Cayman Islands have a much friendlier attitude toward customers and I'm hoping that this might put some pressure on some of the other stores to demand a better attitude from their employees. Just a smile and an occasional "de nada" would go a long way toward changing this reputation.

After all, for rudeness, tourists can go to France and get better food, too. ;-)

June 16, 2007

Dog food

A month's worth of dog food

The cost of living is much less here in Honduras than in the U.S. The cost of dog living, or at least feeding dogs is a different story. This photo represents L. 2,400 (US $127) and will last about 4 to 6 weeks, depending upon whether the toad is eating it, too. That seems very high to me. Pro Plan is the only reasonably good quality dog food we can find in La Ceiba. We mix it with the lesser expensive Purina Hi Pro.

A popular cheap brand of dog food is called "Dogui" (pronounced doggy). Beware of that stuff. El Jefe bought it a couple of times when we couldn't get to the vet's office to buy ProPlan. Both times Chloe the Rottweiler's hair started falling out and it took her almost two months to recover. Never again!

We occasionally give the dogs leftovers. The Shi Tzus that I brought with me from the U.S. (who have since gone to doggy heaven) loved fruits and vegetables but I can't get these Honduran dogs to eat them at all.

The dogs all like rice but some Hondurans have said that it will kill dogs. I don't know why that would be, since some dog foods are made with rice. They may think that because some poor dogs may eat only rice and, of course, rice alone isn't enough for a complete diet.

On the other hand, everyone throws their chicken bones to dogs. Dogs love them but I've always heard that chicken bones can kill dogs. My neighbor said that his rottweiler almost choked to death on a chicken bone.

P.S. We still have Chihuahua puppies available if anyone is interested.

June 15, 2007

How peaceful are you?

A new global peace index was recently announced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company of The Economist newspaper. I thought this was a ranking in which Honduras should come out pretty well since Honduras has only been involved in one very short war and it basically started over a soccer game.

I was wrong.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

The methodology of the index takes note of internal factors—crime rates, prison population, trust between citizens—and external ones, like relations with neighbours, arms sales, foreign troop deployments.
The Economist Intelligence Unit measured countries' peacefulness based on wide range of indicators - 24 in all - including ease of access to "weapons of minor destruction" (guns, small explosives), military expenditure, local corruption, and the level of respect for human rights.

After compiling the Index, the researchers examined it for patterns in order to identify the "drivers" that make for peaceful societies. They found that peaceful countries often shared high levels of democracy and transparency of government, education and material well-being.
The main findings of the Global Peace Index are:
  • Peace is correlated to indicators such as income, schooling and the level of regional integration
  • Peaceful countries often shared high levels of transparency of government and low corruption
  • Small, stable countries which are part of regional blocs are most likely to get a higher ranking

"This Index stands to broaden our very definition of what peace is, as well as how to achieve it," said Fulbright. "Peace isn't just the absence of war; it's the absence of violence."

The Global Peace Index studied 121 countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Here are some excerpts from the ranking list, most peaceful being number 1:

Rank Country

1 Norway
2 New Zealand
3 Denmark
4 Ireland
5 Japan
96 United States
97 Iran
98 Honduras
99 South Africa
100 Philippines
101 Azerbaijan
102 Venezuela
117 Nigeria
118 Russia
119 Israel
120 Sudan
121 Iraq

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