December 28, 2012

Our Honduran Christmas Eve

Roasted fresh pork leg
after its rest, just before carving
(that little flap of fat at the bottom makes this look like a giant turtle!)

Our main celebration was Christmas Eve, which El Jefe tells me is the Honduran traditional day to really celebrate, at least in his family. That's a time when people go to visit friends and family, who always have plenty of food on hand for expected or unexpected visitors. Christmas Day is similar, but more for family and more laid back.

Tamales are especially popular at Christmas time. A big bag of tamales in the fridge can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or for those drop-in guests, often accompanied by a pork or chicken sandwich. I didn't make any tamales this year but I've been promising to post my Honduran tamale recipe for years and I really need to do that soon. We did get some from my sister-in-law and some from my mother-in-law so we weren't completely tamale deprived.

Unlike the US, presents aren't a big part of Christmas, especially among the poor and struggling. Children whose parents can afford it generally get a new outfit of clothes and they are as excited and happy to get that as US kids are to find dozens of toys under the tree. Christmas has probably been a lot more commercialized for the middle and upper classes because the newspapers are often more than an inch thick during December with all the ads for toys, clothes, appliances, and electronics.

El Jefe and I seem to rotate our traditional foods with one year having American style roast turkey with all the trimmings and the next the traditional fresh pork leg served as sandwiches. Since we recently barbecued a turkey breast, this was a roasted pork leg year. I was excited to make it, but not half as excited as J was. This was the third time I've made a pork leg. The first time I used/modified my sister-in-law's recipe. The second time was a boneless leg because that is all we could find. On that one, I modified the marinade further. Both were good, but I wanted to do something slightly different this time. My cookbooks didn't have any recipes for whole fresh pork leg so I searched for recipes on the internet. I settled on three different recipes that sounded good, one was a Martha Stewart, one was a Cuban style, and I forget the other one. I took a little of each to come up with my recipe, which I think I would call a bit of a Caribbean style. Pork legs are easy to do; they just take a loooong time.

December 21, 2012

Don't worry, be happy

Today is December 21, 2012, the last day of the Mayan calendar. Enjoy it as if it is the last day of the world! Don't worry, be happy, because it is all a big misunderstanding:

Mayan calendar
The truth about the Mayan calendar

But if this cartoon is wrong, at least your last day will have been a good one. My last meal is going to be ice cream just in case. ;-)

Via Fausta's Blog, additional assurance from Oreo. Thank goodness.

I have an idea that this prediction may be true:

Have a good day!

December 19, 2012

'Technical' coup against Supreme Court (Part 3)

Juan Orlando Hernandez, President of Congress, with Porfirio Lobo, President of Honduras
Juan Orlando Hernandez (left), President of Congress,
with Porfirio Lobo, President of Honduras
Photo: El Heraldo

What is behind the coup against the Supreme Court?

President Porfirio Lobo and Congressional President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) have been at odds with the Supreme Court ever since their administration began. The Sala Constitucional and/or the full Supreme Court have ruled seven times that projects of this administration were unconstitutional, not really surprising since this Congress is known for mentioning a law one day and passing it the next without even allowing its own members time to read and analyze it. Government contracts have been approved without congressmen even being allowed to read them.

Lobo has proposed, among other things, instituting his own judicial review board to review and presumably reverse rulings of the court. Congress has ignored decisions of the court in the past. The 2010 issue of Canal 8 (television channel) [my summary and followup in english] is just one example of the blatant lack of respect for the court's decisions and the executive and legislative branches' use of emotional and nationalistic propaganda to sway public opinion.

The situation has become even more heated in the recent months with the court's ruling that the charter cities law was unconstitutional and in recent weeks with the police purification law. After the decision, in a meeting of his ministers, in front of media cameras, he ominously announced the inclusion of the four magistrates one by one by name on the government's "black list". In addition to public statements that the court was on the side of criminals and against security for 'the people', President Lobo even took to tweeting threats against the court [english]. The court responded by issuing a press release in which they classified Lobo's statements as a direct threat against the court. Pepe wanted to take the purification law to a referendum of the people, but that would have taken too long so he used Congress to fire the judges instead.

Every judge who has spoken about this issue has clearly stated that absolutely no one is against police purification, that it is badly needed, but that any law enacted to do so must not violate anyone's constitutional rights.

Why now?

Marvin Ponce clubs the court
Cartoon by Dario Banegas, La Prensa
Late on Tuesday night (December 11), La Prensa reported that UD party Congressman Marvin Ponce [article in español] was the first to sound the alarm, stating "There is a real political crisis in Honduras and it is possible that we will go to the middle of the night to make decisions regarding the Supreme Court of Justice". He confirmed that congressmen wanted to fire at least four judges and that with the support of Yani Rosenthal's congressmen, they would have the 86 votes needed.

Congressman Ponce said that at stake is the presidential candidacy of Juan Orlando Hernández, which is being disputed by the other front running Nacionalista candidate Ricardo Álvarez, current mayor of Tegucigalpa. Álvarez disputed the results of the November 18th Nacionalista primary due to numerous irregularities but after receiving no satisfaction from the election commission (TSE), he announced that he would ask the court to rule that a vote by vote recount was needed. "The problem is the division in the Nacionalista party and Juan Orlando believes that the court will keep the party divided. The Nacionalistas seek to avoid that this [Álvarez's] appeal will reach the Supreme Court", explained Ponce. While Ponce exposed this ulterior motive to the media, in the end, he voted for the firing of the justices.

December 17, 2012

Congress to pass new police purification law

The three two powers of state
Cartoon by: Dario Banegas (congressman!), La Prensa, Honduras

Just a quick one to apologize for not getting that last part of the "coup" story posted. The last part has turned into two parts. Research, including watching a bunch of television news and talk shows (the juiciest stuff comes from the latter) has taken time and more annoying internet outages haven't helped either. I'll get at least one part posted tomorrow for sure.

Today's update:

Wasting no time today, Monday, December 17, Minister of Security Bonilla introduced a new extension of the same police purification law [español], which still includes polygraph testing. A congressman told reporters that the law will be discussed and approved in Congress tonight or no later than tomorrow. When a reporter questioned the congressman about the court finding the original law contained many errors, the congressman said, "No, no, no! The law didn't contain errors. Remember that the court erred in reviewing a law which had already expired." So, that's that. History is being revised and it has only been a week. I'm watching the session right now on the government propaganda channel, complete with JOH campaign commercials paid out of the public budget during the breaks.

Right now Julieta Castellanos is presenting the Observatorio de la Violencia report which states that 149 people have been murdered by the police in the past 23 months.

Quote of the day

Eduardo Stein, former President of the Truth Commission which investigated the facts before, during, and after June 28, 2009, has the best quote. Referring to Honduras, he said "We are in front of another train wreck. Maybe some engines change, but they are on the same road, again in confrontations with consequences that could not only be terrible for the Honduran people, but for the entire region."

As recommended in the final Truth Commission report, he said that "more than ever" Honduran authorities must develop the "appropriate mechanisms" in the law and constitution so that any conflict between the powers can be resolved through the law and not coups or interference in another branch of government.

December 14, 2012

'Technical' coup against Supreme Court (Part 2)

Juan Orlando Hernádez, Porfirio Lobo, Jorge Rivera Avilés, Luis Rubí
in cadena nacional today
image: El Heraldo

[See Part 1 here]

What has been the reaction to firing of Supreme Court judges in Honduras? Who knew what and when? Who is behind this latest action of congress?

JOH claims organized crime conspiracy

Juan Orlando Hernandez, Honduran President of Congress
Juan Orlando Hernández,
President of Congress and
Nacionalista presidential candidate
image: El Heraldo
About 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, Congressional President Juan Orlando Herández (JOH) called in [audio in español] to a morning television talk show to justify the firings by making an accusation that these judges were involved in an organized crime controlled conspiracy with police and Fiscales (public prosecutors). He wouldn't say where he got his information or name any other names. This accusation has been more vaguely made in the past numerous times, but has never resulted in investigation or prosecution. Additionally, whatever information that the accuser (generally the President or a congressman) has, it never seems to reach the Attorney General for an official inquiry. Similarly, an accusation has been made that approximately 40% of the members of congress are involved in or controlled by organized crime.

Interestingly, the investigation report [español] given to congress did not make any accusations of wrong-doing or criminal activity by the judges. The report stated that their decision was made two days after the law expired, implying administrative irregularity because the law was no longer in force, but they did not fire the fifth judge who voted the way the Congress and President wanted. The report declared that the court's decision was "incongruent with the security policies of the legislative and executive branches of government" and could result in huge legal claims from those who had already been fired under the law. Yesterday it came out from the Supreme Court that JOH had sent a note requesting a report on the four judges sometime after the vote to fire them had already been taken. Of course, no report has yet been sent back to congress.

Wednesday's scheduled hearing on the police purification law by the full Supreme Court was postponed until Friday. The court system closes down for two weeks at the end of every year. Today it was announced that the review will be postponed until next year, giving the 15 judges plenty of time to ponder whether or not they, too, want to be fired and publicly defamed.

'Technical' coup against Supreme Court (Part 1)

"They gave a coup to the court"
La Prensa headline, Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I woke up Wednesday morning to a newspaper with a 2-inch headline which said that the Honduran Congress had executed a "technical" coup d'etat against the Supreme Court. I also woke up to no electrical power, just as on the morning of June 28, 2009. While short power outages are nothing unusual in Honduras, this one lasted all day. Many have been feeling a sense of deja vu lately with the events in the news. The actions and accusations flying around have been very similar to pre-June 28, 2009. I wanted to see what the television and online news were reporting! Did we have another coup in Honduras?! With constantly updated news and a series of more annoying cable and internet outages, it took me a couple of days to get this done.


Last fall when the stuff hit the international fan about crime in Honduras with the UN homicide report, there was a lot of hot air flying around with promises of cleaning up the police department in six months. Initially the police were responsible for cleaning their own house, which everyone knew was going to go nowhere because corruption goes to the highest level of the police. A new independent organization was set up, the DNIE, in typical fashion with no budget, few personnel, and basically no powers. Even back in January 2012, there were claims that the manner in which 'purification' was being implemented was unconstitutional. (See the 'Purification' section of this article.)

Congress passed a badly needed police purification law last May. Very few criminal cases against police are ever prosecuted and fewer are successfully prosecuted. It has been well documented and it is widely known that many police are directly involved in corruption, robberies, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and even murder, as well as being under the control of organized crime factions. Police under criminal investigation and even those with pending criminal cases often continue working, wearing a uniform, and carrying a gun. (See my crime series beginning October 2011 and a series of documented police crimes in November 2011.)

The law provided the ability to test police for drug use, administer polygraph and psychological tests as well as audit their finances and to remove those who don't pass the tests. It also provided for paying them for one year after dismissal. The law expired in November 25, 2012, (with very little action taken [article in english]) but President Lobo wanted to extend the law for another six months. Only two weeks ago did officials finally begin testing police in La Ceiba, the third largest city in Honduras and the city with the highest murder rate in the country.

Potential targets of those firings filed appeals with the Supreme Court. On November 27, the Constitutional Chamber, in a 4-1 decision, declared the law unconstitutional because it does not allow for the right of police to defend themselves against the charges, i.e., there is no due process. As provided by law, the issue was to go before the entire 15-member Supreme Court for a final decision on Wednesday because the initial decision was not unanimous.

December 13, 2012

Let's try this again


Hello. Here I am again. It's about time, huh?

I've been hibernating for several months, avoiding the news as much as possible, not even opening my blog email account, and rarely twittering. But now I feel the need to get back into blogging. It's been on my mind a lot lately and I really do miss blogging and I especially miss the interaction with readers. A lot of stuff has been going on in Honduras of which you may or may not be aware.


After a failed blog restart earlier this year, I'm back to try again. Blogging is a funny thing. It's the easiest thing in the world for anyone to start a blog and the easiest thing in the world to quit. And once you have a pause, it's the hardest thing to start up again. All you have to do is to look at the tens of millions of abandoned blogs cluttering up cyberspace to know that is true. About 80% of the Honduran blogs that I have accumulated on Google Reader over the years are now defunct and that's a sad statement.

Blog insecurities

Does anyone care? Do I have anything interesting to say? Can I get back on track or will I fail again? Will the readers come back or will I be talking to myself? What do they want to read about? Those are the kind of questions that go through my mind.

I can't catch you up-to-date (since I was a dropout from the news) but I'd like to write about some of the more recent news. I also have a lot of photos to share which I hope that you'll enjoy.

So what finally dragged me out of this blogging slump? Coup rumors! Deja vu all over again. December 2012 is the new June 2009. I'll be posting an article about that shortly. Stay tuned.

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

June 28, 2012

Funny boy

Ian Alexander
Ian Alexander at 5 months

This is Ian Alexander, who comes to visit us every day. He is about 5 1/2 months old now.

He's so funny and such a happy boy. Arexy says that his brothers fight over who is going to hold him or play with him, so it sounds like he's used to non-stop attention at home. He likes to grin and put on a show to tempt me to pick him up. "Look at me! I'm so cute!" It works every time. Here are some examples from last week.

Ian Alexander
Are you going to pick me up?

June 13, 2012

The sourdough starter

Sourdough starter, La Ceiba, Honduras
Bubbling — this is what you want to see!

I was never good at science, so I'll put this in the simplest terms as I understand the process. Initially when you begin making your batch of sourdough starter, the 'good' and 'bad' bacterias develop at different rates. After the first few days, the 'bad' bacteria seems to be winning the battle and they can make their presence known by a foul odor. I guess that is one of the points where I used to give up in the past.

Sourdough starter 1, La Ceiba, Honduras
Starter risen to 300 ml. at 10:50 am
[The photos included here show the progression of a half cup of starter (about 125 ml.) fed at around 10:30 am with flour and water to equal a total mix of a little more than a cup (250 ml.). In this photo, it has risen to about 300 ml. in the first 20 minutes. Ultimately, it rose to a little over 500 ml. and then started falling. At the point when it starts falling is when you can use it in a recipe.]

Developing a strong, healthy starter takes a minimum of a week but two weeks of fermentation at room temperature is probably necessary for the best flavor. The looks that I and my little science experiment got from Arexy and El Jefe were priceless. Arexy only allowed herself the doubting 'raised eyebrow' looks, but El Jefe was more vocal, with comments such as "You're stinking up the whole house with that crap!" and "How long are you going to be doing that?!" It's true, the starter went through a couple of days of really smelling bad! I wasn't 100% confident in my experiment, but I tried to convince him that it would be worth it in the long run.

June 10, 2012

Honduran sourdough bread

Honduran sourdough bread
Looks like it came from a bakery, doesn't it?

One thing that I really missed when I first came to Honduras was good, chewy bread so I've made most of our bread since we moved here. I'm sure Hondurans feel the same way about homemade tortillas when they move to another country. One of my favorite breads comes from a King Arthur Flour recipe for a rustic artisan bread, but since it requires planning in advance to make a 'poolish' the day before, I found that I had gotten into a rut making an easy Italian loaf. It was good, but not spectacular.

Honduran sourdough bread
A different batch of bread
I've experimented with trying to make sourdough starter over the years back in the US and here in Honduras. I always gave up and ended up throwing it out because it looked or smelled so nasty that I was afraid to use it. After doing a lot of online research, I finally found a starter recipe that worked for me! I have been making real sourdough bread for a couple of months now and it is so far above and beyond regular bread that there is no comparison. El Jefe is crazy over it, too. Sourdough bread has a crispy, crunchy crust and soft, but chewy interior like no other.

June 2, 2012

Touky's family

Might be Touky's mom?

Collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus, La Ceiba, HondurasCollared Aracaris of the Toucan family are very family oriented birds. Wikipedia says this: "They are fed by both parents, assisted by up to three other adults, probably from a previous brood, and fledge after about 6 weeks, with feeding by the adults continuing for several weeks after leaving the nest. The Aracaris are unusual for toucans in that they roost socially throughout the year, up to six adults and fledged young sleeping in the same hole with tails folded over their backs."

Please read the previous article (The rest of the Touky story) for the background, but while we were caring for an injured baby Aracari, his family returned just about daily for weeks to check on him.

Collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus, La Ceiba, HondurasSometimes only one or two would come but often three or four would visit. They seemed frantic to get their "Touky" back and squawked like you wouldn't believe. Toucans are definitely not song birds, that's for sure!

Occasionally, they would miss a day, but not often and it may have just been that they were here but more quiet than usual and I didn't notice them. It was really heart warming to see.

June 1, 2012

The rest of the Touky story

Touky, collared Aracari, La Ceiba, Honduras
That's Touky!

On June 22, 2009, I wrote about Touky the Toucan (actually a collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus) that we rescued. He was a young bird that El Jefe found in the driveway with a broken leg. On June 26, 2009, I commented here that it didn't seem that his leg was going to heal properly and he couldn't fly. I had a ton of photos to show readers that I just hadn't had a chance to put together and upload. On June 28, 2009, the you-know-what hit the fan, and that was the last you heard of Touky.

collared Aracari, La Ceiba, HondurasDo I procrastinate or what? Most of you know that I was a little busy with serious articles for many months. Careful readers know that I lost access to my laptop along with a bunch of drafted articles and a zillion photos. Luckily, I later found Touky's photos on the external hard drive among my file backups. (This photo is one of his 3-point landings as he was trying to fly.)

So, here we are in April 2011 — and after even more procrastination, June 2012! It's berry season on my Conostegia xalapensis trees (more on this berry tree here) and we had a family of Aracaris in the trees this morning which reminded me to finish the Touky story.

El Jefe found the young bird outside the garage and brought him to me. His foot and ankle were badly twisted. He fearlessly grabbed my finger with his good foot to perch but his other leg just hung loose.

Touky, collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus, La Ceiba, HondurasMy neighbor said that I should get a cage and just keep him but I was totally against that idea. My goal was to get him back to the wild before his family forgot about him.

I don't have any bird experience except for my chickens — remember that I did save Pancho the Rooster's life, though he is an ungrateful little devil who shows no appreciation whatsoever. But I have read a lot about caring for chickens and remembered reading of using Popsicle sticks as braces to hold the leg steady until the bone heals so I thought I would give it a try on Touky. Here is a photo of my doctoring work.

Touky, collared Aracari, La Ceiba, HondurasInitially, I put him in a dog cage but he was so small that he kept getting out between the bars to hop around on one foot. I would find the chihuahuas sneaking up behind him to sniff him. All the dogs were very curious about him and he was very curious about them and the chickens.

Touky had no fear whatsoever of people or animals even though he was completely helpless. He could barely hop on one leg without tipping over and couldn't fly at all. I made it very clear to the dogs that he was My Bird and to leave him alone. Thankfully, for once, they listened to me.

My kind neighbor then lent me a bird cage. At first I kept him in the cage on a table on the terraza to keep him safe from dogs and chickens and roosters. It was guava season and I fed him guavas from our tree, as well as papaya and other fruit. He ate more than his weight in fruit each day.

 collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus, La Ceiba, HondurasSince he couldn't perch, I made a little nest in a plastic bowl filled with wood shavings to help support him at night (he would literally tip over with only that big beak to break his fall) and to help soak up some of that fruit on the way out.

Toucans are very family oriented birds. Amazingly, his family came to check on him every single day. They would frantically squawk and he would squawk back. They seemed so distressed so I started putting the cage out in the yard in the shade so they could see and talk to each other — which they did every afternoon and sometimes a couple of times a day when the family would come to visit. The photo above is one day during visiting hours. More photos of the family coming up in another article.

Touky, collared Aracari, La Ceiba, HondurasAs his leg got a little stronger, I started him practicing perching on a stick. After he got the hang of that, I would put him and the stick in a bush or tree. He sometimes fell out and hobbled away so I'd have to search for him.

After a couple of weeks, he started to try to fly but without much success. He would make it a few feet and end up in a 3-point landing: beak and both wings. The dogs would run after him to see if he was okay. Until his "cast" was removed and he was able perch without me placing his twisted foot around the stick, flying wasn't a great idea. My worst nightmare was that he would fly outside our wall and then find himself helpless with no one to protect him. Though his foot seemed to be getting a little stronger, apparently the brace was not going to straighten it out.

 collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus, La Ceiba, HondurasI didn't want him to get used to the cage, so during the day I would leave the cage door open so he could hobble out when he felt like it, which he often did. Our Conostegia trees had berries, so to keep him in practice of feeding himself, I would take him to the tree, stand on something so we could reach, and hold a branch of berries down to him to let him pick his own while he was perched on my other hand. We would also put him in the guava tree so he could peck at his own fruit. His family would land in the tree and squawk at him to come with them. "I can't! I can't!" he would cry.

Gradually we gave him more and more freedom. Some days when the news was hot and I was busy, I would forget to go outside to get him to put away in the cage in the late afternoon. He would squawk loudly when the sun started going down to remind me.

One day when I went to get Touky to put him away for the night, I couldn't find him anywhere. "I can't find Touky! Where's Touky?! What happened to him?!" I was sure that El Jefe was going to tell me that Chloe the Rottweiler had eaten him or that the chickens had ganged up and attacked him or something equally gruesome. J told me that he flew away.

Collared Aracari,Pteroglossus torquatus, La Ceiba, Honduras"How do you know?" I asked suspiciously. "Well, I put him in the guava tree and his family came for him. He flew away with them." There was just something about the look on his face.... I had an idea that he was trying to protect me from something, but I didn't press it any further. I just hoped that it was true. I was worried that Touky's leg wasn't strong enough so that he could take care of himself.

A few times over the months, I thought I heard Touky but I could never get a close enough look to know if it was him or not.

One morning about 6 months later, I woke up very early for some reason. I was walking through the hallway on my way to make a pot of coffee when I glanced toward the terraza and saw a bird standing on the floor outside. Initially I thought it was a bird who had flown into our windows and been stunned. The bird turned and in the dim light, I saw the unmistakable toucan beak. Even more interesting, just then Chloe walked up to the bird and the little bird stood beak to nose with the 75-pound rottweiler without flinching.

"TOUKY! Touky, is that you?!" I ran outside and reached down to pick him up. He wasn't afraid at all and didn't try to get away. I said his name again and he squawked at me. I looked at his leg and sure enough: He had that poor twisted foot but he was still able to use it to hang on. It was Touky! I was so excited. I wanted to get a photo and wake up El Jefe to see this miracle. As I was carrying him upstairs — you aren't going to believe this — he laid his head on my chest! He remembered me! I know this must sound too fanciful to believe, but it's true! It happened!

 collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus, La Ceiba, HondurasI grabbed the camera and took Touky out on the upper terraza where the light was better. But in my fumbling to get him into position on one hand and the camera in the other hand, Touky decided he had had enough of revisiting civilization and flew away so I never captured that photo. This one is an earlier photo with me feeding him berries. That fuzzy little head made me laugh every time I looked at him.

Every time I see or hear the Toucans in my trees, I call out, "Touky? Is that you, Touky?" Mostly they ignore me, but the other day, one perching in the guava tree stared at me for several minutes, turning his head from side to side while I stood in the open window just a few feet away from him, asking, "Touky? Touky?"

I couldn't see his foot, so I can't be sure, but I like to think that it was him.

Related articles:

Touky the Toucan

Touky's family (for photos of his daily visitors. I'll be posting this tomorrow.)

May 31, 2012

One radish can feed a family

Honduran radishes (rabano)
Honduran radishes

I saw these veggies at the grocery store. I thought they were radishes but they were just so big that I had to ask an employee. Sure enough: radishes. I put that normal sized banana on the display to give you an idea of the size.

Have you ever seen radishes this big? What do you do with them? I've never seen them used by anyone I know or served in restaurants, but some people must use them or they wouldn't sell them.

The small common red radishes that we are used to in the US, get very woody if you let them grow too big but maybe these are meant to be that way. Darn! I forgot to weigh one of them. Look below. You can even buy half a radish!

Honduran radishes (rabano)

May 30, 2012

Guest blog: The best laid plans

Hedman Alas bus
Hedman Alas luxury bus

The following is a guest blog from Gail. Gail is an American who owns a house on the island Utila and has been coming to Honduras for several years.

The plan was simple: take TACA to San Pedro Sula and spend the night, take the Hedman Alas bus to La Ceiba and spend the night, take the morning ferry to Utila and, finally, a dory to the house on the South Shore. It didn’t quite go as planned…

We arrived on TACA in San Pedro Sula at 6 pm, only to be informed that three of our four bags had not arrived with us. This is not unusual – it is rare that we get all of our luggage on time, but it generally shows up on the next flight some hours later. This time, we were on the last flight. The TACA representative assured me that the bags would be in San Pedro Sula the next morning, but we were going to be on the bus to La Ceiba by that time.

I asked TACA to deliver the bags to the Gran Hotel Paris in La Ceiba. We were actually staying with friends in La Ceiba for the night on this trip, but I’d accidentally left my address book with their contact info at home. We had stayed at the Paris on other trips over the years and I knew they could store the bags and would be reliable for their security - plus it was the only idea I could come up with on such short notice.

After filling out the TACA paperwork, we went to La Posada (a Bed and Breakfast in San Pedro Sula that we were trying for the first time – and will be using from now on [Trip Advisor reviews]) for the night. The next morning we were to take the Hedman Alas bus to La Ceiba, but due to the highway closure by protesters, our 10:30 am bus had been cancelled. We wound up on the 3:20 pm bus instead. Hedman Alas was able to contact our friends to let them know that we would be arriving later than we’d arranged, but I didn’t think to ask them to call Hotel Gran Paris so I could explain the delivery of our bags to them. That turned out to be a huge mistake. HUGE!

On our arrival in La Ceiba at 6:30 pm, we went to Hotel Paris to see if the bags had arrived. Marvin (now nicknamed Marvelous Marvin for his efforts) was manning the desk and had some notes from the day shift on the bags. Because we were not registered, there was a lot of confusion. After much back-and-forth in Spanish and English, it turned out that TACA had kept the bags in San Pedro Sula because our luggage tags read Utila as the final destination. End result — no bags today. We would stay over an extra day in La Ceiba to allow them to catch up.

The third morning, we started making phone calls early. The goal was to be on the morning ferry to Utila the next day. Marvin had bad news for us – TACA now wanted to send our luggage to Utila, which meant that we would be without clothes and other packed items for another four days, which was when the next flight to Utila was scheduled. Since we were carrying construction supplies for house repairs, this would a major setback for us, not to mention the fact that the clothes we had been wearing were getting pretty ripe by now. Also, we would have to rent a boat to town in Utila to meet the plane — which would cost us one day and about $50 (boat, taxi, lunch, tips), neither of which we could afford to lose. The best solution was to get them to put the bags on the Hedman Alas bus to La Ceiba.

Thank goodness our host was Honduran, because we could have never managed over the phone with our limited Spanish. It also helped that he has the patience of a saint. He was able to reach someone in TACA and explain the situation. The TACA rep promptly told us that there is no way the bags could be sent today because they would only send bags with Hedman Alas (an interesting endorsement of the bus company) and that there was only one bus that left the airport at 6 am. Well, this floored us, since we knew there were four buses daily leaving the airport, all connecting to La Ceiba! A call to Hedman Alas confirmed this.

It took several phone calls and about an hour to convince TACA that it was possible to get the bags onto a non-6 am Hedman Alas bus. She reluctantly agreed to put the bags onto the 2:15 bus. Mind you, this is a matter of walking 200 feet from the airline’s baggage area to the bus office in the same building — it’s not like she had to arrange delivery across town. We were promised a phone call when the arrangements had been made.

Several hours later, we started calling to find out what the situation was. The lady whom we had spoken with had gone to lunch. The deadline for making the bus was quickly approaching, so we begged the person in the office to please try to push the paperwork through. We were elated when she reassured us that it was on the bus that would arrive at 6:30 pm.

With the bags on their way, we relaxed until it was time to meet the 6:30 pm bus. We made sure we were there in plenty of time, paperwork in hand. After the crowd claiming luggage thinned, we came forward to get ours. Nada. The bags weren’t there.

The Hedman Alas ticket man looked up our claim numbers on the computer and confirmed that they would be on the 9:30 pm bus – but we couldn’t get the bags until the following morning because the office would be closed! I suspect we were looking pretty crazy by now. There was no way to make the morning ferry if we had to wait until the office opened. The staff was sympathetic, but had no authority to change the situation. As luck would have it, our hosts had contacts in Hedman Alas who were able to assist us. Phone calls were made. The office staff was authorized to accommodate us, even if they had to stay late.

We went to dinner and returned for the last bus of the day. For one heart-stopping moment, we thought our luggage had not arrived, but it turned up in a compartment on the opposite side of the bus. Success!!

The people working at Hedman Alas proved to be exceptionally helpful. From the woman in San Pedro Sula who came looking for me after I’d inquired about making a phone call to our hosts to explain we would not be arriving as planned (I was trying to find a phone number in old e-mails on my laptop – she was following up to make sure the call was placed), the ticket seller in La Ceiba who patiently searched for our bags in the computer and bravely faced the crazy gringa with courtesy and concern, the manager who was able to arrange for us to get the bags after hours and even the baggage handler Fidel, who was as happy as we were to see the luggage arrive but carefully made sure that the bag claim numbers matched on our paperwork. It was all handled very professionally.

Every time we have taken Hedman Alas, we have been impressed with the personnel. Their security guards, counter agents, and drivers seem to be well trained in customer service. The office workers and management were able to think outside the box in solving a problem. Security is taken VERY seriously. The fact that TACA will only use Hedman Alas to deliver luggage is a testament to their service. The bus terminals are clean and comfortable. I will always use Hedman Alas and have no qualms about recommending them to anyone who travels by bus in Honduras.

Life is always an adventure in Honduras. Hedman Alas makes it a better one.


Credit were credit is due! While TACA airlines is infamous for not putting luggage on the same plan as passengers, a common joke is that the only things that run on time in Honduras are the Hedman Alas buses. I highly recommend traveling by Hedman as they take safety and security very seriously.

You can find their webpage here which also includes an on-line chat. Hedman Alas also has an active bilingual Facebook presence in case your questions are not answered at the website. And no, this is not a paid advertisement. Just giving credit to a well-run Honduras business.

In case you didn't guess, we were the hosts and El Jefe was the knight in shining armor, as was Aaron Hedman who made sure that the employees had instructions to release the bags after hours.

May 28, 2012

Has it been two months?

lemons in La Ceiba, Honduras
The lemon trees have been good to us
(I don't know what happened to those freaky ones in the back)

Has it really been two months since I posted? Yikes, almost three months. Is anybody still out there?

Hellooooo! Hellooooo! Hellooooo!
And La Gringa stands back to listen to the words echo in the empty room.


I feel that I owe you an explanation but I'm not sure that I can explain my absence except that most bloggers get burned out after a time. It is really hard to get back into the habit of posting regularly once you stop; there are millions of defunct blogs cluttering up the blogosphere as proof of that statement. In my case, I think I depressed myself by trying to keep up with all the crime and criminal cops info. Things — and by that I mean crime and the system in general — are much worse than most people living in the first world can ever imagine.

Remember that I was keeping up with all the news articles about cops committing crimes? I should say trying to keep up. It was just beyond belief how many were reported, especially when you consider that most of them don't get caught and even fewer get convicted because everyone is afraid to testify, and rightly so. A couple of girls that El Jefe knew turned up in a clandestine grave in La Ceiba among the other bodies of people thought to have been murdered by police. They supposedly removed and replaced all of the police in La Ceiba, but that is usually a big fat lie. Then there are the congress, courts, and president talking the talk but not walking the walk — having meetings, setting up phony commissions, passing worthless laws that will never be enforced anyway, making false promises that they know they have no intention of keeping, etc., etc., etc. I figured that everyone was tired of hearing about that.

So I just shut down. I quit reading the online news completely, cancelled the newspaper, and stopped watching the news. I didn't have anything to tweet about. I went cold turkey from a complete news junkie to nada. I have over 600 unread emails in my main account and about 70 in my blog account. Most of those are news alerts from the various sources I subscribe to. I don't know why I saved them -- I guess thinking that I would get back into it and might need them for reference. But even still, I would catch tidbits, see a headline, or overhear the news when El Jefe was watching. Aaaack! Nothing changes; it only gets worse.

I decided that I would just blog about 'light' things but didn't get very far with that either. When it rains, it pours, you know? First there was a month long headache-inducing pounding and chiseling of concrete inside the house when another huge section of our tile floors exploded. Not much fun to write about that, and besides, I already did the last time. Then there were other disappointments and sad things that I can't really go into for security reasons or because they involve other people. I'll have to think on that to see if I can write about some of it in generalities in the future. Oh, and El Jefe is fine, in case you were wondering about him.

I'm sitting here typing this in my text program and I see at least 30 articles spread across the top of the screen that I started since the beginning of the year and never finished. I wish I could understand why I didn't finish them! What a waste of time! I must have hundreds of hours of work in those and now they aren't 'news' anymore anyway. I'm feeling like a failure. I'm also feeling hugely guilty about all the emails of concern that I received and didn't reply to. Even El Jefe has been saying, "You NEED to write SOMETHING!"

It has been so long that when I sat down determined to finally post something here, I first found that I had forgotten my password and then found that Blogger had completely changed the interface and I was totally lost. How long was I gone?! I feel like a new blogger all over again.

I'll try to do better. I have some photos that I'm sure I can write a few words about to try to get me back into the blogging groove again. (A few words? When have you ever known me to write a few words?)


So, dear readers, I hope you've been well? What has been up with you these past couple of months? Tell me about it in the comments, please. Please make me laugh if you can. ;-) I need some of that. If you are reading this from the subscription email, let me hear from you, too. Click the blue article title in the email to be whisked away to the Blogicito! You could also give me a 'like' or a '+1' or a tweet to let me know you are still out there.

I've missed you all. I'm going to go read your emails now if I can find them among all the dreck.

March 5, 2012

Spectacular Honduran views from a Long EZ

Take a quick flight out of Villeda Morales Airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, to Puerto Cortés, along the north coast until reaching Punta Sal, Tela, and back. Spectacular bird's eye view of the scenery.

Hat tip to Henry for sending the video.

Then I had to see more. Love the music, too. What better way to spend a dark, chilly afternoon?

Fabulous (but quick!) views of Tegucigalpa and the wilds of Honduras.

This one is from the opposite direction, landing at Tegucigalpa's Toncontín Airport, considered one of the most dangerous airports to land in.

The Rutan Long EZ is classified as an experimental plane and you can build your own!

Afif Saybe has more videos on his YouTube channel.


March 2, 2012

Forget the tinfoil hats, cover your credit card instead

Forget the tinfoil hats — cover your credit card with tinfoil!

Technology is making our shopping and banking lives so much easier, but it is also making it easier for criminals. Honduras may have been behind the curve on financial fraud but it's starting to catch up. Several visitors to Honduras and expatriates living here have recently reported ATM, credit card, and debit card fraud with thousands of dollars of unauthorized charges showing up from places they didn't visit and even as far away as Mexico or South America.

While US banks and credit card companies generally protect their customers against fraud, the same can't be said of Honduran banks and ATM owners. Some banks sell insurance against theft or fraud, but often that isn't even offered to customers unaware of the risk. Expatriate customers are likely to think that the same protections apply here and not even ask about it. It's frightening to think that any time a waiter or gas station attendant takes your credit or debit card out of sight, they could be cloning it.

The video above should be of interest to everyone everywhere!

Hat tip to Thelma for sending this video to me.

February 29, 2012

Faulty logic in the Honduras prison fire

Honduran prison fire: searching through body bags
Family members searching through body bags for their loved ones
Photos: Proceso Digital and La Tribuna, Honduras

The US ATF team which investigated the Honduras prison fire determined that the cause of the fire was accidental, giving Honduran officials the excuse they needed to absolve themselves of guilt in the deaths of some 360 people. This is faulty logic:

Fire was accidental → Not our fault that 360 people died

The ATF report concluded that possibly a cigarette or match started the fire which then ignited some nearby flammable materials which caused the fire to spread rapidly.

But here are some other pieces of the puzzle:

Honduran prison fire: searching through body bagsAccidental fire started → All but one guard gets out → Fire fighters were called late or arrived late and then were refused entrance → US military firefighting team (15 minutes away) was called to help an hour after the fire started but then 30 minutes later was told not to come because fire was under control → Prisoners were locked inside until 360 died → Fire not our fault → BUT → the massacre of 360 people can only be blamed on prison security forces and ultimately the government.

To go back even further, in 2003, a prison riot/fire in El Porvenir (outside La Ceiba) resulted in the death of 65 prisoners and 3 visitors, some of them caused by bullets from the guards. After pressure by the International Court of Human Rights, and after many years of investigation and trial, some of the lower level El Porvenir guards received sentences of up to 240 years for their roles in the deaths.

In 2004, another prison fire in San Pedro resulted in 107 prisoner deaths. Coincidentally — or not — Honduras just this week admitted responsibility for those 2004 deaths before the same international court and promised to build a new prison, compensate the victims' families, and to realize a public act of recognition in May 2013. In typical feeble OAS fashion, the ICHR congratulated itself on complying with its mission of solving problems with this "friendly" agreement, which "guarantees that these acts will not repeat". Uh, what?

Honduran prison fire: searching through body bagsIn a national address about the fire, when mentioning that experts were coming from other countries to help investigate, President Lobo pointed out that other countries have had the same type of incident. That is so typical of Honduran politicians, to imply that every shameful, grotesque thing that happens in Honduras is no different than anyplace else. But national pride helps them to get away with it. Most people want to believe that the things that happen in Honduras are no worse than any place else. The majority of the population have no outside knowledge to make them think otherwise.

How many other countries have had three such prison fires in less than 10 years in which a total of more than 500 human beings died? How many other countries have sent (a few) prison guards to prison with sentences of hundreds of years after proving in court that they purposely allowed prisoners to die behind locked doors, while they shot at any who tried to save themselves from burning to death?

Honduran prison fire: searching through body bagsHow many other countries, after two such prison massacres in which 172 people died, would not have developed some sort of disaster procedures to ensure that it never happened again?

The most frightening question of all is: How does any person become so inhuman that they believe it is better to let hundreds of people burn alive than to — what? maybe get in trouble? — if they allowed them to escape the fire? Surviving prisoners say that the guards shot at prisoners trying to save their own lives. That may not be true, but until proven false, I believe it. It happened before so there is no reason not to believe it now. We can talk about guards being corrupt, inept, or poorly trained, but that doesn't answer the question of their basic inhumanity. How does a human being stand by doing nothing while allowing hundreds of people to die? One hardened criminal, a convicted murderer, risked his own life to stay behind and break the cell locks possibly resulting in saving some 250 lives. There were no similar stories about guards or firefighters.

The old men

Honduras prison fire: body bagsA few weeks ago there was a story on the news about some number of aged prisoners being granted a pardon or released because they never had a trial, or something. The news showed a group of those joyous prisoners: They all appeared to be in their 70s or 80s and looked like they weighed about 90 pounds each. They looked like the typical sun-wrinkled, humble campesino that you run into out in the country. Now supposedly under Honduran law, criminals over 60 years old do not have to serve prison time, but those men looked a lot older than 60 to me, so that law may be another one of the many laws that are meant to provide impunity to the corruptos but are ignored when it comes to the humble masses.

Who knows if those old men were innocent, stole a chicken to feed their family, were hardened criminals, or never even had a trial? All of those are possibilities. All I know is that by the end of story, I was nearly in tears thinking about the injustice in Honduras, where stealing a couple of sheets of roofing tin gets a man 8 years in prison while stealing a couple of million dollars might get a rich man transferred to a different government appointment so as not to embarrass him or his family or the president who appointed him (and who has probably stolen 10 times that amount).

Honduran prison fire: searching through body bagsWhenever I think about the latest prison fire, I think about those frail old men and hope that the "paperwork" went through before the fire, though it is doubtful that anything could get through the injustice system in Honduras that quickly. Reports are that more than half of the 850 prisoners inside the Comayagua prison had never had the benefit of a trial.

Life goes on

But the Honduran prison fire, as horrendous as it was, was replaced long ago in the Honduran news by newer scandals. Life — and corruption — goes on in Honduras. The victims' families will be compensated and money eases a lot of pain in Honduras. Each hot new scandal helps to sweep the previous one under the rug. After all, the human psyche can only hold so much tragedy and injustice.

The abnormal becomes the normal, and before long, citizens become apathetic. There really are no other options. They live in a society of fear: fear of criminals, fear of police, fear of losing a job, even fear of being murdered for doing the right thing. They know nothing is going to change because it never has. For most, there is no sense in risking their livelihood or lives in trying to change it.


Comprehensive AP article with photos about the fire: Most Honduras fire inmates awaited trial

Oscar Estrada's graphic documentary film: El Porvenir [subtitles in English]

February 28, 2012

Decriminalization of drugs

cocaine abuse

Addictive drugs are bad. There is no doubt about that. The only ones who think otherwise are the ones who are or will screw up their lives by using them. But can or should any government try to protect its people against their own stupidities?

I admit that I'm one of those people who tends to think of things in black and white and have not thought decriminalization of drugs was a good move. However, after seeing seeing things from the viewpoint of what has and is happening in Honduras for the past 10 years, I'm having to rethink that idea.

Mary Anastasia O'Grady reports on an interview with Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina in today's Wall Street Journal. President Pérez is trying to rally other Latin American countries to join him in challenging the "doomed US drug policy". He points out the problem of increased violence in already overwhelmed countries along the drug routes as well as drug money penetrating and corrupting police, prosecutors, and judges, resulting in even more corruption and impunity.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

"In an interview at the national palace here earlier this month, Mr. Pérez Molina told me that he believes at least some of his counterparts in the region are ready to join him in pressuring Washington to rethink an agenda that has fueled a boom in criminality in their countries while doing nothing to contain American drug consumption.

"The president of Mexico [Felipe Calderón], after five years of the effort he has made, has told me that he believes we have to sit down and talk seriously about decriminalization in order to find an alternative approach." The president of Colombia [Juan Manuel Santos] "has more or less" the same view, Mr. Pérez Molina said.

"It is notable that the rhetoric we are hearing against the drug war is not coming from anti-American, left-wing demagogues trying to promote populist, nationalist ideals by stirring up the mob. Today's most vocal proponents of a change in regional drug policy are center-right governments. Their proposals are driven by observing 40 years of failure."

President Pérez joins many ex-presidents of Latin America who have been speaking out for years. One of the most notably outspoken presidents is former Mexican President Vicente Fox who has taken a leading role in this issue.

The article ends with:

"The president (Pérez Molina) says that "as long as you maintain the demand there will be supply," but that's not his only gripe with the U.S. It identifies the cartels and thugs in Latin America. But "who in the U.S. is receiving and distributing the drugs," he asks, and why don't we ever hear about them? Mr. Pérez Molina is not the only Latin American who wants to know."

The Online Wall Street Journal is subscription only but you may be able to access the complete article with this "Free Pass" or by clicking on the link from this google search.

cocaine bustDarn good questions! Honduras confiscates thousands of kilos at a time, as other Central and South American countries do, and the US says they need to do more (and I'm sure they don't confiscate all the authorities know about). I don't keep up with the US news so maybe you all can enlighten me — Are there frequent drug busts in the US where they confiscate tons at a time that made it through Honduras, Guatemala, and other transit points? If not, why not?

I think Honduras should decriminalize drug trafficking and just offer safe passage through Honduras territory and tax the heck out of the pass-through instead. I know that will never happen and the reason is threat of losing US foreign aid to this failed nation.

Let the US deal with the entry of the drugs to the US if that is something the government really cares about — but after 40 years of failure (Republican and Democrat, so don't go there), you kind of have to think that it ISN'T something that the US really cares about. The US spends trillions on other wars. By comparison, the amounts spent on the "war on drugs" has been trivial and is decreasing even more in 2013. 40 years! How can anyone even claim with a straight face that the US has a war on drugs? If the US can't stop major drug trafficking into the US, just how in the heck can they possibly be so hypocritical to think that Honduras can patrol the jungles and large uninhabited areas of its country when they can't even keep their people safe in the major cities and don't even have gas money for police cars in much of the country?

We're brainwashed in the US to believe that Americans are the innocent victims of these brown-skinned, mustachioed narcos — as they are portrayed in the movies — and no one would ever take drugs if it wasn't for these evil people. But the US is or was the most powerful country in the world and if they wanted to stop the entry of drugs, they would have done it long ago. It's time that the US started taking responsibility for the innocent countries who aren't drug producers or users (for the most part) who have been so terrorized and terribly damaged by the US's failure to handle their own drug issue.

Somewhere around 90% of the illegal drugs in the entire world are consumed in the US, so who is really the guilty party here? It's kind of like blaming all the prostitutes but giving the clients a wink and a nod. I see celebrities and sports figures all the time on TV joking about their drug use. At most, they get a slap on the hand and even that is very rare. The US has already effectively decriminalized drug use, at least for the rich and famous, and even the middle class who can generally opt for drug treatment instead of prison time.

A few months ago, the Honduran military was talking about buying ~ $400 million in high tech drug planes. How can anyone who knows there are people starving in Honduras, people suffering and dying for lack of even the most basic health care, schools that barely teach kids how to read, much less think, etc., possibly believe that Honduras should devote more resources to fighting the US drug problem?

By no means do I blame all or even most of Honduras' woes on US drug use. Honduras has a centuries-long culture of corruption, of disregard for the poor, of impunity, and a poor justice system. But crime, violence, and homicide have skyrocketed in the past decade, which coincides with Mexico and Colombia's US-led crackdowns on drug trafficking. While Colombia's homicide rate went from 67 per 100,000 population in 2002 down to 33 per 100,000 currently, Honduras' homicide rate has gone from an already high 34 per 100,000 in 2002 to an astounding 86 in 2011 (compared to a relatively stable ~5 per 100,000 in the US). Like cockroaches, spray in one area and the narcotraffickers scurry to another. Colombia cracked down on narcos and they fled to Mexico. Mexico cracked down and they fled to Honduras and Guatemala. Meanwhile, there has been no perceptible change on drug use in the US.

I don't expect anyone to agree with me, but I hope you'll think a little deeper about what has been happening for the past 40 years and particularly the harm that has been done the last 10 years in Honduras and other Latin American countries because of the US's insatiable desire for drugs — not just damage to the countries, but tens of thousands of deaths, some of them committed with guns that the US government purposely allowed to enter Mexico and Honduras.

More reading on decriminalization:

Time: Mexico's Ex-President Vicente Fox: Legalize Drugs

Miami Herald: Never-ending drug war moves to Central America

Miami Herald: Pro-drug legalization forces are gaining clout

MSNBC: U.S. drug war has met none of its goals

CATO Institute: Mexico and the War on Drugs: Time to Legalize (video of policy forum)

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: Organized Crime in Central America (200+ page study)

Blogicito: Drug trafficking in Honduras (with highlights from the above study, and links to older Honduran narco-related articles)
Newer posts Older posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...