December 30, 2013

Election fraud in Honduras

Juan Orlando Hernández, President-elect of Honduras

Elections are over. Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH, as he is known in Honduras) is officially the next president of Honduras, winning about 34% of the vote. He will take office January 27, 2014. The election process was declared free and transparent by international observer organizations. No vote recounts will be done by the TSE (Honduras' election authority) despite numerous and some very valid claims of errors and even fraud. TSE says that their only obligation is to certify the actas (explained later) not the ballots. The international auditor says the same. Despite election observer organization positive reports to the contrary, organizations such as OAS provided long lists of changes that are necessary and even the TSE has campaigned for changes to the election law.

Candidates showed proof on television and online of serious errors if not downright fraud both within the polling places as well as within the TSE. Often the claims of errors could be confirmed by viewing the scanned documents on the TSE website. I saw and verified enough to convince me that some of the diputado (congressman) races deserved a fresh count of the ballots.

The election process

Registered voter lists
The basic election process is to confirm voter identity (ID card) and ensure that the voter is registered at that voting table by comparing against voter rolls complete with color photos of the citizens. The ballots are certified by the poll workers.

Voters move to a private table to mark 'x's' on ballots which include names, party designations, and color photos of the candidates (separate presidential, congress, municipal ballots) and deposit them in the appropriate ballot box. The voter's pinky is inked so that he cannot vote again.

The biggest fallacy in the system is that the legitimacy of the election results relies on the independence and honesty of the poll workers. Each voting table is supposed to have a poll representative and a substitute from each party (eight parties this year) to ensure honesty in the count, though that doesn't happen in most cases in much of the country. Rather than 16 or even 8 poll workers, many of the actas that I viewed online were signed by four or even fewer poll workers. Polling places may start out the day with representatives from each party, but often some leave before the actual count is done. Additionally, political parties and individuals are known to traffic in polling credentials (which are issued in blank to the parties, not the individuals), selling their badges to the highest bidder. Channel 10 news interviewed one poll worker who proudly stated that he was a Nacionalista though he couldn't explain why he was wearing a badge from another party. At the location where J voted, the LIBRE party workers loudly stated that they would only verify known LIBRE party voters. In a small town, every knows who has what party loyalty.

December 26, 2013

USA issues new travel warning for Honduras

On Christmas Eve, the US State Department issued a new travel warning for US citizens traveling to Honduras. Though the warning states that "tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work without incident", it goes on to state this:

"The vast majority of serious crimes in Honduras, including those against U.S. citizens, are never solved; of the 50 murders committed against U.S. citizens since 2008, police have only solved two. Members of the Honduran National Police are known to engage in criminal activity, including murder and car theft. The Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and police often lack vehicles or fuel to respond to calls for assistance. In practice, this means police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime, or may not respond at all. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions."
Apparently the Embassy does not agree with President Lobo's assessment that homicide has decreased tremendously in Honduras this year. If there really had been a reduction, the Secretary of Security would provide the data to the Observatorio Nacional de la Violencia (ONV), an independent academic research institution based out of Honduras’ national university and supported by the UN. ONV has been charged with providing Honduras' official crime statistics for many years and has always worked with the police and media to generate the statistics – until Arturo Corrales became Secretary of Security. Recently, the director of the ONV denounced that based on Secretary Corrales' orders, police have refused to provide any crime information since June 2013. The State Department chose to include ONV's estimate of an increase in 2013 homicides in their warning rather than President Lobo's verbal assurance of a big reduction.

Alianza para la Paz y la Justicia (Alliance for Peace and Justice, APJ) issued a public pronouncement (in Spanish) earlier this month condemning not only the failure of the government to purify the police department but also a condemnation of the Secretary in particular for his inability to reduce murder and violence as well as his lack of transparency and his refusal to provide data to ONV.

APJ demands reforms in the entire justice system, which they say have been obstructed to date. They say that the new president has an obligation to name a new Secretary of Security who is valiant, honest, and professionally capable of fomenting a policy of transparency, accountability, and an open-door policy for the media, civil society, academia, and citizens in general. APJ (Facebook page) is a coalition of civil society, NGOs, and religious organizations whose leading members are among the bravest people in Honduras. They literally risk their lives every day by speaking out against crime and corruption in the government and justice system. One of their member organizations (AJS) is the national representative for Transparency International and another, Transformemos Honduras, has worked with the Secretary of Education to develop numerous improvements in the education system as well reductions in corruption. APJ has my total respect.

The previous June 17th US State Department travel warning as well as a comparison with the November 2012 warning can be found here.

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad from La Ceiba

"House of a million lights"
Images: La Prensa
I'd like to wish all of the Blogicito readers a Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad! I hope your holidays are filled with love and happiness.

The house shown above was called the "House of a million lights" by La Prensa. The owners have put on a different display every Christmas for several years but I think they've outdone themselves this year. If you are in La Ceiba, you can see the house in Las Colinas. Las Colinas is a very pretty, and as the name would indicate, very hilly colonia (neighborhood) just outside of town. I can't give you directions to the house, but I'm sure you'll have no trouble following the glow of lights to find it; there aren't that many streets in Las Colinas. You can also see it from above by following the highest street that runs along the back of the colonia, as shown in the photo below.

La Colinas, La Ceiba, Honduras
Here are some old photos taken from that same upper street in Las Colinas during the daytime:

Las Colinas in the daytime
This is a great place to get a panoramic view of La Ceiba.

The spectacular view from the other side of that road

December 22, 2013

Abusive tax paquetazo from Honduran Congress

Honduras Congress
Image: La Prensa

Nacionalistas enacted a huge blow to the poor and middle class of Honduras in the middle of the night last night (Friday), railroading through a tax paquetazo that will cause prices of virtually everything in Honduras to rise. The Honduran twitterati was afire last night as many watched the 11-hour long process on the congressional television channel. Outrage is the best way to describe the reaction.

Since Nacionalistas have a sufficient majority in Congress (until Jan 25, 2014) to pass any law, they were able to force dispensing of the required three congressional sessions for discussion, enabling them to railroad the new law through in one night – a Friday night before Christmas holidays no less. This was done despite the opposition congressmen complaining that they hadn't even received the law before the session or had time to read it nor had citizens had any advance knowledge of the law or opportunity to provide input. While the party in power said that this was such an important law that it needed to be passed immediately, the opposition responded that it was such an important law that it needed more time for study and analysis. Article after article was passed with the right side of the room (Nacionalistas) voting 100% in favor and the smaller left side (the other four parties) voting 100% against. The session ended at 1:00 a.m.

Let's put this in order!

The law is called the "Ley de Ordenamiento de las Finanzas Públicas, Control de las Exoneraciones y Medidas Antievasión" (translated something like Law of Public Financial Management, Control of Exonerations, and Anti-Evasion Measures). Sounds good, doesn't it? President-elect Juan Orlando Hernández has been promising a reduction and consolidation in the "obese" government and initially I thought this law might have something to do with that. We definitely need some new measures in this bloated, inefficient government on the verge of bankruptcy and incapable of providing the most basic services to its people. The government can't even pay its bloated salaries much less have any money left over for the services those employees are paid to provide. Tax evasion by the rich and powerful is the rule, not the exception. Unfortunately, the name of the law disguises its real purpose, increased taxes.

December 11, 2013

Lotsa lemons!

Lots and lots of lemons/limes

Remember when I showed you my first lemon harvest in 2009? Go ahead and take a look. I'll wait.

Things are definitely looking up now. This particular day's batch includes some smaller lemons (limes?) because El Jefe had to cut off some of the lower branches of one tree which were so heavy with fruit that they were hanging on the ground and killing the grass. We generally get big fat lemons/limes.

We've only had to buy lemons a couple of times in the past many months and wow! Ours are so much juicier. I don't know how long the season continues but I hope it is a long time. For some reason, I haven't kept track of when the trees are producing. I really should do that. This photo is of the fruit blossoms. They smell so good!

My odd – and possibly annoying – habit of not specifying lemons or limes is because here in Honduras, they are all called limones (lemons) and a lima is something you sharpen your machete with. Obviously the yellow ones at the top with the pointy ends are lemons. Those come from a deadly thorny tree that will rip your skin open if you aren't careful. My sister-in-law gave us a start from her tree. The odd thing is that her lemons are very small and round (called indios) and ours our big and pointy, the shape we typically think of for a lemon. These are so acidic that I can't use more than one slice a day in my tea or my teeth start hurting. They are also chock full of seeds so based on all those clues, I think they may be límon agria. The others (the round green ones) are much tastier, less acidic, and have no seeds or thorns. They appear to be limes, and if you pinned me down, I would say they are limes. But before you jump to any conclusions, read Lemons or Limes?. It's definitely not as clear cut as you might think if you are North American where your lemons are always yellow and your limes are always green.

I was trying to make an artful arrangement for the photo, but they kept rolling out of the bowl. The ones on the table are the ones that I had to keep picking up off the floor after they rolled out of the bowl.

December 7, 2013

Yes we have no documents today

So many catalogs, so little time

Doing the right thing in Honduras is no easy task. You try, try, try to learn the ropes and jump through all the government hoops, but if the agency is not out of paper or ink, not on strike, or the system is not down, there will be something else to prevent you from getting those documents! Always has been, always will be. The most frequently spoken sentence of government employees seems to be: "Come back next month."

Most any government office anywhere...
on a good day
License plates

Shortly after President Lobo came into office (January 2010), La Prensa published an article saying that the government had run out of vehicle plates early in Zelaya's administration, none were purchased, and there was a huge backlog of people waiting for plates.

The new head of that department in DEI said that it would take at least a year to do the public bid process and receive the plates. He wanted to do an emergency purchase, which in Honduras means that somebody gets rich and favors to friends, family, and political benefactors are repaid. With my suspicious mind, I figured that it could only take that long because they had to ensure that the proper people got the proper cuts of the contract. Apparently that took a loooong time to work out.

November 16, 2013

Honduras is a small world

This amaryllis gets up to 6 spectacular blooms at a time

Honduras is a small, small world! Every now and then something happens to remind me just how small Honduras is. The moral of the story is to be nice to everyone because you never know how it might come back to bite you.

These beautiful flowers (Amaryllis, I think) are a frequent reminder to me of that. Here is my story.


El Jefe wanted to have some pants made. To a gringa, that seems an odd thing. Only the very rich have their clothes tailor-made in the US. But okay...I hope they turn out well because I know you're going to have to pay for them no matter what. What you do is go to a sastre (tailor) or costurera (seamstress), get measured for what you want, and then he or she tells you how much fabric, zippers, etc. to buy. You come back with the materials and a day or two later, voila!, your clothes are specially made just for you. J had heard about a good tailor and went to his house to get started.

As J was ringing the bell, a man walked up and asked what he wanted. "Who sent you?", he asked suspiciously. "I only take clients who have referrals from my current clients." He rattled off some important Ceibeño names from his client list. Needless to say, J was somewhat taken aback. We don't run with the "important" crowd. J mentioned his friend's name, and although the friend wasn't on the sastre's 'A' client list, he reluctantly agreed to make an exception, probably due to El Jefe's charm. Everyone likes El Jefe. The sastre made it clear that his prices are his prices and no exceptions!

November 15, 2013

Honduran Election 2013: Fear as a Strategy

2013 Honduras presidential ballot

Guest Blog by Jorge Gallardo Rius

The two leading contenders in the Honduran Election of 2013 have based their winning strategies on fear.

The leading contender according to recent polls, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party, has identified himself with hawkish views and promotes his candidacy by harking on fear of the extreme left. While the leading leftist contender, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of deposed ex-president Zelaya and openly supported by South American ex-presidents, is promoting the fear of military repression.

The big issue for Mr. Hernandez at this point is trying to make permanent a military police that was originally slated as temporary while the crime rate remained high.  They argue that the extreme left wants this force to disappear.  Whereas, the Libre Party supporters went to the US Congress and tried to turn a land dispute into a case of state repression and a sign that the election process was tainted in order to strengthen their followers’ anti-constitutional beliefs.

The use of these fears as campaign themes is probably the result of an analysis of the mind frame of Hondurans after the events of 2009 in which a left-right polarization came to be, and the intent is to make the center disappear as an option to Honduran voters.  They want us to believe that there is no center, no real options in the middle, because 25% of probable voters, enough to decide the outcome haven’t decided yet and they just might go massively to the center.

But this fear based strategy has been known to backfire.  Initially it was working, but apparently, it was turned on too soon.  Many independent voters, tired of the never-ending conflicts, are fleeing both extremes and moving to the center.  After 8 years of reckless law-making by both sides while impunity reigns, and excessive expenditures that can’t be paid off, people are now realizing that we need a government of stability and austerity.

In the internal elections, the second strongest party votes was won by the centrist candidate Mauricio Villeda and by making the center disappear both sides are trying to steal votes from this candidate.  Mr. Villeda of the Liberal Party, unanimously recognized for his honesty and who, in all the recent polls proved to be the fastest growing movement, may become the one that benefits the most by the failure of the fear strategies and the convergence to the center.  He is backed by a strong organization with experience in past elections.

It just might be that Mr. Villeda peaks at the precise moment and produces an unexpected upset.


Jorge Gallardo Rius is a Honduran citizen who was born in La Ceiba and currently lives in Tegucigalpa. He studied in Louisiana, Houston, and Romania and is an Information Systems Analyst. Jorge's mother was a US citizen so he grew up speaking both languages at home. For a time, he wrote a weekly column on Education and Technology for an English-language weekly newspaper. He offers English/Spanish and Spanish/English translations. Sr. Gallardo can be contacted at jgallardo515 at and we welcome your comments here as well.

October 1, 2013

Memoria Gráfica de Honduras (Memories of Honduras)

La Ceiba beach front after the 1932 hurricane
I can't remember if I ever told my readers about the Memoria Gráfica de Honduras blog. I first discovered it in 2009 during the 'bad' time and sent the link to some of my Honduran friends but may not have posted it here during that hectic time. Oh, well, even if I have already written about it, it is worth repeating.

If you are Honduran, and even if you are not, you will love this blog. I promise. It includes a lot of history on various topics as well as the old photos, antique postal cards, money, stamps, and documents.

Honduras' postal service, 1897
The articles are in Spanish, but even if you don't read Spanish, you'll enjoy the photos. Click the first photo in each article to view a slide show of enlarged photos for a much better experience.

September 14, 2013

Crime hits close to home again

So beautiful and peaceful out there...

The other night we were awakened about 2:30 a.m. by two very loud gunshots. It sounded as if it was right outside our fence but sounds carry weirdly out here where we live. Sometimes during the day, I hear voices that sound like they are in my back yard but it is actually workers at a construction site about a block away. Since the shots woke us up, we were groggy trying to figure out where it was and what we should do. But there was no question that it was a gun and a big one at that. This was no birthday party fireworks.

Right after that a flatbed truck went racing by our house. I stayed low but peeked through the window expecting to see TVs and computers or construction materials in the back of it but there was nothing there. Maybe a neighbor or the construction guard chased off the robbers with his gun? Our guard dog was going crazy, but she was running along the fence, barking the angry warning bark, not the 'imminent danger' bark that would indicate that someone was in or trying to get in the property.

June 19, 2013

US renews Honduras Travel Warning

Honduran President Pepe Lobo and
Minister of Tourism Nelly Jerez

The US State Department has issued another Travel Warning for Honduras. I thought it would be interesting to compare the wording in this one with the previous November 21, 2012 warning. Below is the June 17, 2013, warning with the new words and sections underlined. The parts changed or eliminated from the 2012 warning are indicated with strikethrough.

Travel Warning
Bureau of Consular Affairs


June 17, 2013

The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens about the security situation in Honduras. continues to warn U.S. citizens that the crime and violence levels in Honduras remain critically high. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated November 21, 2012, to include additional information about reported kidnappings, information for victims of crime, as well as the Honduran police force's ability to respond to reports of crime, and also serves to update contact information.

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work without incident. However, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and the Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to address these issues. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. San Pedro Sula is considered to be the world’s most violent city, with 159 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2011. These threats have increased substantially over the past several years and remain high. Incidents can occur anywhere. In January 2012, the Peace Corps withdrew its volunteers from the country to conduct an administrative review of the security situation.

May 18, 2013

Rhinoceros beetle

Big beetle - a rhino?

I thought this might be a rhinoceros beetle based on its size. It would have to be a female since it doesn't have the distinctive rhino horns, but there are so many varieties and most of the photos are male so I gave up trying to determine which type it might be. It could be one called a coconut rhinoceros beetle.  Once again, I insisted on sparing the life of our wildlife and maybe shouldn't have. Coconut rhinoceros beetles can kill the coconut palms! Great.

Check out the size of the horns on these rhinoceros beetles!

I ran across this ad while researching this beetle. For $5.60 you can buy a bag of 2 or 3 cooked rhinoceros beetles, lightly seasoned with soy sauce, lemon grass, and garlic. Yumm. Before you rush out to order a bag, one of the reviewers says that they are super crunchy but have not much flavor.

May 17, 2013

What happened here?

furniture piled up

covered furnitureWhat happened here?

What's this?

Heavy spring cleaning?

Floor polishing?

Did you have a flood?


Are you moving?

Read on and weep...

May 15, 2013

Simple shopping

 My (not so new anymore) new chair – comfy!

This is another one of those old articles that never got posted. I think this one is a couple of years old.

A few months ago, we made our annual pilgrimage to the big city, San Pedro Sula, thus single handedly improving the economy of Honduras with all of our purchases. ;-)

We always plan to go more often but don't seem to make it for some reason — mostly because a day trip is a real ordeal (about 3 hours each way on a life-threatening highway) and finding someone reliable to stay overnight and take care of the house and animals isn't easy. [The last time we went to SPS, we just missed a tornado, I think. There were fallen trees all over the highway.]

San Pedro Sula, the second largest city and industrial capital of Honduras, gets a bad rap in my opinion. We love it and would go much more often if it wasn't such a long trip. The traffic is kind of bad, but the city is laid out in such a orderly manner that we hardly ever get lost, unlike Tegucigalpa, where we have spent more time lost than not.

May 13, 2013

2013 La Ceiba Gran Carnaval International Schedule

Reina de la Feria/Queen of the Fair, La Ceiba Gran Carnaval
Queen of the Feria Isidra
Images: La Prensa, Honduras

I have a little more information about La Ceiba's 41st annual Gran Carnaval Internacional.

Saturday, May 11, was the coronation of Hydee Samantha Flores Gavarrete as the reina (queen) of the Feria Isidra. That is her in the photo above. There is also a queen of the Carnaval as well as two princesses, shown below.

Queens and princesses of the La Ceiba Gran Carnaval 2013

Here is the 2013 schedule

May 15: Carnavalito mercado San Isidro
May 17: Carnavalito Colonia Kawas
May 18: Carnavalito Barrio Solares Nuevos
May 19: Carnavalito Colonia Pizzati
May 20: Carnavalito Sierra Pina
May 21: Carnavalito Mall Mega Plaza
May 22: Carnavalito Barrio La Gloria
May 23: Carnavalito Paseo de los Ceibeños
May 24: Carnavalito Barrio La Isla
May 25: Parade and Gran Carnaval International

I couldn't find anything saying what time the parade will start. :-{

A principal attraction of the Gran Carnaval is the musical shows along San Isidro. This year, Elvis Crespo will be giving a free 90-minute concert on Calle 9 sometime after 10 pm. I couldn't find out what other bands will be participating. :-{ Maybe there will more information later this week.

La Ceiba Gran Carnival

The municipal tourism folks say that they have some fresh ideas for this year's carnaval and say we should expect some surprises. The parade will include floats from Mexico, Taiwan, and Cayman Islands, among many others. Security will be provided by at least two police on each corner during the parade assisted by soldiers. Street vendors will not be permitted in the Central Park this year so that tourists can enjoy the park and to avoid the accumulation of trash from the trinket and clothing vendors.

Businessmen hope that the carnival will help to improve the local economy but complain about the lack of promotion done by the city or the Ministry of Tourism. The tourism folks are predicting 500,000 tourists, but honestly, I don't see how this could be possible unless 99% of them are staying with family. The population of La Ceiba is only around 150,000 and I'd be surprised if there are many more than about 2,000 hotel rooms here. They must be counting day visitors who come to see the parade. Even with that, I just don't find that number credible.

May 12, 2013

La Gringa can't kill a chicken

Three chicks out and one to go

Once again we have baby chicks. When these hens get broody, they go off and hide somewhere to sit on their eggs. I was beginning to think that something was eating our chickens until one hen showed up with four chicks and another showed up a few days later with one chick.  I don't know what we will do with them.

bantam hen sitting on eggs
We disappointingly only get eggs for a few months at a time. It's a conspiracy. The rest of the time, at least one of the hens is broody and the other hens cooperate by giving that hen our eggs! I also think that some of our hens are just getting too old to lay reliably. By the way, we still have one of our original hens, 7-year-old Conchita, and Pancho is doing well, though we have one other rooster who the hens seem to prefer now.

This reminded me of an old article that I wrote a few years ago but never got posted, so I pulled it out, dusted it off, and here it is:

May 7, 2013

Tribute to a fallen police officer - Edgardo Galdámez

Edgardo Galdámez Vásquez

Yesterday afternoon I was reading "El precio de ser policía en Honduras" (The price of being a police officer in Honduras) on Proceso Digital. The article states that an average of 5.4 Honduran police officers are murdered every month and that violence has taken the lives of 130 police in the past two years. Based on what has come to light in the past two years regarding police corruption, when we read about police murders, we can't help but wonder, "Was he killed because he was involved in illegal activities with the wrong people or was it because he couldn't be bought or intimidated?"

Countrywide, Honduras' murder rate is about 85.5 per 100,000 compared to a worldwide average of about 8 per 100,000. Considering that there are only about 14,000 Honduran police, 65 murders per year puts their murder rate at 464.3 per 100,000. And that means that a Honduran police officer is 58 times more likely to be murdered than the average world citizen. Not good odds, especially considering that most of the police make at or close to minimum wage, the equivalent of about US $350 per month, from which they have to buy their own uniforms, boots, and even bullets.

May 2, 2013

La Ceiba Gran Carnaval is May 25, 2013

La Ceiba Gran Carnival
La Ceiba Gran Carnival
Image: La Prensa, Honduras

Thanks to a reader who asked the Municipal Tourism folks, I found out that my guess was right. The final big celebration and parade will be on Saturday, May 25, 2013.

I emailed a few days ago to ask for a schedule of events during the two weeks leading up to parade day. If I'm able to get it, I'll report it here. My guess is that it hasn't been finalized yet.


I ran across this article written shortly after last year's carnival, A 40 años del Carnaval de La Ceiba, by Guillermo Anderson, a singer, songwriter, and musician, one of Honduras' most famous. He believes that the carnival has lost its personality and identity. As a Ceibeño, he misses the focus on the Garífuna music and punta dance. He seems particularly bothered by the political use of the carnival and thinks that political floats in the parade should be prohibited and some esthetic standards should be required for all floats. With this being an election year, I'm sure we'll see lots of politicians this year. His article is in Spanish but translates reasonably well using Google Translate if you don't read Spanish.

If you aren't familiar with Guillermo Anderson's music, you can preview his Costa y Calor selections here and check out all of his CDs here.

May 1, 2013

Weather: dreary with smoke

La Ceiba weather

The weather websites are coming up with some interesting tags these days. Sunny, cloudy, rain, snow: I'm sure they get tired of those. I was on a Honduras website and noticed a weather widget predicting "smoke".

La Ceiba weather

We do have a smoky season in Honduras. It usually only lasts about a week. I still haven't figured it out and never remember year to year exactly when it was. It's widely believed to be at the time when the sugar cane farmers burn their fields. The clouds of smoke go up and usually hang over Honduras for a week or more. But the sugar cane folks always deny that they are at fault, so who knows? All I know is that it is real and it's uncomfortable, especially causing problems for those with respiratory issues.

April 30, 2013

I don't know the dates of the 2013 La Ceiba Carnival, do you?

La Ceiba, Honduras, Carnival
La Ceiba's Carnival parade

Update: The final big celebration and parade are scheduled for May 25, 2013. I'll post the schedule of events if and when I can get it.

When is the La Ceiba Carnival? That question pops up every year and every year I make fruitless attempts to find an answer including emailing the municipal tourism office. Oh, I know that Wikipedia used to say that it is the third week of May, but that has been corrected to "the third or fourth week of May". Besides, it is a two week event, though most people are referring to the last big day of the parade and all night partying when they speak of 'the carnival'.

La Ceiba, Honduras, CarnavalI remember one year Ceiba's tourism office set up the dates about a month in advance....and then changed them at the last minute to start a week later. I felt sorry for anyone who had already arranged their vacation and bought plane tickets based on the previous calendar of events. Similarly, the big parade itself can be delayed for hours and hours due to disorganization or waiting on some dignitary to arrive.

April 24, 2013

No rice with potatoes!

Honduran food
Rice and potatoes?

"You're ordering rice and potatoes?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Because you just don't. You don't eat rice with potatoes. That's two starches. It's not allowed!"

"Whatever. It's good. You should try it."

Honduran pastelito
Honduran chicken pastelito
Actually, I have tried it. There is no way around it. Yummy pastelitos (fried meat pies) often come with rice and potatoes inside. So do many tamales, including the ones I make.

April 23, 2013

Honduras' Gag Law

President Porfirio Lobo
President Pepe Lobo, "What's the worry? It's for democracy!"

President Lobo is pushing hard for a 'gag' law that would seriously curtail freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Honduras, in emulation of what Hugo Chávez accomplished in Venezuela. Under this proposed gag law, media sources speaking critically of the government could face fines in the millions and even loss of their license under what the press is calling confiscatory measures. The proposed law is said to call for a censure committee and to also give the President discretionary rights to regulate all media, including deciding what is information and what is not, who is granted frequencies and who is not, as well as the final discretion to revoke or confiscate media as he sees fit. While the law will apply to online news sources, it's unclear whether it could be also applied to personal blogs.

While Lobo claims there is no intent to previously censor any news or confiscate private property, fines for violating the new rules range from 3% to 5% of gross annual income! The penalty for repeat violations can mean license revocation. Self-censorship among reporters is already a huge problem in Honduras where dozens of radio, television, and print journalists have been murdered in the past 10 years and where lucrative government advertising contracts can make or break a radio or television station and likely has a major effect on the slant given to the news.

Whew! I'm legal again

Just got back with my shiny new annual Honduran residency card so I'm legal again (still) for another year. Here, let me give you a laugh at my expense:

There is no time limit on Honduras residency once it is granted, but you do have to go renew your residency card and prove that you still meet the requirements every year or five years, depending on the type of residency. Every single year, my stomach ties itself in knots when that time comes around. I'm sure that when I present my old card at the extranjero (foreigners') desk for renewal, I'll find that there is a migratory alert out for me and they'll give me 24 hours to get outta Dodge. "Oh, you are that gringa with the blog? Ahah! We've been looking for you!"

This is totally irrational, I know. Or I think I know. Or I think that it probably is. That's what El Jefe tells me anyway. He wouldn't say this, but I think that he thinks this fear is idiotic. And it probably is. Or maybe it is. I hope it is.

April 14, 2013

Trading Places

good customer service
Cartoon courtesy of

I have contaminated my Catracho with gringo thinking. I've created a monster. I admitted several years ago that I have the US American 'complaint gene'. Americans tend to think that anything that doesn't "make sense" or isn't "fair" must be rectified! And we tend to think that all we need to do is to point that out for justice to be done. Unfortunately, the complaint gene is not appreciated so much in Honduras.

El Jefe is a pretty laid back guy. He accepts that nothing is going to be quick and easy, that the store is probably not going to have what we need, and that the repairman will probably not show up when he is supposed to. He still takes all that in stride. He is Honduran, after all.

But living in the US for awhile has given him a different perspective as it has for many returning Catrachos. That is compounded by years of reading the Blogicito and listening to my opinions. Lately he sometimes has been taking it to the extreme. He has a personal mission to teach customer service in La Ceiba. He chides clerks and waiters when they are rude or do stupid things. He tells them how they should have answered a question from a customer and even goes so far as to remind them that if they don't treat the customers right, the customers will go somewhere else, the store or restaurant might close, and they would be out of a job and then WHAT?! Jobs are hard to find in La Ceiba.

If they don't have a product they used to have, he gives them a lecture in inventory control and asks them how they expect to make money if they don't have the things that people want to buy.

Even I, the gringa, thinks that he goes too far sometimes. This isn't the USA. I might give him a nudge with my elbow, an alarmed look, or simply slink a little bit away, you know, as if I'm not really with HIM. You know, they way HE used to do with me when, shocked at some horrible customer service event, I would make a spectacle of myself demanding that yes, I should receive the item I just paid for and that if they don't have it, no, they don't get to keep my money and make me buy something else that I don't want or need.

Recently I bought a blouse at Carrion at the mall. The first day I wore it, part of the side seam ripped open. "We need to go take this back right now!" declared J. "I'm not taking it back," said me. "It's easy to fix a seam and I probably did it climbing into the truck." "No, we need to take it back." "Please! I don't want to go through the hassle of trying to take it back!" Grumble, grumble, he retorted.

(Credit where credit is due: I have to say that the girl who helped me at Carrion was wonderful! She was my personal assistant for the whole time I was there and insisted on seeing everything I tried on. "Me encanta!" "Que bonita!" she would exclaim after seeing me twirl in the new duds. I'll be looking for her the next time I go.)

He's not the only one I see that way. Sometimes I'm confused by Hondurans who come into a store or other business griping loudly about something and being unnecessarily rude to the employees. I wonder how it is that they get action when my reasonable complaints didn't. Maybe it has to do with the caste system. Maybe I just don't dress well enough or carry an expensive enough cell phone.

This personality change is quite the turn from 2001 when I wanted to take back a 2-month-old stove to San Pedro that had rusted. At that time, he thought it was crazy to even try and only grudgingly agreed to take the bottom drawer back to show them. Eventually I got my new stove but what a hassle! For a stove it was worth it the aggravation, but for a blouse? Not for the new, Honduranized gringa. I know when to pick my battles now.

El Jefe hates corruption as much as I do. After reading the newspaper or watching the news, he'll say, "Why don't they do xxxxx or xxxxx to put a stop to it?" "Because this is Honduras?", the now mellowed gringa meekly offers. Talk about trading places! I couldn't count the number of times over the years that he answered my frustrated questions with that even more frustrating answer.

I don't know if he makes a difference or not, but we can always hope. By the way, you might find this 2010 article has some helpful Honduran consumer tips:

Cultural differences: Consumer complaints

What is your best or worse consumer experience in Honduras? Please share it with us in the comment section!

April 13, 2013

Thank you, Blogicito Readers

heliconia, La Ceiba, Honduras
Heliconia psittacorum

Thank you, Blogicito Readers, for all of the congratulations you've sent recently! I spent all morning one day replying to everyone who wrote. I really appreciate your readership.

Pink ginger, La Ceiba, Honduras
Pink ginger - smells so good!
On a similar note, I was so encouraged by the avalanche of email and comments I received on my return to the blogosphere a few months ago! I was absolutely floored when I opened my email the morning after my first come-back article. I meant to write this thank you much earlier and then got sidetracked. I wasn't able to reply to all the emails and I apologize for that but I wanted to let the readers know how very much I appreciate all of your comments. I'm so happy that you are still out there. Thank goodness for the Feedburner email updates or you'd probably never know I was back to blogging again. I wouldn't have blamed you if you gave up on me.

April 10, 2013

5.5 Earthquake in Honduras

Honduras earthquake 04-10-13
5.5 Honduras earthquake, 1:14 pm, April 10, 2013
Image courtesy USGS

Oooooh! We just felt an earthquake in La Ceiba. It lasted several seconds and based on my memory of 2009 when we had so many, I'd guess that it was at least a 5.5. The stuff on top of my desk was rattling like crazy. At first I just sat there experiencing it, but when it didn't pass after a few seconds, I decided it was time to get out of the house. I saw Arexy paused like a statute on the terraza steps. Before I could get outside, it stopped.


I wrote that and then I had to go chat with everyone around me. El Jefe was driving on the highway and did not feel it. Our Honduras Living group was getting messages from expats in La Ceiba, San Pedro, Roatán, Tegucigalpa, La Lima (Cortés), Danlí (El Paraíso) who all felt it. Two people who were in Trujillo and the island of Guanaja did not feel it.

Not to brag – well, maybe a little! – I guesstimated 5.5 right after it happened. The USGS is now showing it as a 5.5 on the Richter scale. I tracked all of those 2009 earthquakes and since I blogged about most of them, I guess my memory is working pretty well. I had never experienced an earthquake before moving to Honduras and they made a big impression on me, especially the 7.3 quake that had us running through the dark to get out of the house.

The USGS earthquake website gives the epicenter as 5 km. (3 miles) south of San Juan Pueblo and about 36 km (22 miles) southeast of Tela, Honduras. San Juan Pueblo is roughly halfway on the highway between La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula. We were checking the television, but not much was known at the time about damages. I just checked again, and Canal 3 is saying that there are no reports of damage so far. I guess Honduras was lucky again. We'll no doubt get more details on the 5pm news.

La Prensa is reporting that Tela lost power and telecommunications but that there was no damage reported.  Jocon, Yoro y Olanchito reported fissures in some buildings and homes. La Prensa also gives a whole page of earthquake safety tips.

The following map indicates the "Did you feel it?" reports received by the USGS. I always encourage people to report what they felt. You can do that with the DYFI online form. I think it helps the USGS refine their data.

The blue bubbles represent reports of feeling the quake.
Courtesy USGS Earthquake website
Click to enlarge


Question: Are there any earthquake experts out there who can explain why the depth is almost always given as 10 km? Just curious.

April 9, 2013

David is back!

Identities obscured

David and Delmy came to visit today. What a shock that was! I was so happy and relieved. I was really thinking the worst had happened. He got back home last night, courtesy of the US government. They sent him to San Pedro Sula, where he says the plane was met by Honduran Immigration who gave them something to eat and drink and money for a bus ticket to La Ceiba. I didn't think that Honduras did that. I thought it was a private organization that I've read about many times in the news, but he thought that it was the government.

He was captured when on his way from McAllen to Houston with about 20 other people and a coyote. The coyote and a few of the others got away. They had been walking from 6 am to 6 pm for four days through the countryside with a guide. A pregnant El Salvadoran was with them. Her leg swelled up with so much walking until she couldn't walk anymore. Two other men started carrying her. That slowed them down and he thinks that was part of the reason they were caught. He also said that some farmers saw them and probably reported them.

I'm not sure exactly where he was detained. I told him I had been checking the ICE detainee locator and that he never showed up on it. He said he was transferred two or three times. Each time the guards would come and tell him, "Get ready. You're leaving." He would think they were sending him home but instead, he would be transferred to another prison. What a let down.

April 8, 2013

Pizza grilling tips

Grilled pizza
Makes me want to go make one right now!

See You must try grilled pizza for my basic grilled pizza instructions and then read on.

It is so much easier to figure new things out if you first see it done, no? That is always true for me. Thankfully in the internet age you can do that!

YouTube has some videos on grilling pizza that you might find helpful, especially for seeing what your cooked dough should look like. Steve Raichlen shows the appropriate enthusiasm for grilled pizza. (Ignore the lake of olive oil in which he stretches the dough – you really don't need that! A small amount of flour or oil on a pastry board will do.) This video by BBQ Pit Boys makes me laugh – a real man's guide to making grilled pizza (notice he uses a small machete to cut it). He tops the pizza dough before cooking, but I still suggest using the two step method of cooking the top first. BBQMyWay has another manly-man video – listen to the crackle! It's true. Ours crackles like that when we cut it. It is a beautiful sound.

grilled pizza
Click to enlarge these photos
If you don't have an outdoor grill, check out Laura Vitale's video on grilling pizza on a stove-top grill. If you are a homemade pizza virgin, Laura has another video that goes through the whole dough making, sauce, and baking process. Don't let making dough intimidate you. Pizza dough is much more forgiving than bread dough.

If you prefer Spanish, here's a video for you. This one includes preparing the dough. YouTube has other pizza a la parrilla videos in Spanish, too.

pizza cooked on the grillFor the grill, I recommend the two-step process rather than topping the raw dough at the beginning as some videos show. I think that you'll get a much crisper, more evenly cooked crust using the cook-turn-top-cook method. I also think it is easier for the beginner.

Watch a few of these videos and you'll see that there are no hard and fast rules for grilling pizza. It is an art, not a science.

El Jefe's tips

In discussing all of this with El Jefe, since he is the main pizza chef here, he pointed out that there are a lot of variables. Differences between grills is a big one. Another big variable is the thickness of the dough. He said that a thin crust will burn a lot faster than a thicker one, so you may need to use a slightly lower temperature if your crust is very thin.

jumbo grilled pizza
Square - for a change. Isn't it a beauty?
We haven't found it necessary to oil the grill grates or the dough disk before grilling, but you might want to oil your grates the first time if you aren't sure whether or not it will stick. Do make sure the grates are clean, though, as any bits of crud from your last barbecue will stick to the dough.

He also told me about other temperature adjustments he sometimes makes, but since that might only apply to those who have the same kind of grill that we do, I have another idea for beginners.

Make a small extra disk of dough from your same dough batch, stretched or rolled out to the same thickness as your pizza dough. Use that to test your grill temperature and cooking time. In the beginning, El Jefe oiled the grates before putting the dough on the grill but after a time he discovered that our well-used grill has developed a nice, shiny, non-stick coating from lots of use so he doesn't do that anymore. If your test crust sticks too badly, you can either oil the grates or oil the bottom of the dough before placing it on the grill. If it cooks too fast or too slow, adjust your grill temperature accordingly.

pizza dough ready to go
Keep it cool
One bit of advice from me is that a slightly firmer dough is easier to handle on the grill, though a soft dough is not impossible after you get some experience. If you live in a hot, humid tropical climate with an un-airconditioned kitchen, keep your dough cool after shaping. Cover it with a barely damp towel and/or plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge if you can't get it on the grill right away. The dough will be easier to handle when cool. We find this particularly true for doughs containing sourdough starter.

More tips on grilling pizza

Here are some quick tips Chef Jefe and I (the dough lady) can give you based on our experiences:

Tip #1 - Don't let the shaped dough stick to your peel or baking sheet. Use lots of corn meal, semolina flour, or regular flour on your transfer device. On smaller pizzas or if the dough is being fussy, sometimes we just pick the untopped disk up from the pastry board with our hands and drop it onto the grill. Use care if you try that.

Tip #2 - Don't go too big. Until you get the hang of manipulating the dough onto the grill, two medium to small pizzas are much easier to handle than one big one. Similarly, don't go too heavy on the toppings.

Tip #3 - Give it a rest. If you are having trouble rolling or stretching your dough, give it a rest for 5 or 10 minutes and then continue shaping. Dough springing back is a sure sign that the gluten needs to rest again. Be sure to cover it with a damp towel or plastic wrap so that it doesn't dry out during its nap.

grilled pizza
Honduras-shaped pizza (not intentional)
Tip #4 - Live with less than perfect circles. When the dough slides off the peel to the grill, it tends to stick to the hot grates of the grill and get somewhat misshapen. Unless you are very lucky, you won't be able to push/pull it back into shape before the dough sets. Just remember, if it isn't a perfectly round Pizza Hut pizza, it is a 'rustic' or 'artisan' pizza which makes it even more valued.

pizza ingredients
Be prepared
Tip #5 - Be prepared. Have all of the toppings ingredients and implements ready to go grillside before you put the dough on the grill. There really is no time to go searching for something in the kitchen once you have put the dough on the grill.

Tip #6 - Don't go anywhere. Your dough should only need about 2 to 4 minutes on the first side. If it takes longer, that means that your grill was not hot enough. Grills are not as accurately temperature controlled as an oven, especially if it is a charcoal grill. The crust will miraculously tell you when it is ready to turn: if the dough sticks to the grates, it isn't ready so don't force it. As the dough cooks, the grates will release the dough so it's easy to check the bottom for doneness.

Tip #7 - Know your hot spots. If your grill has hot spots, be sure to avoid them if possible. Rotate the pizza once on each side so your crust cooks evenly and doesn't have burned spots. You can rotate more often, but remember that every time the grill is opened, it will be losing heat.

Tip #8 - Import your pizza flour from Italy and use only San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella di bufala Campana, made with the milk from water buffalo raised in a semi-wild state in the marshlands of Campania. -- Just kidding! (That is actual advice that I read somewhere.)

grilled pizza
Grilled meat-lovers pizza
Can you tell who was manning the meatball bowl?


I want all my friends to try grilled pizza! I highly recommend it. I'm pretty sure that once you've tried pizza on the grill, you'll never go back either. I'd love to hear your experience if you try it. Please come back here to tell us about it. And if you have any questions that you think that El Jefe or I might answer, please feel free to ask away in the comment section below.

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