Sunday, December 27, 2009

Excuses for not Posting Sooner

I  planned to do a big post, complete with pictures, of Noche Buena in Honduras.  Noche Buena is one big party with lots of food, music, food, dancing, laughing, and food.  Family and friends get together and celebrate Christmas Eve. Oh, and did I mention there is lots of food?

Unfortunately, this is the week I chose to have Salmonella, and an outbreak of shingles, which I don't understand, since I  had the vaccine for shingles this year.  So, instead of dancing and celebrating, I spent Christmas Eve here in the bedroom of our rented condominium.



                                                     Courtesy Kelly Wearstler

That is, when I wasn't here.


Courtesy Kelly Wearstler

Of course, If you look at the tile on the floor, that may be a clue as to why I was so lightheaded.

I finally asked Macho Man to either find me some Cipro and acyclovir, or go sharpen the machette, because I was dying.  I wrote it all down for him, including how much of each I needed, and off to El Centro he went. Macho has a brother and a sister who work at the local hospital and they flagged down a doctor who accommodated them, and gave them the medicines, just like I asked.  Nice Doctor said he knew from the way I wrote my wish list that I was an American trained nurse.  One of the nurses at the hospital slipped some Lomotil into the bag.

I fee much better since I started on some definitive medication.  I am still telling my face that we don't do ugly in this family, so while I haven't had a big outbreak of blisters, the left side of my face around my eye, brow, and scalp hurts to the bone.  If this is an example of a "milder outbreak with a shorter duration" of shingles, I am so-o-o-o glad I had the vaccine.

I make no promises, but I hope to post on the New Year's celebration at Pablo's.  Magda is a wonderful cook, and she has promised me there will be lots of food.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Weather and Other Things

I haven't blogged in a few days, because nothing is really happening.  It has been raining since Wednesday, the 18th, except one short 2 hrs on Friday.  We took that opportunity to go to the produce market and stock up.  You have not seen rain until you see it rain on the North Coast.  We get a yearly average of 142 inches, amd most of it happens during, of course, the rainy season.  Duh!!!

The problem with the rain is not only  that you have to stay inside.  After a couple of days, even the quietest little creek becomes a raging flood.  This results in bridges being washed away on many rivers.  When that happens, Trujillo can get cut off  from the rest of Honduras until the bridges are replaced either with a make-shift made from wood, or a Bailey bridge.  This morning's La Prensa shows a picture of a big, gaping hole in the road between Tela and La Ceiba which looks to be about 6-8 feet deep in places, and covers  all of one lane.  The road from El Centro up to Buenas Aires is so rutted that it almost takes 4WD to get up here.



                                                Photo Courtesy of La Prensa.hn

The other problem is that the rain cools everything down, including the 6-8 inch  thick walls in most homes, the concrete floors, and the rocks that are everywhere.  This results in no radiant heat.  When coupled with us having only screen in the windows, it is an unpleasant, wet cold.  Casa Ramirez will have glass windows.

The good news in Buenas Aires, our colonia, is the nice breeze that comes down off the mountain, making AC unneccessary most of the time.  The bad news in Buenas Aires is the stiff breeze that comes down off the mountain during rainy season, causing a chill factor that can be as low as 40 degrees. 

OTHER THINGS:  The rain chases mice into the house.  These mice are so smart!!  How smart are they?  They can do anything except read and write, all the time they are stealing the bait right out of the trap.  It is against the law to teach mice to read and write.  At least the mosquitoes are not so bad.

I actually found broccoli, cauliflower and green beans in our local market. along with the regulars, chayote (a squash), camote (a sweet potato), and yucca.  What a gift or me!  Macho Man, on the other hand is very disappointed.  He is a rice and beans man, and only eats other veggies because he knows they are good for him.

We had a scare about the Grandbrat.  Daughter called Thursday night and said they had been to the ER because she had a virulent allergic reaction to some unknown agent and was covered with hives and a rash that was threatening to swell her eyes shut.  After IV steroids and Benadryl she seemed to get better, so they let her go home. 

Friday she broke out again, and her mother called  me to ask what to do.  I told her to give her the meds the ER doc prescribed and add some OTC Benadryl to it.  Daughter took her back to the ER and told them her mother, the nurse, wanted to know why they didn't give  Princess Baby Girl a Dose-Pak.  They hemmed and hawed and gave her a Rx for prednisone if she needed it.  Saturday she was completely clear.  Monday she goes to the allergist to see what caused this.  The RN in me feels helpless.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Homesick!

Today I am homesick.  Not for South Florida, never happen.  I am homesick for the Grandbrat.  That is her sitting on the balcony with me, only now she is 14 and a beautiful, smart, young lady.  No, I am not biased, even if she is mine.

I was text messaging her, when I thought of all the times I have sung crazy little songs with her and to her.  I wish so much I could do that today.  I told her that, too. 

Then the tears started.  This is one of the few Christmases that she will not be at our house Christmas Eve and part of Christmas Day.  I will miss baking Christmas goodies with her.

Then I thought about the day we flew to SPS.  Her mother would not allow her to skip school and go to the airport to say goodbye.  The last thing she said to her mother before she got on the school bus was, "I hope you know I will never forgive you for this!"  At that point both Mama and Papi broke down and cried.  I had not seen Macho Man cry like that in years.

I can't wait 'til Summer, when she is coming for a stay.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

International Banking Fixed? Well, At least the movers got paid

Hoo RaH!! The transfer we made last night went through without a hitch!!!   The movers are paid, and all is well in the world today, at least for now. ;-DI spent the day on the phone yesterday, pitching a hissy fit and probably sounding like a deranged person with a bag full of weapons, but I finally got hold of someone who was interested enough to help. 

Seems like the answer, in reality, is very simple.  The first bank officer I spoke to a month ago should have told me that SafePass has to be set up inside the US.  Then you opt for a SafePass card rather than give them a cellular number.  Use the card for the first time in the US, and after that it can be used anywhere in ther world.

I am still skeptical, but at least I won't be ripping someone's heart out with my fingernails.

Monday, December 14, 2009

List of 10 - Moving to Honduras

I need to take a break from banking, so I decided to post a list of 10 things people, especially women, need to know before moving to Honduras. Some are just common sense, others might seem funny or obvious, and some you just have to take my word.

1. You either love Honduras or you hate it. I have never met anyone who could take it or leave it. Make at least one extended stay here before you decide to move. I have had several extended stays here, and you can see I am still having culture shock.

2. When you pack to come to Honduras, always put a roll of toilet paper in your purse. Public restrooms usually do not provide toilet paper. I also carry sanitary wipes and gel hand sanitizer because frequently there is no water in the sinks.

3. Forget that elaborate salon hairdo. It will fall by the time you get out of the car and into the building. Scrunchies, rubber bands, clips, or short hairdos are the way to go.

4. Ditto the makeup. It will roll off your face in less than five minutes. I have found that the powdered mineral makeups last pretty good, and they don't turn into mud in the humidity. Make sure the mascara is waterproof, or you will look like a raccoon. If you are blessed with good skin, just use a little eye makeup and some lip gloss is all you need.

5. When you travel, always use common sense. This is not the time to wear your Jimmy Choos and a lot of bling. In fact the more low-key you are the better off you will be.

6. Never arrive here on a night flight, unless you have a male traveling companion and someone meeting you. The earlier in the day the plane lands or takes off, the safer you are.

7. Don't come here thinking, "My love will be enough to see me through." It probably won't. It takes committment, mutual respect, tolerance, and a lot more than just love.

8. Don't come here thinking you can run to Wal-Mart and pick up some (whatever). Unless you are in one of the larger cities, there is no Wal-Mart. Even then, there is no Wal-Mart, but there is a reasonable facsimile thereof. Neither is there a corner drugstore or supermarket.

9 Do plan on having a good time. You will not meet nicer people anywhere.

10. Don't come here expecting US standards. This is a third world country. Look at it for what it is, and see some of the most breathtaking beauty you will ever see, whether it is the Copan Ruins, the Bay Islands, the western mountains, or my view from the balcony.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Update - International Banking - Not fixed

Thursday we decided to have our daughter make an interbank transfer to pay our mover the ransom he wants to finally ship our household goods and the Xterra.  Since both banks are in Miami, that should have been a very easy thing to accomplish. 

At 4:30 pm Thursday, I received An email saying that the transfer was scheduled and would show up on my account by 6:00 pm.  Friday morning I emailed a copy of that email to the shippers and asked them to let me know when the money was deposited.  Friday at 4:40 pm I received an email from Bank of America informing me that they had blocked the transfer because it did not meet the bank's standards.  WTH? m I was given two 800 numbers to call if I had questions.  My cell does not allow me to make calls to 800 numbers, nor does it allow me to go to ATT Direct to speak to an operator to complete the call.

I tried to log into our account to see if I could find out why the transfer was blocked, only to find out that I could not log in. I tried again this morning, no go.  Luckily, I have the number of our bank in the States which allows me to choose to go to customer service.

I spoke with  nice young lady who informed me my account was blocked because the bank felt the there was an irregularity with the transfer, and I needed to speak to ECommerce.  She started to give me the 800 number, but when I told her very nicely that I cannot dial an 800 number she transferred me to ECommerce.
That sent me to a robot who said, "I am sorry.  There are no associates to take your call.  Please call again during our regular business hours, Monday thru Friday......

I know the problem is that we have made several large transfers in the last month, and they are suspicious of fraud.  I don't care!!!  Who died and left Bank of America our legal guardian.  What court did they take us to and declare us  non compos mentis?  It is our money, and for a month the only way we have been able to us  it is to pay bills.  Now we can't even do that.  To make matters worse, the mover will not ship until they are paid, and they have a right to auction off our belongings if they have not been paid within 30 days.  Tomorrow is 30 days.

I am so angry I could chew nails and spit tinfoil.  If I have to go to Miami to fix this, I will fix it by closing out all my accounts.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Things to Be Thankful For

One of the main highlights of my day today was the delivery of my new refrigerator and my new oasis.  For those who do not know what an oasis is, it is a water fountain like you see in the waiting rooms of  many doctors, you know, with the five gallon jug of water turned upside down on top of it.

You may think I need to get a life, if the delivery of  a fridge and a water fountain are a highlight of my day.
There is a short little Spanish phrase, no sirve, which basically means it doesn't work.  The nicest thing you could say about the fridge that came with the apartment is, "No sirve." 

Besides being extremely small, it took three days for the ice trays to freeze, and then they only froze on the back side, over the only two coils of the freezer that worked.   Every time you opened the door, the freezer started to defrost.  The water then ended up in the vegetable bin, seriously affecting the condition of the vegetables.   It also defrosted onto the floor, making a slip and fall hazard for someone with two left feet. 
Throw in that the electricity in the kitchen is not grounded, and you have a formula for disaster.

The oasis is important, because nobody drinks the tap water, not even the Hondurans.  The same case of 24 bottles of purified water we buy for $5.00 at Publix costs $12.00 here.  The five gallon bottle of water on my oasis costs a little less than $2.00.  As I can go through a case of water in about 3 days, this was the only way to go.

So, today I have ice cubes, a sanitary place to keep my food fresh, and clean water to drink.  That is more than most people on this earth can claim to have.  We who grew up in a privileged society, regardless of our socio-economic status,  have no clue what it is to do without clean water.  We can't imagine not having a refrigerator, and many of us can't imagine not having a refrigerator without ice and water in the door.

So, I am thankful for my new fridge, because I can keep my food fresh.  I am thankful for my oasis, because I have clean water to drink.  I am thankful for my washer, because that means I don't have to wash my clothes by hand in a pila (concrete sink with a scrub board built in), or worse yet, take my laundry to the river and beat it clean on the rocks.

I am thankful for all my blessings.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

International Banking Problem Solved.....sort of

Prior to the closing on the sale of our house and our leaving the States, we made a trip to our branch of Bank of America for a talk with one of the officers.  We explained that we would be leaving most of our money in BofA, transferring money as we need it.

No problem.  Set up SafePass, which provides you with a randomly chosen password and allows transfers up to $10K USD per day.  BofA charges a flat transfer fee of $35.00 and the bank here charges another $16.00.  Quick, easy, safe, and you can do it online 24/7, even banking holidays.   NOT!!!!!

After four days of trying to get answers from customer service at BofA; getting through to a robot, who transferred me to another robot, etc, etc, only to have the call dropped, I had a chat with an online customer service agent.  She looked into the matter and told me that I could not set up SafePass, because you need a cell phone based in the US, to which they send the randomly selected pass code.  She did say that our bank here could request the transfer.

Then she transferred me to the wire transfer department, who informed me that they do not do wire transfers .  HUH?  Anyway, the nice young lady suggested I could go to my nearest BofA branch and they would be glad to assist me.  There was complete silence for a minute after I told her that I was looking out my back window at the jungle, and the nearest BofA branch was a 2 hr 25 min flight to Miami.

In the meantime, Macho Man has been to the bank here several times asking what we can do, because we have a 40 ft. container, on a ship, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, getting closer and closer to Puerto Cortes, and the mover's agent wants almost $5K USD before the ship docks.  The bank manager tells him that only the bank who holds the money can initiate the transfer, which makes perfect sense.

The next customer service agent I spoke to doesn't understand why our bank will not initiate the transfer, but suggests as an option that we give our passcodes to our BofA account to someone we trust, and let them make the transfer.  We thought about this and called our daughter and asked her if she would help, to which she agreed.

In order to help her out as much as possible, I decided to set up SafePass for her from here, and at the proper time entered her telephone number and clicked Submit.  Immediately there was an error message that there was a problem setting up SafePass on our accounts, and we should contact customer service.

Okay!!  Back to the robot, etc, etc, at almost $3.00 per minute.  When I finely got to a human and explained to her I was almost completely bald from pulling my hair out, she said, "Mrs. Ramirez, you are trying to set up SafePass from a foreign computer, and for security purposes we don't allow that."  This is the same foreign computer from which I have been paying bills since we got here.

So, back to our daughter.  Again she steps up to the plate, gets SafePass, and transfers $200. USD to our account here.  The next day, Thursday, we get a notice from BofA saying our transfer has been made and the money is in Honduras.  Maybe so, but our bank denies it. 

Then we made our road trip, and while at Banana Beach we explained the problem to our new friend, Rand.
Rand tells us he has not gone through that hassle in years.  Just take our ATM card to our local bank and withdraw the money.  Then make a deposit to our account.  Voila, instant money,  no fees!

It works!  The mover is happy, we are happy, and now we know how it is done.  Oh, the $200. that BofA wired Thursday?  It got here today.  We don't know where it was for four days.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Road to Sante Fe

Today we took the day off......no unpacking, washing, sorting or finding a place to put something.  Just a nice Sunday afternoon drive towards Santa Fe. 

Santa Fe is a Garifuna village about 25 kms from Trujillo.  The Garifuna are the descendants of slaves who were deported from St Vincent to Roatan, Honduras in the late 1790s.  They settled along the coast of Central America.  We like to go to Santa Fe to eat seafood, which the Garifuna are famous for cooking.

We got side-tracked on the way when we turned off first at Tranquility Bay Resort, a small, well-kept, boutique style resort on a great stretch of beach.  We sat out under the champa on the beach and relaxed to the sound of the surf.  Definitely a place to go if you want peace and quiet.

After we left Tranquility Bay we headed down the road and again got side-tracked to Banana Beach.  We met Rand, with whom I have an email friendship, and he immediately welcomed us to Trujillo Bay and Banana Beach and made us feel right at home.  We ordered drinks and lunch, and all I can say is, "Oh Boy!"

I had a mixed ceviche which was served with home-made tortilla chips and is, without a doubt, the best I have ever eaten.   I really hated to have to share it with Macho Man.  I also ordered conch fritters.  They were more conch than fritter, just the way I like it.  The conch was obviously fresh, sweet, and tender. Done just right.  Macho Man ordered fried shrimp.  He was not doing much talking, but a lot of eating, so I am sure he was just as impressed as I was.

The restaurant is in a champa which also houses  an excellent bar, a pool table, a flat-screened TV and hammocks.  There is a tennis court and a volley ball court.  The beach is so close you can hear the tide change and the breeze had the palm trees swaying. 

Check out their web page at http://www.bananabeachbums.com/.  We plan to go back and take the whole family.  Thanks, Rand, for a relaxing good time.

As soon as I learn how, I will post some pictures.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What Have I done to Myself?

I must have asked myself that question a thousand times over the past three weeks, but it is getting better, day-by-day. Macho Man and I decided many years ago that we would retire to his home of Trujillo, Honduras. About the middle of September everything began to come together. My Honduran Residency came through after almost three years of waiting; and, we suddenly had a buyer for our home in Florida, which had been on the market for that same three years.

We packed up our household, contacted an international mover, and the race was on. We were contracted for a 40-foot container, which we filled without a problem. We had eleven boxes left over, which we shipped separately. For three weeks, the joke was, "Where is.....?" "It's in a box, on a ship, somewhere."

The eleven boxes arrived this week. The 40-ft container is on a ship, in the Atlantic, somewhere. We are almost through unpacking the first arrivals, and finally we have real plates to eat on, and real glasses to drink out of. If it is not unpacked now, it will wait until Monday, because I am tired.

We bought an old Ford pickup, so we do not have to rent a car. Juan will be using the truck while we are building. I can't wait for the Xterra to get here.

We are renting a 3-bedroom, 4-bath condo. It is part of the Villa Brinkley, a local hotel, and is the home of the former owner, Peggy Brinkley. Because of poor health, Peggy sold out to a new owner. We have access to all the amenities of the hotel, including the pool and gym. In case you are thinking we are living in the lap of luxury, let me dispel you of that idea. It is a very nice place, but it has its faults, most of which can be laid to an absentee landlord and a property manager with no real authority to make changes.

The kitchen in most Honduran homes has no hot water to the sink. Honduran women believe that you get arthritis by putting your hands in too much hot water, and only a gringa would want hot water in the sink, or anywhere else in the house, if the truth be told. The sink in our kitchen is a bar sink, not a kitchen sink, and it leaks. Peggy ate at the hotel and never had to wash anything but maybe a glass or two and a coffee cup, so I do understand.

I have never gotten sick eating at my in-laws, and now I know why. My sister-in-law, Magda, recommended a dish soap that she uses. It looks and smells like a paste made of Comet and bleach. No respectable germ could survive the combination of this soap and the friction of a steel scrub pad. Still, I am heating water to wash dishes in, just like Daddy taught us when we went camping.

Never assume that the electricity in a Honduran house is grounded, unless you were overseeing the electrician yourself. The first time I went to cook, I put on a pot of beans, and when I went to lift the lid of the pot, I found myself sitting on my rear in the kitchen floor. I thought it was the cook top, which was rather old and dilapidated. I pitched a fit, and the landlady found me a two-burner hot plate. Juan plugged it in and I reached out to take the top off the beans again. Back on the floor I went. Now we realize the problem is in the wiring. Back to the landlady, who tells us the new owner is aware of the problem, but it would mean rewiring the whole building, and he is not inclined to spend the money. We now are the proud owner of a six-burner gas stove.

Honduran bathrooms are notoriously small. Think cruise ship or RV. We do have hot water to the bathrooms, when we have water, which is most of the time, so far. The problem is water pressure. Homes built by gringos usually have a cistern and an booster pump to maintain acceptable water pressure. Others have pressure which can range from a good flow to a trickle, depending on the day, the time, and how many people are using water at the time. Villa Brinkley has neither cistern nor booster pump. Casa Ramirez will.

We have windows everywhere, and the arrangement of the three floors creates a heat chimney which funnels the heat out, ensuring that we have excellent ventilation. That's a good thing, because only one bedroom has AC. It is also the only room in the house with glass in the windows. The rest have screens. I am not quite sure what we are suppose to do if it turns cold, and it does turn cold at times. So far the heat has not been a problem. We do have floor fans, which we use mostly to keep the mosquitoes away.

Today, I washed and picked through 5 lbs of beans, getting rid of small rocks, bits of straw, beans that didn't look good, and also critters. The maseca (corn flour used for tortillas) and the rice come with weevils. Your choices are to sift the weevils out of the maseca and wash the rice, or consider the weevils extra protein, I am washing and sifting until I can get some bay leaves to put in the canisters.

That being said...Since the first time I came here in 1987, I have felt that Trujillo is a very spiritual place, especially here on the mountain Calentura. There is a pool up the mountain from us called La Piscena de la Virgen (The Pool of the Virgin). Supposedly a statue of the Virgin Mary was found there by a poor person, and since then good things are reported to happen.

I only know that when I sit on the balconey I can become very still and listen to that still, small voice that is my spirituality. I can see the way Calentura always has her head in the clouds, or the way the light changes the way the bay looks, and I know I am home.