Monday, April 28, 2008

Lethal Yellowing

A tropical paradise is not complete unless you have swaying palm trees, right? Right!
Our island has thousands of coconut palms and, at one time in the past, coconuts were an export product that was sent to the U.S. from the island along with bananas and, I believe, pineapples.
Over the years the exportation of coconuts, pineapples and bananas from Guanaja has ceased when it was taken over by the big companies on the Mainland. We still have coconut palms but over the past few years we have become victims of Lethal Yellowing. Due to this disease, which seems to have no cure, the island has lost at least 45-50% of its coconut trees.
Lethal yellowing is a disease first noticed in the Caribbean region of North America about 100 years ago. However, it was not until the 1950s and a devastating outbreak in Jamaica and the Florida Keys that the economic consequences of lethal yellowing were recognized and intensive research begun. More recently, the disease has spread to other areas of Florida and into Texas. There is no cure for lethal yellowing although it can be controlled in valuable trees with regular injections (four times annually) of oxytetracycline.
While there is not, as yet definitive proof, the lethal yellowing micro-organism is most likely spread by an insect, the planthopper (myndus crudus). Again, research is continuing into the way in which this insect spreads the disease. Tests have demonstrated that insecticides can slow the spread of planthoppers and, with them, lethal yellowing. However, large-scale spraying using currently available chemicals is ecologically damaging and not economically viable. Another approach may be to develop a groundcover that discourages the insect, as young planthoppers feed on common grasses, but there have been no concrete results so far. I did read somewhere, however, that it is best to keep the ground cover down to a minimum and have the area around the palm trees kept clean. So, there is no definite outake on that it seems.
It is hard to know when a tree has the disease and usually by the time one sees the outward signs, it is too late. The tree that has the disease most likely will exhibit one or more of the following:
1. Coconuts, mature and immature, begin to drop from coconut palms and the fruit begin to drop from other varieties, a process called ‘shelling’.

2. Flower stalks (inflorescences) begin to blacken.
3. Palm fronds start to yellow (or, in the case of some species, turn greyish-brown), beginning with the older, lower fronds and progressing up through the crown.

4. The spear leaf collapses and the bud dies. By the time that this happens, the tree is already dead.

5. The entire crown falls from the tree leaving a forlorn ‘telephone pole’ stalk.
Through research and the shared information of friends, we purchased the oxytetracycline to inject our trees. Others had started their injections a year or two ago. Late last year we lost 3 palms on the beach and decided to finally take some preventive measures. We found a website where we bought the chemicals and they were shipped to us. The cost of this program is about $5.00 per tree per year (injecting them every 3 months).

First, a hole is drilled into the trunk of the tree. There must be trunk showing to accept the liquid via the container placed in the hole. Newer palms that are still sprouting fronds do not show a trunk and we by-pass them for the time being.
Into this hole, a "bullet" type object is placed. This has a foam core which accepts the needle of the syringe for the the liquid to be injected. The bullet is used twice; the first time it is pounded in only half way and then the liquid is injected. The second time (3 months later) it is removed and the hole drilled slightly deeper, reinserted and then the liquid can be injected.
The program does not always work as I mentioned before it is hard to tell if the palm tree has already become infected. We have lost about 5 trees since we started the program in January and we assume they had already been infected but no outward signs were evident.
We have about 65 palm trees and it takes about 1 1/2 hours (after the initial drilling has been done) to inject all the trees. We will continue this process in hopes that we can save our trees.
In the meantime, everytime we lose a palm, we replant a new one hoping that eventually we can beat this thing!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

Over the years, I have heard this expression many times. My Grandmother, who was the fountain of cleanliness and saving/recycling (she even reused wax paper), never preached this to me, nor my Mother who was also very thorough and clean. I think they just assumed that we would know this fact and follow their examples. Well, they were right. I like order, I like cleanliness (although I would not characterize myself as obsessive) and hate waste.

I bring up this subject because I have come to believe that Honduras is the mop capital of the World! No matter where you go, you will see women swishing the floors over and over again with their trusty mop. Airports, hospitals, hotels, markets are all places where you see these women pushing their mops back and forth. Why, on my last trip to the States wherein I had an 11 hour layover in the San Pedro Sula airport, the same woman must have mopped 5-6 times in front of my area where I sat within a 4-5 hour period! I am not exaggerating! Now, while I applaud this practice the thing that brings it down a notch is that I have never seen them change their mop water in the bucket and sometimes they are mopping with a dry mop. While the dry mop will get up the dust, I’ve never seen them shake it out! But, I must get them an A for effort, they are relentless in their job.

The other thing I have noted that Hondurans have a passion for is Bleach (also known as Clorox here - no matter what the brand). If there is a stain, if there is dirt, if it is dingy, bleach it. No matter if the fabric is colored or white, no matter if the particular fabric should not be bleached. They pour bleach into their container in massive quantities and directly upon the item. Then they take their bar of laundry soap (there is a specific bar here they use for that) and scrub the tar, blood, stain, dirt out of it. Of course, the item may come really clean but usually the item in question does not last through many more washings. Bleach is also used on floors and floor tiles which, of course, ruins the finish of these items.

We have few clothes dryers on the island (very expensive to run and/or buy) and therefore you see laundry hanging out in the breeze. Well, not always hanging. If they don’t have a laundry pole with ropes they use barbed wire fences, trees, bushes and even the ground to spread their drying articles upon.

They also sweep a lot. Brooms are a big there here and they seem to be very picky about the type. A lot of the new brooms consist of artificial fibers making up the wide majority of brooms one finds. I see very few natural fiber brooms but I am sure that the people in the rural areas probably make their own out of various plants. Sweeping is a daily thing. I know I do it daily in my house. When one lives close to the sea and has a lot of breeze, there is a lot of dust in the air and with 4 dogs and 2 cats my porch seems to always need sweeping, sometimes twice a day or more not to mention the feather fluff caused by the birds in the house. I have yet to see a vacuum cleaner in homes, mainly because of the expense both of the product and electricity. Many floors are wood not carpeted and there is no need.

There is a cleaning agent that everyone seems to use, Azistín. This product seems to be their all purpose cleaner and comes in various fragrances from Apple, Potpourri, etc. It costs about $1.85 in U.S. dollars for 900 ml. It does a good job and I don’t know of a household without it.

They seem to shy away from dish detergent, instead preferring a semi-hard soap sold in a small round tub. and which sits on the sink in every home I‘ve ever been in. Very few people here actually run a sink full of water with dish soap. Instead, they run a steady stream of water under which they wash the dishes with a rag containing the semi-hard soap. I don’t understand the aversion to filling a sink with water and using dish soap as, in my mind, it would save on water and the dishes would have a pre-soaking before the actual scrubbing. This type of soap, however, is great for getting stubborn, crusty food or burnt on items off pots and pans and a must for this type of removal is a Scotch Brite Pad which we refer to as a “scrubbie”. This is used on pots and pans and even to clean boat bottoms. Here, again, there is no home without this item.

99% of the clothing detergents are dry powder. We have seen a small influx of liquid detergent (which I really prefer) but it is rare. The problem with the dry powder, and the Hondurans do not seem to grasp this concept yet (at least from my observations), is that they pour the powder directly onto the clothes and then add water. Even if they add water first, they put in the clothes and dump the detergent on top of that without giving the powder sufficient time to dissolve. Of course this results in a weakened fabric and clothing that suddenly has holes in it.

Overall, however, they are a clean society who strongly believes in this adage and even the poorest of homes is kept neat and tidy.

So, I guess besides living in “Paradise” I am also close to Godliness!

Monday, April 21, 2008

2 + 2 = 22?

Maybe Noah started this "2" thing. Everything in twos.

Now on an island (especially without roads) having two of everything is absolutely essential. You never know when something will break down, get lost, or you need to repair the item that broke with another item....all requiring extra parts/things on hand. Since everything is so difficult to obtain, it is an essential fact of life here.

However I noticed on my last trip to the U.S., where there are things in abundance and at hand, everyone has to have two (and most of the time) more than two of any one item. While I can understand the need for certain items, others are more frivolous except now people have made them out to be absolutely necessary and/or important in order to live a "full" life.

Here, we have about 2-3 shampoos to choose from, 2 brands of toothpaste, 2 brands of various soaps (laundry, for dishes and in the shower), 1 brand of dried beans, 1 type of packaged bread, 1 type of gasoline, 2 choices (normally) on the menu when you go out to eat. Well, you get the picture and, guess what? We survive and manage quite well.

We had two banks but for some reason one left the island and we are now in the clutches of "the only bank in town" and no ATM machine. Downside here is that the bank accepts a Visa Debit Card and I only have a MasterCard Debit card! We went from zero Internet cafes to 3 and then back to 2. We had one pharmacy for years and now we have two except the new one has a limited supply of drugs. We had 3 airline offices, now we have two. We seem to be going backwards on this duplication of services available!

Anyway, with the oil crisis (??) at hand and the price of electricity, gas, water, etc. soaring, you would think that people would be more conservative. But, no. I see no cut back either in the States or here on the island of people being more conservative. Oh, there are a few people that are consciously cutting back in order to save costs - but it is for that purpose and that purpose alone that it is done. Not necessarily to save the planet! Of course, for the most part, that is why people eventually cut back - to save money. I can say that the "gringos" are on the island are more conscientious about wasting water, managing things and garbage!

In the States one MUST have two cars. Understandable in many circumstances, but then the children each must have their own car (paid for by Mom and Dad). People just will not take the bus, even if bus service is available. Evidently, that is something that only the poorer people use and your status in the community would be affected. Even where car pooling would be an alternative, no one will make the effort to use this source of transportation - just too much work.
Everyone MUST have a phone, even children. I have heard reports that the kids use their phones in class for text messaging (the days of passing notes are gone) and are disruptive to the class. Why the school must tolerate phones being carried by children is beyond me. It was explained that parents want to keep track of little junior. Hmmmm, I'll bet that 99% of the calls/text messages are not to Mom and Pop as to their whereabouts.

When I was growing up, we had three pairs of shoes; one for dress up, one for school and one for play. We got shoes once a year, in September when school started, and you only got another pair if you outgrew those purchased in September. We had one T.V. and now every room must have a T.V. so that one will not miss any program while going from one room to another. And, even if no one is in the room, the T.V. must remain on so that if, by chance, someone happens to go in there!

Food is bought and wasted in huge quantities. Restaurants pile food upon plates that the average person could never finish. So, now obesity is a problem because there is too much available and, unfortunately, people tend to buy all the things that are bad for them, ignoring the good stuff.

Little things like ZipLoc bags (which are coveted on the island) are used and discarded after one use. Never mind that you save hundreds of dollars a year on these throw away items that can be used over and over again simply by the act of washing them out!

So, it is more about waste, I guess, than having more than 2 of everything. One can own more than two of each item and make them last for a long time with prudent use. However, all I see now is a throw-away society that spends more and more unnecessary money without a thought as to saving or the environment. Even if there is no thought to saving the environment, just the dollar savings a year on the waste from, say, ZipLoc Bags used in the U.S. could probably support a family in a Third World Country.

Of course, if people didn't waste things and throw them away, where would the poor people of the world get their food, building material, clothing?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Traveling Adventures

Once a year I usually return to the States to visit family, replenish goods that I cannot get in Honduras or, just to get away for a while. The trips are always rather involved as nothing is done in a Third-World country with much ease.

I made an early return to the states this year towards the end of March. Originally my husband and I had planned on visiting a friend off the coast of Washington State in the U.S. Rather, I will plan a trip and when all arrangements are made I will then advise my husband that a trip has been scheduled! He doesn't take part in planning trips as he usually does not want to leave the island. Anyway, my son decided to take a new job with a sub-contractor as a mechanic servicing military vehicles. While this was a good move up for him (more money and travel to foreign countries), his final destination is not what I had in mind for his relocation. He had signed up for a year to go to Iraq with this company and work on a military base there! Needless to say, I felt he would need much help in moving out of his apartment, setting up his finances for bill paying and having access to money, along with just getting all his ducks in a row! It was a good thing I did go to help as the two weeks I was there was nothing but a lot of work and a lot of time spent getting him ready.

Anyway, this year I thought I would give Spirit Airlines a try. I had grown tired of Taca and American Airlines and their "haughty" attitudes ever since 9/11. It seemed that whenever I traveled on these airlines the attitude was "You are lucky we let you fly with us and if you want a smile or friendly service - that is not going to happen!" The only downside I could see with Spirit were the hours of travel as they leave the departure city late, late, late in the evening.

Either way, I booked the flight and on the date of departure arose at 6:30 a.m. to get ready to start my trip.

I left Guanaja on the 10:30 a.m. flight (arrived at the airport at 9:45 a.m. as instructed). We now have 2 and 1/3rd terminals on Guanaja. The first one is a little Casetta which has been the mainstay for years. '

The second is a building that someone decided we needed as the first one had no bathroom facilities. It was built but never really functional. The needed bathrooms never worked, the electric power was never hooked up, the building had small windows and was extremely hot inside, there was only one door in and out and, basically, it was never used except to store building materials for the next terminal which "someone" felt we needed!

The third building was started a few years ago by some individuals but never really got off the ground. After sitting for a couple of years, construction has resumed and once again there is activity indicating that something will be done - but we are not holding our breath on this one. Never really understood why the government (or whoever is handling this project) felt we needed a big terminal as tourism is down and even if it is completed the local airline offices sell their tickets on the Cay and I cannot see them manning this building every day just to sell tickets! People go to the airport to leave, not buy tickets. They use the present original building to wait for their flight to depart and/or people to arrive. They bring their luggage and pile it on a cart to be wheeled up to the plane. We have no need for luggage checks (scanners and such) as who in the world would hijack a plane from Guanaja to the mainland? I don't know who plans on paying for electrical power to the new building, that is if it is ever connected, or who plans on maintaining the place or staffing it. Either way, it is there (part of it anyway) and we will see how far the building goes this time.

I landed in LaCeiba on time and sat in their waiting area for my next plane to San Pedro. The new airport in LaCeiba has one of the nicest views of any airport in Honduras and, as airports go, it is not built for personal comfort. I mean, who would want to spend much time on those plastic chairs not to mention that they keep the temperature in that building (especially the waiting lounge) at meat locker temperatures. I paid my airport tax, waited in the lounge with a few others and left for San Pedro on time (11:30 a.m.)

I arrived in San Pedro for my longest layover - 11 hours until I left for Fort Lauderdale! It always strikes me as rather funny when we leave the plane and go to pick up our luggage to transfer it to our next flight. I mean, the luggage belt is in a huge room with about 15 chairs on one wall. There are no luggage carts and, since there is only one belt, one does not have to be concerned about where they should go to get their luggage. The funny part is that the luggage never comes on the belt! It is wheeled into the terminal via the same door we walk into to go to this area and brought to this large room. I chuckle every time someone unfamiliar with this airport arrives as they all stand around the belt waiting for their luggage to come.

The outer room of the San Pedro airport is large and open. It is a much improved airport over the original one they used many years ago. It is continually undergoing revamping. Not the kind you see in Miami or stateside airports. No, shops come and go. Once there was a great Internet cafe but, evidently, it was not used enough and it is gone. There was a money changing booth but that disappeared. There was a cigar store that was never open and then it closed only to be replaced by another one. There was a restaurant/bar on the third floor where one could watch planes land but that too is closed. There were two waiting lounges for departing passengers; one for local flights and one for International. The local lounge is now closed and all flights go out of the former International lounge. Wendy's came in and has stayed and it is the only place to get food during the long wait.

Sitting in San Pedro for 11 hours leaves a lot to be desired, but really no matter what airport one is in, 11 hours is way tooooo long! I read, sat, did Sudoku, walked around, ate, sat, looked in the few shops, sat and just waited. Our flight departed about 12:30 a.m. and we made it to Fort Lauderdale (which it was too late to dig out the camera and take photos) at about 5:30 a.m. their time. I left there about 7:00 a.m. or so and landed in Orlando at 8:30 a.m.

Orlando is a nice airport, as airports go. I definitely hate the Miami airport as one must walk for miles to reach your gate. At least in Orlando the gates are placed with some thought and there are no big hikes to get to the departure gate. I proceeded to get my luggage and rent a car to drive to Tampa where my son lived. All in all I was awake two full days on this leg of my travel.

My two weeks, as I said, were busy and when my departure date arrived, I was ready to go home. I arrived at the Orlando airport at 7:00 a.m. for my 8:45 departure. BUT I had failed to note that my flight left at 8:45 P.M. NOT 8:45 A.M.! My reaction to this fact was not a happy one as I did not look forward to sitting in this airport (even though it appeared to be comfortable) for the whole day. The agent at the check-in allowed me to use their phone (I did not have a functional cell phone for the states with me) and I called my step-daughter simply to tell her what an idiot I was. She immediately said she would have my son drive her to work and then come pick me up at the airport. Boy, was that a relief.

I returned to the airport at 6:30 p.m. and the flight departed about 20 minutes earlier than anticipated. Hooray! However, upon arriving in Ft. Lauderdale we were advised that the plane we would be taking to Honduras was flying in from New Jersey and, due to weather, it was 1 hour and 45 minutes late! Boo!

I finally arrived in San Pedro at 1:15 a.m. and got to my hotel about 2:00 and to bed about 3 a.m. and maybe slept for 3 hours! I had things to do in San Pedro the next day and had a scheduled flight to leave for LaCeiba at 2:00 p.m. I had called my husband the morning of my departure asking him to make my reservation from San Pedro to LaCeiba (where we would meet) as the counters were closed when I came in and I was not in the vicinity of a ticket office to make the reservation. I arrived at the airport only to be told that their flight was full and there were no other flights on Sosa that day. However, there was a flight arriving from the states and many times people would come to book with them to go on to other cities. If this happened and they got at least 6 people, I could get a plane out! At the moment there were 2 people on the list.

I wanted to check with Islena Airlines regarding a flight but their people would not arrive at the counter until 2 p.m. and there was no way I could tell if they were full. The thought of going back into town and getting a hotel was not high on my list. So, I waited and hooray - Sosa got 6 more people and we had the go ahead. Now, they did not add another plane as one may have thought, they simply got a bigger one to take the original passengers plus the 6 more!

So, I got to LaCeiba, spent a couple days there and arrived back on the island on a Saturday announcing to my husband that after visiting the doctor in LaCeiba I had to turn around on Tuesday and fly back to San Pedro for some tests! Not what I wanted to do, but necessary.

Well, as fate would have it (and maybe it was a little reward from the travel Gods), I called my hotel in San Pedro only to discover there is a convention in the city this week and there are no rooms available! Wahoo - I can stay home - only to leave next week!

After all of this, I must say that in spite of the late hours of the scheduled Spirit Airline flight, the stewards/stewardesses were all helpful and very friendly and my flight, albeit late in the evening, was a much more pleasant experience than I have had on the past on American! But, I don't think I'll be traveling to the states again for quite a while.