Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What if?

A phrase one hears often enough; "What if." It can encompass all sorts of categories and bring up all kinds of ideas, good or bad.

Today, mine is "What would happen if businesses in Honduras wanted to please the customer?" It seems that this country has a negative attitude towards their customers. 90% of the places I shop in don't seem to care if I spend my money in their store. I have found a small, unique group of places that seem to want my business and are courteous, friendly, helpful and, most of all, respond to my needs and/or inquiries in a prompt, professional manner.

For the most part shopping in this country is not a pleasant experience. When you finally find the product you are looking for (with a great deal of searching I might add), you are turned off either 1) the rudeness of the sales people or the store's representative, 2) the lack of training the people waiting on you have or rather have not received 3) the total disregard they show in trying to assist you, 4) the scrutiny you receive upon entering and the hovering by the clerks, 5) the nonchalant attitude of the help and 6) the lack of sufficient product available.

As one notes, the majority of my complaints are pointed at the staff. However, it is because of poor management and training that the staff becomes incompetent. Training is not a high priority in business in Honduras, at least most of the businesses here. They hire someone at, which I presume is the lowest possible wage they can pay, let them loose with little training and do not teach them that the customer is their source of continued employment! Why? Because many of the owners do not want to pay their help enough and don't care if their turnover is higher than the percentage of customers that shop there!

I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised when a business meets my criteria and is courteous, efficient and prompt in their service to me. When I find businesses that treat me like a valuable customer, I recommend them highly to my friends. Sometimes, the mere fact that they have what I know many people on the island are seeking to find is one reason I recommend businesses. Unfortunately, sometimes that backfires when the owner does not give the service he or she has implied they will give.

Take answering e-mail inquiries. Living on an island I do a lot of business on-line. We have very little available on the island and so a great percentage of my purchases are on-line or on the telephone with businesses on the Mainland. In my mind, responding promptly and efficiently to an e-mail or a phone call is paramount in making a business run smoothly. It presents an attitude of "we care about you" and provides an almost "hassle free" shopping experience.

Business people in Honduras are known for their lack of communication skills! Oh, they tell you what they think you want to hear whether it is true or not and I have rarely found any employee/owner returning the phone call that is promised! Only a few business answer their e-mail inquiries. We once dealt with a doctor in La Ceiba and explained that, at that time, making a phone call was difficult (no cell phones then) but we did have internet. We were assured that the doctor had a computer and could answer our questions, make an appointment, or impart important information concerning testing by e-mail. Well, we took the doctor at her word and after the removal of what could have been a cancerous lesion we awaited the results. We wrote several e-mails and made phone calls, all of which proved unfruitful. A month or two later, when I returned to La Ceiba, I managed to stop by the doctor's office and wait for over an hour to see her just to get the result of the biopsy. She had a "trainee" in her office and, evidently, trying to appear to be superior to everyone (including me), as she was putting on her "airs" and presenting a picture of someone in charge. When I told her that she had not answered my e-mails regarding results of the biopsy, she said that she was just too busy to respond. Now, I ask you, why would you have an e-mail service and give out the address if you were not going to use it for the purpose intended? Why she could not answer the phone calls was never explained. I expressed my dissatisfaction in her answer and she just brushed me off by getting out the chart and saying everything was fine. No apologies and with the air that I had really bothered her at an inopportune time even if I had paid for her time and waited an hour for her.

I have, however, run into businesses that respond quickly and efficiently. There is a Pharmacy in San Pedro Sula which runs an excellent service and I would and do recommend them constantly. We have lovely owners of a store in Bonacca (the main Cay serving the island's needs) who will bend over backwards to fulfill your needs if it is possible. We have some restaurants that will scurry and make sure that your order is filled on time, is presentable, good tasting, all the while dishing out pleasant conversation and good service. However, unhappily, this is not the norm.

I am presently dealing with a store in La Ceiba where I have found items I really want and will spend a few extra dollars to obtain them. However, the owner, as nice as he is in person, falls down in the category of responding to e-mails. These are not idle chit-chat e-mails, I am actively inquiring after products I want and will re-order, but my requests go unanswered. His product is great, he just falls down on the service end. He excuses the lack of response by saying he has just been too busy. Hmmm, isn't your business centered around customers and shouldn't they be the top priority if you want to be successful and being busy should be about tending to their orders and/or needs? Guess I am assuming too much.

The other thing that bothers me is if you receive something that you have not ordered or is in bad condition, you will never, never get your money back. You can return it but you must exchange it for something else in the store of equal value. And don't ask for a reverse of a credit card purchase. This has been explained to me by stating that I will have to wait for 30 days for the request to be processed before "maybe" getting it removed from my charge card. They stand firm on this and only once have I heard of someone getting their money back when they threatened to stay in the store until the owners returned the cash they had paid for faulty merchandise! I guess the threat of not leaving their store and spending the night or not allowing everyone to scurry home early (they always, it seems, leave early) was too much for them.

Oh well, it is all part of the mañana theory.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Here We Go Again!

How unfortunate it is for Guanaja that while the whole world seems to be moving forward, we continuously take a step, even two, back!

Ever since we suffered through Hurricane Mitch the island and its people have had difficulty recovering. The island suffered great damage to the mangrove areas, the honey bee population was literally wiped out, the yellow-naped Amazon parrot population was reduced, a huge loss to the palm and Caribbean pine trees occurred, and, in general, a loss of many natural habitats.

For people, it was the loss of homes, jobs, food and lives. Recovery was a long, slow process and it took years for the island to rebuild. Businesses were affected; many were unable to rebuild and those that attempted eventually failed and are still closed.

Over the years prior to Mitch, tourism was a lucrative business and one which supplied the island with a source of income. This was especially important as the fishing industry processing plants closed and fishing became more and more difficult with less and less product available. However, with the onslaught of Mitch, tourism dropped way off and has never regained in strength.

Just when we thought we might have a handle on tourism, along came the problem generated by ex-President Mel Zelaya. Unfortunately this President did not have his countries' interests at heart and, in general, was a self-serving individual who cared little about the people and what his actions did to their country. The business of tourism dropped to almost zero and we are still struggling to convince the "outside" world that coming to Guanaja is not only safe but a rewarding experience.

To add to this problem, we have had increases in air fare and less service available. What use to take no time at all in travel, now has been extended by hours and even an extra day. When tourists have either a week, 10 day or 2-week vacation, the addition of a day or two on each end of that time for travel cuts into vacation time and so, as a result, people do not want to sacrifice their time and go elsewhere.

We once had 4 airlines on the island at the peak of the industry. At this point in time, prices skyrocketed and remained high. Maybe some of it was warranted because of fuel prices, airport fees, maintenance. However, people coming here look at the cheap fares offered to take them thousands of miles and compare this to the high airfares to fly to the islands and they do not make the trip.

At least on the Mainland one has a choice. You can go by various buses, taxi, vans, or rental cars from one city to the next. The prices vary and all are within reason. It is only air travel that is outrageously high.

Even when the fares from Guanaja to the Mainland are reduced to entice people to use a new airline, schedules are erratic and the final result is that it costs one more time and money to make a short trip.

Case in point. For years we could take an airplane from Guanaja to La Ceiba departing about 7:30 a.m. and arrive in Ceiba in time to do the shopping we required, have lunch, make doctor appointments and return in one day. The only hang up in the one-day trip at that time was that all stores closed at noon and did not open again until 1:30 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. Since one had to be back at the airport at approximately 2:30 p.m. for the 3:30 p.m. flight, this cut into time available. But, at least it was workable.

Now, we no longer have early morning flights and even those that promise to leave by 8:15 or 8:30 a.m. do not leave until 9:30, 10, or 11 a.m.! There is no way to know what time the flight will leave and, thus, making appointments for the same day on the Mainland is impossible. One must stay overnight and hope that all appointments can be dealt with the next day before the magic hour of 2:00 p.m. when you must return to the airport. So, now, beside the high air fare, we must spend money on a hotel room, food and tips.

The clincher came when none of the airlines leaving the island now go on to San Pedro Sula. The only airline available for that service is Taca and they only have one morning flight that MAYBE can be met when leaving the island. It leaves at 9:35 a.m.

To return from San Pedro, you must now leave that city in the afternoon, fly to Roatan (of all places) and then turn around and go on to La Ceiba. Since this flight leaves at 4:00 p.m. with arrival in La Ceiba at about 6 p.m., it means you cannot return to the island in one day from San Pedro as in the past.

Even if you want to take a bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro it leaves at 10 a.m. and if the plane is late, you cannot get another bus until 2 p.m., if it is not full. There is an early evening bus, but again, whatever you have to do in San Pedro will now take more time and money. One can take a van or taxi but at a cost of $120.00 compared to a $15.00 3-hour bus ride, the math shows that this is sometimes not a choice for people.

We have a new airline on the island, Aviac, which flies a C-47 (known also as a DC-3) and while for a short time (especially Easter) they were leaving at about 8:15 a.m., now it is anybodies guess as to when they will depart. They may leave at 9:30 or 10 a.m., even later. Any one of these times will cause you to miss a flight on to San Pedro or a bus. Sosa leaves at 10, 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. and sometimes later. So, by the time you make it to La Ceiba, the stores are closing and you cannot do anything until 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon!

My husband and I recently attempted to go to La Ceiba in the hopes of getting to San Pedro by mid-day so I could make a 4 p.m. doctor appointment. I discovered we could only connect with Taca on the 9:35 a.m. flight and hoped that the promised flight departure time from the island would be accurate.

Besides being late and not getting to La Ceiba until almost 10 a.m., thus missing our connection, we had to wait almost 30 minutes on the ground for our luggage. The plane landed, we disembarked and went to retrieve our luggage. After 10 minutes we noticed no activity around the plane and when inquiries were made we were informed that Aviac had only one person to unload and, evidently, he was not around. An attempt was made to find an Aviac agent but that proved fruitless as there was none present at the airport! When the luggage finally made it to the carousel, the outside door was locked and someone had to go find a key! So, with all of that, we had missed our connecting flight and missed the chance to take a bus.

I later learned that another couple leaving Guanaja for La Ceiba on Aviac arrived too late for the morning bus and when they attempted to take the 2:00 p.m. bus, it was full. Their 8:30 a.m. flight from the island did not leave until noon and, so, they were too late getting there to obtain a seat on the San Pedro bus.

We have even experienced cancelled flights simply because not enough people had booked. Of course the agents do not want to tell you that but will tell you "the airport is closed in Guanaja," or "there is a problem at the Guanaja airport," or "there is a problem with our plane." They back down when it is pointed out that the first two are not true as you have just left Guanaja and the last they cannot explain away because they cannot tell you what is wrong.

I know that Honduras operates on the Mañana theory and you have no choice but to accept that's the way things work. However, if this country ever wants to attract businesses or tourists, they are going to have to pick up the pace and get with the rest of the world as to on-time travel, keeping appointments, and taking responsibility for the services they supposedly offer. By not offering on-time services or the opportunity to obtain flights from one city to the next, tourists are not going to return. And, in my opinion, this country needs tourism as it has little else to offer to attract income for its people.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Semaña Santa

Semaña Santa is the biggest Holiday in Honduras. Independence Day and Christmas are a close second, but nothing can beat this celebration. Most government offices close down and workers take this week to plan their vacations. Local banks close from Wednesday to the end of the week and almost everything stops on Good Friday. Hotel bookings are hard to come by and flying on Good Friday, or any day that week, is almost impossible. Flights are booked up well in advance and on Good Friday no planes fly to the island! If you ever plan to visit Guanaja Easter Week, please think twice!

This year the weather cooperated by being sunny, breezy and warm. For the locals here on the island this is the one weekend when they go to the beach. For some families, it is the only time they get to the beaches on the West side of the island and people come out in droves.

Picnic dinners are packed, beach toys are loaded, mothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandparents, are all loaded in boats for the 10-30 minute trek (depending upon where you live) for a day at the beach.

Everyone goes the same route - through the canal. In years past this was sometimes blocked due to the influx of sand into the West mouth of the canal from the Winters' "Northers." However, due to the kindness of Bill Pullum, owner of Clark Cay, a wall was built on either side of the mouth of the canal and now it remains virtually passable all year round. This year, however, for some reason the Municipal decided to dredge this area possibly thinking that the passage area may have gotten a little too shallow for some boats. Also, I found at least 22 solar lights on either side of the canal for its entire length. I do not know who paid for them or installed them and have to assume it was the work of the Municipal government. This may contribute to people staying at the beaches a little longer as now there will be lights to guide them.

Also, the beaches from the East side were cleaned up just prior to Semaña Santa and everything was done to make this a pleasurable week. Restaurants stocked up on food and beverages, stores stocked up on beach items, and everyone looked forward to a day at the beach.

We went to Bo's Island House on Sunday to have an Easter meal provided by Martha and her Mother, Maria. The "usual" Easter meal in the States can be a full-blown dinner with ham and all the trimming or fried chicken, hamburgers or hot dogs on a picnic.

Here in Honduras there does not seem to be a traditional meal; typical Honduran food is served. We were offered our traditional chicken, fish or seafood at Bo's but today another dish that I had not tasted was introduced. Fried plantains were layed out in a layered circle, topped by shredded cabbage, topped by "carne molida" (hamburger to gringos) and a light tomato sauce sprinkled with queso duro (hard shredded cheese) which is akin to Parmesan cheese but with a lighter taste. My husband got chicken and I settled on the new dish which turned out to be quite tasty and very, very filling.

There were a variety of activities going on, from children swiming and snorkeling in the water, to couples walking the white sandy beaches. Of course there are always children digging in the sand hoping to discover treasures or just to build a castle or two. Soccer games were organized or some people preferred to sit with families and friends and talk or doze in a hammock. People walked, rode bicycles, rowed boats or were on horseback - all varieties of getting about. Music was heard from portable stereos and, in one case, a large area had been converted to a palm-covered structure with huge speakers playing Spanish music.

Since transportation to the beach is by boat (the main mode of transportation on this island), there were a lot of boats present and each had taken their quota of people. The price of gas is high here (on the average up to $4 a gallon), so as many people as possible are packed into a boat and transported for the full day.

All in all, it was a pleasant day; a little overcast with choppy seas, but a wonderful day at the beach.

Happy Semaña Santa

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Oh, Luxury!

Many people assume that living on an island is the ultimate luxury, but it is hard work sprinkled with sacrifice and patience, not to mention the reality that one is back to the basics and must give up a lot of comforts they may have known.

Luxury to me would be having the ease to do things without worrying about what would happen when they cannot be accomplished simply because you did not have the means to an end.

Luxury is an abundance of specialty food items, unlimited fabric choices, supplies available to make a particular craft item and the unheard of - finding them in all in one store specializing in the item!

The luxury of having well-established walking paths or easy access to areas would be great.

Then there is the luxury of not having to have someone stay in your home while you are gone so that it and your pets will be safe. Of course, making a plane reservation and actually having the plane leave on time and on the day you booked it for would be a luxury and finding that the hair salon you go to is 1) actually open and 2) if open, the beautician is either actually there, out of the shower/bed or not busy cooking a meal for her family!

The ultimate luxury would be having a massage! WAIT! This is one thing we can do on the island!

Before coming to Guanaja, my husband and I had a massage once or twice a month. It was an indulgence that we found relaxing and rewarding. Fortunately for us, for years we had an excellent Massage Therapist in Tampa. When that woman decided not to pursue her chosen profession, we were disappointed and the search for a new Therapist was not easy. However, with perseverance we were rewarded with a German woman who was her equal.

Once we moved to the island I definitely gave up all hope at having a massage here. My doubts were removed once about 4 years later when I met Filiberto.

I don't recall exactly how I was put in touch with Filiberto, but, needless to say, I was elated and eager to see if he had the qualifications of a good Massage Therapist. A rather small beauty shop in town had employed him and given him space in a cramped room off the salon. I had just had foot surgery and was looking forward to a good massage that would also relieve the tightness and stiffness I had in my foot.

Filiberto came in, introduced himself and explained his qualifications. Filiberto is a Honduran and up until that time had been working at Posada Del Sol, a local "luxury" resort on the island. He had learned his craft from two American woman and a Japanese man all of whom taught him the art of Swedish Massage, Aromatherapy Massage, Deep Tissue Massage, and Shiatsu. His aim is to relieve tension built up from stress, injuries, over-activity and/or poor circulation. He told me that as a Christian he respected my modesty and my body and assured me that my body would remain appropriately covered while he administered the massage. When the time came for me to turn over, he turned his back and waited for me to announce that he could continue.

Filiberto Nadina is a gentle person with a soft, modulating voice. He uses soft music or whatever is provided by the individual whose home he goes to. He asks if you have any concerns or areas that need special attention and talks about various ways to relieve your aches. Filiberto has been a Massage Therapist for 17 years and over time has kept up with various techniques in the art of Massage by reading books on the subject. He has worked in hotels and beauty shops but now free-lances and goes from home to home administering his art.

My first massage with Filiberto was a wonderful experience and totally relaxing. He did a really good job and I was surprised with his knowledge and expertise. Since that time, I have had massages administered by him and over the years and have relied on him to relieve the tension I get in my neck area.

For years Filiberto had to rely upon people to furnish a sturdy table to use for the session. Later, he was able to acquire a massage table and now carries this portable item from place to place, which certainly makes the routine more comfortable for the giver and receiver. He has a variety of oils and creams to use and incorporates the use of a large hand-held massage vibrator on one's arms, legs and shoulders along with a wooden ball-type roller.

Since that time and over the years I have appreciated more and more his skills. I have had massages on the Mainland by people that definitely were not well-skilled in this art. And, it is an art! It takes understanding, strength and stamina to stand all day relieving the stress and pain people have built up in their bodies. I am always amazed to find Filiberto giving up to 8 massages in one day and the last one is as good as the first.

So, if you ever come to Guanaja and are in need of a wonderful, relaxing massage, just ask around or get in touch with me and I will see that Filiberto shows you how rewarding a massage can be. Oh, and the plus, he is very reasonably priced!

Now, this is luxury!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


If anyone wants to check the following:
you will see that 6 earthquakes above 3.0 on the scale were reported already in 2010. I am sure we've all read about Haiti and Chile lately in the news lately and the earthquakes that shook those countries. What we don't read about, thankfully, are the earthquakes of Guanaja!

There are reporting agencies listing quakes in the United States (http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqarchives/),

I found one chart rather interesting comparing lightning bolts, atomic bombs and earthquakes: http://geology.about.com/library/bl/blquakestats.htm.

Most information is produced by the USGS (United States Geological Survey) and is extremely interesting to read. However, as pointed out by my fellow blogger, La Gringa, just after the standoff with ex-President Mel Zelaya in Honduras, for some unknown reason the USGS stopped reporting earthquake activity in the area of Central America and you can read her comments here:


But, as usual, I wander off the subject: earthquakes on Guanaja. On the island we, fortunately, have mild tremors. I strongly believe these are beneficial in that with the release of small amounts of energy, Nature is heading off major build ups with catastrophic results such as the one in this photo:


Scenes such as the previous will not be seen on Guanaja since we don't have any high-rise buildings!

Thankfully, these small tremors, which I have noticed occur more in the winter/spring months on the island, simply vibrate the ground and/or shake buildings for less than 1 or 2 seconds.

In May, 2009, a 7.3 Earthquake did hit the coast of Honduras with the epicenter reported in Utila:


At the time, I was returning from my trip to Germany, so missed the action. My husband reported that he felt the shock waves and that they were, indeed, the largest he had experienced since coming here. There were no outward damages to our house or surrounding area so we have much to be thankful for.

But, as I said, Mother Nature seems to offer this island some protection by sending off small tremors every now and then. Like yesterday. I was standing in the kitchen at 3 p.m. cleaning carrots and I heard the familiar rumble that I have learned is the forerunner of a tremor. It is like a far-off rumble of thunder but a little stronger. It builds up to a bigger noise which you know then is not caused by thunderheads in the distance and you start even "hearing" the vibration before you actually do! With stronger ones you then realize that this is going to be one of those and the house is suddenly given a violent jolt. The "jolt" last no more than 1-2 seconds but it is intense and there is no doubt as to what has happened!

The second day of our arrival to Guanaja in 1997, we were in bed asleep and I was awoken by a violent shaking of our bed. I had no idea that earthquakes were part of the seismic pattern here. I knew that the island experienced hurricanes, "Northers", particular weather patterns allowing for a deluge of rain in a short period of time, but I did not realize it underwent one of Mother Nature's strongest forces! That first "quake" was an eye-opener for me but what could I do? Nothing! As in all forces of Nature, one must wait, experience and then react. Man wants to believe he can control most everything, but Mother Nature is not one of them!

Thankfully we have never had an earthquake that wrecked havoc with our buildings or land for that matter. Going through the "Earthquake of the Century" (Mitch) in 1998 for 3 days was enough thank you, so these little tremors are just something of interest and wonder at the forces of Nature in action.