Friday, September 23, 2011

Benighted, Bewildered and Befuddled

My husband often says most people are not stupid just naive, which means they are simply deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment. Of course this can be remedied with education - educate and people are informed; informed and they can act with intelligence.

However, benighted (existing in a state of intellectual, moral or social darkness) sometimes is not so easy to solve.

On this island one big problem is garbage. I have touched on this subject before and the ramifications of not disposing of garbage properly. It is difficult on a small island and burning is one way of disposal. However, when you have items that cannot be burned; i.e., batteries, metal, chemicals, then another problem arises.

I am, today, focusing my attention on the more prevalent form of garbage - daily waste in the form of food products, containers, wrappers, human waste, etc. This is the most common type of garbage and one that every island has problems with.

When we first arrived on Guanaja trash was everywhere; in the water, on the land, around homes and businesses. There were no trash cans in town; people just threw their waste in the canals which weave in and out of Bonacca. They had been doing it for years with no one complaining or teaching them that this was wrong. I guess when one lives with garbage around them and it is taken for granted, then one accepts it as part of the course of life.

Finally, after a few years a clean up took place; children were taught in school that disposing of one's garbage wherever they happened to be was not the thing to do. Trash cans appeared around town and streets were cleaned of liter. The canals were cleaned periodically and now we no longer see trash floating in the canals along side the streets were we walk.

I have, over time, stopped people from disposing of trash incorrectly by lecturing them and even, in some cases, picking up the trash, giving it to them and making them dispose of it in a proper receptacle.

Children are the easiest to reach and the quickest to learn; adults tend to avoid change and many hate being told what to do even if it is evident that it is in their best interests. They cling to old ways and are, in this case, benighted.

The other day, while sitting on our front porch after 4 p.m. in the afternoon, my husband noted a dory (long boat) going by our house heading to the southeast end of the island. Just after it passed our house, it turned around and appeared to be heading back towards the Cay (or Bonacca). For those uninformed, from the Cay southeast one must pass the dump which is where all local garbage is disposed of, then you pass a huge building that has become a ruin and is falling down and on to the end of the island with only our house and one dilapidated beach home appear before all that is present are rocky shores and green hills.

As my husband watched, the man in the boat, accompanied by two young boys, started pitching his garbage out into the water. My husband grabbed his camera and caught the activity in the following photos:

First - still in the water:

Second - Tossing garbage

This is not fish jumping n the water, this is garbage they are tossing. Note the young man is getting ready to toss out a piece of lumber.

Third through Six:
Some of the results of their efforts:

After pitching whatever they could out of their boat, they leave the scene:

What is worrisome is that this man had to pass the garbage dump where he could have disposed of his waste without polluting the water. This bewilders and befuddles me. Why he chose to come all this distance and dump is a mystery except for the fact that no one could see him! What is worse, he took two young boys with him to accomplish this task thus passing on his benighted views.

But, Aha - as his boat's name suggests: "All Eyes On Me!"

Caught you!

Island Bugs

The term “bugs” can relate to mechanical things meaning trouble with an object that must be attended to. On the island, the word “bugs” means discomfort, destruction or death.

We have bugs, there is no doubt about it. The planet is covered in bugs and in large cities/communities, efforts are taken to keep them under control and render them, at least temporarily, less destructive. Well, here on the island, we have no little VW Bug (a Volkswagen) with a rat or roach mock-up on the top which goes around advertising that they can rid you of pesky insects. No, here, you are on your own.

We have ants of several varieties: large black ants, microscopic ants, termites, flying ants, red ants; you name it, we have it. We have no-seeums, potato lice (akin to, I believe, red bugs), mosquitoes, flies; both green flies, black flies, and fruit flies. We have scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, spiders big and small; tarantulas which can be as large as your hand and some spiders that are so small one can barely see them with the naked eye. We have wasps, lightning bugs, bees, rhinoceros beetles and palm beetles, stick bugs, caterpillars of many descriptions, katydids, and bugs that defy description.

For the most part those bugs that reside on the island can be found the world over, so we are not unique. The difference is that in a third-world country, generally, bugs must be tolerated and the only areas where they are attacked chemically are on large farms/plantations.

On Guanaja our biggest irritation are the no-seeums which are pesky bugs one can barely see (hence the name) which are found, generally, close to beach areas. Some people would have you think that if you are located more than 30 feet away from the beach or at least 20 feet off the ground, they are not present. HA! These bugs are found at higher elevations and not just on the beach. For the most part, people here build up an immunity to these flying creatures and even though we are susceptible to their bites, when bitten the effect lasts only 5-10 minutes. However, people visiting the island who have not been exposed to them can suffer for 2-3 weeks after being bitten. There are a small minority of people that are allergic to the bites of these tiny creatures and develop large, pus filled welts leaving the person scratching constantly. Luckily most people are not affected in this manner and, with the help of a good insect spray, the irritation of these bites is minimal. Some people believe that baby oil or Skin-So-Soft oil will protect them. While it does work, its effect is temporary (say about 10 minutes) and once it is absorbed by the skin, the slick coating of oil disappears. This oil, in effect, suffocates the bugs so once it is gone they are free to feast. While some people disparage the use of inspect sprays with DEET citing the possibility of cancer, etc., we have used a 100% DEET spray twice a day for 13 years with no ill effects. Of course one does not apply this chemical to any open sores and, therefore, I feel, with caution this product causes us no harm.

As a side note, my research on DEET shows that from 1961 to 2002 only 8 DEET-related deaths occurred. Three were from deliberate ingestion (foolish people), two from dermal (skin) exposure (quite possibly oversensitivity to the product and/or an open wound) and three were children receiving heavy and frequent applications of DEET. People believe that DEET causes cancer, ideas which may partly be due to the fact that people confuse DEET with DDT. Scientists have not established a direct link between DEET and cancer. The EPA does show DEET as slightly toxic to birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates but virtually nontoxic to mammals. The current rate of toxicity for DEET today is a Category III, the second lowest of four categories.

While the no-seeums are one of the most irritating bugs we have here, THE most irritating, I believe, are ants. We have microscopic ants and ants up to almost 2 mm long! When certain species of these ants bite the effect is longer lasting than the no-seeum bite (for those who have built up a tolerance to no-seeums that is) and the itch is a burning, painful thing. And ants are all over. If one has ever paid attention at all to Nature anywhere, one will see ants.

For 12 years we have not had ants or roaches in our home. We do apply a poison frequently under the house and around the pilings of chlorodano or chlordane. This chemical is dangerous and once used for the control of termites in the U.S. was banned in 1988. It continues to be used in a powdered form in Honduras and I do not know if the chemical we buy here is a watered-down version of the original. Either way, we use great care when applying it, protecting our mouth and nose again inhalation and washing our hands thoroughly after using. The original chemical did cause many types of cancer but in those cases the use of the chemical had been heavy and over an long periods of time. Because of ignorance or non-information, the inhalation of this chemical was not a concern at the time.

Either way, it is about the only way one can effectively kill mounds of ants that one discovers on the island, but we use caution in applying it.

The last two years we have noticed an influx of ants in the house. First there were miniscule creatures scurrying around the counters. Then we noticed a roach or two. Where there is one there are bound to be hundreds so we used an injected goo targeted specifically at roaches and that seemed to clear up that problem. The ants, however, were another problem. We kept them “under control” so to speak until this past springs when we were suddenly invaded by huge black ants. These ants are strong and determined. We found them entering the hummingbird feeders literally swimming across the small cups of water we have hanging up the feeder to prevent ants from crawling down the cord from which they are suspended. They were everywhere and especially came out at night. One would find dozens on the kitchen counter and a simple slap would not kill them. I would have to literally pound them with my closed fist several times to disable them and still, bent and broken, they still managed to crawl away.

After several nights of searching outside our home, my husband discovered a huge nest at the base of a dead tree stump. Apparently they like to make their nest in rotting wood. He applied the chlordane and that seemed to cut down their numbers in the house. Several weeks later they were back and he was, once again, searching the yard at night aided by his flashlight determined to find their new home. We found them in an old log that had been cut from a tree about 2 years ago. A second nest was found near a hibiscus bush and he again treated their nests heavily. We have seen about 1 or 2 ants in the house since then but are still keeping an eye out.

As to spiders. In July I put on a dress and felt a sting on my hip. I found nothing so I passed it off. The next morning, when I arose out of bed, I could hardly walk I was so dizzy. This condition continued all day and I laid down quite frequently because navigating was difficult. I was also slightly nauseous. I then checked my skin surface on my hip and sure enough found a small, red bite. It think I was bit by a spider and when I showed it to a friend they said that their relative had a bite similar to that several years ago and she became sick and was badly infected. The whole week I was dizzy with the dizziness subsiding somewhat and by the end of the week both the dizziness and the bite had gone.

However, last week I received another bite and had similar symptoms. So, it was either the little ants that are still crawling around in our bedroom or another spider. This time the consequences weren’t as severe but I was still dizzy for a couple of days.

All in all, we have not had a lot of trouble with insects. We keep our yard fairly clean along with the beach area and the number of birds, lizards and iguanas help keep the population in check around our house. I just wish we had an ant eater!

Now we have to address a new problem on our hibiscus: white powdery mold/mildew! It never stops!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


This past year was not a good one for boats. Having one's engine stolen is a part of life here. Generally, there are several things everyone experiences on the island: you hit a reef, your engine drops off the back of the boat or the engine and/or gas tank is stolen. When you are really lucky maybe only have one of these things happen to you! We have done it all; been stranded on a reef not once but twice, lost the engine off the back of the boat, got one boat and motor stolen and found the boat minus the battery, gas tank and engine later the next day and the other boat and engine was stolen and hauled off to Roatan by thieves where we discovered it 9 months later!

Recently, friends who own one of the Cays had to overhaul completely their boat motor. They felt this was far more economical than buy a new engine and brought all their parts down to Guanaja. Several people got their small motors stolen and our worker has been having trouble with his 5 HP. Also, this past month our friend, Bill, went out early one morning and discovered his cabin cruiser was missing! During the night thieves had cut the lines, taken the boat around the corner and stolen his 200 HP engine. Normally the engines of choice are 25 HP as they are lighter and easier to steal. The larger the engine, the more time it takes and the weight of the engine is a big factor in getting away. Next, George, another friend of ours, was on his way home with dive equipment (he has a resort), and various other supplies when his boat suddenly started leaking. Not a little dribble, oh no! A major gusher. Luckily he made it home to find that the boat he had built in Savannah Bight several years ago had received only a thin coating of fiberglass and where the seams met in the bottom and the sides, the material had worn away and was now splitting. Among other things, George had just completed painting the bottom of his boat! It took him 3 weeks to re-fiberglass the outside of the boat and last we saw of him he was tackling the inside of the boat.

Many people have more than one boat, and we are no exception. We have two boats; a 17" skiff which is a great "truck" for hauling but very uncomfortable in rough seas with its flat bottom and a 21' V-haul which we had made on the island about 12 years ago. The skiff has a 40 HP Mercury engine and the V-Haul has a 90 HP Yamaha. The Mercury was a "used" engine when we acquired it in about 2006 and has served us well. The Yamaha we purchased new in 2001.

It figures, when something goes out on the island it seems to happen in pairs. We happened to be leaving a marina about 6 months ago near dark. The marina was very shallow and in need of dredging and, because of low light, we could not see the really shallow spots well and the engine got mired in sand. Sand was sucked into the intake and as a result the water which normally comes in and runs around the engine to keep it cool was blocked. My husband tried inserting a wire up the "pee" hole where the water exits after cooling the engine. Unfortunately, the sand was still blocking the intake some and as a result enough water did not circulate to cool the engine. We made it home (all the while I was telling him to turn around or stop as the engine would overheat - but then, I'm a woman and what does my opinion in mechanical things amount to?). As we pulled up to the dock the engine quit and smoke was billowing from under the cover. Long and short, the engine was super heated causing it to cease. Which simply means - it wasn't going anywhere anytime soon!

We ordered parts the next week on-line and brought the engine to our local mechanic who has a shop at the airport. Well, 5 months later we are still waiting for the engine to be put back together. I'll admit that most of the time was spent in getting parts here. Then, after the parts were here the mechanic discovered one of the cylinders needed work which entailed a trip to the mainland. Finally, last week, just when we thought all was about to climax with a repaired engine, lo and behold the mechanic said one of the cables was froze up. My husband advised him to use the cable from the old Mercury we once had on the skiff and had brought to the airport shop to use for "extra parts". He asked the mechanic to check the cable and call him back with the result. My husband seems to forget that no one in Honduras calls back or returns calls (at least businesses) and at the end of the day he finally called the guy who said you can come on down now and we'll put the engine on the boat. Well, it was 4:00 p.m. and Mike said no, we'll do it tomorrow. Nope! The mechanic, who has just returned from a weekend on Roatan, was leaving the next day for the Mainland and would not be back until late Thursday. So, we are trying for Friday.

During all of this going on we started having problems with the 90 HP. The tilt engine had been acting up and one day it quit all together. We generally put the engine up when we come home to keep it free of barnacles and lock the boat to the dock with a stainless steel cable and lock. Now, however, it was too heavy for the two of us to raise so we were having to park it at the end of our dock with the engine down. We were also experiencing problems with the fuel pump. Since things were going out slowly on this engine, we decided to bite the bullet.

So, not only did we have to put money out for parts for the skiff motor, now we had to buy a new motor for the V-hull. Once we get the new motor, we will take the boat up to the airport and have someone there make major cosmetic repairs to the V-hull before putting on the new engine. A new fiberglass coating, new wood strips on the outside bumpers, a new console and re-paint the entire boat. This step has been long overdue so it did not come as a surprise.

So, you ask what we are getting for Christmas? Now you know!