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Beauty and the Beast

As much beauty as there is in island living, there’s certainly a bit of a beast in it as well. In this post, we thought we’d talk a bit about the reality of living in the Caribbean and in Utila, Honduras in particular. Don’t get me wrong, we love our lives here in Utila, but there are a few things here we’re not exactly thrilled with. We are positive people – we refuse to live any other way – it is based on the idea that happiness should be a key goal in life. Not money, not stuff, not politics, not winning, etc. but happiness. That said, there are things here (and everywhere) that deserve a calling out. Some of the issues we’ll discuss in this post are sure to be found in other places as well, but we’ll call those out when we get there.

 Before - that's about 20 bites on half of one leg in the first three days Before – that’s about 20 bites on half of one leg in the first three days  After - this is why I believe - in DEET! After – this is why I believe – in DEET!

Speaking of beasts, the first 3-4 days here we were probably getting at least 10 bites/day from Mosquitoes and Sand Flies (aka No-See-Ums). So that was going to add up to 100 bites each in the first 10 days! I’ve always said I’m not a fan of any creature that wants to inject something into my body or suck my blood. That’s just me, you may feel differently.

I told Deb we can’t keep doing nothing because we’re starting to look like we have a tropical disease. So we now use DEET often, almost every day; Deb also uses a eucalyptus/coconut oil that works well against the sand flies but not with mosquitoes. This is not just about comfort (but that’s big), it’s also about helping to keep the odds in our favor when it comes to Malaria, Zika, Dengue, and other mosquito-spread diseases. Reducing the number of bites improves our chances and that’s worth the extra hassle of bug sprays. We never took our malaria medicine because of the side effects we heard about (and we don’t really have enough medicine to cover us the whole time anyway), but we have been told that malaria really doesn’t exist on this island. We still get a bite here and there but we probably only walk around with 5 or 10 red bumps on us at any one time. 🙂 The other diseases, we’ll just have to take our chances with.

If you know me well, you know I’m not really a spider guy. Growing up in Florida, I’ve seen black widows, brown recluses, house spiders, wolf spiders, all sorts of spiders. Never liked any of them. I don’t have nightmares about them, but I do get the creeps seeing the banana spiders (ahem, “golden orb weavers”) in the trees here, in big groups hanging out in their huge intertwined webs waiting for some unsuspecting tourist to not notice the web and walk right through it. I even had a Daddy Long Legs crawl up my leg the other day and I calmly “took care of the problem”.

But then, then, then! we were sitting on the bed reading one evening in our spare bedroom and Deb says “I just saw a lizard go behind the (free standing) closet, but maybe it was a tarantula”. What do you mean MAYBE IT WAS A TARANTULA??? She said she saw a leg go around the corner very slowly and gracefully and she didn’t think that was a lizard. For the next hour every time either of us turned a page we glanced quickly over at that corner. We didn’t see anything, so eventually we went to bed. Yes, there may have been some bad dreams that night!

The next morning, tarantulas were the main topic of conversation until Deb says, “It’s time for action”!!! “OK” I said, “we need a plan”, trying to buy some time. So I came up with this detailed plan to 1) confirm it’s a tarantula, 2) coax it out in the open, 3) drop something over it to trap it, and 4) take it outside. I just couldn’t kill something so big and bold, beautiful to some people. Not knowing how fast these things move, I didn’t want it running up my bare foot, bare leg, or higher! So I wisely put on some real shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeve shirt, and a headband to round out the ensemble. Deb laughed at me, but I felt (a little) better.

 Get the broom! No, the BIG broom! Get the broom! No, the BIG broom!

Step 1, we rotated the closet so I could get down and confirm what we’re dealing with. “Houston, we have confirmation, and we definitely have a problem”. By this time, I had named this beast Charlotte after the book, before realizing that tarantulas don’t spin webs. But Step 2, I took a broom and used the handle to start to slowly move her out into the open. She was doing that “I’m moving so slowly you can’t see me” thing, until alluvasudden she wasn’t moving slowly, OMG! Wow, she was fast, and I was starting to sweat. Realize now, I’m lying on the floor on my side with this big hairy creature racing around the floor with me!

 Step 3 - trapped her under a pot lid! Step 3 – trapped her under a pot lid!  Step 4 - On the way out! Step 4 – On the way out!

So we pulled the closet out some more and Deb took over the broom, giving Charlotte the brush side now, trying to get her out to me. She started trying to climb the wall (Charlotte, not Deb) but Deb was having none of it and she carefully swept the spider out to me, where I (Step 3!) deftly put a glass pot lid over her! She was a beast but I guess beautiful also, in her own way. My heart was racing but I felt a lot better at that point, ha! Finally, I worked a little clear plastic cutting board under her, but it was too flimsy. If I had tried to pick her up with that and it flexed a little, she’d have run out and up my arm, and I’d still be lost in the woods as I ran away screaming like a 7 year old girl. So I finally worked Deb’s notebook under the whole thing and took her outside (Step 4!), 50 feet down the driveway, to the other side, and gave her a quick swoosh off into the weeds. I hope she’s happy now where she can dig a burrow and have a nice little tarantula family ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DRIVEWAY. Although I bet she wasn’t thrilled with me because it rained hard that day and night – she’d gone from high and dry to low and wet. Oh well!

After it was all said and done, we realized she had been in this house since we moved in 3 weeks earlier.  There’s no way something that size got in while we were here (we have screens on the windows, and she’s too big to fit under the door crack). So we’ve been living with her for 3 weeks and I assume she’s been hunting bugs around the place all night. Neither of us can look at a knot on the wood floor at night without taking a second look, just to make sure it’s just a knot. The nightmares started to fade about a week later…

 Outside where she belongs! Outside where she belongs!  That black stuff isn't supposed to be there That black stuff isn’t supposed to be there  That's a direct hit! That’s a direct hit!

Not a beast in that sense, it’s more an annoyance than anything, but the Internet goes down a lot, often when it rains (and it rains a lot) and always when I’m trying to upload a new blog post. It went down solid for 3-4 days after a lightning strike (pictures) and hasn’t been right ever since (very slow, very spotty). They got new parts from the mainland that came to us by ferry, and that got us running. But we recently heard one of their spare parts wasn’t very good – probably last generation cast-offs lying in a warehouse somewhere, so we’re still waiting on parts to make it faster and more reliable. When it’s up, the speeds are as random as can be, from very serviceable (we Netflix’d a Mr. Bean movie in HD one night) to very frustrating at the point of being almost unusable. My friends with family members in Africa talk about the “trifecta” of water, power, and internet and say that 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. After our initial fun with the corroded electrical box, the power and water have been really steady, but the Internet, not so much. It does give us more time to read books, in paper or Kindle form, and just chill and talk.

 An unfortunate but common sight An unfortunate but common sight

One surprise to us is that the beaches are not a big plus on this island, unless you have a boat to get to the remote Cays and other beaches. The close-in beaches are few and although they are pretty in pictures, and the sand gets cleaned up regularly, the cleanliness in the water leaves something to be desired. When wading, even in the best spots you will often walk into some submerged plastic bag, aluminum can, bottle, or some other marine debris. In comparison, the Florida, California, and Alabama beaches we’ve seen probably have less than 5% of the trash we see around here. I’ve also been to beaches in the Bahamas and the Caymans and they didn’t have this problem either.

We’ve hiked to some remote beaches on the east and north shores here where there is nothing to see but the beautiful water, our footprints, a lot of seaweed and driftwood, and an equal amount of plastic trash. Flip-flops, bottles, straws, bottle caps, plasticware, bags, and a bunch of unrecognizable smaller bits and pieces. It’s downright ugly. My point about the trash is that living on an island will quickly make an environmentalist out of you, just seeing the direct impacts of lazy humans and ineffective governments.

There seems to be a cultural issue in Central America (and certainly other places), that the trash is somebody else’s problem. And it’s not just the poor people here, it’s up and down the economic ladder. We saw a nicely dressed local lady about our age riding a scooter with a Kleenex in her hand. When she was done with it, she just dropped it and flew on. It was only a tiny Kleenex that will disappear in the next heavy rain, but it’s a comment on the culture. Honduras complains about Nicaragua dumping it’s trash (by the ton, mind you) into the sea from the Montagua River but I don’t know what can be done about it. The Honduran government seems to be making an effort, but this problem obviously goes beyond country borders.

As far as this island goes, we have noticed that trash does get cleaned up on the streets, area by area, so maybe there is something to the idea that someone else (the government I suppose) will clean it up for you. We just find it a shame that the beauty of the beaches are spoiled by the beast of human waste, especially plastics. We will continue to do our part to make our impact small, and also hope to help with the regular beach cleanups that go on around here. These are 90%+ tourist volunteers BTW, which is another comment on the local culture. It will also be interesting to see how big this problem is in other parts of the Caribbean (I’ve heard Puerto Rico had trash problems long before the hurricanes). Being beach people, it’s hard to see the natural beauty literally “trashed” like that, but that is reality in some places.  These are all just my impressions BTW, I could be off base about the culture and other causes of the trash.

 The main road through town, around the bay The main road through town, around the bay

One more comment on Utila, we’re both surprised at how busy and loud this place can be, when you get into town (a few minutes walk from our place). Before coming here we read that there are only 20 cars on the island and fewer than 4000 people so we expected small town living, a little Caribbean Mayberry. While it may be true about the 20 cars, there are many dozens of tuk-tuk taxis, 4-wheelers, golf carts, motorcycles, and scooters and they are all pretty loud. And 90% of those people (and 95% of the motor vehicles) live right in and around Utila town; most of the rest of the island is boat access only and I suspect very, very quiet.

But here, there are many times we can’t even carry on a conversation while walking downtown, for two reasons, the narrow streets and all the noisy engines. The streets are quite narrow and there are no sidewalks. Generally, the larger guy wins; the truck goes where he wants, the taxis are next, then motorcycles, then scooters, bikes, and eventually the pedestrians take their chances by mostly walking single-file along the edge of the road. So, walking single file and trying to talk over all those engines can be nearly impossible at times (here is a small example).

BTW, we’ve really learned the language of the tuk-tuk horns. When they blow their horn long and repeated it means “I’m coming around a blind curve so get out of the way”. A long-ish honk is “You stopped in the road to talk to that girl and that’s fine, but I have a paid fare here that wants to get going” or it might mean “Watch it, I’m coming around you”.  But the most common one is the super short “beep” that means “Hey turísta, you want a ride?”. We’ll get beeped at 3 or 4 times every time we walk down to the beach. It’s just the way it is here and that’s fine.

Bottom line: we are definitely enjoying ourselves in Utila, but it’s not all sitting on the beach ordering umbrella drinks, that’s for sure! Down the road, it will be interesting to see more destinations to compare some of the beauties and the beasts on each island.

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Just Another Day in Paradise by Phil Vassar – it’s about making where you live your own paradise, and that’s perfect!

What are your experiences? Have you seen trashy beaches in your travels? What about roommates of the 8 legged variety? Did it bother you? We’d love your comments below!  🙂

No Comments

  1. Kevlar on November 3, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Yikes, that was a big spider! You two are WAY braver than I am!

    • Norm Pyle on November 4, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      What would you have us do, just live with it??? 🙂

  2. Mark on November 3, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Meanwhile, here in the 1st world we got money, stuff, politics, and winning! Ha! Just kidding, it’s overrated. Hey, what are the gun laws down there? Anybody packin? (Besides the Federales)

    • Norm Pyle on November 4, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      I talked to one guy that has a couple of rifles, but I’m not outing him because I’m not sure what the laws are. The Federales are definitely packing automatic weapons. They ride around on big 4-wheel off-road vehicles and motorcycles with guns in the air.

  3. Edward Triebell on November 3, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Hey Norm! Loved your story. Now you are a newer, Island version of "SpiderMan!"
    My travels to islands that are NOT primarily focused on attracting tourists matches what you see with trash everywhere. And I was really surprised by the tremendous amount of trash I saw on the beaches of Mumbai, India, as well as all over the place in Papua New Guinea.
    We must learn to love and respect Mother Earth as our home.

    • Norm Pyle on November 4, 2017 at 4:12 pm

      Yes, and as I said on FB, the trash problem is solvable, as much as cultural problems are solvable (IOW, it takes a long time). But let’s do the things we know will help, please! Also, as we were discussing with a young German woman last night, I’m pretty convinced that the US, Canada, and Europe are not the reason there is trash in the ocean. But continuing to improve our consumption habits will show leadership to the countries that really ARE a big part of the problem. That’s the best I can hope for right now.

  4. Paul B on November 3, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    Another great column! Another great DEET alternative is Picardirin. Lasts as long in terms of effectiveness, but won’t melt plastics :-). Hey take the DEET to those beaches! I wonder also if anyone on the island has surge protectors?

    • Norm Pyle on November 4, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      We have a surge protector! But we also know that a direct hit on our pole outside will turn that surge protector into a pile of carbon, along with our laptops, phones, etc. For that reason, we quit charging at night while we sleep. We now charge during the day when we can quickly unplug during a lightning storm.

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