Life on a Rock
Our apartment up the stairs
On the afternoon that we arrived, our landlady started off showing us around the place, a 2BR apartment that’s really it’s own building. Her husband has his workshop below, and she has an office attached as well, but it all stands on it’s own next to their beautiful home. She noticed right away that the fridge wasn’t cooling. And the AC unit in the bedroom was acting funny, etc. So she had to shut off all the breakers and call an electrician. I was surprised at how quickly they had someone there. We could hear them talking down at the pole where the power comes into the house, and that included “there should be a f*ing gooseneck” which told me there was corrosion in there from water running down a wire without a gooseneck to force it to run off. So they were off to find the parts and within a couple of hours they had the problem solved. Except before they could finish their work, down by the harbor the town had a transformer light up like a Christmas tree on fire (it was actually on fire). While we were waiting we went down to the closest little plumería (small grocery store) and bought some eggs, tortillas & hot sauce and made that into our supper (we have a gas stove). It was getting dark by then and we still had no power (maybe we did actually land in Vieques after all?). But once again I was surprised at how quickly the locals jumped on the problem; they had the power restored in just another 2-3 hours. What was that about island time? I thought for sure we’d be out of electricity for a day or two. So yes, we got power just in time for bed.
That also meant we would have running water as well. But in our celebration of the power, we didn’t notice there was no tap water. When we finally noticed, we felt bad for our landlords, and were so exhausted after traveling all night (and half the day), we just went to bed. We’d deal with that in the morning, and we did. The next day the electrician was back, and he found and fixed this issue as well.
Cistern up the hill
They must have also disconnected something in the plumbing at some point, because our water feeds by gravity from a cistern. I know this because of a conversation with the owner in which he said “We get water on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.” This was quite a little revelation to me. You only get water from the utility on certain days, so you either have a cistern to hold some water in between, or you don’t have water 4 days a week. There was a nuance here too that I recognized. When you have a problem with basic utilities like this, if it’s on your property, it is your problem. It appears to me that the municipality delivers to the street and then you are on your own. It’s a system that requires you to be very self-sufficient, or in our case know the right electrician.
To make a short story longer, this problem was fixed quickly the next morning and we now have power, water, and Internet! We even have AC in the bedroom but Deb doesn’t like to use it. I like it because it keeps the bugs down while we’re sleeping. It was good to hear the landlady complaining about the heat today, so it’s not just us – it’s been damn hot the last couple of days! When I cook I have to take my glasses off because I can’t see from the sweat dripping, and I have to keep wiping my forehead to keep it out of the food I’m preparing! So yes, AC is a good thing even if it’s only one room.
Now, having “water” doesn’t mean you have drinking water. You get that from a 5 gallon jug, and this is a popular business on the island – you see these jugs getting hauled all over the place in small trucks, tuk-tuks, even scooters. Originally, water for the island came from wells, but over time the ocean water intruded and another solution was needed. Now Utila has a desalination plant to provide house water, but it is still pretty salty and just not safe to drink (this goes for all of Honduras for us Norteamericanos anyway). So, the big blue jugs are part of the way of life here.
Finally, a quiet street. Couldn’t get a pic of the busy ones without dying!
Another part of life is the lack of regulation and safety requirements. The locals love their freedom and this is one example. This is the first of many things that may sound like I’m trying to tell them how to live. That is not the case at all – I LOVE FREEDOM – I’m only trying to describe the differences as I see them. For example, here you will see families of four on a scooter sputtering up the hill. No helmets of course, just everyone in their spot, including baby hanging on to Mom, or if a little bigger, sitting in front between Dad’s legs. Or you’ll see a guy riding a motorcycle carrying a rusty propane tank under his arm. Just don’t think of what would happen if any of these has a crash. And the road rules are simply traditions, or common sense (try not to hit anyone else), they’re anything but “rules”. You do drive on the right, but mostly in the middle, and there are no stop signs, no yield signs, no speed limits, turn signals are optional, and there’s no traffic control of any sort. Walking down the narrow streets (many spots are only about 1½ tuk-tuks wide) is eye opening, which means you better keep your eyes open! We’ve had 2 or 3 close calls but no accidents. In fact, we’re in our 2nd week now and have not seen a collision of any sort. Whether they’re on a motorcycle, 4-wheeler, 3-wheeler, scooter, bike, doesn’t matter, these drivers got skills! There are only a few roads on the island so the ones in town (most of them) are quite busy. Actually, it was just a holiday week so this should calm down now. And there are a few quiet streets, as you can see.
Regarding freedom, Utilians are very proud of the fact that they are max’ing out their personal freedoms. We were invited to a birthday party (our rule: always accept invitations!) and we heard things like “You can get anything here”, “You can get any drug you want!”. So I put in an order for Lipitor – can’t wait! “You can do anything you want”, to which I asked, “What about those soldiers riding around with automatic weapons in the air?”. I was told, “Just show them respect. If you’re walking down the street with a beer, take the effort to put it behind your body when they go by. Don’t make them cause trouble with you and they won’t.” Sounds like life here is about freedom and respect, and that’s a pretty good way to live!
We talked to a Canadian woman named Lisa who also gave me us some interesting insights. She had lived a couple of years on Roatan and now a couple of years on Utila, and I asked her if she’s staying. “Yes I’m staying, I’m never leaving. Except to go back to Canada to file for background checks, etc. to be able to immigrate here.” I’ve never heard anyone in my life, with more conviction in her voice. I told her we are looking to find a place we can’t leave; obviously she’s found her forever home. Others piped in and said “you won’t want to leave”, talking to us. And it reminded us all of the IF YOU COME TO UTILA video, the famous video. It’s hilarious yes, silly at times, but there’s a ton of truth in this video. It’s all about the freedom, the opportunity to get in trouble, the opportunity to get out of trouble. It’s not the wild, wild, west, it’s the wild, wild, Caribbean Honduras, and it’s pretty cool for a place this hot. Everything in that video is here, including Dr. John! I urge you to watch it, and note that we bought one-way tickets to Utila…
Anyway, I also asked Lisa how her Spanish was, to which she replied “Nonexistent”. That was another surprise, 4 years living and working in this country and she doesn’t know any Spanish. In some ways, we’ve been disappointed at how little Spanish we need. I’ve gone into stores speaking (bad) Spanish, only to be answered in perfect English, “Oh, it’s over there”. But we also went into a tiny pulpería to look at a fan and the guy had no English at all. And our landlords flow like water between English, Spanish, German, and some Creole dialect? (hard to tell), they make me jealous! Each of their 3 dogs has it’s own language too – commands to each dog have to be in their language! Jealous or not, either way we’ll keep learning. It’s a small island but there’s a lot to learn about it!
Obligatory beach picture – this is Bando Beach on the southern tip of the bay looking across at the Honduras mainland
Final note for today: this part of the world has 2 seasons: dry and rainy. We arrived at the start of rainy season and it should be somewhat rainy the whole time we are here. The first couple of days we got rain 2 or 3 times a day, and again in the night; in between storms it was nice. In fact, it’s always nice because the rain is warm. If you get caught in it, as long as you have your wallet and phone protected, rain is a good thing. The last couple of days it dried out and got really hot and humid, like “dripping sweat from 9 a.m. to sundown” kind of hot and humid. The solution of course, is to get to the beach and in the water. Anyway, we like rainy season when it’s rainy!
Rain makes for some beautiful foliage here!
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Life on a Rock by Kenny Chesney. This song is perfect for our situation right now!
Comments? Questions? See below – we’re looking forward to them!
(PS. Apologies in advance for editing errors. Every time it rains the Internet goes down and if I’m doing final edits on the server, it needs the Internet, and edits get lost in the ether. So bottom line, I may have missed something.)
Thanks for explaining the language situation – I was curious. Let us know how you spend your days, since you don’t have that pesky day job cutting into your day.
The language is fascinating. Here there are every type of person, Canadians (lots), people from the USA, Europeans, native Utilians, Honduran mainlanders (many of whom are Spanish only), and there are lots of people with strong connections to New Orleans of all places. So there is Creole spoken here. And there is also a strong link to the Cayman Islands, so that dialect is here as well. The ones I envy are the multi-lingual people like our hosts but everyone is friendly, it really doesn’t matter their background.What do we do? We just live. We figure out what to do depending on the weather, we try to find our next way to get around the island (other than our feet which is what we do today), we figure out what to eat, it’s a bit harder than just waking up and getting in the car and going somewhere. But we are enjoying it!
Better have a drip loop on the electrical connection to the utility company. Sounds like you guys are having a great time. Happy for you guys. Don’t drip any sweat in to your cocktails.
I bet you know about these things Trent, LOL! Dripping sweat has receded, it cooled down just a little today. But thanks for worrying about our cocktails. 🙂
Interesting that now Internet access is a utility every bit as important as water and power – and it is!
Well, that may be true in the states, but seriously, clean drinking water is life. Run out of that, and things get really bad, really fast. That said, we are fine, the island is fine in this regard. Then, Internet is right after power to run the water pump!
So the real question is, air conditioning or Internet? 🙂 I’m not sure I know the answer to that! 🙂 🙂
Awesome column, Norm. Some fun times and adventures, and it’s great to hear things about other cultures and how you and Deb are adapting and learning and having fun. :-). Off to watch the video now! But don’t drink the water. ??
Thanks a lot Paul! I’ve watched that video about 5 times and keep finding new things in it. We’re going to see Dr. John soon!The water thing is interesting. We are probably (definitely) paranoid about it, but there’s a daily dance of "I washed my hands in tap water, so can I prepare food?" or "How do I brush my teeth?" or "After washing dishes in tap water, is just drying them OK?" or "Can we eat that salad at the restaurant?". In a month, we’ll probably be a lot more lax on all these things than we are now.
I see from the many comments that you have a following. Awesome.Have you done your laundry in a pila yet?A cistern is a good thing. It can even be outfitted to collect rain water. I am drinking a shot of Yuscaran in your honor tonight, and also because Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 tonight…wohoo…too bad the US is put of Russia 2018Great video by the way. It’s exactly how I feel about CO…minus the copious amount of Tekillya. I am more a guaro kind pf guy
Our landlady is doing our laundry so I guess we’re spoiled (don’t know what a pila is). We also get the apt cleaned once a week. But the luxuries end there. We walk everywhere, to beaches, restaurants, bars, groceries, etc. We like to cook our own food but our little kitchen is very limited and boy does it heat up the place! The two different water sources add a complication to cooking and cleaning also.I’m going to have to go find some guaro, the rum seems to be disappearing at a rapid rate! (but I think we’re going skip Tequila Tuesday, Tequila Tuesday) :).
Great post, and wonderful video. My daughter says it is a great day when you have the trifecta of utilities – water, electricity and internet. Odds of all three working at the same time is low. Utilla sounds like a wonderful place to visit (and maybe live).
That’s a great thought! We have the trifecta most days, but often not all day.