Funny realities of a Caribbean island

Dashing for Dollars (By Tyll Sass)
General Georges� Scouts find sandfly cure (By Tyll Sass)
Washer in Orbit (1992) (By Tyll Sass)
Sam Miller’s “Chicheron con Yucca” restaurant (By Tyll Sass)
The Iguana Police versus Honduran cuisine (28 July 2000) (By Tyll Sass)


Banking

Other than diving and buying properties, banking is probably the third most popular Gringo past time in Honduras. Choosing a bank is easy as there are so many. Just try a simple money transfer of at least $1000. You need to make it worth your while.
Since most Gringos invest in something within 3 to 7 days of setting foot on Honduran soil, one must understand the banking system. One day soon, one will be able to accomplish these mind-boggling investment moves on the Internet, saving valuable time in transit and money.

Until then, here are a couple of tips for “beginning banking” in Honduras.

  1. It is recommended that you have deposit/withdrawal slip filled out before entering the bank. If you do not, the moment you head for the glass table to fill it out, people will come streaming in from outside and fill up both lines.
  2. Uneven line rule: always get in the longer line. However, there are exceptions to even this rule, including:
    Exception 1: If there is a small 13-year old boy with a leather pouch and a manila envelope.
    He has �200.00 of all denominations and is sending money orders to banks in 7 different provinces on the Mainland. He is also paying RECO bills (electricity) for all his nearby relatives.
    Exception 2: If you see a large lady with a big brown shopping bag.
    The bag is full of coins that must be sorted and counted. And after 30 minutes of counting and sorting, she hands the teller her bankbook and is informed that she is in the wrong bank.
    Exception 3: There is an unattended child ahead of you in line.
    He is keeping that place in line for his mother, brother and two uncles who are going to make deposits in dollars, withdrawals in lempiras and then pay their phone and electric bills.
    Exception 4: There is a large man wearing sunglasses at the window with an open suitcase on the counter.
    The teller and bank guard have disappeared. Stay away from this line.

Do not be offended if someone steps in front of you as your turn finally comes around.
There are reasons for this:

  1. The person has been waiting their turn some where in the bank, you just did not see them.
  2. The person was waiting at home and now it’s their turn.

Whatever the reason, if you are still in line after one hour, everything is still running smoothly. Continue to be patient.

By Tyll Sass

Sandflies

About once a year, some fool will come along with a “new” homemade insect repellent for sandflies and mosquitoes. It will contain anything from limejuice to diesel fuel. All of them have one thing in common, they don’t work.
These miracle repellents have been known to contain: coconut oil, chicken fat, lizard lard, banana oil, diesel fuel, melted pig, boiled barks of trees, recycled crankcase oil, sugar, salt, honey, alcohol, leaves, herbs, lichens, shrubs, cacti, aloe, peppers in various stages of hotness, glycerin, gunpowder, palm tree cores soaked in saltwater for years, then melted by a blow torch, plus secretions and melt-downs of every plant and animal part known to man.
A friend of mine recently gave me a new one to try. “Look how easily it applies” as my friend pumped a small plastic plunger up and down with his index finger. A gooey white substance containing lumps spread unevenly onto my arm. “Guaranteed no mosquito or sandfly will land there for 3-6 hours and it won’t wash off in water!”
He told me there were secret ingredients and proceeded to whisper into my ears behind cupped hands. He revealed that the formula is actually centuries old, but recently was told into the ear of a mosquito Indian by a dying missionary on the outskirts of a chinchilla ranch.
My friend heard of this only because his cousin was thinking of marrying the chief’s daughter…
But there must be the test: proof that the secret ingredients are doing their job. Take 3 hippies and have them rub half their bodies with given repellent and send them to West Bay for the afternoon, and the results are always the same: one half their bodies look like a free fire zone in a war between smallpox and measles, the other half like a baby’s bottom. “See how it works,” my friend shouts. So, I buy some of the stuff, go to the beach and am eaten alive.
I like exploring the island, mostly by boat, so I went a step further to get an idea of how this works, or why it doesn’t. I thought, what if instead of leaving half my body exposed, I rub one kind on one side, and another on the other. Maybe the sandflies just take the lesser of the two evils:
One sandfly to another: “Hey George, how’s your side?”
George: “Tastes horrible!”
Frank: “Try this; see if it’s better.”
George: “You’re right, Frank.”
So with this information in mind, I took different kinds of repellent and tried them all. I rubbed half my body with one kind and the other half with another. I learned that bugs will bite the best of the two evils, or worst, and unless you get into industrial strength stuff, for instance, Baygon, which is poisonous and can’t be applied to the skin, the repellent-deterrent factor is merely a taste-test tug-of-war that is fought on the epidermis of your body by the boss of the beach and jungle. General George of the Sandfly and his second in command, Frank.
There is hope, however, as during my years in the service I learned of a remedy to keep biting insects at bay. A canteen of limejuice and vodka, mixed with a shot of kerosene (shake well), and spikes with a clove of smashed garlic gives the following results:
George: “Tastes like sweaty kerosene and garlic.”
Frank: “It makes me sick, and drunk.”
George: “A scout has just reported a plump white butt only half a light year south of here…”
Frank: “Let’s hit it George, this sucks.”
Since none of these repellents proved effective during my tour here as Malaria Veteran (the combination of the malaria, the cures for it and alcohol consumption needed to reinforce positive thinking), my liver is now unable to properly filter and redistribute the contents of the “canteen cure” accordingly. Alas, I rely on the oldest and best method. It’s called shoes, long pants, shirt and hat.

By Tyll Sass

Washer

After years of scrubbing tourist’s cloths on a washboard with the aid of a rock, my wife Alba announced it was time for a washing machine.
“Now we can charge more money,” she announced!
After 3 or 4 washes, some of my tee shirts were in tatters- so I welcomed this career move whole heartily. Also men will not come back trading bras or panties for their shorts, and no more lost laundry (mine included).
So on a bright and sunny day we installed our new heavy duty Whirlpool. After hooking up the water hose, it merely dripped into the drum. “Not enough pressure,” announced my friend, the washer expert. The water pump was marginal which made our reservoir usually empty so water had to be bucketed in from a faucet near sea level to the machine.
The washer worked well for better than a year but soon vice grips replaced the plastic dial. “Now I don’t have to push anymore,” she announced, as she turned the grips with a crunch and sparks went flying. After a time, the salt air and humidity kicked in. With much banging in the spin cycle, the machine got a foot wider before we pulled the plug. “Plan B,” the washer expert announced. We took it down to the rotors, motors, pumps and hoses and rebuilt it with 2×2’s and sheet rock screws. Soon it was plunging up and down and whirling better than ever until I found little brown tunnels leading under the base of the wooden corners: Termites. We scraped and poisoned, calked and painted until our washer stood proud once again.
Occasionally, Alba would soak tar-stained cloths in a bucket with soap and a cup of gasoline. One day she was in a hurry and decided to put the whole mess in the washer, soaking overnight. Needless to say when she turned the grips that fateful day, a spark set off the accumulated vapors and blew the lid clean off and bent out the sides. The next thing I see is her heading for the sea with an armful of smoking laundry. Blue flames were lashing out on top and thousands of termites were streaming out carrying white egg cases. However, the vice gripe held true and I was able to turn on the rinse cycle, which put out the fire.
Today the brave little machine sits behind my house slowly sinking into the ground. The lid was later found in a neighbor’s yard. The termites have reestablished residency, and my wife is back to the washboard and rock …

By Tyll Sass

Sam Miller

Sam Miller, god bless his soul, is famous for three things; first for shooting a taxi driver who was trying to rob him, second; for dismantling his restaurant on the beach board by board, and getting the job done 24 hours before the tax people arrived from Tegus to fleece every business in West End. They arrived and were poking at the empty holes left by the removed pilings that formerly held up the main frame of the restaurant. They knew Sam抯 restaurant had to be around there somewhere卆fter being asked, someone nearby commented the huge holes were the homes of huge 搒and� crabs…that might come out if provoked!
His third contribution to the tourist industry was starting one of the first restaurants in West End back in 1986. He called it the 擟hicheron con Yucca� restaurant.
It all started when Sam rented a piece of property next to the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The only stipulation they said was, that he not does business from Fridays at sundown till Saturdays at sundown, since that was the Sabbath. Sam however, is a Baptist and goes to church on Sundays. (We can see where this is going already) …
揥e抣l be open from Mondays till Fridays!� Sam reasoned.
Now is where things get more complicated. Fourteen years ago there were no roads and hauling groceries was a highly technical logistical undertaking back then, so native foods obtained locally were highly desirable. Propane and kerosene were hauled by boat from French Harbour back then, since there were no roads or electricity back then. Chicheron con Yucca means petrified pork rinds boiled with the root of the yucca tree, which has to be smashed to bits and boiled for hours until it is edible.
Cooks on the island are in short supply, and usually get a day off, and his day off was Wednesdays. 揥hy Wednesdays?� Sam asked.
The cook said that he worked in some real big hotels and always got Wednesdays off and Wednesday was the day and that was that!
Sam pointed out that he already had Saturdays and Sundays off and only had to work half a day Fridays. The cook countered that his father was a Baptist and his mother a Seventh Day Adventist and he had to attend both services, so that after all that church going he needed a day off, and Wednesday was the day! Well Sam sat back in his hammock and pondered this situation, and since he himself didn抰 cook he had to go along with this program, along with a series of FIASCOS, one of which was that the builder of the restaurant informed Sam that he had no windows or doors, so that for the sake of security he had made no cut-outs for them. He would do that later when they arrived. Builders being in even shorter supply than cooks, he was never seen again, so Alas, Sam抯 neighbor, the owner of a licensed chain saw, sawed a hole in the floor that was only three feet above sea-level, so one had to duck deeply to crawl in.
Another thing was that Sam tried to add some variety to his menu and since chickens had about the same consistency as a used Michelin tire, fish was the only alternative. Well it seems the Adventists only allow fish on Fridays so the menu went something like this:

Monday: Pig hunting day. It took most of the day to find the pigs and since pigs dig up yucca roots, one wouldn抰 want to catch the pig until he dug up enough yucca roots to fill a sack, thus the daylong pig-rutting yucca chase. This means on Mondays it抯 breakfast only (no bacon)
Tuesdays: If you ordered on Monday you could get chicheron con yucca Tuesdays. Also breakfast with bacon.
Wednesdays: Cooks day off卌losed.
Thursdays: You must have ordered by Tuesday since it is near the end of the week and chicheron con yucca supplies could be running dangerously low. Also if you want fish, you must have ordered it on Tuesday, since the cook goes fishing on his day off.
Fridays: Breakfast as usual; fish if the cook got lucky on Wednesday. If the cook got drunk on his day off, Sam抯 son, Sam-Sam goes out the next day. You must order and pay in advance before he抣l go out in the first place. No rain checks!

As far as I can remember only Sam, the cook and me ate there. The tourists were as baffled by the menu as a Taco Airlines schedule. Sam says the only difference is we don抰 loose your luggage. Sam-Sam seldom ate there. He said he didn抰 like fish or yucca.

By Tyll Sass

Iguana Police

As a foreigner living here on Roatan it is natural to try local foods, many of which are not only tasty but also unique. There are many brilliant cooks here, but they all work in the big hotels and restaurants, and our man in the street wants to know what it’s like to “eat out in the boonies” as it were… what do the common folk eat? Coming from a foreign household in “Gringo Gardens” for instance one would not expect to hear…. “Sweetheart, go down to the crick an’ git us some mud suckers wilst I go down to the gully an’ dig sum yucca…”
….”an we’ll send junior out with the dog an’ see he can git an iguana…”
The Iguana, however, is a protected species in the Bay Islands, and has no natural enemies nowadays, save the boa, but since Roatan seems to be the “Bible Belt” of the whole country, the boa enjoys a high profile as in the minds of the believers there is certainly no quicker way to reach those pearly gates, than by killing the serpent…!
In some countries “serpent steaks” are considered a delicacy but not here. Instead the dark brown chewy iguana is eaten. Also there seems to be no difference in killing a large 6-footer or a 6 inch baby… after all, the kids have to have something to do, and after they’re done there’s the kitty… that needs something to play with… be that as it may, trying to keep with in the law, one must go further in search of culinary delights, and thankfully a large variety of fruits and vegetables exist, that can be grown even on a small plot of land, so that no one need go hungry. So our man in the field came up with a cross-section of cuisine that contained no endangered or illegal species.

Comida Corriente

A famous recipe entrusted to me by a culinary expert in a small green house located somewhere in Cayo Ocho….
First- Get some “blankito” (week-old grease, hidden in a drawer) and melt it in a pan.
Second- Add chunks of 3-day old burnt rice.
Third- Add planton chips (they must be hard)
Then mash up some re-fried beans in your blender… add them.
Your pan now contains 3 separate foods, each taking up one third of the pan (turn off the gas just before the thing starts cooking)… (adding chunks of beef-fat or chicken feet… optional). Let sit in pan at least 24 hours (or until e-coli count reaches 11 parts per mil)
Heat (again) before serving.
One unique trick I observed was flipping the pan upside down into a tin plate. It took some hacking with a cleaver to get thru the top layer, but after it was cracked open it looked like a dismembered turtle.
Perhaps the dish should be called “amoeba-turned-turtle” …but since turtle meat is hard to find, and illegal as well, the name would be mis-leading.
Note: After eating this one can get deathly sick…(one wonders who’s dining on who) but the cure is simple… A normal glass of water containing a teaspoon of laundry bleach and a half a lime, forced down immediately after ingestion usually does the trick. In conclusion the laws are clear…Iguanas, snakes and such, are protected by law!!! Good things too… just ask any local walking down the road with a fat four-foot iguana slung over his shoulder: “Where are the iguana police?”
“We are the iguana police!” they reply…

By Tyll Sass