Shopping Day

Once a week, supply boats arrive from mainland Honduras, delivering food and supplies of all kinds to Bonacca, the main settlement on Guanaja. If you remember, Bonacca (or the cay (key) as the locals call it) is a small cay off of Guanaja that is home to roughly 6,000 people. Here’s a neat before and after photo of Bonacca, that shows how much the cay has changed over the years.

“Shopping Day,” as it is referred to here, is a big deal, and we have been told by many local expats here about going to the cay for the day. Since we haven’t yet visited Bonacca on actual shopping day, it was on our list during this visit to the island. However, strong winds were going to make for a very “spirited” ride, as Scott likes to call it. As we hemmed and hawed about making the trip, we were invited to go with Hans, and some others on his sailboat…… shopping day here we come!

On Thursday morning, our ride approached. Hans towed a skiff behind him, that would be used to drop off trash and get fuel while in town.

We prepared for a quick “touch and go,” as Hans pulled alongside for us to get on board. Unfortunately, I didn’t scurry fast enough, and as the boat pulled away I didn’t have a firm footing. My choices were to either slip into the water, or do a back bend over  Sea Life’s side rail. I chose the latter, channeling my inner yogi.

There wasn’t a way for me to get a firm footing, and slide back onto the side deck, and I couldn’t reach anything with my hands either. So there I was, bent backward over the side rail, hanging on while Hans made a second pass (of course, Scott was upset that I had the camera with me during all of this!). It felt like 15 minutes, but eventually the boat came back alongside, and Scott grabbed me into a upward position so that I could get on. The day was off to an eventful start.

There were seven of us on Hans’ 23′ sailboat, so we were a friendly bunch, sitting in the cockpit and on the bow. We had a smooth sail, and arrived at the cay in under 30 minutes.

Hans has a dock that he uses in town, but it was full when we arrived, as was the second place he tried. We headed for the main city pier, and tied up in front of one of the supply boats that had just arrived.

It was quite a site on the pier, as the two large supply boats began to unload. Many locals work the pier for the day, helping to off load the boats, and deliver the supplies to stores in town. Since there are no cars, golf carts, scooters or bikes on the cay, all of the supplies are loaded onto flat beds, and rolled through the streets, to their destinations in town. The scene was like ants attacking food, and then scurrying away with the crumbs.

As we headed into town, Hans arranged for some “shopping cart” help (a man with a wheel barrow).  We turned and made our way down the main street, dodging carts loaded with produce.

I expected everyone to head to the stores, but realized that it would be hours before things on the pier would be delivered. Instead, we followed Hans and the others to an open air bar on the main street. Before long, the tables were full of expats, drinking and chatting.

Some had lunch at the bar, which is sold from a cart on site, and others headed off for a restaurant. We bought a really cheap, and really good lunch from the cart. You choose either fish or chicken, to go with side dishes (beans, rice, slaw, etc.). Scott managed to talk his way into getting both!

Ok, so we’ve eaten, chatted and had drinks. It was time to shop…right? I got up to head for the stores, and was told that they were closed for lunch until 2pm. Huh?? Then why did we get here at 11:00?? And where was the “shopping cart” guy during all of this?? I realized that this was just as much a social event as a shopping trip. Most people only go to town once or twice a week, so shopping day is a chance for them to see each other, spend time together and talk. This was all fine and good, but by 2pm, it’s stinkin’ hot!

I needed very little in the store (we had already stocked up on canned goods and other things in Roatan), and had come mostly for fresh bread and produce. However, we had come with Hans, who needed to stock up, so it seemed we’d be in town for most of the day. Good thing the beer was cold and cheap…we ordered two more.

To kill some time, Scott and I decided to walk and see if the man who bakes bread had any ready to buy. This is where we go to buy bread…welcome to cruising.

Unfortunately,  it would be another hour or so before the loaves were ready. We asked the man to hold two loaves for us, and made our way to one of the produce stalls. They were still unloading things, but we were able to buy what we needed.

After more socializing, and much, much sweating (the breeze that we enjoyed in the morning had shifted directions, away from the bar), we went to get our bread. It was still hot from the oven, and we left with open bags of both wheat and white.

It was now suffocatingly hot in the bar (where many people still gathered, did they even need groceries?), so we waited for Hans back at the main pier. There was a great breeze on the upper deck, where we watched the ants still hard at it at 4pm.

There were just four of us on Hans’ boat for the sail back, as the rest of our group rode in the skiff. The winds were blowing in the 30s, and as we rounded the far side of the cay, the boat was heeled far over. My short legs had trouble reaching the port side cockpit bench, which we had to stand on for balance, so I was keeping grip with my toes. I am by no means a sailor…give me my roll-ly pilot house anytime!

As we crossed the channel, waves began to break over the bow. We weren’t heeled over anymore, but it was now a wet ride. I took this photo just before I put the camera away, notice Scott  hanging on. We got that spirited ride after all!

As we approached Sea Life, Hans lowered the sail, making it much more easy to climb aboard! He then headed off toward his pier.

We’d done shopping day with the locals and survived. I think in future, I’d go for morning socializing, and stick to the quick in and out of Friday morning shopping! Here are more photos of shopping day.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”




Guanaja…It’s SOO Pretty Here!

The waters surrounding our anchorage off of Graham’s Cay were beautifully clear.

Scott enjoyed many hours of exploring and snorkeling. By the way, the Aluminum Princess has recently been equipped with an oscillating fan (thank the Lord) and a rod holder…ain’t she fancy!

In the evenings, Scott would drop his fish light off of the swim platform, providing hours of entertainment for Howard. The fish were so intriguing, that he eventually ended up hanging down and swatting the water…I couldn’t watch.

We also took the Aluminum Princess over to Savannah Bight for a “drive by.” Sitting opposite Graham’s Cay, on mainland Guanaja, Savannah Bight is the larger of two main settlements on the island.

We all enjoyed the anchorage here, especially Howard, who spent much more time outside.

Here are some photos from our anchorage off of Graham’s Cay.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Bonacca, “Venice Of The Caribbean”

Bonacca sits a half mile off of the main island of Guanaja. More than 6,000 people live on this tiny cay, which is less than 100 acres. It was originally two islands, connected by a boardwalk, that was gradually (manually) filled in with rocks and sand to expand the town. I copied an aerial photo from the internet, to give you an idea of how populated it is.

The town has many small canals running through it, earning the name “Venice of the Caribbean.”  I mentioned previously that there are no real roads, only narrow, concrete walkways. As a result, there are no cars, scooters or bicycles in the tiny city, just foot traffic. Many of the homes and businesses are on stilts out over the water, some as high as three stories.

It seems like just about anything you might need can be found here, if you are willing to look or ask: hardware, groceries, fruits & vegetables, meats, fresh bread, cell phones, marine parts and clothing. Signage is almost non existent, usually just something small and hand made.

After waiting a day, we came back to town to see the port captain this morning, in hopes that our papers would be ready. Before we got to the office, he passed us on the street and told us to meet him in ten minutes. We visited some of the grocery stores, more about those later, and then went to see him.

We needn’t have rushed. When we arrived, he was working on paperwork for one of the commercial boats. “Copies” are made by using two forms, with a piece of carbon paper sandwiched between (I have no idea where you can even get carbon paper!).

The sandwich is then loaded into…wait for it…a typewriter. I’m not sure why he didn’t enter the information on his computer,which he has, and then print it out.

This typewriter wasn’t a “newfangled” electric one, but the good old fashioned kind. He had to stop at one point, to wind the ribbon, which had loosened. As he typed, he’d say the words out loud to himself in Spanish. I guess it was to keep from making mistakes, which must work, because he never reached for the white out.

I also noticed today that there was (again) an old style phone/fax on his desk. He uses the phone, but I’m guessing that the fax part doesn’t work, which must be why he used up all of the data on his cell phone.

After about thirty minutes, the commercial boat papers were finished, and the man was on his way. I guess commercial boats are exempt from this new faxing-the-mainland policy. It took less than ten minutes for him to communicate to us that our papers were good for all of the bay islands, and that they expire in thirty days. At the end of thirty days, we can get an extension, which we plan to do. Here’s hoping that there are no new policies by then!

The town of Bonacca is so unusual, unlike anything we’ve seen. We’ll visit again later in the week, as fresh produce arrives on Thursday mornings, and look forward to enjoying a beer with the locals. Here are some more photos of our day in town.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

A Challenging Customs Experience

We’re having a much different check in experience here in Honduras than in Mexico….

Yesterday morning, we moved Sea Life to a spot behind town, and out of the swells coming from the southeast. This would make our dinghy ride to town for clearing customs more comfortable, as we hadn’t yet unloaded the Aluminum Princess.

We took our inflatable dinghy to the fuel dock. Friends told us that the guys working there are very friendly, and will let you tie up at the dock while clearing in. The man working was very friendly. He told us that it was no problem to leave our dinghy, Scott got a bit of gas for it and we were able to get rid of some trash as well.

We then made our way into town. The “streets” are narrow, concrete walkways, with houses and stores on either side. The buildings are very close together, and finding our way to the port captain’s office was a bit like maneuvering through a maze at times, but we managed it.

The port captain told us, in very very broken English, that we had to see immigration first. As we came out of the office, a man named Mario offered to take us there. We’d heard that men will approach you, offering help getting to customs, stores. the bank, etc., and will ask for a fee in return. Originally, we’d planned to maneuver the town by ourselves, but it was proving quite a puzzle, so we agreed. When asked his price, Mario responded that we could give “whatever we wanted.”

We weren’t at immigration long, but needed to have a copy made in order to finish with them. Mario took us to a store where we paid for one copy, a water for Scott and a juice for Mario. We returned to immigration,  handed over the required paper and headed back to the port captain.

Mario came in handy here, because as I mentioned before, the port captain spoke very little English. He stopped helping us several times to answer and talk on his personal phone, and had  trouble filling out the form that we needed. It was in both Spanish and English, and you’d think it was something he’d have done many times, but Scott had to help him fill it in, and correct mistakes that he made. All of the information was on the paperwork we gave him, but he entered several things in the wrong place.

Mario decided to interrupt, and tell Scott that he’d need 20.00 US dollars for helping us. Scott replied that it was a deal, if he took us to the rest of the stops we needed and showed us back to the fuel dock.

The port captain finally finished, and we were told to go and pay our “fee.” We asked if we needed to bring back a receipt, and he said no. After we paid the fee, and got that receipt for our own records, we’d be done…great! Mario led us to a lady who took 10.00 US dollars per person, for an environmental fund, and we were through clearing in.

From there, our next stop was a phone store. We’d purchased a smart phone in the Bahamas, planning to have it unlocked and use if for internet data as we traveled. That backfired, so we wanted to start again. We were sold a phone for much more money than expected, or than we’re used to (we usually pay much less for new phones, when upgrading through our cell phone providers). Thankfully, the internet plan was very affordable.

As we waited for the man to set up our phone, the port captain came in. I don’t know how he knew where we were, unless Mario mentioned the phone store stop in Spanish at some point. He told us that we needed  to come back to his office. It was unclear why, but we told him we’d return when our phone was ready.

Before we could finish and go, another gentlemen came in to tell us that the port captain needed us back (I’m thinking he wanted a tip). We told him that we already knew, and he wandered out.

Back at the office, we were told that our papers had to be faxed to mainland Honduras. It was confusing to us, to Mario and, it appeared, to the port captain. He took our copies back, and rattled on about it again, in Spanish. Again, Mario told us that the papers had to be faxed. Ok, but why did our copies have to be faxed?

After much more unclear conversation back and forth via Mario, we were told that we could put our Honduras courtesy flag up, and to come back later in the afternoon for the papers. O..kay…what time this afternoon?? The port captain said to come at 3pm, and asked where our boat was, so that he would be able to look at when we returned (not to board it, just to see it).

Scott was miffed about the whole situation. We’d planned to re-anchor in a new location once we were cleared in, because it offered more protection from the east winds that were predicted to blow for the next week. So not only did we now have to come back to town, we also had to wait to re-anchor.

Scott has been battling a bad cold since we arrived. He felt better as we made our way to town, but was now wiped from walking through town in the heat, and what little patience he has was spent.

Having no choice but to come back later, Mario took us to an ATM machine, showed us some stores in town that we may need and also a few restaurants. We then went to buy ice. After asking for four bags, the woman returned with four half gallon-size bags of frozen water….ha!

Scott asked if it was purified to drink. The woman responded yes, but when we cut the bags open to dump the frozen blocks into our cooler, they each had a dirty, brown center. We were concerned about drinking it, but our cruising friend Elizabeth has since told us not to worry. I think Scott’s want for ice in his drink will win out over his concern for some brown color!

Finally, Mario led us through many left and right turns, eventually leading us back to the dinghy. We thanked him for his help and headed back to Sea Life, so Scott could rest and we could get some lunch.

Scott headed back into town at 2:30. A French boat had anchored right near us, took their dinghy to town, and came back shortly thereafter. We assumed that they were told to come back after lunch as well, so Scott wanted to get ahead of them.

When he arrived, Mario was there to take his dinghy line. He thanked Scott for the money we’d paid him. He’d bought rice, beans and meat for his mother with it, but ran out of gas as he was cooking the meat, so he wanted more money to buy some. He told Scott that he’d help him later for it. Scott replied that he’d paid Mario for helping us, that we didn’t need anything more and that he was sorry, but wasn’t just going to give him anymore money.

Then, the man who’d come to the phone store to tell us that we had to return to the port captain’s office (even though we’d already been told) asked Scott for money for a juice. He wanted money because he’d spoken to us…???  Scott offered him 10 lempira, and was told that it wasn’t enough for a juice. It was only about .45 cents, but we had no reason to pay him anything.

When Scott got to the office, there were already four people waiting, which quickly grew to nine, including Scott. Apparently, they were all told to come back at 3:00. Luckily, one person in the group spoke Spanish well. She relayed to Scott and the rest that faxing the papers to the mainland seems to be a new procedure, so they can keep track of boats coming through the area.

The group waited, as the port captain took photos of papers with his phone. It seemed crazy that there was no other way to get copies of this stuff to mainland Honduras. No fax machine or scanner? The port captain then got up to leave, mumbling something in Spanish. The designated translator told the group that he was leaving to go add data to his phone….good grief.  I cannot believe that Scott didn’t have to be flown off the island with a brain aneurysm at this point.

During this customs circus, Scott learned from a British couple also waiting that this was day three of them of trying to get papers. The port captain returned, and after some more time told everyone to come back tomorrow…or the next day (again, shocked at no aneurysm). Some stayed, but Scott returned to the boat so we could get re-anchored before the winds were stronger, and get a good spot before others arrived.

So that’s where we stand. We have no papers, but are told that “we’re good.” There’s no telling how long it will take to get said papers, and that’s incredibly frustrating. Our biggest gripe is that we had papers in hand, and they were taken away. To quote the band Genesis, “It’s no fun, being an illegal alien!”

However, once settled back at the boat, we remembered that some of our cruising friends have taken days to clear into countries. They’ve also had to travel back to customs offices much farther away, involving taxis and ferries, for missed items or details, so it could be worse.

We are a short dinghy ride from town, and the port captain. The winds won’t be favorable to head to another anchorage for almost a week, so we’ll take the time to explore the area, as there is much to see and do on this side of the island. Not such a terrible situation after all, I guess!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”