Quarantine in Honduras

Matt and I are in Week 4 of the Covid-19 quarantine restrictions and in the middle of our Spring Break Staycation. I’m sure we feel the same as most of our friends and family around the world – unsettled, but currently safe and sound. We were comforted with the initial swift reaction of the Honduran government. Before there were any cases in the country, the government had already put a plan in place and dedicated funds to COVID-19. As early as mid-February, efforts were being taken to increase hand washing, check for symptoms and disseminate information about virus.

Staycation by the Pool!

Staycation by the Pool!

The first two cases in the country were confirmed on March 11 and the response was swift. Obviously, Honduras is a poor country with substandard medical care. So it is important that efforts are taken to “flatten the curve” because as much as U.S. hospitals can’t handle this crisis, Honduras hospitals REALLY can’t handle this crisis. On the positive side, knowledge that this is the case has led people to appear to follow the restrictions much better than what I am hearing and seeing from my U.S. friends and family. This is today’s snapshot:

Taken from the Official Honduras Covid-19 Website

Honduras has about 9 million people and to date has 343 reported cases, with 23 deaths and 6 recoveries. Its government COVID-19 website is a model of transparency: information is graphed out by regions, sex and age and there is a running tally of confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries.

Wisconsin has about 6 million people with 2,885 reported cases and 111 deaths according to the State’s website. This information is not easy to find – you have to click on a few pages to get all the data you want – and I am not impressed with Wisconsin’s lack of transparency.

Taken from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

While we cannot really know the number of cases without widespread testing, our current home is doing a much better job “flattening the curve.” Wisconsin’s number of infections is 8.4 times that of Honduras and Wisconsin has 3 million fewer people. But to get there, we are living under strong limitations. It’s a funny thing, the terms that are used. According to the Honduran government, we live under an “absolute curfew,” but according the U.S. news sources, I am living under “martial law.” My personal liberty to move freely outside my home is restricted, so perhaps that is true. But when I compare Honduras’s infection rate to Wisconsin’s rate, I am comfortable with the limitations placed on me.

That isn’t to say that the limitations are easy. The hardest part is that they change rapidly and without notice. Some examples:

  • March 12 – the schools were closed effective the next day, a Friday. This means that we began remote teaching immediately. Like parents and students, teachers have done a heck of a lot of adjusting and learning to make this happen! Why did I start teaching this year?
  • March 15 – with a few hours notice, the borders were closed to travelers (except Hondurans returning home) and most businesses were shut down. Public gatherings, including church services, were prohibited. The main exceptions were banks, gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores and mini-markets, which remained open. As a foreigner, suddenly to be told that you CAN’T leave, even when you have no plans to leave, is disconcerting. I had already been stocking the pantry over the prior few days in light of the school notice (no TP hoarding, either), but we went out to fill the gas tank that night. The next day we went to the bank and to the pharmacy. Social distancing was observed and the bank squirted us with hand sanitizer and had a shoe sanitizer pad at the entrance. The pharmacy felt crowded, even though it really wasn’t, and it made us nervous.
  • March 17 – due to a confirmed case in our city, we went into absolute curfew with 4-1/2 hours notice (other parts of the country have lesser restrictions). Banks, gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies were all closed and we were ordered to stay at home. Again, while we had plenty of provisions, it was worrisome to know that we could not go out to buy more. We have a wall around our house and a pool, so it isn’t the worst place to be quarantined. We paid our cleaning help for the month and told them to stay home. We will continue to do so as long as we are in quarantine. One of the big perks of living in Latin America is the help. We probably have it easier than locals who have never cleaned their own house or done their laundry. We might not like it, but we know how to do it! Matt has started cleaning the pool although our pool guy doesn’t really trust us and breaks curfew to show up on occasion. Renato has kept the pin to the attachment for the vacuum, so this isn’t how he normally cleans the pool, but Matt makes do.

Cooling off and Cleaning the Pool

  • March 21 – Grocery stores reopened for delivery only. Getting a delivery takes several days and what you order is not necessarily what arrives. Pharmacies also opened for delivery or window pick up. Gated communities began organizing delivery trucks to set up inside our gates. I stood in line for over an hour to get my veggies. Again, it made me nervous to be around people.
  • March 25 – banks were open 9-4 and ATMs were refilled. I used this opportunity to jail break from our small, gated community and drove up to school to pick up hand gel and clorox wipes from Matt’s office and get some cash from the ATM. The provisions were issued to us a few days before school closed. As we are working from home, the superintendent confirmed that taking them for home use was permitted (and likely thought I was insane to ask). This was the first time I had left our gated community in 10 days. (I had walked around the block a few times.) That week we placed an order for essential provisions and after 3 days, they arrived. Matt ran outside our home gate for the first time in 12 days – and got much too close – to the booze delivery guy.
  • March 29 – Grocery stores were permitted to open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays but access was based on the last digit of your identity card. Grocery stores could no longer deliver, but the produce and chicken trucks still came to our neighborhood. We think there is a loophole and wholesalers are permitted to deliver as the agriculture industry and its transport are still open as essential businesses. We skipped going to the grocery store as the lines were 3 hours long to enter and we were well stocked from the trucks. On Monday, Matt left the subdivision gates for the first time to go pick up a teacher who went shopping, but made him sit in the truck bed for the 2 block trip home. Matt also went to school to pick up two masks for us. We now suit up – mask, glasses, hat – anytime we leave our property to buy from the trucks. We also disinfect everything, change our clothes and usually shower when we return.
  • April 5 – It is announced that grocery stores will be allowed to deliver in the coming week. We decided to place an order instead of Matt going to the store on Monday (his day according to his passport’s final digit). A few hours later, the government again closed grocery stores entirely, including delivery. We began to second guess our decision not to go to the stores the prior week. The grocery store with our order contacted us to tell us that it can’t deliver but will hold our order. We then ordered from a wholesaler. Four days later, the wholesaler told us this morning that they would deliver today, but they never arrived. The grocery store told us today that they will deliver tomorrow. We continue to buy at the trucks that arrive – bakery on Monday, produce and chicken yesterday and a dairy truck today – because we aren’t sure when the orders will actually arrive. It is a psychological need more than a physical need as we have plenty of food in the house although we were running out of cheese until Matt went to the dairy truck today!

Throughout all of this, the U.S. Embassy has added to our stress by sending out increasingly alarming notices telling everyone to leave the country.

Not Helpful Notice

Borders have been reopened for repatriation flights only. While the embassy notices were initially aimed at travelers and not residents, like us, they have become more urgent over the past 2 weeks. I understand the U.S. government’s desire to not have us be its problem in the event something goes wrong and to cover its ass. Unfortunately, these notices ignore the reality of 1. we have no health insurance in the U.S., 2. we have no home in the U.S., 3. the U.S.’s infection rate isn’t comforting or under control and 4. the LAST thing I want to do right now is travel internationally. While we are staying put, we recognize that this means we have a very good chance of spending our summer vacation here as well and not in the U.S. (and Canada!) as planned.

I didn’t set out to write a heavy post, but our reality is so different than what most people we know are experiencing that I wanted to capture and communicate it. We are fine and enjoying our Spring Break Staycation. We have added virtual game nights, happy hours and book clubs to our social life and are playing games, doing puzzles, reading and, of course, enjoying that pool. I joke that our two years feeling isolated on an island has prepared us well for this situation, but it is actually true.


Stay home and stay safe!

Wild, Wacky Utila

I surprised myself when I lobbied for our first Honduran long weekend in September to be to the Caribbean Bay Island of Utila, one of Honduras’s 3 Bay Island. Roatan is the island of resorts and cruise ships, Guanaja is the “unspoiled” one and Utila fits somewhere in between, a haven of backpackers, cheap accommodations, shot challenges and, as we learned, a strange population of Baby Boomer American and Canadian expats who came and never left. Like most islands, it has a laid back, friendly vibe with just enough weird thrown in. Despite my island PTSD after living on the Galapagos, two friends we met there now own a hotel on Utila and invited us to come for a visit. The school also provides bus travel for a few trips for the expat teachers and the seasoned teachers all voted for Utila for the first trip. When I heard that the bus trip was 3-1/2 hours, followed by an hour boat ride, I booked our flights! Another couple from school decided to skip the bus ride so we enjoyed some cocktails in the airport lounge with Kathy and Kendall before boarding.

The plane had a strong fuel smell throughout the flight, which we learned was normal. The copilot was nice enough to crack open his window to try to get some air into the plane. The discomfort was worth it because 1/2 hour later, we landed in Utila, met up with Enno and Jerome and headed off in a tuk tuk to their hotel, Manurii. After some relaxing and catching up, we set off into town for dinner at Funky Chicken.

Funky Chicken is the perfect example of island weird. Its proprietor, Stuart, is a Canadian Boomer who brought excellent Thai cooking to Utila. The menu is based on what Stuart has available and feels like cooking that day. Enno and Jerome’s friend Kristin joined us so we ordered the entire menu to share – two appetizers, one papaya salad and two entrees. The food was delicious and the best meal we had in Utila. Stuart was a combination of friendly and unfriendly – he didn’t bother to greet us when we entered the tiny, 4-table restaurant until he finished his conversation and beer with another table, but then was welcoming and attentive. During the weekend, Stuart popped up all over town – at a bar after dinner on Saturday night, at another bar where we watched the Packers game on Sunday afternoon and later that night at a beach bar at the tip of the island. When Kathy and Kendall joined us at the beach bar and mentioned they had stopped by Funky Chicken to eat but it was closed despite the posted hours, I pointed to Stuart on the bar stool and said, “that’s because he is the owner!” When we told him he had customers wondering when he was opening, he laughed from his perch, raised his glass and said he wasn’t opening that night because he was getting drunk. A Facebook post from a few days ago indicates that Stuart has closed Funky Chicken and now is selling jewelry. A Canadian owner/chef of a Thai restaurant turned jeweler – no one bats an eye. Island weird.

Funky Chicken

Utila has one main drag, which was crowded with tuk-tuks, golf carts and pedestrians. Rarely could you get a glimpse of the ocean from the main drag as the storefronts, bars and hostels packed the shoreline. We spent the next two days relaxing and touring the island with our friends, one day via golf cart. The beaches were pretty and we enjoyed some nice snorkeling and a few beach bars. But as all of the teacher chatter revolved around the “shot challenges” the bars have, I was determined to do one, probably because I never went on Spring Break in college! I gleaned that Casa Dr. John, yet another expat Boomer with a big personality, was one of THE shot challenges, not to be missed. Enno and Jerome had not experienced Dr. John, so we went with them, two of their friends and Kathy and Kendall to visit the good doctor. This man is a marketing genius. He is (or was, the story, like most on Utila, is vague) a medical doctor from the US who came to Utila years ago and decided to stay and work as the first doctor on the island. At some point he ceased practicing traditional medicine (again, it’s fuzzy whether this was a choice and he may or may not still provide homeopathic remedies), but he fashioned himself into an island icon.

We arrived at the Pink Palace aka Casa Dr. John and found the good doctor chillin’ on the porch. He invited us to take a seat in the sweltering heat and we proceeded to visit for about a 1/2 hour. The conversation meandered and Enno and Jerome were able to talk some business and island talk. It quickly became clear that Dr. John was no fool and while interesting, we were more interested in getting on with things rather than swatting mosquitos and shooting the breeze (of which there was none). Eventually he invited us into the house. What a sight – every inch of the pepto-bismol pink walls had graffiti and more than one Dr. John icon was displayed (most complete with phallus). Kendall is an artist and had created a fantastic caricature of Dr. John that had him tickled pink. Dr. John carefully explained his shot challenge – we would each do 4 shots, in time to AC/DC’s T.N.T. (a short, dry rehearsal was required), and a videographer was needed so we could post the clip on his Facebook page. As I said, this man is no fool. None of us were really interested in 4 shots and he assured us that the concoction was weak (it was) and that he would only put as much (or nothing) in our cups (he did). Shot challenge completed, we then sang the required “We are the Champions,” bought our Dr. John attire and were released because another group was waiting for their audience.

Another must-see in Utila is Treetanic “the bar above the Jade Seahorse Hotel” that was created by an American artist. It was impossible to find a good description of the place or to understand what it was and even Enno and Jerome had a hard time explaining it. Matt and I are always up for anything art-related so we walked over to check it out. The site is a Guadí inspired, through-the-looking-glass, hallucinogenic trip. We arrived at the entry and saw a sign that indicated a small fee, but no way to pay it. So we started looking around the mind-bending wonderland and continued up the stairs.

Suddenly, a man popped up from behind a small wall. “You need to pay me,” he said in English. We readily agreed, despite both thinking he may just be a squatter, and handed over the equivalent of a couple of bucks. His eyes narrowed as he checked us out, “You’re from Colorado, aren’t you?” “Nope, Wisconsin,” we replied. He didn’t let it go. “Huh, you look like you are from Colorado.” “I’ll take that as a compliment because you think we look sporty,” I joked. “Nooooo,” he replied, in a way that made it clear he didn’t think much of Coloradans and wasn’t so sure about us. We turned to explore the crazy wonderland, but he was having none of that and began a meandering monologue. Being Wisconsin nice (despite his skepticism as to our origins), we politely listened and I tried to glean his story. He wasn’t too forthcoming, but we learned that Neil was from L.A. and was a former art teacher with rental property in L.A. that allows him to keep this property and practice his art. The entire time we spoke, he was surrounded by enormous spiders in their webs, which was fascinating and unnerving. At one point he politely noted that we were standing in the blazing sun and we both thought that he was finally going to let us wander, but he merely suggested we move into the shade and kept talking. Our release came when some other tourists (not Coloradans) arrived and Neil scurried to take their fee.

The site used to be a hotel and its meandering paths and bridges led to fairy-tale cabins, each with an art-related name and unique design. Above the cabins was a bar area that is still occasionally used when someone rents out the space. Everything is made with natural or repurposed materials and there are countless mosaics, nooks and crannies to explore along with gorgeous gardens. It was fascinating and we were awed by the creativity behind it.

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The next day, we got up early to fly back to San Pedro Sula. While islands still are not my top destination choice, my guess is we will be back to experience the weird and beautiful Utila again!

Sun, Sea and Palm Trees!

If you want to stay at Enno and Jerome’s amazing, remodeled hotel, contact them via their web page: https://www.manurii.com/