Honduras, Day 11, Tuesday

March 27, 2018

We woke up early again and had breakfast at the hotel, then did some last minute shopping. We then went to San Rafael to have a last coffee and chocolate. We all bought coffee beans and chocolate powder to take home and then went back to the hotel to wait on the tuk-tuk we had ordered for 10:15AM. He first picked up CIndy and me, then went back for Tony and Laurie. The bus station was only 5 minutes away and much smaller than the one in San Pedro Sula, so it was easy to figure out what to do. Our bus was to leave at 11:00AM, but actually didn’t leave until 11:30AM. They wanted our passports before we boarded and opened our carry-on bags. I assumed they also looked in our checked bags, too, but am not absolutely sure about this. The trip would take between 4-4-1/2 hours, but there was much construction on the road and there were times that we stopped for several minutes waiting to go around construction. In addition, there were lots of tractor-trailers on the road and it was slow going through the mountains. We had hoped that construction would not be taking place on Holy Week, but we did not get our wish. We arrived in San Pedro at 4:00PM. Cindy had called our driver, David, and he was waiting for us. We arrived at the hotel (Casa Blanca) at about 6:00PM and wet straight to dinner at the little coffee cafe next door, then back to the room for Cuba libres and canasta for now just Tony and Cindy.

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Honduras, Day 10, Monday

March 26, 2018

We awoke early once again, since we had paid for a day at a local finca (farm). We walked to Cafe Via Via to meet our guide. Carlos, whose family owned the finca, picked us up along with another American, Jacinda, who we had met at the Hacienda San Lucas the night before, strangely enough. We all realized we had seen Carlos and Jacinda at the German restaurant (Sol de Copan) when we first arrived, which was so amazing. We rode in his truck for about an hour to get to his family farm. We drove on a dirt road over the mountain and it was apparent that they had had more rain than in the valley of Copan. Most people would call it an agritourismo and the name of the farm was Finca el Cisne (farm of the swan). He showed us around the farm a little and talked about the cacao (chocolate beans) that they were growing. We tasted several plants and several beans, mostly smelling of chocolate. He opened up a pod of Cacao. There were many beans in the pod and they had a very sweet coating of some sort of “goo”, so we put the bean in our mouths and sucked on them. We did this several times to taste the various different kinds of cacao. We also tasted chipolin (sp?) and chicosuporte (sp?).

I had not realized that we would be talking about chocolate on this farm, so that was a complete surprise. We did, however, talk about coffee, which was not a surprise We then walked over to the coffee bean processing area, where Carlos explained the various processes. I learned that the higher the elevation, the more acidic the coffee. I had once heard that elevation affected the amount of caffeine, but found out that was not true. We also found out that this particular finca had an educational program on nutrition for the locals and that the family employed about 30 full time employees. During the harvest season, they employed more. I believe I remember him saying that they would have two different harvest seasons. Beans were hand picked every few days, so that only the ripe beans would be harvested each time. We found that only 20% of the coffee fruit is actually a coffee bean. The ripe fruit was a pinkish-reddish color and the unripe was green.

In the processing area, we noticed the cacao in various stages of drying. We also saw a box of just picked cacao that was being fermented in this “goo”. It was in a small box with a cover of banana leaves and then a lid that actually pressed down on the cacao. They would mix them up every so often so that they would ferment equally. I believe I remember him saying this would take 3 days, but I could be completely wrong about this. We saw 3 piles of cacao beans, each a little darker. They were not really piles, but were spread out like the coffee beans, but on a piece of plastic type cloth, like a bag, in the shaded of a building.

We also noticed two different colored coffee beans. They were laid out in the middle of a concrete area in the sun and I saw a rake and then something that looked like a very wide hoe that they used to mix the beans so they would dry completely. These beans were very blond colored. The other beans drying on the side were darker and had lots of chaff with them. He explained that these were the rejected beans that would be sold in grocery stores (probably in the states was my assumption) to people that did not understand the difference in good and bad coffees and, of course, would be much cheaper. He showed us the washing areas and told us that the lesser quality beans would float. He also showed us another drying area in the event there was no sun, which included a huge fan and a giant heater. Then it was time to go on a horseback ride. He selected horses based on riding ability. Cindy has only ridden once or twice in her life, so they picked an 18 year old gelding for her. The rest of us had varying abilities. Most of the horses were purebred Peruvian and were gated horses, so they were very smooth and comfortable to ride. THe saddles were western with a horn. I believe my horse may have been the smoothest of all, but when he cantered, he was extremely rough and it was obvious that this was not his favorite gate. We rode for two hours and saw a good deal of the farm. We saw cardamon plants and tasted them. We also found out the farm raised cattle and horses, as well as various other crops. We saw a newborn filly (born that day) and a colt that was born the week before and we saw other young horses, yearlings maybe. There were also several paint horses in the herd.

Everyone enjoyed the ride and we got back to the main part of the farm (the house/office/kitchen) and had a most wonderful lunch. We ate yucca and something called guajada that I believe I remember being a pickled radish and red onion. We had rice with carrots with some sort of flowering plant that I can’t remember the name of (a yellow flower). We had a wonderful cheese that they made on the finca, zucchini, a beef dish with some sort of gravy and some tamarind juice that was wonderful. We also had a jalapeño dish that I did not try and something with some cilantro in it. Actually, all of it was wonderful and all came from the finca. After lunch, he drove us to a hot springs that was only minutes away and still on the dirt road. I had not looked forward to this as I thought it was going to be out in the open and hot. It was actually next to the Copan River and in a forest. There were areas that were in the sun, but most of it was shaded in the trees. We got into our suits in a co-ed hut that had 4 different dressing rooms. They were open from neck up and if someone wanted to, they could certainly look over the door. No one did, or they would have received a horrific surprise in my case.

In any event we followed Carlos, who showed us the various areas of the hot springs. In the beginning, it was exactly as I had imagined with swimming pools, picnic and camping areas in the bright, hot sunshine. It looked like you could rent a camping area with a tent set up under a roofed area. It was very strange. We walked across an awful swinging bridge to get to the rest of the hot springs. I had trouble keeping my balance and was not happy about the height of the bridge. Once across, though, we found that there were many pools that were built out of rocks in the woods sort on a slight hill. The pools had something like flagstone on the bottom and the various pools would dump into each other. Some were cold, some were hot and some were warm, so you had your choice. So, it was actually much, much nicer than I had imagined. We did want to get back to Copan early so that we could go to the tea and chocolate house that we had heard so much about, known as T & C (oddly enough) so we asked Carlos to pick us up at 4:45PM. I could have happily stayed longer, but the tea and chocolate place that we had heard so much about, closed at 6:00PM. Tony and Laurie went off on their own and Cindy, Jacinda and I hung out together. We stayed away from the pool that had 90 degrees Celsius water, since we would be burned and decided to try out the cold and hot pools. We then decided it was time to get dried off and head back, so we recrossed the little bridge and changed back into our jeans. Then Carlos drove us back to Copan.

We all, including Carlos and his friend, went to the tea and coffee house and ordered various drinks, including the chocolate drink, which Carlos recommended. It was served in a gourd, which was nice, and we sat on the open porch to watch the sunset. They also brought us samples of tea that aclually tasted a lot like chai. They told us later that it had allspice in it. It was packed with gringos. Carlos then drove us into the city center where we asked about the best place for pupusas. We got them to go and while we waited, we did a little shopping. We then went back to the hotel, fixed ourselves some cocktails and ate our pupusas. Tony, Laurie and Cindy played a little Canasta and I went to my room to take a shower and pack. We would be up early in the morning to catch our bus back to El Progreso.

Honduras, Day 9, Sunday

March 25, 2018

We had asked the hotel about what to do in Guatemala and she arranged for a driver for us. The only problem was that we had to leave by 7:00AM. He had 8 other people that he would be taking into Guatemala and he would pick us up after them. The restaurant wouldn’t open until 7:00, but they said they would open at 6:30AM just for us. We stayed up with Tony and Laurie until late, drinking cuba libres and margaritas and learning to play canasta. I think I won twice. We woke up early and did have breakfast. It was a little confusing about the coffee because we asked for Americano coffee and got espresso. I cannot drink espresso first thing in the morning, so we asked for a larger cup and some milk. They told us THAT was espresso.

In any event Enrique arrived early and we climbed in the van in the front seat. I had to sit in the middle, which was sort of like a jump seat. We had to go through immigration at the border, which meant exiting Honduras and entering Guatemala, which meant 2 lines. Fortunately, the lines were not long, but we realized later, we were the only ones that had to go through immigration. The stamps were very colorful in our passports.

Once we arrived in Guatemala, we realized we didn’t have any Guatemalan money, so we stopped at an ATM and got some Quetzals. We dropped off the other people at the bus station in Chiquimala and Enrique took us shopping in the flea market, which was actually an amazing experience. We ate slices of pineapple and bought a plastic shopping basket (both of us). Then we went to another market and bought an article of clothing that I had forgotten to bring duplicates with me. Shopping for that was very interesting, since Enrique was a part of the search.

We stopped at a grocery store to do some shopping, mainly for limes, but also for a cold beer. We popped them open in the van on the way back to Honduras. We also stopped at a hot springs somewhere between Chiquimala and El Brasilar called Mama Brenda. It was right by the Copan River and the springs were definitely hot. They also had beautiful pools and some interesting yard art. It would be wonderful to come there at night, but it was really too hot for the very warm day. Since we had made a stop and taken so many pictures, we bought another beer from them, a Guatemalan beer called Brahva. I liked the beer we bought at the grocery store called Gallo better, but it was not bad.

Tony and Laurie had gone to the Copan Ruins with a guide (Cindy and I had been 5 years ago), so we wanted to get in touch with them to let them know we were on our way. We were to meet at 1:00PM at the hotel (Yat Balam), but we thought we might be late. As it turned out, we had to go through immigration again and that took one hour this time, so we were late. They had been waiting at Cafe San Rafael, which I highly recommend, so Cindy and I split a sandwich, which was gracious plenty and then we tried some of their coffee. I had the coffee with cardamon flavoring, which was excellent. They had various coffees that had chocolate in them and then a regular coffee with a different filtration system. It was delicious. We have a reservation at Hacienda San Lucas, so that we can watch the sunset, at 7:00, but we will leave at 5:15PM to get there for the sunset. We were told to have a glass of wine and watch the sunset from there. We shall see.

Yes, it was as wonderful as everyone said. When we arrived about 5:30PM, we watched a woman hand grind corn, thinking it might be for tortillas. Then, it took us a few minutes to get our wine and mixed drinks. But when we did, we walked down the front lawn to get to the chairs to watch the sunset. There were just enough clouds to make it perfect and the lights of Copan after the sunset were like stars in the sky. We met an archeologist from Guatemala City, the owner of the chocolate and tea house in Copan, someone who worked in the bird sanctuary and some others. They were very friendly. Then we went up to the main house to have dinner. They served us a typical Mayan dinner with corn soup, which probably started with the ground up corn we had seen. We then had some chicken to die for served in a corn husk, some carrots, picked vegetables and rice. We t bought it might be the best meal we had during our vacation. We spoke with the owner who told us about the history of the plantation and the coffee and tobacco that had been and still was planted in the valley. He is a soil conservationist, so he was planting cedar trees that would be harvested in 25 years, but the soil was too spent to plant much else. He was kind enough to give us a ride back to town in his Kia truck, which took about 10-15 minutes. He was exceptionally nice and when we come back to Copan, we will eat there again. All in all — a wonderful day in paradise. Tomorrow, though, we have some fun plans.

Yes, it was as wonderful as everyone said. When we arrived about 5:30PM, we watched a woman hand grind corn, thinking it might be for tortillas. Then, it took us a few minutes to get our wine and mixed drinks. But when we did, we walked down the front lawn to get to the chairs to watch the sunset. There were just enough clouds to make it perfect and the lights of Copan after the sunset were like stars in the sky. We met an archeologist from Guatemala City, the owner of the chocolate and tea house in Copan, someone who worked in the bird sanctuary and some others. They were very friendly. Then we went up to the main house to have dinner. They served us a typical Mayan dinner with corn soup, which probably started with the ground up corn we had seen. We then had some chicken to die for served in a corn husk, some carrots, picked vegetables and rice. We t bought it might be the best meal we had during our vacation. We spoke with the owner who told us about the history of the plantation and the coffee and tobacco that had been and still was planted in the valley. He is a soil conservationist, so he was planting cedar trees that would be harvested in 25 years, but the soil was too spent to plant much else. He was kind enough to give us a ride back to town in his Kia truck, which took about 10-15 minutes. He was exceptionally nice and when we come back to Copan, we will eat there again. All in all — a wonderful day in paradise. Tomorrow, though, we have some fun plans.

Honduras, Day 7, Friday

March 23, 2018

This morning we were to make the long drive to El Progresso to spend the night and leave on our extended trip. The rest of the group were to leave from El Progresso to catch the plan. We started out very early in the morning and made a couple of bathroom stops, which is always interesting, and then arrived at a hotel in La Ceiba, which was right on the beach. It was absolutely beautiful and the lunch was delicious. They had a beautiful pool, which would have been inviting, it the cool breeze was enough for us. We had some beer and blue margaritas (at least some of us did). Sadly, we left and got back on the bus, again with a couple of bathroom stops and got to El Progresso 9 hours later, bone tired. Cindy and I would again room together, so we went to the store for a couple of beers. Strangely, I am not much of a beer drinker normally, it this seems to be the safest thing to drink. We had a very good dinner, then went downstairs to visit some more with a slimmer crowd of our closest friends. We retired to our rooms to do some final packing. I would be taking a backpack on our trip, so I wanted to hone it down a little. The hotel agreed to keep our bags while we were gone.

Honduras, Day 6, Thursday

March 22, 2018

This morning, again, it seems everyone went in different directions. A large group went to the village that was the furthest away. That village seemed to have the most workers and we went to the village that we worked in. The name of the village sounds something like Conquistador. They planted 30 fruit trees and had a fiesta with the villagers. Another group went to LaVenta and they had a fiesta as well.

My group went to La Jagua and we put together the water filters and delivered them to the houses that were the closest to the school. I was able to deliver to an elderly lady that kept her home as neat as a pen. Then Ralph and I were able to deliver a water filtration system to the lady that we built the latrine for. I think her name was Sandra. She had baked some yeast rolls in her outdoor oven and gave us each one. As we were leaving the village, she slipped another one to me inside a napkin. I will eat it tonight.

At her house we were able to see that the septic tank was nearly finished as far as the blocks were concerned. It did not have a top, which would be next and then a toilet with a pipe out the back would be placed inside another building and the pipe would lead to the septic tank. This building also had a shower. In order to flush the toilet, you have to add water to the bowl. There is no tank behind the bowl and the pipe fits at the back of the bowl. When you add water, it flushes automatically. It took me a couple of years to figure out this system, since we rarely used these toilets ourselves. I figured out several years ago when we stopped at a little store along the road when Cindy and I went on our 3 day road trip in Honduras. In any event, we then gathered together and drank some Gatorade and ate some chips.

Then it was time to say our goodbyes and leave. We traveled back to the ranch and took a short break to regroup before we went to the school. We drove back to Initituto de Esperanza for an assembly. There were several speeches and the Bob and Susan Hope award was made to the two students (girl and boy), who most exemplified what a good student should be. The students sang their national anthem, then we sang ours. Then two students sang solos — one in English. We then dispersed to visit and share candy with the students. Afterward we went back to the ranch, had lunch, visited and packed. Tonight would be the talent show.

Talent night started with the band from the Ranch, which was very good, except that we found out the guy with the turtle shell had been kicked out of the band because he was too slow. :-(. Then we saw Byron’s video from the Mariposa Miracle, which can be found on Youtube and was very good, as usual. Then talent night began. It was probably the best talent we have ever seen. We had some great singing from several and some jokes. The vet team did a short skit about castrating a pig with Andy as the pig. It was dressed up in a costume, too. The ending was that the owner never wanted him castrated. They also gave out the golden testicle award to Patrick Mannelly, who really didn’t know what to say for the first time that week. David did some jokes and sang a song called “I don’t look good naked anymore” that had several stanzas. It was his best yet. Elyse told stories about her work as an EMS and took questions. All in all, it was a very good night. We went back to our dorms and packed for an early morning. Our bags had to be outside our room by 5:15.

Honduras, Day 5, Thursday

March 22, 2018

Today would be a day to go to the schools — Alders Gate and Instituto Esperanza. We heard 4th graders sing and then went to the computer room for a photo shoot. We then went to each grade to see them in class. I took my iPad and they really loved seeing themselves. We walked across to the middle school and listened to the story of one of the students, who was born in the US, but is now here with her family learning at Esperanza. Then we separated out to continue our various projects. We continued painting either walls or murals. Others mixed concrete for floors or helped with latrines. I elected to go to the village, so they took several of us to Jagua where George and I helped with a latrine. We sifted dirt to make sand to mix with the cement. We carried cinder blocks, mixed cement, picked up small rocks and handed down cinder blocks to the masons. Essentially, we were building a septic tank with cinder blocks. The hole was dug by the family as their partial payment for the latrine and then we helped build the septic tank. They have a outhouse already that even has a shower. We ate lunch at the school and enjoyed some wonderful food. We worked there for several hours, but did not see the final block being laid. The security guard with us told us it was time to go and when he tells you to go, you go. We did notice this year that we have a lot more security with us. I assume that is because of some of the unrest after the election. The two of us working had one security guard with us, then after lunch 2 more workers joined us (Mike and Ralph). We came back to the ranch and took showers, then relaxed for awhile and enjoyed each other’s company. Dinner is always at 6:00PM and as always, we had our usual meeting afterwards. Tomorrow is talent night, so everyone is signing up for that. Not me.

Honduras, Day 4, Tuesday We woke early as usual and had breakfast, then most went to visit the clinic to see all the medications we brought. I had seen the clinic many times, so stayed behind to get ready for the day. Richard had thought about our computer problems over night and we decided to stay behind and work on his solutions. We finally decided that the computers were configured either for English keyboards or Spanish keyboards. We had an English keyboard with us that we were working with, but we could not remember if the keyboards at the elementary school were English or We were able to at least input the right key to get the typing software installed, so that was a wonderful thing. We were now wondering what keyboards were still at the elementary school. We got a ride to the school and brought all the computers with us, and found out that the keyboards were all English. We discussed configuring the keyboards for English, but then decided to look at the ones at the middle school before we made a decision. We were surprised to find all but one keyboard at the middle school were Spanish, so we made the decision to just exchange the keyboards for Spanish keyboards and reconfigure the one computer to a Spanish keyboard. This was easier said than done, since neither Richard nor I spoke any Spanish. After nearly an hour, we happened upon the right window and fixed it. We were so proud of ourselves and high-fived each other. Just as RIchard said it would have been easier with a Spanish speaker, in walks Ana, who had previously been working with us. We burst into laughter as she walked into the room and had to explain ourselves to her. They had been looking for us to head back to the ranch for lunch. Lunch was delicious and then we had siesta for about an hour and headed back to our various work stations. Some continued working in the village of La Venta, others either worked on or delivered water filters and Richard and I decided to sand the shutters. I am not sure what the sewing group will do. This afternoon we left the ranch and headed towards the school. We took mural painters with us and water filter people. Our group included Mary Belle, RIchard (another one), VInce and Barbara, as well as Jose, the ranch director. We fine sanded the inside and outside of the shutters. The girls worked together and the boys worked together. Jose worked by himself. We finished all but 4, so tomorrow will be “varnish” day. Vince prefers to call it antiquing rather than sanding. It was really nice to have extra people helping. I learned that Vince is the kind of guy that does not give up and doesn’t get bored doing the same thing. Barbara is opposite. Mary Belle likes perfection. It was fun being with a different group, but I am missing

Honduras, Day 3, Monday

March 19, 2018

We woke up early and made our way to breakfast. After breakfast we were asked to have a little devotional, which we did. We sang some songs and heard a short sermon about the prodigal son. Then we dispersed and people went to their various assignments. Richard and I were assigned to varnish shutters at the library. We made a stop by the elementary school to take a look at the computer room and found that all the computers had been hooked up. We visited the classes and I took a picture of each class with my iPad. They really liked looking at themselves. The children only go to school in the morning, so we would have the entire afternoon to do what we could with the computers.

We decided that we were needed at the library to sand the shutters. The library is not airtight, so it needs shutters to keep out the rain when it is windy. These were stained years ago and needed sanding and sealing. Jose and a helper took the shutters down and stacked them for us to sand. We sanded all morning and got them all done. The afternoon would be dedicated to fine sanding and varnishing. We went back to the ranch to have lunch and returned to the school. Richard and I went to the elementary school and tried to download some typing software, but found that the activation key had to be verified over the internet and, of course, there was no internet service at the elementary school. So we took a couple of the boxes over to the middle school, so we could connect them to the internet. We went back to the library and remembered that all the computers had been unhooked and moved away from the wall, so that we could take down the shutters, so we had to temporarily connect them to the router. This became a real hassle as we could not get one of the computers to work. We finally tried to connect the first computer that we did get to work and realized that there was no connection at all. We found that this is common in Honduras. We decided to just take the boxes with one monitor, keypad and mouse to the ranch and borrow a Wi-fi adapter. We were able to get 4 of the 6 computers to work, but could not get the two working. They seemed terribly slow to us, particularly for a new computer, so we decided to open them up and find out what was going one. We were shocked to find dust bunnies inside the computer and even more surprised to see a hard drive bracket that was stamped 2014. We looked at the Dell Service Tag and it was so worn that it was impossible to see the numbers. We decided that we had refurbished computers. We will find out tomorrow if these were supposed to be new computers. We thought we were buying new computers, but someone else may have made a different decision. We finally decided to call it quits and take a shower, since it was about 5:45PM. Dinner would be served at 6:00PM. We showered, ate dinner and discussed all the projects everyone was working on. We worked in 3 villages, plus the school, and worked on several floors, latrines and pilas. We worked on the library shutters, helped children learn to sew, had a crafts project for the children, built 44 water filtration units and, of course, worked on the computers. All in all, it was a good day.

Honduras, Day 2, Sunday

March 18, 2018

We waked up early and were horrified to see that there was no coffee being brewed, so my friend, Byron, and I went out to find some. We did find a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts close by. We noticed that there were 2 cars outside with people standing around drinking beer and also listening to really loud music from their car. At 6:00AM. We also noticed that there were 2 armed guards standing around — still not sure why. But in any event we were able to get coffee and then walk back to the hotel. Breakfast was served right on time and was really good. We left a few minutes late, but went by the “Walmart” and picked up supplies. We made a few stops along the way and arrived at the ranch about 1:00 or so. We had lunch, unpacked and had a meeting about 3:45PM, learning about the ranch rules and introducing each one of us. It is a smaller group this year with about 45 people and 12-13 vets, which is another group that likes to travel with us.

Honduras, Day 1, Saturday

March 15

This year will be a little different. Our plans changed from landing in the capital city of Tegucigalpa to the murder capital of the world, San Pedro Sula. I suppose the reasons for this is the gang activity and the drug smugglers, but as tourists, we had no issues. As a matter of fact, after landing in Tegucigalpa all these years and waiting in line for over an hour each year to get through immigration, we were stunned to get through in maybe 10 minutes. They moved us through quickly and to the baggage claim. It did take awhile for our bags to get through, but once we got them we sailed through customs and went outside to put our bags on the bus. We hung out at the airport waiting on one of the members of our group. I was unable to get cash out of the ATM, but I am sure it is my bank as this has happened before. We are now in La Ceiba and staying at a really nice hotel, La Quinta, believe it or not. We had some beers at the bar, then were hustled in the dining room for dinner. Dinner was delicious, although it was the usual chicken, rice and vegetables. We did have a soft drink with ice. I hope the ice was filtered. Tomorrow we will have breakfast at 6:30AM and leave by 7:00AM for the ranch.