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The New York Times, June 22, 1884:

AN ISLAND OF COCOA-NUTS

A VENETIAN VILLAGE IN THE CARIBBEAN SEA.

CRUISING AMONG THE
FRUIT-BEARING ISLANDS OF SPANISH HONDURAS
WITH A COMMODORE WHO PLAYS POKER.

    BONACCA, Spanish Honduras, June 8.-- Bonacca [now Guanaja] is an island, and in its way is one of the liveliest places in Spanish Honduras. Its liveliness, however, is peculiar to itself, and there are few places like it. Every one in this section knows where it is, and there are few who cannot say "When I was to Bonacca."
    The island is small, with only a few miles of length and about the same width, and it appears nearly as high above the level of the sea as it is wide. The island has two uses. It grows excellent bananas and cocoa-nuts, and affords a refuge for all the flies of the surrounding islands.

    I had just come down to Bonacca to see the banana plantations and look into the fruit interests there, as well as on the mainland, interests which are assuming immense proportions. Leaving New-Orleans on the steamer S. Oteri, the flag-ship of the fruit squadron, which comprises the Oteri pioneer line to Spanish Honduras ports, in three days we found ourselves anchored in the little harbor at Bonaca.
    The S. Oteri is a very fast boat; indeed, there is no steamer going out of New-Orleans that can beat her in speed, and she would give any of the New-York steamers of her class a hard chase to catch her. She can reach Spanish Honduras in three days from New-Orleans, and on the home trip, loaded down with bananas, oranges, cocoa-nuts, and pine-apples, makes even better time.

    The Captain, who is an Italian, has worked his way up from a menial position to that of master and part owner. Next to navigating a ship his only thought is poker. The mention of a jack-pot at dinner would take his appetite away. There is no use attempting to play with him. As you enter his room a pile of Mexican dollars greets your vision from under his berth. There are 30,000 or 40,000 of them. They were originally intended for the purpose of buying bananas, but they are also the Captain's poker bank. When the cards are shuffled he quietly picks out two or three bags of $1,000 apiece and sets them down by his chair. This makes a modest young man with only $35 in his pocket nervous, and he can't play his best. Then, to make things more pleasant, over his head hangs a Winchester repeater, while half a dozen bull-dog revolvers of 44 calibre lie scattered around in convenient corners.
    The Oteri sails under the Honduran flag, and as she is the only steamer belonging to the navy of that country our Captain is the Commodore. Hence the armament in his cabin. His uniform consists of a tortise-shell front to his cap. It is sufficient, however, for the Oteri could run away from any six average steamers that can be sent out.
    When all the passengers are penniless, and all generally are before the mouth of the Mississippi is reached, the Captain relapses into silence for a day or so, and then proposes a game of twenty-one, a proposition that is never accepted if the passenger wants to land with his trunk intact. There were only two passengers on this trip, myself and a Truxillo merchant, who was cleaned out before the steamer had left the levee at New-Orleans, for in a moment of forgetfulness he had come down to the ship two hours before she sailed, and the Captain had found him down in the cabin.

    The trip across the Gulf is a most delightful one, and as the Oteri is nicely fitted up with all the improvements in ocean steamer furnishings, there are no discomforts. There was plenty of music all the way; besides the piano, a regular fixture of the saloon, the Truxillo merchant had a big piano-organ on board, which he was taking down to surprise the natives, and it did so.
    Two handles to the crank were worn off while I was there, and the merchant was making one of mahogany when the Oteri left the port. On board ship every one had to try it, and at all times of the day. The merchant was very proud of his organ. Each morning he would get up at 5 o'clock and practice, and the last thing at night he would try to see if it was all right. He had a little boy with him who used to play during the day. There was no getting away from it, and changing stste-rooms did no good.
    Along the coast, where the steamer stopped every few moments to leave word when the fruit must be cut, the natives would come on board, and of course must see the organ. At all times of night they kept it going and talked Spanish over it. It only played four or five tunes. They were short, and the instrument was made to repeat the measures several times. The "Carnival of Venice" was rolled off six times for the air. The variations were heart-rending, and after these came the air six times again. Sometimes the organ would get mixed and play a couple of tunes at once, and once it played the "Carnival" backwards. As an advertisement in the Truxillian's store, the organ will be immense.

    We arrived at Bonacca at night, and as there was lumber to be unloaded the steamer's anchor was run out. The scenery was beautiful on coming on deck in the morning. The tops of the mountains were one carpet of green which was displayed in ever-changing shades by the sun's rays and shadow. The beds of streams with checkered courses down the mountain-sides were plainly marked by the heavier growth and deeper green.
    Futher down there were clearings to be seen, and at places banana plantations were edging their way up the mountain-sides. Along the coast were long lines of cocoa-nut trees, in the rear of which, on the narrow level plain to the foot of the mountains, spread banana plantations by the score and rows of pine-apples.

    The harbor was covered with dories with pure white sails which came sailing rapidly up to the ship, loaded with bunches of green bananas or filled with cocoa-nuts. In vain we tried to get a ripe banana. Every native who came on board was asked to bring us a ripe bunch, but not one could be obtained.
    On looking over the island of Bonacca not a single house could we see, and on landing there was only one to be found, and that was deserted. There was nothing but piles of fruit and little shelters under which it was stored. All the people lived on little keys or islands, which dot the harbor. These keys are just big enough to hold a house and a small garden spot, with two or three cocoa-nut trees. When a big storm comes the inhabitants live in their dories. Sometimes they have to move on shore temporarily.

    It is useless to attempt to live on the main island, the flies are so thick. There are little sand flies all along the beach which are almost too small to be seen, but they will spot a person all over with red blotches in less time than any other insect known. If you go to the interior you will come upon swarms of big flies similar to those on the Florida coast. In fact, flies are the pest of the whole Hondurian country. There are a couple of months when the inhabitants of the interior cannot get to the coast, as the flies swarm so upon the mules as to kill them. Mosquitos are abundant, and wood-ticks and jiggers make life a burden.
    The jigger is a small insect which bores his way into the toes and feet. You do not know that he has attacked you until he gets inside. Then a little sack is formed and you must have him dug out. Some of the Caribs are very expert at extracting them, and will not hurt you very much.

    The harbor of Bonacca for the most part is smooth. Every one owns a dory. These dories are nothing but canoes made out of cedar or mahogany or other hard wood. Some of them are very large, and will bring off a hundred bunches of bananas. They rig them up with light sails, canoe style, which, with a light breeze, shoot them across the bay like lightning.
    On one key is a store, now kept by the American Consul, and in the morning scores of these little dories will pull up at the landing, get their provisions, and skip off five or six miles to their houses. Most of the keys have but one house upon them, and none more than two.
    On one of them there is a school-house. All the scholars and the teachers come in dories--that is, when there is a school, for the educational facilities of Honduras are very limited. An attempt was made to start a school at Ruatan, and an American lady came down to take charge. She was unable to continue, however, as the Government could not raise her salary, and she returned to New-York. This has been the usual experience in attempts to start schools in the country. The Government is able to raise the money, but the Government officials pocket all of it.
    In Ceiba they started a church a few years ago. Plain lumber was brought down from New-Orleans, and a structure put up which cost perhaps a thousand dollars. The church was to be paid for by a tax of a medio on every bunch of bananas that was shipped. That church has cost already $210,000, and each year the tax brings in much more money. There is as yet no priest and no service. The Government officials have taken charge of the money, and they gamble it away as fast as it comes in. This is a fair sample of the Honduran method of doing business.

    At Bonacca there are quite a number of Americans, with an occasional Irish workman. They live there for a year or so, get a little money ahead, and go off to a more civilized place and spend it. When it is all used up they go back to Bonacca.
    The people here call themselves Spaniards, they talk Spanish, but are mostly a mixed race of true Central American Indians, with a little Spanish blood. The Indian predominates, however. Once in a while a pure Spaniard is to be met who has escaped from Cuba or come from some South American city where he has been in trouble. Almost all of the Americans found in this country came from the South after the war. Nowadays, as the country is opening up, a few who are desirous of making rapid fortunes are coming down. Most of them usually go back in about the second steamer.
    ...When we got to Truxillo no natives could be found to take the cargo ashore, and we lay there eight hours before a boat came off. They will work for a short time, make a couple of reals, or perhaps a peso or a dollar, and then rest for a week. Each one grows a few bunches of bananas and plantains enough to keep them alive...

    There are many bananas raised at Bonacca, but they do not run so large as on the mainland; the cocoa-nuts do splendidly. Indeed, it is to encourage the cocoa-nut growers that the fruit men take their bananas. At present there is a sort of a boom in the cocoa-nut business, and many are starting cocoa-nut plantations, or "cocoa-nut walks" as they are called here. It is a safe investment of money, but the return is slow.
    The average number of cocoa-nuts to a tree is 120 a year. In the best places trees will bear 150 a year. They are sold according to the season of the year, from $16 to $30 per thousand. Our Captain was paying $20 per thousand for good nuts.
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  Honduras News



    Part of Spain's vast empire in the New World, Honduras became an independent nation in 1821. After two and one-half decades of mostly military rule, a freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982.

    During the 1980s, Honduras proved a haven for anti-Sandinista contras fighting the Marxist Nicaraguan Government and an ally to Salvadoran Government forces fighting against leftist guerrillas.

    The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed about 5,600 people and caused approximately $2 billion in damage.
    CIA World Factbook: Honduras


Area of Honduras: 112,090 sq km
slightly larger than Tennessee

Population of Honduras: 7,483,763
July 2007 estimate

Languages of Honduras:
Spanish, Amerindian dialects

Honduras Capital: Tegucigalpa


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click for satellite pic-map of Trujillo, Honduras
Latitude: 15.920353 Longitude: -85.951409
click for satellite pic-map of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Latitude: 14.075476 Longitude: -87.204838
    The cocoa-nut walk needs hardly any care. When ripe the nuts fall of themselves, and all that is necessary is to pick them up. The husking of cocoa-nuts is the most tiresome work on a plantation, but the native inhabitants are very skillful at it, and they charge very little for their services.
    After being husked the nuts are piled up, and when the first steamer arrives are loaded into dories and paddled to the ship. As they are passed up the sides they are counted, and a check given immediately to the planter, who, on going to the Captain or purser, receives his money in Mexican dollars or Hondurian money.
    The whole business is conducted on a cash basis. There are plenty of small islands which can be bought cheap for cash on which there are now sufficient trees to pay for the money invested in a short time, as well as to support the planter while waiting for his new trees to grow.

    The cocoa-nut industry is increasing every year, while the demand for the nuts in New-York and New-Orleans is always equal to the supply. The ususal method of a planter who comes into this country to start a new plantation is to begin with the banana.
    Nine months after the banana sucker is planted a yield is obtained. The young shoots are planted 18 or 20 feet apart, and between them a cocoa-nut tree is placed. The heavy growth of the banana shades the young plant until it is well-rooted, when it shoots up ahead.
    The soil is so rich that banana and cocoa-nut will soon interfere. Then the banana suckers are cut down and the trees kept clean. Thus, while the planter lives upon and makes a profit from his bananas, the future fortune in cocoa-nuts is rapidly nearing its consummation.

    There is little trouble in making plantations in this country. Land costs nothing, and large concessions may be obtained from the Hondurian Government. The new ground must be burned over once. Then the banana shoot is planted anywhere in a little clear spot. It will grow, no matter what the obstacles may be, the soil is so rich. Even if burned over a second time it will make no difference; the banana sucker will shoot up just the same.
    Corn is also planted among the bananas. All that is necessary is to drop the kernels and scratch a little soil over them with a stick and they will spring up quickly. The corn crop will pay for the labor employed in burning over the land. In two or three years your plantation will be a garden, as the heavy wood rots quickly after being felled.

    Just now the banana planters are making lots of money, as prices are high, owing to the oppostion lines of steamers running to the Hondurian ports. The fruit does not average quite so well as that taken to New-York City from the West Indies and the Aspinwall region, but the market in New-Orleans is very large and can make use of all that comes in. Bananas are also shipped to the West and North-west in large quantities, and car-loads have even been taken from New-Orleans to San Francisco. In fact, the fruit trade has become one of the largest items in the New-Orleans business, and it is increasing rapidly.
    Its effect here has been to open the Hondurian country, which has lain for years in a half-civilized state. The resources of the country are large, and a little Northern enterprise is all that is needed to develop them.
    Lately there has been a considerable mining boom, and several parties have gone into the interior. After working a while they usually come back. Most of them admit that there is gold in plenty in the mountains, but that it is hard to find. The natives pick up considerable gold-dust from the rivers and bring it down the coast to trade for cloths. Yet the chief revenue, for a time at least, must come from the fruit.

    Eight years ago there was not a steamer along the coast, and what little trade there was was entirely carried on by schooners. Now a day does not pass when a steamer does not lie along the coast loading up with nothing but fruit.
    Each steamer will take into New-Orleans from 12,000 to 20,000 bunches of bananas, thousands of plantains and cocoa-nuts, and lesser quantities of limes, oranges, pine-apples, and other fruits. As yet the shipment of fruit to New-York from this section has been small, but several well-known fruit men are turning their attention this way. Fast steamers can reach New-York in six or seven days, and bring the fruit in good condition, and it will not be long before there will be a regular line of fruiters between the Hondurian ports and New-York City. An import trade would also amount to something here, and will increase rapidly. Now it all comes from New-Orleans and Belize in British Honduras.

    The Cotton Exposition, in New-Orleans, to be held this Winter, will afford an opportunity for the Central American republics to show what their products are and the value of their trade. Considerable interest is being taken in Honduras concerning the exposition, and its managers are showing much enterprise in soliciting exhibits from these countries, and certainly every opportunity will be afforded to the Central American merchants to show what they can do.

    The island which was called "Bonacca" in the 1800's is now called Guanaja, and only a small, overpopulated key just southeast of Guanaja is called Bonacca. Guanaja & Bonacca are almost due north of Trujillo, Honduras.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1884 was equivalent to $22.79 in 2007 dollars.

The New York Times, February 17, 1889, p.2:

THE PEOPLE OF TRUJILLO.

HONDURAS WOMEN, THEIR DRESS AND MANNERS.

A TOWN THAT CORTEZ BUILDED AND THAT LIVES TO-DAY LARGELY ON THE MEMORY OF PAST GLORY.

    OLANCHO, Jan. 30.--It is but a few hours' sail from the island of Raotan to Cape Honduras, where Columbus first sat foot on the American Continent, and situated on a beautiful harbor, sheltered by the long sand spit of the Cape, is the old city of Trujillo.
    There is no other point on the north coast that, in commerce, can compete with this city, which Cortez founded and built up at the end of his long overland march from Tehuantepec. From here, in olden times, the gold and silver bullion were shipped to Spain, and when that country's power and influence in the New World was on the decline it was in front of Trujillo that the buccaneers laid in wait to pick up the Spanish treasure ships.

    Our small schooner was able to pass the bar which which every river flowing north in Central America seems to be dammed, and a German merchant and I, the only passengers, were landed at the small wharf in the dory.
    The city contains about 5,000 inhabitants, four-fifths of whom are as dark-skinned natives as one meets on the mountain trails of Guatemala, though a yellowish tinge of color runs through them all, betraying their Carib origin.

    The arrival of the monthly schooner is an event in the life of a Trujillian as important as that of Christmas to the small boy of the United States, and a hundred men, women, and children, offering fruit for sale, greeted us as we stepped ashore.
    The only hotel was a one-story adobe, whose rooms opened on an interior "patio," which served as stable, pigsty, cowyard, and general dumping ground for the whole house; but as dirty as we found the courtyard, the rooms and beds were scrupulously clean.

    Nothing but the seashore immediately under the equator could be more tropical. Palms and banana trees lined every street, and through every door opening into the houses one sees the most luxuriant vegetation and flowers that bloom the year round.

    A remembrance of former prosperity induces nearly every class of its inhabitants to dress better than people do at other coast towns; and here, as elsewhere, I found a decided and growing preference for American goods.
    The pure Carib wears little but the coarse, common cottons of native weaving; the women of a higher grade affect ginghams and gaudy calicoes, but the dress of the "lady," par excellence, is a different affair, and those whom I had the pleasure of seeing were quite up to the foreigner's idea of the "dark, languid-eyed" Señorita. To be dressed as they are in Havana is all that the belle of Trujillo desires, and as the climates differ but little, texture, weight, and fashion may be accurately copied. Light, gauzy materials seem to be the rule the year round, and, among the wealthy, every fold necessarily held together is pinned with a diamond clasp.

    Fortunately I was invited to the New Year's ball, and had some illusions dispelled which I had formed of Central American beauty. With very few exceptions the young ladies were tall, graceful, and of beautiful figure, though their dress rather distracted from their appearance; and I could not help thinking how much more to advantage they would have shown themselves if they could only have passed through the hands of a New-York modiste. The delicate paleness associated with tropical beauty and the raven hair type predominated. Pretty hands and feet are common, though a decent shoe is very rare. The hair is usually "banged" and worn plaited behind, though the beauty of the coil is always lessened by running a bright-colored ribbon in with the hair.
    I do not remember seeing a hat worn by any lady along the coast. They are never worn while making calls, and in the street the mantilla is always used. The soft climate does not cause neuralgia, and I thoroughly enjoyed the absence of females with their faces tied up in handkerchiefs, which one sees so much in the streets of Guatemala.
    There is a general lack of education among women; to play the piano a little and to waltz is about all that is required outside of mere reading and writing.

    Many writers and travelers mention the women of Honduras as graceful and fearless horsewomen. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen very many in the saddle, and I have never seen one who showed as much courage as the average American girl who mounts a horse the first time... Very few know what a riding habit is, and when taking short rides their ordinary dress is not changed, which makes the passing equestrienne an object of much interest to the Caballeros.
    The place to see the Central American belle is not on horseback. But with none of the advantages offered by more enlightened countries she never fails to interest the traveler by a peculiar gentleness and sweetness of manner which placer her far above the pert, forward "Miss" of San Francisco and on a level with the best-bred girls of New-York.

    A considerable portion of the trade of Trujillo is in medicinal plants, more of which grow in the Department of Olancho than in any other portion of Central America. The sasparilla vine grows wild, and one has only to walk a few steps beyond the town limits to run against its thorns. It is a climbing vine, and clings as close to bushes, trees, and rocks as the common ivy.
    Natives make trips into the woods at regular intervals, gathering its reddish-brown root in small quantities, which always commands a ready sale to the seaport merchants, who separate it into two qualities, governed by the diameter of the root and its color and richness of juice. The pieces are cut in one-foot lenghts and shipped to foreign countries in 25-pound bales...

    The thick forests immmediately back of the town are inhabited by hundreds of families of monkeys, and one frequently has a sense of fellow feeling when in some solitary and secluded spot he sees an old and wrinkled patriarch, perched high up in some tree, scrutinizing one's appearance with that ridiculous solemnity which only a monkey can affect.
    I have heard tales of travelers and boundary surveyors in which monkeys in cocoa palms make themselves disagreeable by throwing cocoanuts at one's head with malicious intention, but it has never been my experience to find the monkey any more dangerous than the prarie dog of our western plains.
    I secured some very fine black, long-haired monkey skins, such as are made into forty-dollar muffs and ladies capes, for 50 cents apiece in silver.

    In the many small Indian villages through which the mahogany roads passed, I experienced nothing but kindness and hospitality for a very small price, 25 cents being one night's bill for the outfit, including four animals, two Indian servants, and myself. Many of the men were away from home, in the mahogany outings, and most of the women, while keeping their vegetable gardens and corn fields in good condition, found time to manufacture rope, hammocks, saddle bags, horse gear, and hats from the pita, of fibre of a variety of cactus which covers the low lands in the greatest profusion.

    The cactus leaf is cut and rolled and pressed between flat stones, to squeeze out all pulpy matter. The mass of fibre is then dried in the sun and separated into threads, to be twisted and fashioned as desired.
    I saw some very fine hammocks of a flexibility never seen among those sent to foreign countries, which sell on the spot for $25. They are nearly as fine as lacework, and so skillfully are the different colors braided in that they look like embroidery a few feet distant.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1889 was still equivalent to $22.79 in 2007 dollars.

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