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A Year in Central America- Part 2, by G.P.

A Preview of a Local or National Slide Into Poverty

We are taking a look at Central American countries, primarily Honduras, for a preview of some of what our own experience might be following a local or national slide into poverty. What might the United States look like? How do ordinary people cope with this situation? We are looking for lessons. However, some readers may also be looking at another country suitable for establishing self sufficiency and simple living. We’ll continue to take a look at Honduras with these two objectives in mind.

More Stories of Crime

A retired American living in a small Honduran village told of the hamlet’s problems with a young robber. The robber and a confederate had tried to rob his wife one evening and fired after her truck when she wouldn’t stop. The tailgate still had several bullet strikes. Eventually, the villain beat up a teenage boy and stole his cell phone.

The boy and his older brother came to the robber’s house. His brother told the man’s parents to stay out of it, walked back to the room where the thief was sitting in a hammock, and confronted him. “This is the guy that hit you?” “Yes.” “This is your phone?” “Yes.” At the second answer, the older brother drew a pistol and shot the robber. Then, he turned and left the house. Nothing came of it; everyone knew what had happened and knew that the bandit had to be dealt with.


Many men and some women carry machetes as a matter of course, in the hand or through a belt. The Brazilian Tramontina brand is the most prized. Sharpening is done with files; the idea of using a stone seems completely unknown. Fancy carved sheaths are carried as a matter of pride by even very poor men.

Security Lessons

The security lessons are that firepower and reliability matter a lot if you expect to fight across a sidewalk or a room; always being armed and alert is key; making trespass difficult is a necessary investment with strangers around; and that you need to be mentally prepared to fight, or to risk losing it all. Security is about awareness, procedures, defenses, and lastly about weapons.

People Move to the Cities Rather Than Be Subsistence Farmers

This is a tropical country with year round agriculture and coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific. The land is well-settled and developed, first by the Native American civilizations and then by the European colonists. This is the area where maize was developed originally. Miles of terraced ridges have been farmed for centuries here with its plentiful rain and rich soil. If there were ever a place that people could make it as subsistence farmers, this would seem to be it.

Yet people still move from the country to the cities, a pattern seen everywhere in the developing world. A third of the country lives in the capital, Tegucigalpa. The crime rate there is extraordinary; many people are extorted by neighborhood gangs to be allowed to continue living in their own houses. Poverty is pervasive, so are delinquency and drug addiction. Still, this bowl-shaped valley attracts a steady inflow of migrants.

The lesson is that subsistence farming is a difficult and unattractive way to live, no matter where. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of self-support or the value of specialization and barter.

Supplements To Income

With that said, almost every home with a yard has some fruit trees and chickens. Along the coasts one can see long stretches of tidal fish traps. These are simple stone fences in the shallow flats, filled at high tide, leaving the fish trapped in shallow pools when the tide runs back out. Subsistence? No. Supplements to income? Yes. This is worth thinking about if our economy slides downhill. A fruit tree or two, a couple of grapevines, a few rows of green beans, some chickens or a pig– all are good ways to lower the overall burden of supporting a household. Firewood is an ongoing need.

Home Construction

Home construction for most families is of compact, one-story houses. The walls are built of cement block or adobe brick, then parged with a sand/mortar mix. Floors are cement or tile.

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The adobe is made by mixing clay, straw, and water with a digging hoe, then plopping it into molds to cure. The molds are lifted and the blocks are stacked.

Stone seems mostly to be used in foundations. Many old stone livestock fences were built before the advent of barbed wire and are still in service. One man said that in times past there was a method of construction by using stones bedded in courses with heavy clay and then plastered over. This innately flexible work was a means of earthquake protection.

The roofs are usually of sheet metal with clay tiles overlaid on them. Termites destroy the framing of the roof, but the tiles and sheet metal are saved, and the whole thing is rebuilt. Whoever introduces an effective pressure treated wood product to the region will do well.

Sinks and Communal Water Systems

Sinks are usually large concrete affairs outside the homes. Communal water systems are preferred, with one well serving everyone. Often there is a spout for common use, placed where the system drains at the lowest elevation of the service area. Indoor plumbing and outhouses are common; I never was in an area where sanitation was a problem.

Dealings With Officials

Like everywhere else, people do live normal lives there and have a great time. It’s not usually a combat zone. My dealings with officials were always scrupulous.

Store Overcharging and Prices

I was never shortchanged in stores or cheated on exchange. Be very aware of overcharging though! This is fair game. Not just a “special price for you” kind of thing but as much as triple prices! Clothing and housewares are usually as expensive as in the States. Used clothing stores are common, reselling merchandise from the U.S. mostly.

Places To Live in Honduras

The coast might make a good place to live, if the heat and humidity aren’t too much for you. There is a pirate atmosphere with the smuggling and drug trafficking that is the major source of business there.

Boat, Coastal Cities

A boat might make sense for someone with a nautical background. The coastal cities are rife with crime; La Ceiba is the only one I would consider. Research San Pedro Sula for yourself. If you want the experiences that W. E. Fairbairn developed in 1930s Shanghai, that might be the place to go.

The Hills

The higher you go in the hills, the cooler and healthier. This works out for some foreigners, who establish coffee plantations or other projects at the level where they’re comfortable, usually around 3000’-4000’.

Bay Islands, Roatan

The Bay Islands have a large foreign population. Tourism is a huge draw for Roatan, constantly testing the upper limits of the island’s utilities. Utila is smaller, flatter, even more Anglo, and reputedly the least expensive place on Earth to learn scuba. These islands are beautiful, though crowded. The fishing is great and other amusements are available.

It’s steadily becoming more modernized, and retirement properties are increasingly common. The major U.S. realtors are represented, so you can easily research online and phone an agent if you like. Local people can direct you to lower cost property in their market; security cautions apply to local neighborhoods though. There is a sizable airport on Roatan’s south shore with connections to Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba, or San Pedro Sula. There are regular ferries from La Ceiba to Roatan, about 38 miles. I never tried it but heard that it’s a rough ride.

Pacific Coast

Another special place to consider is the Pacific coast, from Choluteca south. It’s a comparatively tranquil, prosperous area with El Salvador to the near north and Nicaragua to the south. The Gulf of Fonseca is spectacularly beautiful, with green volcanic islands and shallow blue waters sweeping out to the Pacific deeps. Tiger Island housed a famous U.S. special operations/CIA base for many years.

Copan Ruinas

In the far western corner of the country is Copan Ruinas, the site of a large Mayan ruin. The town has a pretty layout of stone streets, markets and restaurants, and a variety of attractions. The Guatamalan border is just a few miles west, and El Salvador and Belize are nearby. A friend in the personnel recovery field remarked that this would be a good place for an international fugitive to hang out.

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Join Missions/Humanitarian Trip To Check Country Out

If you’d like to check the country out, consider joining a missions trip or humanitarian project. Fully half the traffic through the Tegucigalpa airport is from groups traveling back and forth on these kinds of missions. It’s only 2½ hours by air from Atlanta, Houston, or Miami.

Living and Fitting In

Property is reasonable, the countryside is gorgeous, and if you can figure out your security and medical needs, you might love it. That said, my expatriate friends recommended Costa Rica and the Chiriqui area of Panama as better places to settle in this part of the world. Their concerns were those noted through this article– poverty and security. Many of them had been in Central America for 20 years or more, and most were married to Hondurans or to Panamanians. That’s probably the level of involvement that it takes to succeed in really living there and fitting in.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part two of a two part entry for Round 80 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  6. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  7. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A Three-Day Deluxe Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $190 value),
  5. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value).
  6. An assortment of products along with a one hour consultation on health and wellness from Pruitt’s Tree Resin (a $265 value).

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  3. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  4. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  5. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances.

Round 80 ends on January 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.

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