Car Caper Fandango

This true tale is long…. sit back, pour yourself an adult beverage and enjoy the ride….

Hair Raising Thrills…
High Speed Adventure….

Buying A Car In Honduras

It started innocently enough…
I love to drive. I love to drive stick shift sport cars. I love to do 4 wheel skid slides while downshifting, careening around corners at high speeds. Then I left the “Excited States” and had to attempt to be practical. When I departed Colorado in 2005 to begin my Roatan Adventure, my 3 dogs, 155 lbs each were too big to fly, so we had to caravan to Florida and come over on a broken down freighter (little more than a banana boat). On board the ship was my beloved “Vanna White,” a 19 foot white cargo van, the perfect vehicle for Roatan, my planned businesses and future animal rescue organization.
Once on Roatan, a few years later,… one rainy season day, I lost the brakes, completely gone, flat to the floor in a blinding rainstorm at the steep peak of West Bay Road. My Newfoundland, Black Jack and I had angels on our shoulders that day.
The emergency brake came out in my hand as Jack hit the windshield and I was skidding and spinning over the edge of the cliff. Jack & I made it. Vanna did not.

I then found Suzy Suzuki, a 1996 X-90 cult car. What a car for me. Stick shift, very small 2 seater, zippy, great on gas, huge trunk & most important, 4 wheel drive. I live in a falling down, old Honduran beach house on Mudslide, Death Trap, Steep Ravine Boulevard, so on rainy days, can only get out of my house with a 4 wheel drive vehicle.I dearly loved old Suzy, but she had lots of old age maladies and I prayed she would start every morning and that only happened about 60% of the time.

My trusted mechanic genius friend was leaving the island and he told me to be vigilant about checking the oil and water. The oil light kept coming on and I kept going to the Coxen Hole gas station to have it checked, only to be told it was “OK, No Problemo”.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, I had a new friend from Florida coming to visit Roatan for the first time. I had been advised of how best to maintain Suzy, so dutifully went to my mechanic, had her tires rotated and everything else seemed to check out.I asked the mechanico to check the oil. It needed 3 quarts…..aha, that oil light. I had not seen one sign of an oil leak in my car port or at work, not a drop. I was told it was a miracle I hadn’t blown the engine. Vastly relieved, I noticed Suzy was pretty happy now and all the grinding noises vanished.I had planned many adventures all over our beautiful island, lots of driving in a lot of 4 wheel drive country,remote areas which are great fun to explore. We went all the way out to Port Royal, hopped a boat for wonderful visits and trips with my great friends on the East End and everywhere in between. Thank goodness I took excellent maintenance care of Suzy.

A few days into my friend’s vacation, I had planned a breakfast picnic and swim in the morning in a very tranquil setting. Off we went on a perfect Chamber of Commerce Day. Coming down Flowers Bay Road, all hell broke loose, and my little car blew up with a loud bang….no smoke, no hot temp gauge, just a sickeningly loud explosion …KABOOM…my cute Little Suzy, dead at the side of the road….KAFLOOEY……KAPUTZKY. A cab magically showed up….we only have 488 registered taxis now on Roatan, so imagine our luck. We went to my new mechanic by the cruise ship dock, a wonderful young man, but he was off visiting family on the mainland for a few days. Second choice, we headed by cab to the Coxen Hole mechanic that now charges North American prices, but not for North American service. He would tow the car with a strap. I am now trying to fight off a panic attack….no car and a guest for ten days and how do I get food for my rescue animals? I am on foot…..I am having a hard time breathing and fighting off tears of all things. How mortifying. At the garage as poor Suzy limps in, a car rental guy walks up. He gives me a reasonable rate by US standards and we are quickly on our way….It takes 2 days to do a complete autopsy of my dear Suzy. The newz is very bad…..cracked block, cracked head, broken connector rods, broken valves, broken crank shaft & lots of other dire news.The mechanic has no clue where to get parts and a new engine for a specialized little 16 year old car and I am looking at at least $2000 to start and months of waiting. I slip into total mourning.I adore my Suzy, but I must face the fact that she is getting old (aren’t we all) and we have had nothing but problems here on the island getting her the help she needs.I just bought a brand new battery and a brand new tire for an unconscious price as luck would have it. I have to wear a full poncho in the rainy season when I drive to work because the rain pours down into the interior through the big rusty, gaping holes in her roof and window frames and then there is the stinky,rotting interior and the salt goo to deal with. Water proof duct tape, the silver stuff is good, but it doesn’t last long…. What to do………….

As if by magic, my friend Kent Burnes (Blue Bahia Resort) posts on the chat that he has an old beater for sale, in my price range. Kent is one of the very best Good Guys on Roatan, I trust him and as luck would have it, I was taking my friend there for dinner anyway. Once we got to Kent’s restaurant,(fabulous whole red snapper meal) we got to talking and seeing my total distress, Kent jumped on the computer and the phone and basically saved my sorry life. I am so blessed to know the most wonderful caring people here. Instead of trying to sell me his car, he set me up to buy a good, safe car on the mainland.He had actually just returned from the San Pedro Sula car lot the same day. I was relieved but worried. It is dead season now, no sales and there are no car loans or mortgages on Honduras. Everything is cash. Kent tells me this guy gives car loans….I am ecstatic. This is all news to me.

Sooo, off we go to the airport to book flights to San Pedro Sula for the next day. What a great vacation this is turning out to be for my friend. It suddenly dawns on me that my passport and residency card are in Tegucigalpa, not copies, the originals. I am applying for Immigrata status for lifetime residency…. I cannot fly anywhere or buy anything without my ID. Panic stricken, I call my Tegus attorney, Gipsy (now that inspires confidence) and tell her my emergency predicament. Gipsy panics and starts shouting at me in Spanish. It’s like trying to have a conversation with an out of control stairmaster. Finally with my horrific Spanish and her very much better English, Gipsy will put my documents on the next SOSA flight to Roatan….(Save Our Souls Airlines) Will be there at 4 pm. The little puddle jumpers book up quickly, so I dash into the airport and tell them my woeful tale and they say “Oh, no problemo, we will book you on the morning flight.” No ID & no payment, see you in the morning, first light. My friend is so pleased. I am still panicked as I know promises mean nothing here. Promises, any promises, keep gringos happy. We return to the SOSA cargo shack three times, no plane. Finally at last light I am told all flights from Tegucigalpa have been cancelled, but not to worry, they will arrive in the morning at 7 am. My San Pedro Sula flight leaves at 8 am.
Back home,I am trying my best to use my acting skills, put on a confidant, happy face and pack a few things for the early morning flight to the car dealer. I am a wreck.

As I am gathering up my things, I hear some terrifying growling and barking, not the normal sounds from my big love lug dogs. I glance out my bedroom windows and to my horror, I see Bam Bam, one of my 24 pound African Sulcata tortoises has once again bull dozed his way through the heavy metal fence and brain coral barrier of their enclosure and is in the sugar cane trying to escape from my 3 rabid giant breed dogs in full attack mode; circling, snapping, biting his shell and trying to flip him over. Bam will be dead in minutes if this happens,. I yell for help and run down to save the Bam. My dogs are in a frenzy, and are fighting among themselves, a pretty scary scene with such big dogs and so blood thirsty. I don’t know what I would have done when my beloved old Black Jack turned on me to attack me, crazed by the hunt, if I had been alone to fend for myself.. My friend grabbed a metal rake, yelling and fought them off as best as possible. At the precise moment, I dove into the frey and grabbed Bam Bam, turning my body away from the dogs to protect the damn tort and get him back in his pen. Fort Lauderdale had to be looking like Nirvana at this point to my friend.We plugged up the gaping hole in the fence and dragged metal barriers, rock, coral, big boards, anything I could find to block another escape. For two days, Pebbles and Bam Bam tried to ram out the new barrier, creating scrape marks on their shells… so unbelievably stubborn. Well kids, so is your zookeeper, it is all out war from here on out. They really need a concrete barrier, as the challenge will grow as will they, up to 120 lbs each and 100+ years old….thankfully I won’t be around for the big, big battles! Just another taste of island living for my friend, now back to the matters at hand….

I beg off early to get some much needed rest and find I cannot sleep at all, so at 1 am I start checking out the online list of all the car lots in San Pedro Sula. For those that have websites, I peruse, with my criteria: Newer than my 1996 Suzy, small, great on gas, big trunk, stick shift and most important 4 wheel drive. My luxury dream wishes are: no automatic power anything that will only break and rust and no one can fix, a radio and maybe,just maybe Air Conditioning?? Too much I know, but a girl can dream. I do find about 9 cars out of hundreds that make my list, all exactly double the price of the US market, but I don’t live in the USA anymore and must deal with my present situation. Still, the sticker shock makes me gag.

The sun finally rises & off we go to the airport.Still no ID documents. I am wound up tighter than a golf ball, spending buckets of money I do not have to spend, stomach in a knot and starting out exhausted into macho machismo land. I am feeling so vulnerable and lost without my genius mechanic friend to guide me and help me, basically make all the decisions on that which I know nothing….besides, I know up front I will get the gringa la rubia shuffle….(foreign blonde lady rip off).

Finally at the last moment, the SOSA cargo lady runs through the airport waving my passport and residency card in her hand. We dash for the plane.

The flight is fine. We are flying in a much newer, nicer local plane than I have ever flown to the mainland, no Russian writing or worn out strange apparatus, I am really impressed with the plane. However, like we all do, I revert back to what I am accustomed to and advise my travel partner to chew lots of gum. In response to the blank stare I explain… If an airplane part falls off we can use our gum to stick it back on. This is met with silence. Allrighty.

I do look over in flight and notice my friend is intently reading one of my books,”The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook” The chapter? “How To Land A plane”. In light of recent events and all things considered……

Once landed, we hop a cab and off we go to the car lot, a $15.00 cab ride, similar to an amusement park experience. I was so excited to use Kent’s referral as the nephew of the owner was there, from Kentucky & spoke perfect English, an incredible help.

It is now 9 am and we have to be back at the airport at 3pm. Time is of the essence. There are 2 cars to look at here. One is ruled out immediately and the second one, a huge gray tank suv is not what I want. To my surprise, Ernesto, the lot owner is willing to work with me and starts calling the other lots from my wish list. The cute little CR-7 Honda is sold. The next one, a bank repo is a definite possibility, so off we go with nephew David driving to the lot. Once there we find the bank is looking for it, so that one goes up in smoke. Back to the first lot, another vehicle has been brought over for my perusal. WOW…. a big, shiny black and burgundy SUV with a spoiler and black out windows. How cool! I am terrified to test drive this thing in downtown San Pedro Sula, but I cannot possibly buy a car without driving it. Then I remember to use my skills and drive like a Honduran cab driver, so I do….close my eyes and hit the gas and horn simultaneously.
As I am driving,the engine growls….I am enjoying this immensely, imagining this beast on Roatan. Think of the adventures I might have cruising around in a car like this! Once back to the lot, practicality prevails. It’s interior and exterior are not the best, it is an automatic, it has a 3.2 liter something or another, which I am told is not good for me and it is a 6 cylinder, will use too much gas. Besides, black is not a good choice for the tropics.

The clock is running and I am now down to a choice of one vehicle, the gray tank. It actually has most of the features I am looking for and it drives well, once I got accustomed to driving something the size of Rhode Island.I am stressed about not having my car guru friend with me to check it out, so the resident lot mechanic is more than happy to oblige. Surely I will get an honest opinion from him…right. Speaking in rapid Spanish, he points out everything and I dutifully nod. It looks nice and tidy under the hood, nothing appears to be missing and there are no gaping holes. He insists that it is hard to find a 4 cylinder, 4 wheel drive automobile, which is news to me. What are my options here? None.I have no car and am paying dearly by the day for a rental and my flight is leaving soon.

However, it is way more than I want to spend. On the other hand the car lot offers financing. So the negotiations begin. If I put $2000.00 cash down, my special interest rate will only be 32%……….!!!!!!!! Once I could speak, I find out my bank rate, after all I have run a business in Honduras for over seven years and Yes! They will offer me a car loan, for….42% interest! At this point, I sat down abruptly and took a long swallow of my friend’s beer. Maybe I should call my Long Island friend to put me in touch with the Mofia, they probably had a much better deal for me. What to do…. It then dawned on me that my credit card interest rate looked pretty good (by comparison) soooo, Yup, I bought a car with my credit card. Blood draining from my brain, a bit woozy I signed the credit card slip and it was done. $200 for the driver to transport it from San Pedro Sula to the ferry in La Ceiba and another 4800 Lps for Island Shipping. The car would arrive Monday morning at 6 am. And it did, smooth as clockwork. The final shock was filling the gas tank: $90.00.

So, I am now the owner of a silver 1999 Toyota Fore Runner. It is newer than Suzy and has ice cold air conditioning, a radio that works, running boards and mud flaps….Holy Katz!! Now, it is a fact that she has a lousy spare tire, a plastic toy rear view mirror, a significant dent and then there is the big bullet hole in the windshield, but Hey….Talloolah the Tank is lookin pretty good to me….

Living in Paradise,
Penny

 

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4 comments on “Car Caper Fandango
  1. David says:

    Hi Penny, we have had a house at Lawson Rock for about 8 years managed by Fran and Stella. I just checked out your website and started reading your blogs. The above is absolutely classic and terrific. I will read the rest of them Slowly to make them last.

  2. Jill Tricarico says:

    Car is an essential way for traveling and it is preferred by all due to the comfort and luxury and also it is found that for the easy means of communication to travel with the complete family is a car. It is very easy to buy a car for middle class family as well as there are various models which are available in a budget with almost all the features and if you are having any special choice according to your family then you can go for the used car in which your best model can be purchased in a budget. If you are having the requirement of used car and looking for the best car dealers then you should go for the Car dealers Appleton as they are the known dealers of used cars with almost all the models.,

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  3. Kathy Atala says:

    Hi Penny! I sat next to you on a UAL flight to Roatan a couple weeks ago. A two and a half hour flight and I only figured out in the last half hour that we could have been famous friends if I had known that you dropped your glasses under my seat and were afraid to disturb my riveting jigsaw puzzle to ask me to reach them for you. After reading your blog, I so wish you had risked disturbing me! What an adventure your life has been! Love your writing!

  4. Penny Leigh says:

    HI kATHY,
    Thanx for the note.Wish you were here right now, I’ve misplaced my glasses again…….sigh…:)
    Ahhhh, life in paradise. iF i EVER SELL MY STORE, pENELOPE’S AND FINISH THE BEST SELLER TRYING TO BURST OUT OF ME, YOU, AND HOPEFULLY OTHERS WILL BE IN HYSTERICS READING OF WHAT REALLY GOES ON HERE IN PARADISE!
    Thanxsomuch for your thoughtful post.Penny

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