The Unexpected Thing That Happened in Honduras

At the end of September, I walked to the grocery store in the Honduran capital’s outskirts.  The next day I sat for a few hours in a port-city.  That week I put a few miles on my shoes on one of the country’s Bay Islands. However, most of what I know about Honduras I learned from a guidebook.


Because five days into a minimum five-week visit to Honduras, the unexpected happened.

Did You Know…

September through November is hurricane season in Caribbean.

Even before my trip, tropical storms had been brutalizing the eastern seaboard and Caribbean islands.  Due to past experience, I know the havoc storms can wreak on a trip.  I dug deep into the policies Insure My Trip (an insurance search engine I always use for trips 3 months or less) proffered.  I read fine print, being sure I found every mention of the word “hurricane” or “storm.”

When is it too late to buy travel insurance? After a storm has already been named, for one!

Hurricanes. Awesome from space, not so great on the ground or sea. When a hurricane looks like this… it’s almost always too late to buy travel insurance.  photo: pixabay

It took awhile to find a policy that covered “trip interruption” a la hurricane.  Even then, it only covered you if the policy was purchased within a few weeks of the trip.  Purchase too far in advance?  No coverage.  Purchase after a storm has been named?  No coverage.  We all know insurance companies work hard to cover as little as possible, and this situation was no exception!

Quick interlude: y’all know travel insurance often covers both medical issues abroad as well as things that ruin or cripple your trip, right?  If not, check out Travel Insurance 101: Do You Need It?

So anyhoo… thirteen days before the trip, I wiggled into the tiny window of hurricane insurance protection I’d found.  I took out a policy with Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, the best compromise between quality (good reviews) and price.  Also, I was quickly sick of reading insurance company fine-print, and they were the first company that had what I was looking for.

Should I buy trip cancellation insurance? Well, if you're traveling during heavy-weather season, it's definitely worth considering!

Just exactly how much is this travel insurance fine print going to cost me in the long run? Am I really going to get what I’m paying for? photo: pixabay

A few days before I took out the policy, I met someone at the Tiny House Workshop I attended who had also been to Honduras.  He brought his Lonely Planet for the country to a coffee date, and I gratefully devoured it.

Doin’ Me Some Book Learnin’

(If you don’t want to learn about Honduras, skip this section.)

Turns out colonialists have been taking what they pleased from Hondurans since at least the days of good ol’ Chris Columbus.  Here’s what I learned:

  • “Hondurans” is kind of inaccurate.  Apparently citizens identify first with their ancestry, then maybe religion, and then Honduras.  E.g. It’s said that Hondurans in the Bay Islands and Miskitu coast sometimes have more affinity for the UK (who controlled parts of Honduras through 1860) than Honduras itself.
  • When Columbus finally managed to land in the Americas, it was a Honduran Mayan he kidnapped to act as his local guide.
  • The conquest years decimated 95% of the indigenous population.
  • When a local man – Lempira – successfully organized a resistance to forced servitude, the Spanish colonialists responded by importing African slave labor.  To this day the county honors Lempira with its currency: Lempiras are what you spend in Honduras.

    Is travel health insurance worth it? Maybe. In countries with affordable medical care, like Honduras where the Lempira is the currency, you might be able to pay out of pocket. Unless you get badly injured.

    The man himself… photo: twitter

  • Although Honduras declared its independence in 1821, hard times didn’t end.  Some of you know “Banana Republic” as a mid-scale clothing brand.  However, the term was first coined to describe a tropical country where bananas dominated exports to the tune of 80% – controlled, of course – by companies based outside the country.
  • Two fruit companies – Dole and Chiquita – built a duopoly in Honduras.  In their bid for industry domination, they picked sides politically.  The face-off led to dirty deals, a promised railway that never materialized, and land grabs that left Hondurans without access to food.  Years later, they would succumb to pressure to return the land… but only after they realized it would make the company’s life easier.  Why deal with the problems and risks involved in owning and caring for land when you can convince a farmer to give you an exclusive contract and deal with the hassle?  Score!

    Is it necessary to buy travel insurance? Well, that depends. Usually, yes. It's a gamble not to, especially if you're traveling to the tropics!

    Banana republic – not just a store at American malls.

  • As the workers absorbed banana pesticides that were banned in the US for causing migraines, vision loss, infertility, cancer, and birth defects afor god sake, people.  If you’re going to buy bananas at all, please pay the tiny bit more for organic.  It’s better for you and for thousands of farm workers, they endured a few decades of dictatorship, a few decades of rebuilding democracy, then another few decades of dictatorship.  In 1980, the people finally prevailed, getting back a congress and electing a president.
  • That didn’t stop the banana pesticides or change the fact that only 11% of the land in Honduras is arable (suitable for growing crops).

    Is it necessary to buy travel insurance? Necessary? No. Smart? Absolutely. Especially if it's a short trip, travel insurance is really, really affordable and covers an enormous amount of stuff!

    Unlike Hondurans who had little way of protecting themselves from being dispossessed of their arable land (and ending up in places like this), you can protect yourself from financial hardship with travel insurance! photo: pixabay

  • It also didn’t get rid of their super-poor neighbors with even bigger problems.
  • It also didn’t keep child refugees who’d escaped to the U.S., internalized American entitlement, hit endless barriers in their quest for the American dream, and turned to the only lucrative life available to them – crime – from finally being deported back to their relatively lawless homeland.  The gangs for which Honduras and El Salvador are now famous, the gangs that give the Honduran capital the moniker, “Murder Capital of the World,” were born in Los Angeles.  An aggressive deportation scheme from 2000 to 2004 saw the return of 5,000 criminals per year, bred on U.S. soil, and dumped back into Honduras… a place where the average daily wage might cover a restaurant meal..

Acts of God?  The Unexpected:

Right before the astronomical influx of criminals in Honduras, a hurricane named Mitch destroyed the foundation in which Hondurans had been investing.  It’s said the storm erased 50 years of progress, taking out every single bridge in the country and destroying 70% of roads and crops.

I didn’t find out about Hurricane Mitch until after I’d already purchased my hurricane protection travel insurance..

On my fifth day in Honduras, I woke to clear skies.  Another hot and humid 85 degree day brewed on the eastern horizon.  The storm that would hit later that morning ended up being a personal one… also covered by travel insurance.

Should I buy trip cancellation insurance? An easy question to answer when you're traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season. Little did I know I my trip would be cancelled for an entirely different reason.

When I bought trip cancellation insurance (bundled into travel health insurance), this is the kind of “storm” I was expecting. photo: pixabay

While I sat on a shady porch swing getting a few hours of work done, I got a message from my little sister – a registered nurse.  She was sitting in a hospital emergency room waiting for damage evaluation.  My grandmother had just had a stroke, future unknown.

The point of this whole trip to Honduras was to spend some quality time with my mother – the first ever mother-daughter trip of our lives.  It was the first of seven trips I hope to add to my bank of Mom-memories over the next several years – seven being the number I think we can reasonably fit into the remainder of her mobile life.  (If that doesn’t make you starkly aware of just how short life is, maybe this will.)

"Should I buy flight insurance?" I asked myself as I planned a trip with my mom. Answer: for hurricane season in the Caribbean, yes! But to our surprise, that's not why we ended up using our flight insurance.

While we didn’t as much water time in our cut-short trip as we’d hoped, our wallets didn’t suffer as much as they could have.  I’m so grateful we answered “Should I buy flight insurance” with a resounding “Yes!”

I cried when I explained to the SCUBA school owner what was happening back home.  My mom cried when I pulled her aside on the SCUBA training dock to tell her what had happened to her mother.  She teared up again as we drove to the ferry, passing all the island attractions we had just added to our bucket list.  She’d been looking forward to this trip all year.  The grief of facing her mother’s mortality and the loss of our trip hit her in wave after wave as we made our way to my grandmother’s bedside.  I was numb from too much travel and focused on logistics.

The biggest irony: on the flight home I watched airplane TV.  The final scribble in my Honduras trip log is a note-to-self to try and find a song that caught my ear on a TV show:

I guess the universe has a sense of humor?  Or maybe it’s a yin-yang thing, my attention being caught by an uplifting song on a day that was definitely not “The Best Day Ever.”.

Do I Still Hate Travel Insurance?

Regular readers know  I don’t love insurance.  Of any kind.  It seems like such a scam.  A ploy.  A way to profit off of people’s fears.  My adversaries call me an idiot.  (And I am, technically, an idiot.)  They say that insurance is the best thing to happen since sliced bread.  They say it’s an incredible first-world privilege to be able to take the risks involved in home ownership, travel, driving a car, and being alive and pay to have the potential consequences mitigated.

In my late teens and early 20’s, as a relatively healthy person who had narrowly escaped several calamities, as a person who painstakingly grew her savings account by less than a hundred dollars each month, I found the idea of insurance and its associated cost downright offensive.  Nothing bad was going to happen.  I had proof – i.e. two decades of life unscathed!  And in spite of my extensive proof, you want basically the entire amount I manage to scratch together each month for my savings account?  Go. Take. A Flying. Leap.

When should you buy travel insurance? Always. Almost. I don't usually get it for a quick two-or-three day trip to a western country, but I always buy it when I go to the tropics!

Spend money on traveling the world or “waste” it on travel insurance? No contest! Err…. wait…. Maybe it is worth it to buy trip insurance? photo: pixabay

Now, with more than ten years of travel under my belt, after a busted ankle in the Philippines, after an emergency hospital visit in Cambodia, and now after being able to race to my grandmother’s bedside (vs. anxiously awaiting flights in my out-of-pocket price range)… I’m a little less vocal about the down sides of travel insurance.

It’s true that I haven’t made a claim on the majority of insurance policies I’ve taken out over the years.  It’s also true that they few times I didn’t take out a policy and something happened, I was able to pay out-of-pocket without much financial pain.  But the biggest truths are that:

  • I’ve now broken even in the travel insurance department
  • time has worn me down: I now buy travel insurance for almost every travel segment.  For 90 days or less, I find a policy through Insure My Trip’s search engine.  For anything longer, I go with World Nomads since True Traveller is only available to to UK and European (EEA) residents.  (More on all that here).

Do “happy travels” mean traveling insured?  You decide.

Safe Travels, y’all! ♣

References   [ + ]

a. for god sake, people.  If you’re going to buy bananas at all, please pay the tiny bit more for organic.  It’s better for you and for thousands of farm workers

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