He goes back and forth between Miami and Utila. But the small paradise of Honduras is where he wants to live with his wife and two children. He would have done so already, but he is waiting for his job to allow him to. For the moment he lives in Florida, where he works as a photographer.
Fabrizio Cacciatore, a thirty-nine year old from Turin, left Italy in ’94, after doing military service for four months in Somalia. This was simply a choice-of-life. His father was an accountant and after working with him for a year he knew that that would never be his job. As an only child whose parents divorced in 1972, he tried to find a place to call ‘home’ elsewhere. He started with Boston, where he studied in a photography school for two years, laying the foundations for his future, family and hard work. Fabrizio discovered a passion for photography in 1986 when he began working professionally for the small newspaper Piemonte Tennis. “After several other jobs in the field of photography,” he explains “some other experiences came to pass: the university, military service, the Boston school (NESOP: New England School of Photography) and a three-year apprenticeship with a well-known Boston photographer, with whom I traveled the world.” Eventually, he became a freelance photographer. That is, every now and then he finds himself unemployed. His passion is taking pictures of models for clothes and fashion magazines. But depending on the occasion, he takes any genre of pictures, whether it be architecture, still life, editorial or portrait photography.
Why did you choose to live in Honduras?
After several years of research in Central American I discovered Utila. This place represented all that I had been looking for.
In what way?
It’s a relatively unknown island, very small, and the cheapest island I’ve seen over the past five years.
What else makes it special?
There are many tourists and expatriates here, from Europe, America and Australia. It is a very quiet and peaceful island. There are only two thousand inhabitants; the cost of living is very low. With six hundred Euros a month you can live like a king.
The weather is beautiful throughout the year. From October to December it rains occasionally for short periods and then the sun returns. Atlantic hurricanes are almost always further north. Utila has only had strong winds once in the last eighty years. Utila and Honduras are two entities linked by a common country, but characterized by completely different legislation and autonomous rule.
What does this mean?
Utila, Roatan and Guanaja (the Bay Islands) are outside the affairs that happen in the mother land and Tegucigalpa, the capital. The island was British until the Second World War, and English is spoken by almost all residents. The law allows foreigners to purchase property, either personally or through a local corporation. Investment is seen as positive and appreciated by residents. Taxes on property are minimal. The legitimacy of the papers and procurement processes are guaranteed. The general register of deeds is maintained with care, with studies and surveys of land carefully made and recorded in the registers.
Why do you emphasize this aspect of life in Utila?
In other countries if you purchase property, it is possible that someone can provide evidence of prior rights to the land itself. In Honduras this doesn’t happen. To give you an idea of how easy it is to be connected to the rest of the world, you are less than two hours away from Miami. Until five years ago I did not even know where Honduras was. Now I’m really glad I found it. On an island so small you know everyone after two weeks and they are almost all friendly and polite.
Getting back to your question, living in Honduras was a choice dictated by my desire to live a different life.
Can you please explain this again?
We decided it was a waste of our time and life working just to pay the mortgage on the house, the heating, electricity and property taxes, which are extremely expensive in Boston ($ 28,000 per year in total) along with the additional daily expenses. We love the heat and the slow and simple life in Utila. We love the sea and the beach. We do not want unnecessary things, only those which offer a little comfort. As for our children, we can send them to the local school and then provide them with highly-educated private tutors which are largely present on the island. Once in Utila we met the owner of the estate agency that sold us the land and our home. We became friends, real friends.
Utila also seems to have given you work.
I work with the realtor. I take photos and make websites. I rebuilt two sites for my friend. In particular, I take photographs when there are new homes or land for sale. If I can find a buyer I get compensated.
Generally how is Honduras?
Utila is probably the only place in the Atlantic where there are daily sightings of the beautiful, docile whale sharks. The PADI is obtained in less than a week and costs less than $ 100. Honduras has a rich history and is full of mystery, it is a very fertile land, rich with bananas and pineapple and a long mango season. It’s not forbidden to drink a beer while driving, but please, don’t smoke at the wheel. Fresh coconut palms abound on the seashore and a beer served at the table costs less than 65 cents.
How are the people?
The appearance of the locals is unique. They are called Indios and are beautiful, with smooth, silky skin. Their eyes are very deep and they seem to see into your soul. They are lean and muscular, but with ‘civilization’ they are starting to become fat and round, they eat at McDonald’s, Burger King. They drink Coca Cola and Pepsi for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In short, they buy the crap that we in the West sell them.
What is the most striking impression?
Inland Honduras is full of ruins dating back thousands of years and huge waterfalls that flow free from the high mountains. These mountains help disperse Atlantic perturbations that would otherwise strike the earth with their hurricanes, rain and destructive winds. Traveling from the airport to the ferry you can see vast expanses of pineapple and banana plantations in long, ordered rows at the foot of green mountains. It is a hidden paradise still unexplored by most of us Westerners. The streets are very well kept and you can travel in great comfort.
The landscape sounds heavenly, but how does one live there?
You live a quiet life, without worries of any kind. The public buses are new, efficient and on time, the ferries are old, efficient and on time and taxis, old, new, fast, slow, and available everywhere. The hospital in La Ceiba, the nearest town to Utila on the mainland, is equipped for every situation. The doctors, in many cases, have studied in the United States and are highly-trained and friendly. The cost of treatment and hospitalization is very low.
So, you live so much differently than you did in Italy!
I haven’t lived in our beautiful country since 1994, but I can say that living in Utila is similar to how you would live in a small rural or fishing village in Italy. Not only do you know all the inhabitants and feel welcome in their homes, you see everybody every day. The island is small and the only place we call town is even smaller. There are no cars, just golf carts and scooters, bicycles and small scooters with three wheels, called tuk tuk that take you around for a few cents. Almost all shops close for lunch. Saturday is like our Sunday. Vegetables and fresh fruits arrive by ferry once or twice a week and you cannot find everything in the shops all the time — you need to make do and that’s something I love.
Are there details we should know about?
Nobody can make a decent cappuccino and there are no croissants. Bread is always soft, the crust falls into crumbs and you can not make a decent bruschetta. Fish is very fresh and lobsters are cheap. Coconuts, papaya, breadfruit, bananas and other local fruits are always available in stores or you can pick them from the trees. There is no need to have a driving license. You can drive any boat without a boat license. Internet is almost always available and mobile phones are everywhere and are very cheap. Once I bought one for five bucks at a store with as many as 100 Lempiras traffic available!
The local currency is the Lempira, but dollars are welcome and Euros are also exchanged at a good rate.
Are there many Italians?
I know five Italians who live in Utila. Italians are well accepted all over the world and Utila is not an exception.
Is there work?
In Utila you get the impression that time stopped the in the 60’s. There are very few things available in all respects. Skill and ability are rewarded. In certain sectors: infrastructure, services, technology products, knowledge, education, ideas and innovation, any service you offer is well accepted and paid for. The market easily absorbs everything new.
How about the night life?
During the week you can go out. You can visit the many bars and restaurants on the island in the company of tourists and residents. The atmosphere is calm and jovial, and beer and rum flow steadily. On Saturday evening, the clubs and the streets are noisy until dawn. Those who enjoy an unbridled night scene, go! The others are at home.
I guess there are incidents of petty crime, true?
Bicycles and scooters are ‘borrowed’ from time to time, but you know if you’re on an island, you’ll find it the next day. Sometimes a resident enters the house of a distant relative to ‘recover’ what he believes to be his own. I never heard of a foreigner or a tourist being attacked, robbed or killed.
What about drugs?
The United States and Canada require a weekly supply of drugs. Peru ‘, Colombia, Guatemala and Venezuela provide them willingly. Utila has a small road in the trees that works as our ‘airport’. This is occasionally used by small planes to land, trade ‘products’ and then leave. All under the cover of darkness. Sometimes American Apaches intercept and knock them down ‘. Many times no one sees, hears, or smells anything. On the island there are vendors of light substances, but they are not intrusive. That’s all I know.
What is the current situation regarding Honduras, a coup, democracy and civil rights?
There was no coup! The Honduran constitution provides that when a president wants to extend his
tenure in power for more than a mandate, he needs to be immediately removed by fair or foul means. This is what happened, but the army, upon congress’ mandate, did so in the dead of night with a former president in slippers and pajamas. It is very important to know the Honduran constitution before drawing conclusions about certain subjects. Unfortunately, the world press had the opportunity to say many things about it without the necessary information. Whatever happened, the effects of the political crisis have been devastating for Honduras!
In what sense?
From an economic standpoint, large factories that manufacture textiles for various European and American companies have closed because of the many stop orders and the cut to financial aid. From the political point of view many neighboring countries took a stand against Honduras and are just now slowly coming round, looking for renewed friendship. Consequently, there is hope that humanitarian aid and the international financial support return to their previous levels. Honduras now has an unemployment rate close to 70 percent.
What industries are there in Honduras?
Tourism, coffee, fruit, textiles and wood are the only things that keep Honduras alive. The soil offers neither oil nor gold nor diamonds. Cayos Cochinos, a small group of islands south of Utila , were used by the ‘ Celebrity Survivor TV show’ for over two years. So, many Italians have learned about Honduras. From June to December 2009 direct flights from Milan to Roatan were suspended for political reasons which resulted, in short, in a great disaster.
What role does religion have?
The Honduran people are religious. Many of the Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others make up the great invisible minority. They go to church often, but as a priest once told me, believers, in many cases, are more faithful to the bottle than to the Bible, as I would imagine it is in many other parts of the world..
What are some typical dishes and special traditions?
Whether it is fish, chicken or rice, everything is fried. Everything has the same taste. However, there are restaurants where you can eat fresh homemade pasta with a good sauce, accompanied by a smooth glass of Chianti from Tuscany. Many restaurants also have a wood oven, where they cook a good pizza. A miracle!
What are the links with Italy?
From Malpensa airport you can fly directly to Roatan, the largest of three islands in the bay. If you are lucky and resourceful you can fly for 500 Euros! You take a ferry from Roatan to La Ceiba, which is very fast; and then take another ferry that goes to Utila. Captain Vern, like Julius Verne, goes from Roatan to Utila daily for $ 55 per person with his thirty-meter catamaran. Beer is included.
What places are worth visiting?
Copan, on the mainland, is a wonderful place to see those very old Mayan and Paya ruins where you inevitably ask “How did they bring so many rocks up here?” Utila is an entire world in itself that begs to be explored. Legend has it that Captain Morgan, a pirate, made his last landing on Utila and he hid treasures and loot here. In fact, the only hill on Utila, called Pumpkin Hill, is also home to huge caverns inhabited by many different specimens of tropical life. In part unexplored, those curious caves hide secrets and legends. Occasionally items are found of extreme value, such as crucifixes adorned with gold and precious stones, coins, skulls (I found one) and various bones. It is said that sometimes at night American trucks are seen , they are swallowed by the hill and then they disappear. Who knows what they do.
Advice to those wishing to come to live by these parts?
Living in a place like Utila is not something I recommend to everyone. Those who want to lead a simple life will love Utila. And you know what that means?
Please tell me.
Being awakened by the rooster at 5:30, watching live crabs crossing the streets at night, having running water when there is some and doing without when there is not. The same for electricity and internet. And then, hearing the sea at all hours of the day and night, having enough free time to be able to write a book, paint a picture, sculpt a statue , compose a song, spend a week under the sea cataloging all the reef fish. Tips? Bring mosquito spray, sunscreen, a little money, three bathing suits and two shirts. You don’t need anything else.
What are the pros and cons?
In Utila there are lakes and waterfalls, deserted white beaches that can be reached only by boat, crystal-clear, unspoiled waters, tropical fruit trees that line the road, rubber slippers, plastic bottles and old pieces of wood regurgitated from the sea on shore, children who throw paper on the street from their snacks, restaurants with the toilet discharging directly into the sea, local beauties that make your head spin, mobile phones for five dollars, eight kilos of fish for six dollars, cigarettes for ninety cents. You can build a house in six months for the price of a small Mercedes. You can find a caregiver / baby sitter for all day for nine dollars. The island’s doctor, Dr. John, my friend, wears a Hawaiian shirt, has a beard and does not go to the clinic untill after 10. However, he is very good with adults and especially with children. He gets the medications the clinic needs each week and knows everyone’s complaints and various illnesses as if he had lived there for ever. He recently bought a mobile phone. If you know the number, you can even call it at night when there is an emergency. Most of the beautiful local girls have a child by the time they are 16. But there are grandparents to deal with the kids. So the young mothers continue to live a carefree life.
Will you remain in Honduras?
Now I have house in Miami and Utila. I come and go depending on the job. I have two children going to school in Miami. If my work in Utlia proved to be profitable, we’d be there forever.
We will find other adventures.
To contact Fabrizio:
Escape to paradise.