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Practicing for Future Glory
By Thomas Tomczyk

A Roatan Football Camp Offers a Chance to Reach for a Dream
Young camp footballers practice free kicks .

The 2010 World Cup fever spilled into local fields all over the world. One Roatanian, the first ever in history, Georgie Welcome, represented Honduras at the FIFA South Africa World Cup games. He provided an inspiration for other islanders to try and improve their soccer skills and perhaps one day represent their home and country on an international stage.

In July, FC Milan Junior Football Camp, an international soccer training program, came to Roatan creating an opportunity to chase the football dreams of many young players, and in some cases, the dreams of their parents.

The camp lasted from July 19 until July 23 and provided an opportunity to over 30 young players. Some of them were as young as five, others as old as 18. They all focused their energy, practiced passing, dribbling, and shooting at the goal - all the sport's fundamentals. While some participating kids had a superior set of skills, others looked at gaining knowledge about the fundamentals of the sport.

Kix Sports Complex in Coxen Hole provided the venue for the camp. The 80 meter by 50 meter Kix field was in perfect condition. The grass was thick and firm, the border marked by tape. The backdrop of the field was a tropical island forest. In brief, it was the perfect place to develop and hone in on soccer skills.

The older boys practice passing
For Spring and Summer 2010 there were scheduled more than 180 Milan Junior Camp locations all around the world. There are camps from United States to Australia and this year Roatan became yet another such destination.

The AC Milan football camp is an opportunity not only to learn fundamentals of the sport and to match one's skills against other players, but also to gain an opportunity to participate in an international tournament in Italy: the Milan Junior Camp Day Tournament. The one-day tournament is a venue for scouts for European football clubs to see and even sign young talent.

International Sports Academy (ISA Corp.) represents AC Milan in Central America and conducts AC Milan training camps from Panama to Guatemala. Four locations were set up in Honduras in 2010: two camps in San Pedro Sula, and one in Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba and Roatan. The Roatan three-hour-a-day, five-day event cost $130, less then a half of the $290 the camp costs in San Pedro Sula.

According to Massimilan Vincenti, on of the two AC Milan football camp trainers that came to Roatan in 2009, 15 young Honduran footballers were invited to participate in the Milan Junior Camp Day Tournament. In 2010, around nine to ten players are expected to be invited from Honduras to the Milan tournament, unfortunately no one yet from Roatan.

Two AC Milan football camp trainers had a chance to look at the Roatan talent. "They have the physical conditioning. What they lack is discipline and tactical skills," Vincenti said about the young island players. The main person in charge was coach Mirko Colombo. Along side with Vincenti and working with the youngest players, was Luis Alvarado, local soccer trainer from Roatan.

While the cost of travel and staying in Italy has to be covered by each child, according to Vincenti, the promising players can expect, and often do, find local businesses that help them as sponsors.

A group of mothers sat in the shade a few meters away from the field. They are watching their sons line up, dribble, shoot and outrun their counterparts. Mirta McLaughlin, a West End resident, had two of her sons participate in the camp: Maximilian, 7, and Alexander, 5, signed up for the camp. "It's a great program," said Mirta.

Coach Luis Alvarado talks to the youngest camp participants
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Africa’s Heart Beat

For several months I brainstormed the idea and eventually the purpose of the journey evolved into a something I do well: finding interesting people and telling their stories as a journalist. Other then just words on paper, I also wanted to create a project website that would become a portal for stories I would tell. The website became www.AfricaHeartbeat.com.

My planned route for crossing the mother continent changed, several times. There is one cardinal rule about travel in Africa: you have to be flexible. If you don't, you will be humbled and delayed, even stopped in your tracks. The continent offers numerous obstacles that can't always be foreseen or surpassed: floods, political upheavals, banditry, even target tourist kidnappings in some countries. My original plan of reaching Morocco via Central African Republic and Chad changed. Sudan, continent's biggest country and a country that I crossed from top to bottom, more than compensated for that.

The experience left an impression on me of vast expanses of continent, smells of African earth, sounds of drums, and the taste of desert dust. I remember fighting through soft sand on a hot day in southern Mozambique's Kosi Bay. The rainy assent towards Lesotho's Sani pass offered another memorable experience. My tires slipped on the large, wet rocks and made me lose control of the bike time after time before I reached a desolate plateau of this African kingdom. Another highpoint was riding alongside a galloping Oryx in Botswana before it jumped from the grass field to continue running in front of my bike. There was the desolate gravel road of Namibia from Fisher Canyon with seeing no vehicles for hours… but seeing wild zebras and kudus. On the curving roads of Malawi 100 kilometers south of Nkhata Bay, I saw children smiling, cheering, and giving thumbs up and all other exclamations of joy. There was the starlit sky amongst the Sudan's Meroe pyramids where I spent a night.

Life is made of moments and some of them weave a fabric that make our lives worth living.

After an eight month motorcycle journey thru Africa, Middle East and Europe, I am back. I am changed and humbled. The entire experience proved to be the best of times and worst of times, and I am grateful for both.
Some of life's experiences are appreciated as we go thru them. The more complex experiences are only fully appreciated and embraced once we have completed them. My Africa crossing is an experience I am still comprehending.

The first time an idea of crossing Africa came to me when I was 10, right at the time when a large map of the world was hung above my bed in a small Warsaw, Poland apartment. In the evenings I would study the geography of each continent, its road and railroad network marked with thin yellow and red lines. The most prominent continent was Africa, placed in the middle of the map, right above where my head would rest on the pillow. I tried connecting Capetown and Cairo using the yellow and red lines, and it wasn't easy. In 1970s few people traveled that route.

The idea for this journey stayed in my mind for years. I would eventually learn to ride motorcycles in India and repeatedly travel to the Horn of Africa, to write articles from the region for publications in Poland and US. In January 2009 my grandmother past away and I decided it was time to do the trek I've been thinking about for so long… a 23,000 kilometer ride from South Africa to Europe.

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Whale Shark Rodeo By Thomas Tomczyk

A Whale Shark Encounter Goes Wrong… for a Shark

WSORC’s Whale Shark Encounter Guidelines:

1.The area surrounding a whale shark and a boil of bonito is called the "contact zone." The contact zone has its origin as the whale shark and extends 100m/300ft, creating a 200m/600ft diameter circle.

2.Only one vessel at a time is permitted within the contact zone. The first commercial vessel within this zone may claim priority by raising the contact zone flag from its mast so that it is visible from 300 degrees. Vessels in queue must remain outside the holding zone which is 1/ 4 mile (400 m) away from the vessel with priority and may not intrude on a contact zone except in an emergency.

3.The contact vessel must approach the whale shark in such a way that the shark's direction of travel is not obstructed. Under no circumstances are boats to enter the feeding area at more than idle speed. Boats must stay to the side of the feeding area/boil and let the shark approach or have snorkelers swim in.

4.Boats must remain in neutral when whale sharks are within 10m/30ft, or when people are in the water unless it is to maneuver in such a way to prevent harm to both.

5.The contact vessel must maintain a distance of at least l0m/30ft from the whale shark and may not exceed two knots. Priority is lost when the whale shark dives and the boil re-appears more than 1/4 mile (400m) away or when 10 minutes have elapsed. The contact vessel must lower their flag and allow the next boat in queue to establish contact.

6.Only two in-water encounters are allowed per boat except under research circumstances. A research vessel must fly the whale shark research flag in addition to the contact zone flag.

7.Before attempting an encounter, the dive master must read the vessels encounter brief. A maximum of eight snorkelers are allowed in the water at any time and entry must be made as quietly as possible.

8.Snorkelers must maintain a minimum distance of 3m/9ft from the shark. No touching, riding or obstructing the path of a whale shark is permitted.

9.Unless for scientific purposes no person is permitted to enter the water with SCUBA. No flash photography is allowed for any purpose.

10.Local fisherman are not included in the above regulations and may continue to fish the boil without interference. To limit any disturbance to the shark please find another boil if there are already other vessels in queue.

 

 

Ulysses Dive Boat drops off snorkellers above a whale shark.

A shark encounter that should be a pleasant, awe inspiring event become an example of how Utila dive industry is sometimes killing its "golden egg laying goose" - the Rhincodon Typus, the world's biggest fish, also known as the Whale Shark.

Around 5pm on July 23, several Utila dive boats along with passengers of Captain Vern's catamaran recognized signs of whale Shark presence off Utila's old airport. There were schools of tuna jumping and surface bubbles indicating that a Whale Shark was close by. Captain Vern's catamaran found itself 10 meters from a giant fish feeding on the surface with its mouth open and the rest of its body pointing vertically down.

The Ulysses, a Cross Creek owned dive boat that was further away, spotted the giant fish as well and begun heading straight for it. The crew of the Ulysses headed for the Shark at around 5-6 knots, driving the boat over the area where the fish was seconds before, and missing it by just a couple of meters. Snorkelers jumped off the boat's rear to observe the shark, but the encounter didn't last long as the shark dove and did not appear in the area again.

As the boat approached, the mouth of the Whale Shark was on the surface and the animal was particularly vulnerable to being hit by the boat's hull and propeller. The fish's vertical position made it difficult for it to turn and escape the approaching boat.

This type of boat approach could not only scare the shark and scrape it with its propeller, but it could also provoke it to become aggressive towards the snorkelers. This behavior sometimes exhibits itself with a Whale Shark catching a swimmer with its mouth then dragging him or her under water. "When scared, they (Whale Sharks) dive deep and fast. That puts extra stress on their organs," explained Dr. Rob Davis, director of Utila's Whale Shark Oceanic Research Center [WHORC].

WHORC Whale Shark engagement guidelines specify that if one boat is close to a Whale Shark it has priority and other vessels have to remain ¼ mile away from the fish. A maximum eight swimmers are permitted around the fish are required to stay away three meters from the Whale Shark's body and four meters away from its tail.

"Nobody is trying to hurt the whale shark. If anything that was an accident," commented Kevin Dures, Manager at Cross Creek, about the reported incident.

According to Dr. Davis only one or two dive shops on Utila have been regularly ignoring whale shark guidelines, and violating Honduran law. The 16 Utila Dive shops compete fiercely for customers, and market the island as a world famous Whale Shark destination. Lack of respect for Whale Shark encounter guidelines by some dive shops could result in consequences that negatively affect the future of Utila's entire dive industry. "If they continue to do that, they won't be in business very long; the Whale Sharks will change their migration patters," said Dr. Davis.

When Americans Meet By Thomas Tomczyk
Some Angry Questions and Comments Make for a Lively Town Hall

Discussion also touched on the ongoing frustrations that Roatan's foreign residents experience with the Honduran police and judicial systems. "There is zero accountability in the judicial system," said Mitch Cummins, a Roatan business owner. "Judges, fiscals and police can play hot potato like nobody's business."

Ambassador Llorens had some news about the planned Guanaja navy facility. The US has donated four "go fast" vessels, capable of going 60 miles an hour and outrunning the fastest drug-running boats. Two of the "go fast" boats are based in the Honduran Caratasca navy base in La Mosquitia, other two are based in Puerto Castilla. According to Ambassador Llorens, the Guanaja navy facility will open in the summer of 2011 and will be a base for the two go-fast boats that are currently in Puerto Castilla.

One of the American residents of Punta Blanca described the intense, violent confrontation of drug traffickers on the east end of Roatan that took place in March. "There were tracer bullets flying above my house. There were people shot left and right, houses burned," said the long term retiree from Punta Blanca. Several island sources estimated that over 20 people were killed in the drug violence that erupted and took months to wind down. Most people killed were islanders, but also two Italian nationals disappeared, and are feared dead. The violence has received almost no coverage from Honduran press, and US embassy officials seemed surprised to hear the scale of violence.

The next US town meeting on Roatan is planned for October.

Ambassador Hugo Llorens at the Fantasy Island meeting

Fantasy Island hosted American community annual meeting with their Ambassador Hugo Llorens, a veteran of the Honduran 2009 political crisis. On July 16, Ambassador Llorens faced some tough, angry questions and was several times interrupted by Americans that still felt angry about US handling of the June 28 coup.

"Do you still want Zelaya reinstated?" with a shaking voice asked Ambassador Llorens of one Roatan resident. "We always considered what happened on June 28th a coup, but Zelaya was a big part of the problem," said Ambassador Llorens.

While the two US embassy representatives at the meeting were not spared criticism, they remained upbeat and professional about their reception. "You've been in my face, but I wouldn't have it any other way," said US Consul General Douglass Benning during the meeting, who was about to end his three year Honduras posting.

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Still Partyinghe Bay Islands Get a Yacht Club By Thomas Tomczyk

Utila Carnival Takes Place… But Barely

According to the Utila Tourism Committee, around 2,000-3,000 people showed up to see the 2010 Carnival. Utila hotels filled with backpackers: international, mainlanders and Roatan visitors. In the end, the Carnival week provided a valuable boost to the vulnerable island economy.

According to Lobo, acting president of the Carnival Committee, the cost of the carnival was around 150,000-200,000 Lps. and at least part of these costs should be recuperated from the drink and concession sales at the Carnival. The revenue has not been counted as of yet.

The highlight of the Carnival was the Saturday parade. The float of "Los Borrachos," or the drunkards, made its annual appearance and dominated the parade with music and bead throwing. There were the Cerveceria and Tigo floats, and BICA Utila came up with the most creative float and most active float crew.

Invited bands from La Ceiba included the Garifuna dancers and singer Carlos Gerrino who entertained the crowds of locals and visitors. The Carnival Queen was Junie Keller, the first "elected queen," on an island that was used to "appointing" their royalty. Judges chose Junile from amongst seven candidates.

While it proved the most improvised carnival to date, it did happen and the eleven-year-old Utila carnival tradition lives on for another year.

The 'Los Borrachos' float participants throw beads onto spectators

The Utilan streak of annual Carnivals that began in 1999 was about to be broken. Just a few weeks before the scheduled July 19-25 event, the Utila Municipality disclosed that it had no funds to organize the Carnival. "Cabildo canceled it, explaining that they had no money," said Patrick Flynn, board member of the 2010 Carnival committee. "It was like they were taking one-third of the island's income away from it." A group of local business people, many part of the island's Tourism Committee, acted quickly and approached the Utila Municipality about taking over the organizing of the island's Carnival.

"We as business people felt obliged to do this to keep it going," said Victor Lobo, president of the island's Tourism Committee, who took over organization of the Carnival on a last moment's notice. Utila was hit hard by the Honduran economic slump and the prospect of losing yet more business became an all-to-real possibility.

The Utila Carnival has been an annual event since 1999, coinciding with the Sun Jam festival. The Sun Jam festival takes place a week after the Utila Carnival and this year is planned to take place back at Water Cay on July 31.

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