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After Almost Two Years of a Break the Island's Biggest Sporting Event, the Sixth Bay Islands Triathlon is Here Again
Leading triathletes ride on their bikes toward the transition area.

As the biggest sporting event on Roatan, the Bay Islands Triathlon is not easy to organize. The 2011 race, the sixth race ever, was the smallest Bay Islands Triathlon to date with only 63 athletes finishing the course. Due to lack of sponsorship the original triathlon scheduled for November 2010 had to be postponed till January 23. While Heineken came through and became the main sponsor, this was already a change from the triathlon's usual March calendar spot.

At the mandatory athlete's meeting prior to the race, some elite triathletes voiced their concerns, especially with limited supervision on the bike course and positioning of the swim buoys that could lead to cheating. Even with police help, not enough volunteers and supervisors could guarantee that cars would stay off the roads, which had the professionals "riding safe," not wanting to go full speed around blind corners to potentially be faced with a speeding car.

Due to the north wind blowing the day before the race, organizers placed the swim course buoys in the water around 7:45 am, 15 minutes after the expected start of the race. This delayed start for the first wave of elites in turn caused the amateur athletes to still be on their bikes well after 10:15 am, when cars were allowed on West Bay road again. At the end of the day all ended well with prizes and trophies given at the Henry Morgan hall.

Out of the 29 men in the Olympic distance Leonardo Chacon from Costa Rica took the prize in the elite men's category. It was Chacon's third Bay Islands Triathlon, which he completed in 1 hour 59 minutes and 25 seconds. Faster than the 2:00:05 from 2003,

Twelve women athletes registered and finished the Olympic distance. Eight elite female triathletes from as far away as Japan and Israel competed for points in international ranking. The fastest was Elizabeth Bravo from Ecuador who finished the course in 2:21:50. Roatan's fastest woman was Jenny Roberts, who came in 50 minutes after the elite winner.

In the men's sprint category, Honduran Jose Ozellama, took the prize, finishing the course in 1 hour, 35 minutes and 33 seconds. The last male triathlete, Jose Abrego, crossed the finish line over an hour and a half later. The women's sprint was won by Natalie Siegler in 2 hours, 3 minutes and 15 seconds. She was one of five women who finished the sprint distance.

Above text and photos by Thomas Tomczyk

'Age groupers' athletes prepare to begin their race in the water.

Written by Jim Donnelly

A visible level of acuity and hyper-awareness came across the competitors' faces the morning of the race, like they had just plugged into the Matrix and everything was suddenly and completely comprehended. Many of the elites, however, only moments after crossing the finish line, looked relatively calm and unscathed. Some were getting treatment for muscle cramps and dehydration, but most were milling about as if they had just left a Spandex conference. Gone were the looks of desperation and pain. In their place, a sort of serene elation.

Though it's tempting to see these triathletes as hard core, long-lasting superhumans, or vain masochists, maybe they're simply chasing an experience that people of many disciplines-from practicing yoga to racing cars--chase after: that feeling of clarity and calm that follows a period of physical activity which requires the mind's full attention. They train hard, but they play as well, which some amateur triathletes did just two days before the race in West End. No one can be easily defined, including the triathletes who swam, biked and ran Roatan's waters and roads.

The motivation for and rewards gained from participating in the Bay Islands Triathlon are evident in the racing stories of triathletes living in Honduras. Karine Pingit, originally from France, decided to accompany her son, a physical education teacher who planned to bring some of his students to the race as inspiration. Due to a lack of funding, Pingit's son was unable to bring any of his students, but mother and son decided to come to Roatan and participate as well. As she casually explained, "I used to swim a lot, so I figured why not?" Having exited the swim portion with a strong time, Karine was in great spirits, hollering encouragement to her fellow participants as she put on her helmet and tennis shoes on and rode off.

Another age group triathlete, Jenny Roberts had been an avid runner and biker, but only since moving to Roatan six years ago did she begin swimming. Roberts started training in September using a free online training program which had her on a regimen of three runs, three bikes rides and three swims per week plus weight training. Prior to the race, she knew very little about the intricacies of triathlons, this being her first organized race of any kind. "Exercise is my drug of choice, liking hitting a reset button on a bad day," explained Roberts.

Bay Islands Triathlon was also Adina Serrano's first Olympic distance triathlon. A 17-year-old from Tegucigalpa, Serrano has competed in two sprint triathlons within the last four months. She described the Bay Islands race as "the athlete's perfect vacation."

Serrano believes that triathlon races are, "90% attitude" and her attitude has been inspired primarily by her faith and by watching the 2008 Olympic Games. "I always admired how athletes can make a difference in strangers' lives," said Serrano, who cites Hunter Kemper, a seventh place finisher in the Beijing Olympics, as one of the main sources of inspiration in pursuing competitive racing. Essentially, Serrano races to inspire other kids to start racing.

Volunteers give out water and Gatorade to passing athletes.
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Bring in the Chileans by Thomas Tomczyk

Crime is Bad, and no one has a comprehensive plan for how to improve the Situation … at Least not a Feasible One

 

What has been lost is the big picture. Trying to solve individual components and particular elements within the overall system will not help. It is naïve to think that resources alone, salaries alone, training alone will make the difference in punishing the offenders and bringing crime under control.

The system of police, prosecutors, judges and penal officials is broken. Fixing just one element will do nothing other than frustrate and place in physical danger the people attempting to do this. I have witnessed several "idealistic police officials" who attempted to make things right, only to see their work being sabotaged by prosecutors, corrupt lawyers, bribed judges, or when all else works, prison officials who let their inmates escape.

According to Transparency International, Honduras ranks 136 out of 178 countries ranked, tying it with Nigeria and Zimbabwe in the 2010 corruption ranking. Honduras' score has declined steadily from 2008 and 2009. Such a high percentage of people in the Honduran legal system are corrupt, unmotivated and incompetent, that I and most Hondurans do not see an answer in reforming the system.

I say that only cutting down a dead malignant vine tree and planting a new one from a healthy vineyard will work. When ethical values of public officials are skewed or nonexistent it becomes impossible to correct them.
So, out of desperation and no realistic alternatives what about firing all, and I mean every last one person, from the Honduran justice system. On a 10-year contract, 25,000 Chileans could come to Honduras--12,000 police officers, 4,000 prosecutors, 3,000 judges, 6,000 prison officers and yes, … 15 supreme court justices.
As far as Latin America is concerned, the Chilean justice system works, with officials who are dedicated and ethical. While this could actually work, it will never happen.

In early January I saw an interesting statistic in "La Prensa": Honduras became the most violent country in the world in 2010-its official. Honduras has two cities in the world's top ten most violent cities in the world: San Pedo Sula is number three and Tegucigalpa is number eight. Only Ciudad Juarez, entrapped in a border drug war, and Kandahar, with US drone assassinations and suicide bombings, have more homicides per capita than San Pedro Sula.

Only those who are confused, unable to analyze statistics or in denial with their "crime happens anywhere" mantra continue to think that the Bay Islands are somehow immune to Honduras' growing violence. On Roatan, an island of roughly 65,000 people (according to Bay Islands Voice energy demand estimates), violent robberies, attacks and murders happen to people at their offices, homes, on the street and in front of churches. We live on an island where the mayor only moves under armed guard protection, and where a woman can be viciously stabbed at her work office. According to Alicides Vides, Bay Islands Police Chief, there were 22 homocides on Roatan in 2010. That islands homicide rate comes out to 33 per 100,000 people.

The economic situation on the mainland of Honduras aggravates the desperation of the poor that migrate here and contributes to the widening of the gap in income and education levels. The Bay Islands might not be America, but for many mainland Hondurans it is the easily accessible land of opportunity: the wages are higher, the place is a bit more organized and yes, a bit more safe.

It's bizarre how many groups have attempted to tackle crime issues on Roatan just in the last eight years. First, in the early 2000s it was CANATURH-BI that had a security committee in which many issues of police funding and training were discussed. Next it was the Roatan Municipal's vice mayor who ran the security committee. Then it was ZOLITUR that had the security committee which fizzled out like an empty balloon. Eventually an American business owner decided to form a crime watch type organization which organized police cruisers and radios for the Roatan Preventiva.

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Widening the Gap by Thomas Tomczyk

More Dredging Expected in Dixon Cove to Create Easier Cruise Ship Access

This engineering mistake has proven costly for Carnival as well as for Roatan. Since November 2009, 24 ships with 73,000 passengers intended to dock at MBCC ended up at Port of Roatan due to weather. Twelve Carnival vessels with 29,000 passengers were unable to call on Roatan at all because of weather that made the entrance to Dixon Cove too risky. Around $2 million was not spent by these passenger on local tours and goods. "We really need both [Roatan cruise ship] docks running at full capacity. If a ship doesn't come in to Roatan, it won't come here again," said Governor Hyde.

To widen the entrance to Dixon Cove, Mahogany Bay has filed a petition to transplant 12,000 square meters of coral to create a wider entrance to Dixon Cove. The existing width of the channel varies along its length, but the channel's width is expected to widen by "approximately the width of 2.5 cruise ships" at the narrowest point.

According to Governor Hyde an environmental impact study is expected to be submitted in February and, if all goes well, SERNA should give its approval in March. The RCT is a beneficiary of being designated as a "national priority" project, a Honduran Congress decree from 2007. Still the project now has seen three Honduran presidents --Zelaya, Michelleti and now Lobo--and has had to deal with three governments as far as permits and discussions.

According to Riemers, RCT will file for a permit to dredge a 50,000 square meter triangular area of coral at the south-eastern portion of the channel. The "cannon" paid yearly to SERNA and currently at $78,000 and is expected to increase as impacted area increases. "Cannon is a payment for destroying or weakening a natural resource… and should be utilized in local communities. From 2008 it [Carnival] should be paying, but they haven't paid yet," said Torrez. Part of the confusion is where and to whom that cannon should have been paid. "We are fighting so that cannon money would be paid to Municipality, not to anyone else," said Mayor Galindo, whose municipality will receive a sewage system for the Dixon Cove's Colonia Santa Maria, worth around $150,000, as part of the agreed compensation that Carnival will pay.

Carnival is proposing to move some of the coral from the site to a site directly west of the channel. "There is going to be damage to the reef, but we will get to feed our people," admits Governor Hyde. Roatan's environmental watchdog, Roatan Marine Park, agrees: "From an economic point of view this [the dredging] is good. From an environmental point of view has a huge, negative impact," Grazzia Matamoros, of the Roatan Marine Park.

A Cruise Ship backs into Dixon Cove.

After 10 months of negotiations, the Honduran Government stands its grounds: The fines must be paid and environmental studies must be filed. It took five meetings in Tegucigalpa and a final meeting on Roatan on January 17 to make it official.

"Carnival is extremely important to our economy, but the government stood its ground. I am very impressed with the [environment] minister," said Roatan's Mayor Julio Galindo. "The minister said, 'I can't give you a permit to dredge, if you [Carnival] haven't followed procedures or paid fines on your first dredging permit.'"

Roatan Cruise Terminal (RCT), a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation, decided to accept the penalty to move the permitting process along. "Carnival is being very forthcoming. They acknowledged their fault in this," said Governor Shawn Hyde. However, according to Mike Riemers, General Manager of RCT, the Honduran government knew about the dredging at the entrance to the channel.

A Lps 1 million ($52,000) fine was given to RCT for dredging coral beyond the given permit. "Dredging was larger than permit was given," said Jose Luis Segovia, the owner of the company that performed the original impact study for Carnival's Mahogany Bay. This is the maximum fine that the Honduran government can impose for an environmental violation.

Even with all the dredging, cruise ships entering Mahogany Bay Cruise Ship Terminal were still left with too narrow an entrance to the cove. While the pace of construction at Mahogany Bay was fast, sometimes frantic, a basic mistake was made in the planning stages of the cruise ship terminal. Halcrow, an engineering company, is blamed for this. Halcrow did not respond to Bay Islands Voice requests for comment on the matter.

The cove entrance continues to be difficult depending on the wind, current, swell and type of vessel propulsion. According to Riemers when the eastern wind is blowing at 20 knots, many cruise ships struggle to enter the channel. At 25 knots, conditions become unsafe for just about any cruise ship. When entering Dixon Cove the cruise ship is perpendicular to the reef, and wind and waves make especially it vulnerable as it backs into the narrow shelter.

Teaching Words and Vocabulary by Thomas Tomczyk
A Learning Center in Sandy Bay Offers a Path to Knowledge
The site of her new learning center used to be one of the more popular resorts ont eh island--old Bay Islands Beach Resort. It lies on the beach and rolling hills of Sandy Bay, reminiscent of a university campus. While O'Brien foresees a vocational school on the site, she is starting small with a learning center and a library. "The vocational school still will happen, but the economy has to come back," says O'Brien.

On January 11 the Sand Castle Library & Education Center officially opened its doors. This is the center's second location after a move from French Harbour's Jared Hynds Community Center where it opened doors in 2009.

O'Brien's relationship with Roatan began in the mid 1990s, when she and her husband Ted purchased property to build and managed a resort. Now her priorities have changed. Instead of business, she focuses on how to improve the local community. "We live on our social security checks," says O'Brien about herself and her husband. "The needs of the children of our old staff are our priority."

While there are two aid staff, the program encourages volunteerism amongst locals and expats. According to O'Brien the entire program is run by around $8,000 a year. "This is enough to pay for salaries, utility bills, cleaning, computer maintenance," says O'Brien. There are 150 children involved in the program, with the number of progams continuing to grow. The weekly schedule at the library is filled with opportunities for children who want to study--Science Fun, Arts and Crafts, Reading Challenge and Math Superstars. "I feel successful if I go to the [Roatan] airport and see someone reading, not just standing around," says O'Brien.

Camilla O'Brien speaks with one of the students in front of the library.

Bay Islanders are facing a dilemma: how to advance the skills and education of the island's children within a failing school system. As in other parts of Honduras, people living on the Bay islands are illiterate or semi-literate; and with the steady influx of poor mainland Hondurans, the literacy situation is not getting better. Only around 25% of school-aged island children are enrolled in classes. Only 50% of children finish sixth grade and even fewer, 10%, graduate from high school. These numbers are approximate, as no statistics exist regarding the exact number of people living on Roatan.

Camilla O'Brien, an American expat on Roatan since the early 1990s, has her solution: Build a learning center and they will come. She has attracted a steady trickle of island children who want to learn to read, to improve their reading comprehension and to learn about computers.

The West End Facelift by Thomas Tomczyk
Long Anticipated Paving of West End Road, Sewage System is Coming, Authorities Say

West End property owners are expected to pay around $17 a month until the sewer project is paid off, currently estimated to be around nine years. "By law I have to charge property owners for some of the cost involved in these projects," said Mayor Galindo. The corporation decides on the percentage rate of the cost of each individual project that property owners have to pay.

West End road is planned to be paved along a roughly one kilometer stretch--from Woody's grocery store to Miller's Avenue. The black water system will serve almost the entire community, from Seagrape in the north to Miller's Avenue in the south. "It [the road] is going to be concrete, but we are working with the community to decide the color," said Mayor Galindo.

Other projects still in the planning stages include a mile-long Coxen Hole seawall and walkway. "It's very ambitious, but it's my idea of how to kill three birds with one stone," said Mayor Galindo. The one-mile-long seawall would be created from the fill (excavation) of the "North Hill" at Roatan Airport, which would allow for the airport to expand, and according to Mayor Galindo, beautify Coxen Hole, expand its shopping appeal and ease traffic congestion. The seawall, running from Port of Roatan to the Point, would also serve to run the sewer lines and electrical lines. "I'm trying to do projects that are not so popular but need to be done," says Mayor Galindo.

Yet another infrastructure plan in the making is related to the municipal garbage dump that is projected to reach capacity in 1-2 years time. Mayor Galindo says that the Municipality is looking at purchasing an adjacent site for the expansion of the Roatan Municipal dump. "We want to make a sports facility on the site of the old dump," says Mayor Galindo, who envisions a possible Municipal football stadium. Galindo believes that this would not only fill a need for sporting facilities on the island, but would also raise interest in how the dump is managed and how it looks, if people were involved in activities close to it.

A Main street of West End after a storm.

After years of no infrastructure investment in West End, Roatan's tourist hub, the Municipality is taking an initiative to improve the community's sewer and road. To help cover the cost of the project a trust was set up at Banco Atlantida in the amount of Lps. 14 million. "I saved as much money as I could last year," said Mayor Julio Galindo, who hopes he can increase the trust to Lps. 47 million to be able to cover other infrastructure projects in his municipality.

The funding of these types of projects by each one of Honduras' 298 municipalities has become more difficult. Honduras just lost the $200 million in World Bank 2011 assistance from "Fondo Prosperidad," because the country was assessed as having fallen in the rankings in corruption. This money was destined for infrastructure projects--roads, business loans and tourism.

The black water project for 3,000 West End residents is estimated to cost around Lps. 15 million and to begin in March. So far 19 companies, four of them based on Roatan, have submitted their Bona Fide credentials for West End project bid. The deadline for the bid itself is scheduled for February 11. "We hope to have the project finished by summer," said Mayor Galindo.

"The weak point of the plan is to pay for the black water plant, but not to leave any money for the expense of connecting people to the main lines, " says Dan Taylor, who believes that this was the major flaw in the construction and funding of the Coxen Hole black water treatment plan. Dan Taylor's ACME Environmental is one of the companies bidding for the project in West End.

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Dealing with Black Water by Thomas Tomczyk

Several Companies and Projects Lead the Way for Roatan to Take Charge of its Refuse

Privatization of the management of municipal septic, waste and water systems has been on the agenda for several years, but goes against the grain of many Honduran officials. "Julio [Galindo] understands it in concept, but has difficulty allowing the corporation to take the next step," says Dan Taylor, owner of ACME

The real litmus test for Roatan's ability to manage its sewage is West Bay. The internationally known, high-end community developed without a master plan and with many property developers disregarding building codes and development laws. The majority of West Bay's buildings are located on reclaimed marsh and are resting on land that is only a couple feet above sea level. The natural drainage of West Bay, the West Bay creek, has been cut off, a constant source of complains.

One of the more interesting, alternative methods in septic treatment in the Bay Islands can be found in the hills overlooking West Bay. Part of Infinity Bay, a 160-condominium development in West Bay, was designed as a horizontal flow wetlands area by Vern Albert, one of five owners. Five of the seven acres of Infinity Bay are used for these wetlands, which resemble a meandering forest creek filled with rocks and lined with plants.

The entire cleaning process begins at the buildings with three septic tanks per building. Then the black water is then lifted by a pump to 40' onto a forested hill overlooking the development and into a meandering "wetland like" environment.

"I'm self taught and driven by this stuff. I am really turning s-t into Shinola," says Albert of his job. With wild, gray hair Albert admits to having 26 occupations in his lifetime and feels that this varied experience has prepared him for the complexity of working on a project like this. "Combat engineering is what I do."

"We need more wetlands, dragonflies, bats and frogs … that's what I love," says Albert, while turning over leaves of dieffenbachia and coco plants that grow in the gravel and break down the bacteria. Albert says that the environment, especially trees, are introducing bacteria into his system that eliminate the continued need to purchase "expensive bacteria like the Pirana."

Vern Albert looks over Infinity Bay's horizontal flow structured wetlands that brake down the septic matter

While many Roatanians don't know and don't care to think about what happens to their toilet refuse once it is flushed, it affects all of their futures. The fringing reef that has encompassed the island for millions of year has been under increased stressed in the last 20 years. The growing population density and inadequate septic standards have decreased the water quality, increased water algae and degraded fish and coral.

While large world bank projects brought sanitation and desalinization plants to Coxen Hole, the management of these resources proved "too complex" for the local authorities. "We have maybe 2-3% percent of the entire Coxen Hole population hooked up to the black water plant," admits Mayor of Roatan Julio Galindo. One of the problems: the paving of the streets in Cozen Hole made it difficult if not impossible to connect new homes to the main sewage lines. Additionally, funding for the project didn't assist individuals in connecting their pipes to the municipal lines.

The biggest problem Roatan is facing is the combination of high density habitation close to marine and reef environments. Since 2006 ACME Environmental Solutions has increased its experience in providing large and small scale solutions for the island's septic challenges. ACME has provided septic systems at Keyhole Bay, West Bay Mall and 24 residential homes throughout the island. Things are only getting busier for the company as both Mahogany Bay and Megaplaza consider contracting ACME to solve their improperly designed septic systems, some just a year-and-a-half in operation.

Another area ACME hopes to expand to is in the design and maintenance of municipal and municipally funded septic systems. "We [The Municipality] doesn't have the capacity to manage the infrastructure projects," admits Mayor Galindo. The Roatan Municipality has already hired ACME to design a decentralized municipal septic system on Anthony's Key and Bailey's Cay.

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