bi-weekly print & online magazine
for Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

cover story

Small Island- Big Carnival
written by Kimberly Marks
photos by Thomas Tomczyk

The morning after is never a pretty sight. Chepes beach, the morning after "Carnival Closing," is no exception. Fresca and Coke bottles dot the beach and a garbage barrel- with the words "Keep Utila Clean" painted on its side- overflows with plastic cups, brown plates and beer cans. A pickup truck, its rearview mirror adorned with glittery carnival beads, pulls up to collect the last of the stage equipment. Today, the wooden stage and the bright yellow cerveza stand seem oddly out of place against the turquoise waters lapping at this quiet strand of white sand. Yesterday was a different story.
Carnival Closing culminated eight days of merriment and celebration on Utila. Carnival week began on Saturday, July 12 with the Coronation. After a great deal of music and dancing, three lovely Utilian girls, each representing a different age group, were crowned Carnival Queen: Naomi Jackson for the adult group, Yacky Reyes for the pre-teen group, and Terry Bodden for the infant group. The girls, each in their shimmering white gowns and accompanied by an escort, proceeded off the stage, past a military salute, into a crowd of friends, family and neighbors.
The town gathered at Chepes the next day for a traditional hog fry and on Monday for a bon fire. The carnavalitos, or mini-carnivals hosted by each of Utila's primary neighborhoods, began on Tuesday with Carnavalito Centro. It continued on Wednesday with Sandy Bay, Thursday with the Point, and finished on Friday with Cola de Mico. At these boisterous gatherings, locals and tourists alike got together for music, drinking, barbecues and dancing in the streets until the wee hours of the morning. One might call these carnavalitos the practice sessions for Saturday's full
blown town Carnival.
The festivities took nine months of planning and preparation on the part of the Carnival Committee, sworn in on October 23, 2002. They raised money through food sales, beach barbecues, t-shirts, and a Halloween party; all that work certainly paid off. Lillian Henderson, who headed the committee, said, "Utila's municipality has backed us up 100 percent, helping to make it one of the best Carnivals ever." Utila's fifth such event, it attracted more visitors than those of past years and included a range of vendors from around the world. Among others, a Vietnamese gentleman and a Frenchman cooked up "authentic Chinese food" next to Henderson's grocery store. The island was so busy, in fact, that many tourists were desperately searching for accommodations late Saturday night. Some dive shops found that their standard speech about safety records and experience proved unnecessary. Says one dive instructor, "They only wanted to know one thing: do you have beds available?"
Saturday's celebrations began around 4 o'clock in the afternoon with a parade. Imagine New Orleans' Mardi Gras and then scale everything down to the size of tiny Utila. The floats are the size of four-wheelers and pickups; the dancers come from the local schools and the crowd line one stretch of Main Street. Parade participants throw carnival beads, candy, and glittering confetti to onlookers, but here in Utila, children- not topless women- get priority for beads. Carnival, after all, is a time for family and community.

Nineteen floats, representing the many faces of life here on Utila, passed through the center of town and included local businesses, volunteer organizations, kindergarten schoolchildren and, for the first time, Utila's own punta dancer troupe, comprised entirely of local teens. One tourist exclaimed, "I was surprised. I didn't expect the floats to be so impressive!" Each float came under the scrutiny of four judges, three from La Ceiba and one from Copan. First prize went to Montoya Mart, with its huge fabricated seahorses. Second place was awarded to RJ's Restaurant, with its ladies in "string bikini" T-shirts grilling at mobile barbecues and third to BICA, a crowd favorite, with its paper-mache sea turtle and mermaids. Among the judges was Miss Honduras, who made an appearance at the Carnival; she was joined by Miss Copan and Miss Tropical International.
Following the parade, some local businesses, including the Bundu Café and Rainbow Realty, opened their doors to parade bystanders and served up free rum punch and beer. Crowds filled the street past sunset and later moved to the stage at the center of town for the evening's live entertainment.
If there was a theme at this Carnival, perhaps it was pretty women- starting with the coronation, continuing with the pageant queens, and ending with Las Chicas Rolands. Las Chicas, a girl band from the mainland, played in the center of town late Saturday night and then at Chepes for Sunday's Carnival Closing. For about two hours, they tossed their hair, gyrated their hips, and, oh yes, they sang. One local man asserted, "The band's much better this year. Last year, there was only one dancing girl." The band, outfitted in white go-go boots and bright pink dresses, finished their performance at around 7 in the evening. The music quickly switched to the standard Utilian favorite- country and western- and the drinking, dancing and socializing continued past midnight.
"Carnival is party time. That's the best way to describe it," said Henderson. Utilians certainly know how to party, and for eight days, everyone came out to share in the festivities. Keyons made the boat ride over. School kids stayed out late. Utilians living abroad flew in for the week. Backpackers and mainlanders piled off of the yacht and the airplanes. Expats who had long since left the island came back for one more round of debauchery. And folks from every neighborhood stayed out past their usual bedtimes to socialize in the streets.
Now, it's the morning after and we're looking- a bit bleary-eyed, a bit sleep-deprived- at the bi-products of our revelry, at the empty bottles and the occasional party streamer. Well, according to the Carnival Committee, cleanup is the municipality's responsibility. If the parade is any indication though, things should be back to normal very soon. Almost immediately after the last handful of shimmering confetti flew into the crowds, out came a number of local women- brooms in hand- to tidy up the streets. We may have just woken up to the morning after, but we did wake up on Utila, where things have a way of working themselves out and where paradise is just a good night's sleep away.

local news



Antidrug police units of Panama, Grand Cayman and Honduras joined efforts to capture 1,827 kilos (1,800 bags) of 100% pure cocaine. A boat, Broadfinder Leader, registered in George Town Cayman Islands, was stopped in Brick Bay marina on Wednesday, July 16. The drugs were hidden in paper cartons of Old Milwaukee Beer and transported in hidden compartments on the boat and inside fuel barrels onboard.
Boat captain Miles Woods, 38, was hired in January by boat's Cayman owner Graed Powell. The boat was used to transport cargo between Cayman Islands and Roatan before making two unscheduled trips to Nicaragua and one to Panama, arousing suspicion of the coast guard. The group involved in the smuggling operation is suspected to have a member living in Guanaja and La Ceiba and is linked with the Atlantic Cartel that operates in the Caribbean.
Four men involved in the drug bust remain in detention at the Coxen Hole jail; the other four were released pending investigation. Broadfinder Leader will become property of the state.

•In 1998, Americans spent about $39 billion on cocaine.
•The global illegal drug trade is now a $400 billion a year industry. At eight percent of the global economy, the illegal drug trade is larger than the international trade in iron, steel, and motor vehicles. In contrast, the entire U.S. defense budget was only $276 billion in 1999.
•In 1998, about 3.3 million Americans were hard-core cocaine users and about 3.2 million were occasional cocaine users.
•In American cities, the price for a kilo of cocaine - about 2.2 pounds - fluctuates around $20,000. In Britain, a kilo can bring in $42,000 to $51,000, and in France, $35,000 to $45,000.
•European cocaine use has grown by 10 percent a year in the 1990s.
•In 1997, estimates indicate that up to 220 tons of cocaine flowed to Europe and the United States received about 330 tons

By Thomas Tomczyk

On Tuesday, July 22, a Roatan Alcalde meeting was held to elect two people to join Mayor Jerry Hynds in a Bay Island tourism conference in Tegucigalpa. The second point on the agenda was the improvement of security on Roatan. "The president is very interested in getting Roatan [going] touristically," said Mayor Hynds. "We are the tail of the mule," said Marco Galindo about the disinterest of the Tegucigalpa government in the Bay Islands.
Mayor Hynds proposed Italo Tugliani, (municipal's attorney), and Ana Svoboda, (secretary of CANATURH-BI), as candidates for the positions. The public proposed that Rosendo Rosales (business owner), John Nelson (president of FEPAR) and Rosa Danelia Hendrix (business owner and activist) run for the positions. 237 votes were cast for the five candidates to choose one man and one woman as public representatives at the conference. With one vote nulled, Rosa Danelia Hendrix received 60 votes against 52 votes cast for Ana Svoboda. Italo Tugliani received most votes among the men, 46, followed by Rosendo Rosales and John Nelson, both with 37 votes.
Public discussion of Island security followed the election. "Roatan used to be one of the safest places under the sun (…); prosperity has changed that," said Mayor Hynds, "we need to know who our neighbors are and where they came from.
"The municipality announced several undertakings to control who is entering, leaving and already residing on Roatan. Yachts, planes and boats will have to check identification and report all passengers to the municipal. Canoes coming from the mainland will have to check in at designated places when arriving in Roatan. All children who leave the island without their parents will need to have a written form signed by their parents. Persons renting rooms will be required to register their renters with the municipal.
"If someone works in your kitchen, your car, your house, you have to come and get a work permit for them or, we are going to shut you down," Mayor Hynds responded to one of the questions. Next Alcalde meeting is going to take place in West End at a later date.


Sara Mannix and Jon Priddle moved to Roatan four months ago after an Internet ad prompted them to chase warmer climates. "Florida was too cold for our taste," said Priddle. Originally from England, the two lived in Florida for two years before Priddle discovered the Coral Reef Explorer was for sale. They sold their house, traveled to Roatan and bought the business.
The Coral Reef Explorer is a fiberglass boat with a V-shaped glass bottom that allows the boat to smoothly glide through the sea; this allows passengers to observe underwater life from inside the boat. It was commissioned in 1996 by boat's original owner, Jerry Hynds. Designed specifically for West Bay, the vessel was constructed in Fort Lauderdale at a cost of $250,000. The one inch thick windows are custom-made and are comprised of three layers of glass and plexiglass. The layers are bonded with a carbon acrylic material which is oven-baked to seal the glass together.
Coral Reef Explorer operates three scheduled trips daily out of West Bay and accommodates up to 30 passengers. Each trip lasts 45 minutes and is fully narrated. Mannix and Priddle took over the business in April and received a positive response from tourists. "Over Semana Santa, we were full every trip," said Priddle. During a brief hiatus from operation, the boat was upgraded; the new owners replaced the windows and air conditioner, added a stereo system and repainted the Explorer. Now that they have returned to full operation in West Bay, Priddle cites a new challenge. "Like any tourism business, our main obstacle is getting people to know where you are and who you are," said Priddle, "right now, it's just about increasing awareness and letting people know we're back in West Bay."
The Explorer is one of two glass bottom boats on the island. Underwater Paradise, which runs tours from Half Moon Bay, has been operating in Roatan for eight years. Underwater Paradise was built in the United States by Dyke Jackson of Jonesville. The boat, owned by Kenny McNab of French Harbour, offers one hour cruises and operates between the hours of 9am-3pm. Paradise requires a minimum of two people to leave port for tours.
The majority of the island's glass bottom business is derived from American and mainland tourists who aren't certified divers. "The reef is Roatan's number one asset. We make that experience accessible to everyone so that, whether or not you're a diver, you can still see the island's best attraction," said Priddle.
Tickets for Coral Reef Explorer and Underwater Paradise are $20. Explorer tickets are sold by local hotels and resorts who then receive commission from sales. According to Priddle, their daily operating costs are approximately $30 for fuel and salaries. Weather conditions have yet to affect the business volume. "Because the prevailing winds are to the east and northeast, almost every day is calm in West Bay," explained Priddle.
Mannix and Priddle plan to expand their business to include sunset and night cruises, as well as making the Coral Reef Explorer available for private parties. They anticipate drawing a large customer base from cruise ship tourists. "In October, there are going to be 1000-3000 people running around West Bay on any given day. We definitely expect a huge percentage of our business to come from them," said Priddle.

Read other issues of
the Bay Islands Voice

No. 1
March 27 2003
No. 2
April 10 20
No. 3
April 24

No. 4
May 8

No. 5
May 22
No. 6
June 5

No. 7
June 19

No. 8
July 3


No. 9
July 17