BAY ISLANDS VOICE

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

REPORTING LIFE OF THE ISLAND COMMUNITY Nov. 20- Dec. 02, 2003 No. 17
CALENDAR STYLE ISLAND LIVING CLASSIFIEDS AD RATES WHO WE ARE
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CRUISING ROATAN

RECORD 134 SHIPS EXPECTED TO FIND THEIR WAY TO THE ISLAND

 

written by Jaime Johnston
photos by Thomas Tomczyk

A sea of over 1,700 faces gather on the decks of the Norwegian Wind as the Island of Roatan slowly comes into focus. The cruise ship navigates carefully taking about 20 minutes to set herself at port. Moments later, crowds of tourists disembark the Wind, greeted by drumming and dancing Garifuna. Cameras snap images as a flurry of crew and local officials herd the passengers into their pre-arranged tours. "Is this Venezuela?" asks one passenger. They are quickly assured by the cruise ship crew that this is Roatan, the largest of the 68 islands and cays that make up the Bay Islands.

Inside the dock platform, a parking lot houses 80 buses and 25 taxis to transport passengers around the island. There are dispatchers, tour guides, security officers and drivers, each with their own role in the morning's events. Outside the gates, the horizon is framed with a stream of white taxis. The first arrived six hours earlier, at 4am, to wait in line. Local artisans and food vendors have set up stands along the newly-paved Coxen Hole streets. At the gates security is strict. 20 officers patrol the cruise ship area. There is heavy organization behind this mass of entrepreneurs. The Municipality, Port Authority, CANATURH-BI and countless others have laid the groundwork for the operation of the Roatan cruise ship season.
Roatan welcomes 134 ships for the 2003-04 season. This is a volume that those in the tourism industry only dreamed about five years ago. "After Hurricane Mitch, we had a product that you couldn't sell. Honduras was always in the news in a bad state and we needed to change the perception of the Island. We needed to do something quickly," said Romeo Silvestri, local business owner and CANATURH-BI President. This wasn't the first time Roatan had tried to attract cruise ship business. According to Silvestri, the Ocean Spirit and the Sea Cloud first visited the Island 15 years ago. "When Allan Hyde was Mayor, he took control and built that cruise ship dock [in Coxen Hole]. Those two ships came for 3-4 years in a row," said Silvestri.
Following Hurricane Mitch, a group of island businessmen traveled to the United States to meet with different cruise lines. Silvestri, along with Jerry Hynds, Marco and Julio Galindo, attended conventions and tried to build a market for Roatan as a cruise ship destination. Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) showed interest in the Bay Islands. "When we spoke of our resources and our people and told them of an Island with 320 sunny days a year, people were interested. And we knew that 2,000 people landing on Roatan each time would make a difference, but we had a lot of work to do."
Roatan needed to modify their facilities. In 2000, the municipality applied for emergency funding from Honduras' Port Authority to overhaul the cruise ship platform in order to accommodate a 2,000-passenger ship. Port Authority invested 45 million Lps. in the project which took nine months to construct. The result was a 1,000-ft long dock with a capacity of 100,000 BTR (Brute Tonnage Register), doubling its initial capacity. "Roatan is on the map now because of this facility. We are one of only two ports in the Western Caribbean with this kind of docking capacity. Cozumel [Mexico] has a comparable capacity, but Caymans and Belize can't dock ships. They have to anchor them out," said Hernan Batres, Superintendent of Roatan Port Authority.
In 1999, Roatan was visited by Commodore and Premiere Cruise Lines, but it was NCL that made the major impact the following year. "We met Captain Bakke at NCL and he has been instrumental in the island's cruising industry," said Silvestri, "Captain Bakke actually convinced his competitors to come to Roatan. He gave away his right to be at the dock to accommodate ships from Carnival." Over the last two years, the cruise ship season has evolved into a major industry for the island. The average ship carries 1,500-2,500 passengers and 500-1,000 crew members. A $3 tariff is collected per cruise ship passenger and paid to the municipality. There is a range of fees for use of the cruise ship platform; Port Authority collects $3,500 US each time NCL Sea or Wind docks. NCL accounts for 77 of the 134 ships in from June 2003-May 2004. "This is the first year that we have a true full season with three major cruise lines: NCL, Royal Caribbean and Carnival," said Batres.
As the number of cruise ships increases, local officials began to plan infrastructure development to reflect the volume of visitors. "It was a state of turmoil, you could say. We wanted to attract so much business to the island, but we had to be careful because we didn't yet have the infrastructure to support it," said Silvestri, "Today you see the airport, telephones, uniform taxis and buses. That is because the tourism group has been united and strong." Roatan Municipal is still in the process of a giving Coxen Hole a facelift which should leave the capital with paved streets, sidewalks and decorative fencing. In June 2003, the Honduras Institute of Tourism met with various local groups to organize a Cruising Committee, a central access point for all cruise ship operations.
"We have organized ourselves within the Cruising Committee. All the businesses or tour operators who wish to do business with the cruise ships must be members of our different associations," said Batres who serves as President of the committee. There are five sub-committees of the Cruising Committee: Security, Marketing, Social and Environmental, Shore Excursions and Transport. Each sub-committee manages the associations that apply to their subjects. The 13 associations cover areas from taxis to hair braiders and artisans to restaurants. "To be a member of an association and do business with the cruise ships, you must present certain criteria for your economic activity. You must be registered at the municipality and pay taxes. You must be a Chamber of Tourism member. If you're a foreigner, you must prove that you have either a residency or a work permit. Tour operators must carry a minimum $1 million insurance policy. It guarantees a quality and consistent business to our cruise ship customers," said Silvestri."Today you see the airport, telephones, uniform taxis and buses. That is because the tourism group has been united and strong." Roatan

Municipal is still in the process of a giving Coxen Hole a facelift which should leave the capital with paved streets, sidewalks and decorative fencing. In June 2003, the Honduras Institute of Tourism met with various local groups to organize a Cruising Committee, a central access point for all cruise ship operations.
"We have organized ourselves within the Cruising Committee. All the businesses or tour operators who wish to do business with the cruise ships must be members of our different associations," said Batres who serves as President of the committee. There are five sub-committees of the Cruising Committee: Security, Marketing, Social and Environmental, Shore Excursions and Transport. Each sub-committee manages the associations that apply to their subjects. The 13 associations cover areas from taxis to hair braiders and artisans to restaurants. "To be a member of an association and do business with the cruise ships, you must present certain criteria for your economic activity. You must be registered at the municipality and pay taxes. You must be a Chamber of Tourism member. If you're a foreigner, you must prove that you have either a residency or a work permit. Tour operators must carry a minimum $1 million insurance policy. It guarantees a quality and consistent business to our cruise ship customers," said Silvestri.
Sheila Henry is the President of the Tour Guides Association which has 130 members, each paying 100 Lps. in monthly fees. "We promote courses in history and first aid and we also organize uniforms and provide information," said Henry who estimates the guides earn $10-$25 per day. Association leaders dispatch their members, assigning them to a bus or tour as needed. Only tour operators approved by the Cruising Committee park inside the gates. According to Felix Gale, Commissioner of Independent Tours, 20 of the 25 taxis in the lots are commissioned by Anthony's Key Resort. AKR offers dolphin encounter packages that are pre-sold aboard the ship exclusively through the cruise line. Several smaller tour operators also deal directly with NCL. "Last time there were two ships in, we sold 57 tours for the day," said Nicole Belvedeere of Belvedere Tours in West End. There are 75 buses from six tour operators inside the gates. 15 are operated by Tabyana Beach Resort, owned by Marco Galindo. "Each bus can carry 44 people and we operate each one at about 80% capacity. Passengers can do combination trips with the dolphin swims or horseback riding and then the beach. We sell pre-arranged tours; we protect the cruise lines and they protect us," said Marco Galindo Jr., who helps operate his family's business. NCL notifies Tabyana of their tour numbers the night before they arrive at port. Galindo estimates that Tabyana employs 70 people per cruise ship day, including drivers, lifeguards, dispatchers and kitchen staff. "Last week, we had 500 clients for the day when two ships were in," said Galindo Jr.
Transportation officials allow five independent taxis and buses in at each time. "The buses don't have packages sold on the ship, but there's enough business for a lot of them. We just regulate those coming in," said Gale, who estimates that private island tours range from $40-$80. "It can be a long wait to get inside, but it's usually worth it. You can make $50 a day or you can walk away with nothing. It all depends on the rain and how many people will come off the ship," said taxi driver Eric Brown who arrived at 7am to get in line for independent customers.

As each cruise ship arrives, she is met by officials representing Immigration, Health, Customs, Port Captain and Security who go aboard and verify the ship's papers and passenger lists. "There is a lot less paperwork than in the beginning. Now that the departments have adjusted to the tourism industry, things run very smoothly," said Lynette de Flores of Del Caribe, a port agent who arranges the ship's documentation for entry. On November 11, NCL Wind arrived at 10am with 1,757 passengers and 739 crew members. NCL's Wind is a 230-metre ship built in St. Nazaire, France at a cost of $240 million. She visits Roatan 29 times this season, many times anchoring 500 feet out from the dock when another is at port. Sunset, a tendered vessel owned by Jerry Hynds, transports passengers from the anchored ship to the platform every 15 minutes. "In Roatan, we encourage people to do organized tours because the island is one of the less developed ports on our cruise. About 40% of the passengers end up taking tours, some go out on their own. It varies each time, but usually only 10-15% of our guests stay on the ship at port," said NCL Shore Excursions Manager Stacy Hardman. Scott and Diane Nickerson from Virginia boarded in Miami for their seven-day cruise aboard Wind. "We signed up for the dolphin encounter and the beach; it's all arranged for us," said Diane Nickerson. John and Shawn McCourtie of Washington State had different plans. "We're just going to feel our way around and see what there is, maybe try some local cuisine. This is the first time we've gone on our own," said John McCourtie. According to NCL numbers provided to Port Authority, 1,500 passengers and 300 crew members left the ship at Roatan that day.
As the cruise ship season continues, so do plans for future development. Port Authority is negotiating with two major cruise lines to lease and invest in the cruise ship dock. "The idea is to privatize it and invest a large sum of money over a 20-year lease," said Batres, "It would be a lease between the government of Honduras and private investors." The two bidders are Royal Caribbean and Carnival cruise lines. According to Batres, plans include the construction of another dock at the platform and to fill the surrounding water to double the existing surface area of the platform. The waterfront would be re-designed, with business space for souvenir stores, tour operators and offices. "There are many possibilities for the future of this space. We will are anxious to begin the project," said Batres.

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WISHFUL THINKING By Thomas Tomczyk

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TACKLING THE UNIVERSITY’S FINANCES NEWLY-ELECTED BOARD OF DIRECTORS SEEKS COMMUNITY SUPPORT by Jaime Johnston

The Bay Islands University is reporting financial problems only halfway through its first year of operation. The institution, headed by Director Dr. Perry Elwin, opened its doors on May 5, 2003 with six classes and over 100 students. Now, nearing the end of its second trimester, the University is faced with a shortfall of over 175,000 Lps.
"The University has complied with all the legal work over the last year and a half and it's very costly," said Dr. Elwin, "Between start-up costs to the University of Honduras and legal fees, we have a deficit between our donations and expenditures." For 2003, donations totaled 188,300 Lps., down from 349,034 Lps. in 2002. Start-up expenditures for 2002-03 totaled 712,546 Lps., creating a deficit of 175,212 Lps. The additional funds were needed to cover costs of curriculum development, registration and accreditation from the University of Honduras and legal fees.
"To cover the deficit, I had to use money from our operating costs and now we are short in that area," said Dr. Elwin. According to Dr. Elwin, revenue generated from tuition fees would normally cover all operating costs, including salaries, supplies and utility bills. During the last Fall/Winter trimester, the University's financial record shows a 39,721 Lps. deficit in its operating budget. "The budget we made [was] based on tuition [and] covers our operating expenses. But, we will now come up short about 160,000 Lps. at the end of the year to pay teachers' salaries," said Dr. Elwin.
An open meeting was held on November 13 in French Harbour to address the University's financial status. During this meeting, a new Board of Directors was elected. "At the beginning, we had to have a Board and we were organized, but we have declined. Right now, I am the one taking decisions and spending the money and I'm getting tired," said Dr. Elwin. In the new elections, Board member Valjean Dixon retained her Presidency and Emilio Silvestri was elected Vice-President. "Perry has had good, strong help, but you have to have an active Board," said Bay Islands Congressman Evans McNab, "From a political standpoint, we are going to do whatever we need to do to get the University where it needs to go."
The Board of Directors appealed to Congressman McNab for his aid in governmental approvals for curriculum. "Bay Islands University has legal status, but still waits on approval from the University of Honduras and a subsequent visit from the approvals committee to inspect the technical aspects," said Dr. Elwin who added the process is expected to take less than six months. The pending approval has prompted some students to worry that their credits won't be recognized if the process isn't completed. "Everything seems to be running ok, although I have noticed less people in my classes this semester," said Jennifer Jackson, a student at Bay Islands University.
"All universities begin without formal approvals once they have legal status," said Dr. Ubalda Madrid, "The University can immediately credit diplomas and courses once it is accredited." Dr. Madrid has eleven years of experience working at the university level in Honduras and is expected to join the University staff next trimester. Several members of the community voiced their support for the University. "My biggest concern is not how it's been in the past, but how it will be in the future," said Catherine McCabe who, with her husband, donated $2,000 to the University at the meeting.
Dr. Elwin reported that the University's budget for 2004 is 2.5 million Lps. and has made staff changes to reflect requirements of the University of Honduras. "I have learned," said Dr. Elwin, "For me, there's no limits. We want to grow."

BAY ISLANDS BEAUTY
WINS FIRST PRINCESS AT NATIONAL BEAUTY CONTEST


Umaña finished fourth place out of the six finalists. "When I was chosen First Princess, I didn't expect it. The other girls were models already and I went just for the adventure," said Umaña. As First Princess, Umaña received various prizes, including clothing, a jewelry box and a basket of goods. All of the finalists are contracted to represent Honduras in various pageants for the next year. Umaña will prepare for her next pageant in Martinique from November 26-December 7. "There is also the Miss Earth Pageant next year in the Philippines and if one of the Queens can't go, then I can go in her place," said Umaña.
Honduras won't have an entry in this year's Miss Universe Pageant due to a pending legal dispute with the Miss Honduras organization.


Danielle Umaña arrived in La Ceiba as Miss Bay Islands and returned to Roatan crowned First Princess of Honduras. Umaña was one of 18 contestants participating in the Belleza Nacional Pageant on November 8, organized by La Ceiba's Eduardo Sabla. On September 26 in Progresso, there was a preliminary round of 38 women, aged 18-24. There, Umaña was selected from six Island candidates to become Miss Bay Islands.
The Belleza Nacional Pageant, formerly known as the Miss Honduras Pageant, consists of dance, swimsuit and evening gown competitions. Top prize is 60,000 Lps. and a scholarship to UTH (Universidad Tecnológica de Honduras) in La Ceiba. The night before the contest, the field of women is narrowed through elimination rounds, eventually choosing six finalists: three queens and three princesses. Coxen Hole's Umaña was among the group of finalists in the last round. "I got really nervous because it was my first time and I didn't answer my question well," said Umaña, 19. When asked what changes she would make in Honduras, Umaña responded, "I would change nothing because our country is so beautiful already."

TEMPERS FLARE FLOWER’S BAY PROTESTERS DEMAND SOLUTIONS
by Jaime Johnston
Over 100 Flower's Bay residents protested outside of a local construction company on November 17. The group was demanding immediate improvements on the Flower's Bay road project which has left residents unable to pass through muddy and at times impassable Flower's Bay roads.
"No one can go to work. No one can pass without getting covered in dirt. The road is terrible and it's been this way for too long," said Flower's Bay resident Henry Ebanks, "We're not leaving here today until we see them moving equipment toward Flower's Bay." The demonstration was organized through a community meeting on November 15. After visiting the Municipality's office, the group decided to take the protest to Dixon Cove and form a barricade outside the offices of Bay Islands Development Construction Corporation (BIDCC).
A three-person delegation met with BIDCC officials, mediated by Governor Clinton Everett, Municipal Police Chief Joseph Solomon and acting Roatan Alcalde Alejandro Pacheco. "We just want to tell them to scrape off the material they're topping the roads with because the rain just washes it away. They could just top it with gravel and make the road passable. We're just asking for a little help," said Flower's Bay resident Stephen Ewings.
"We have agreed to send the machinery down to see the situation with the roads and meet back with everyone later in the afternoon in Flower's Bay," said Emilio Silvestri, shareholder in BIDCC, "If it rains, our hands are tied. People have to understand that we are trying to improve the road, but during construction there are certain inconveniences."
BIDCC was awarded the Flower's Bay contract through the Central government which funds the undertaking. The project stopped for year-and-a-half due to funding problems and began again in September 2003.
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Why can't Roatan have a REAL Baseball field? by Jaime Johnston

Willing property owners and Municipality can make hosting Honduras Baseball Championship on Roatan a reality

"I'm a baseball person," said Larry McLaughlin, one of the seven owners of the Coxen Hole baseball field. The field was purchased in 1986 from Gladiston Saphrey by a group of Coxen Hole Nine Tops players. "We just wanted a place to play," said Saphrey. Originally swampland, the field was filled in and maintained by the group of private owners, managed by Larry and Luis McLaughlin. "Over the years, most of us stopped playing and interest was lost. The field deteriorated," said Curby Warren, field owner.
According to Calvin Saphrey, the Roatan Baseball League President, the field needs serious maintenance, new benches, fences and the backstop needs to be moved to 60 feet behind home plate. Of the four Honduran baseball leagues, Roatan has the only field that lacks proper facilities. The National Championship Tournament is hosted by a different league each year; it's currently on a three-year rotation between the other leagues because Roatan's field isn't adequate to host. "We're at a real disadvantage because we never get to play at home," said businessman Bill Etches, who used to play in the Island league and coached the 2003 Sandy Bay Pirates.
The National Championship is a three-day tournament featuring all four league winners and two wild card entries. Each team carries approximately 30 players and staff. "If each team brought 50 people, including fans and family, that's 300 people spending at least 100 Lps. per day on food, transport and accommodation. It's about 100,000 Lps. straight into the local economy," said Etches who estimates the tournament would also draw 500-1000 people in local attendance. In addition to fences, maintenance and proper home plate configuration, Etches notes that washroom and water facilities need to be constructed and field sales concessions arranged.
In March 2000, then-Councilman McLaughlin and Mary Elizabeth Bennett solicited funds from Roatan Municipal to make improvements to the baseball field. A sum of 400,000 Lps. was approved, but never released. "What happened is that we approved it in the moment and then it was forgotten. The money is still there and we still plan to use it on the field to make it better for the community," said Roatan Municipal Mayor Jerry Hynds, "We just have to get together and get things moving forward."
According to Etches, the first step in that process should be to get the league legally recognized as a corporation with non-profit status. "We get very little money because we're not organized," said Etches, "The league needs to be properly and legally constituted with registered by-laws." Funding for legally constituted leagues is available through FEHBA, the governing body for Honduran baseball, and through the Committee for the Development of the Bay Islands. "The Committee [for the Development of the Bay Islands] can't donate money to us because they can't use public money to invest in private property," said Etches.
Although there isn't a formal agreement between the municipality and the field owners, the field is used for community events without charge. The land is an undivided interest between the owners who have different ideas about the future of the field. "The community would lose out if the court divided the interests and any one owner sold their share," said field owner, Julio Galindo, "I have always said that the field should be donated by the owners to the Municipality. That's why we bought the land; I am willing to donate my share and talk to the others about their interests." As an alternative to donation, owners Lydia Bodden, Debra Bodden and Saphrey expressed their willingness to enter into a lease agreement with Roatan Municipal in order to become the land's guardian, making it a public interest. "We would have to sit down with the Municipal and get everything in writing. We would only want the field used for baseball. (…) A lease is a possibility," said McLaughlin. Warren remembers the old ball games and BBQs they used to host at the field and explained, "The land was bought for the kids and the community. My intention was always to donate- not to lease, rent or make any kind of money."
While the old nucleus of the Coxen Hole Nine Tops decides the fate of the field and a sum of 400,000 Lps. awaits an organization to spend it, Etches wonders about the future of baseball in Roatan. "My position is that baseball is one of the only pure Island activities left and I think baseball deserves an effort to preserve it."

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