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


cover story

by Thomas Tomczyk

Circus Brothers Ponce was established in 1966. From the 11 children that Alfredo Ponce had, seven are a part of the traveling family circus. The four brothers heading the circus are: Fernando, 42, the director of the circus; Armando in charge of the show schedules, Rolando responsible for transport; and Carlos Ponce, a clown. There are also three Ponce sisters involved in the running of the show: Fernanda takes cares of marketing and renting of grounds for the circus, Carla and Anabela are circus performers.
Alfredo Ponce, the founder of the Ponce Brothers Circus, found his first circus job at an age of 12. He learned his first trapeze and balancing acts at Royal Dunbar, a Peruvian Circus on tour of Central America. "When someone would get sick, I would learn their acts," said Alfredo Ponce.
With an inspiration from his wife and a little saved up money, Alfredo decided to start his own circus. It was 1966 and he was full of energy and idealism. "It was a village circus… we didn't even have money for a tent," said Alfredo. With only his wife Marta Elvira the little circus presented eleven acts.
"We have good trucks, a good tent, and a good circus product, that should be well received in any country we decide to go to," said Alfredo. The Ponce circus performed all over Central America: from Mexico to Panama. "It's always easier to be a king abroad," said Alfredo, "In my home country we spend little time; not much more then a rain season".
Its easy to stay on the move. The tent and containers can be set up by 20 people in two days. It takes only six hours to disassemble and get them ready for the road.
The circus spent the last three months in Honduras. After Roatan, the troupe will go to Trujillo and in November they will arrive in Nicaragua, then Costa Rica and Panama.
"And if God permits and we have enough money for a ship… we will go to Columbia," said Alfredo Ponce. With all the arranging of the paperwork for the animals, equipment, etc. at least 20 days are needed to cross each border. There are travel documents, vaccinations and fees for each animal.
According to Alfredo Ponce, Mexico and Guatemala consider circus art as a national treasure and circuses are exempt from all types of taxes. Nevertheless, the life of a circus performer is hard. Money saved when the circus attracts many viewers has to last when there is little income. Almost 240,000 Lps. was spent on the boat transport of the nine trucks and seven living trailers. City permits were 3,000-4,000 LPs a week and the electricity bill was even higher.
Revenue from performing in Roatan was disappointing to the Ponce family. "It wasn't as good as we expected (…) we are still paying out of our pockets for our stay here," said the circus founder, Alfredo.
The good times have to pay for the times of poor business and Ponce brothers feel that in Roatan people come to circus still only out of curiosity. According to Alfredo Roatanans were not ready to appreciate the art of a large circus.
To attract more spectators, during their second week of performing in Roatan the circus introduced a two for one payment policy. The expectation was that Bay Islanders would support the Circus by visiting it several times and coming to see different acts performed on different shows. "The people here aren't used to going to the Circus (…) and this hurts us financially," said Fernando Ponce, the circus' director. "The first show we did was to an audience of 35 people. Only the weekends attracted 300-400 people. The circus tent could easily accommodate up to 1,200 people”.

Fernando, Alfredo and Juand Diego Ponce perform horseback acrobatics.

French Poodle Coqui and clown Fernando Ponce after his clown performance.

There are 36-38 people in Circus Brothers Ponce. On a typical evening 13 or fourteen acts are shown. Some equipment and acts stayed in La Ceiba as they were too costly to transport.
The contortionist act was performed by a 12 year old Feama Ponce. The popcorn girl was also a knife throwing performer. The guy checking tickets also performed horseback acrobatics and played with the clowns.
"When I was 6 years old, a good friend of our family asked me if I wanted to become a clown," said Carlos Ponce, 38. "No one out of 11 Ponce children liked to put make-up on their face more than I."Now, 32 years later he still makes people laugh. With his brother-in-law, Richard Paiz, he performs clown acts that involve the public. "It's our intention that the public leaves the show satisfied."
The biggest attraction of the circus is "Ted" the elephant. Traveling with the Ponce circus for eight years, Ted comes from a long line of circus performers. He was born 40 years ago in Mexico and now carries Guatemalan travel documents.
The large seven-year-old "Percheron" horse was purchased in Alaska two years ago. The cost of transporting him all the way to Guatemala far exceeded the purchase price of $1,200. He is now used for equestrian acts and acrobatics. Percheron has more problems adapting to the hot climate of Central America than other circus animals.
A four year old Peruvian born llama "Pichito." had many problems during the sea crossing. "After 15 minutes on the boat, the llama fell down and couldn't get up," said Fernando Ponce.
Circus' Pony "Chiquito" is eight years old and comes from a long line of Argentinean miniature horses. "We are waiting for eight more miniature ponies and two ostriches," said Fernando.
Looking around the circus tent, it's easy to notice a row of painted camel figures all around the tent. "Timmy", the camel was the first animal to join the Brothers Ponce Circus.
He came from a breeder in the United States and seven years ago he came to the circus where Fernando Ponce taught him everything. Only two months ago "Timmy" fell down and broke his back. "They took him down from a wagon so he could get a drink of river water. He fell over a stone, breaking his back," said Alfredo.
The circus is like a giant living organism. If one suffers, everyone is affected, but the show still has to go on. Acts are learned from fathers, aunts. Feama performed her first contortionist act in front of 300 people. After she left the stage her father, Fernando Ponce , showed her the little improvements in technique she should work on.
To be born in a traveling troupe of circus performers is to have circus in your blood. It is often a lonely place which doesn't allow any one to develop lasting relationships. Rates of alcoholism and depression are high. It is a magic place that creates the strongest memories from childhood.
The children of circus performers are allowed to join classes already in session for a week or two as long as they stay at a given place. With papers issued by the Guatemalan government three of the Ponce children were taken into classes at the Juan Brooks School in Coxen Hole. The family originally comes from Guatemala, but the newest generation of Ponce children was often born on the road while performing in foreign countries. Genesis, 2, was born in Nicaragua, Juan Jose, 3, born in Costa Rica and Lean, 2, born in Honduras.
On Sunday, May 18, Circus Brothers Ponce gave its last performance in front of Roatanans.
The elephant stood on two legs, the children laughed and the clowns jumped and chased each other with bucket of water. But there was sadness. The circus patriarch, Alfredo Ponce, sat on the wooden bench surrounding the stage and looked at the show without a word. The passing of the generational torch already took place.


When Elephants Attack
-a survivor’s story-

I'd like to begin by stating that Ted or "the elephant" as I called him back then, wasn't in the best of moods. He was annoyed by the heat and the constant car traffic; Ted was a little hungry and still suffered from a slight headache from the boat trip to the island. As the elephant continued to sway side to side. A row of cars stopped to see the huge mammal.
I was beginning to work on the article about the circus. I wanted to take several photos of the first elephant to come to Roatan. I was accompanied by my friend Mark who was in complete awe of the elephant and requested a photo with the animal. As I stood two meters away from the elephant, Mark walked between both of us and picked up a handful of grass. I was about to say: "pay attention to the elephant, Mark!," when a huge trunk went after Mark's hand. I pushed Mark away, but I leaned foreword and Ted grabbed my right hand. The three ton elephant and my 80 kilo self, begun wrestling for the camera. After a couple of seconds I dropped the camera onto my foot. The elephant let go of my hand and we both lunged at the plastic camera body. I barely beat him to it, but the elephant caught me off balance and dragged me to the ground. The camera slipped away from both of us into the grass away from the road. A second later, with a kick to the trunk, I freed myself from Ted's grasp.
I had another 30 seconds to hear several pieces of advice from the so far silent spectators. I ignored their abundant wisdom and I run into the grass behind the elephant to reclaim my camera. Ted continued to just sway side-to-side. In a sign of complete frustration, he hit a passing car with his trunk.
To tell the truth, I am a little vague on the details and sequencing of the incident. I know there were elements of struggle, falling down and punching an elephant's trunk. Also, my sense of time was definitely disturbed. Best I can estimate the duration of the incident is between 20 and 40 seconds.
I guess it is difficult, or at least it should be, to recall second by second what happens in a 30 second elephant attack. Well, to satisfy the purists it wasn't an attack. I insist on calling it nothing less then a scuffle.
Mind plays some funny games sometimes. Reality creates memories and memories of the same event can be completely different depending upon which person you ask. Then there is time. Time has its own special way of twisting, stretching and editing memories.
So do we even live in the same reality? It's anyone's call, but we definitely see life through different glasses. We sometimes see things others don't and let perfectly good opportunities slip away right in front of our noses. Sometimes we notice situations that are dangerous to others and obvious dangers surprise us.
By Thomas Tomczyk

local news

Ambulance Service is No More

On May 16 the keys to two ambulances were returned to the custody of Paramedics for Children International (PFCI). The last emergency call, transporting a Roatan hospital patient to the airport took place on May 14.

As the rules of PFCI do not permit donation of ambulances to another group the vehicles will be removed from the island and given to another PFCI chapter on the mainland. In a letter dated May 8, 2003 the Paramedics for Children International Roatan Chapter announced the suspension of ambulance service. "After 18 months of operation, we no longer have sufficient trained personnel, infrastructure, or dependable vehicles to provide

Thirty-nine volunteers completed the Paramedics for Children International course in February of 2002. "Due to high cost of living on Roatan, many couldn't continue to volunteer their time," said Romero. Only five volunteers remained to help with the operation of the ambulances over the last five months.
Only one of the two ambulances was in working condition on May 8. "Just in the last three months we spent over 30,000 LPs on parts for the ambulances," said Susan Scott, captain of the paramedics. All the money and time needed for the maintenance and operation of the ambulances had to come from donations. The time to repair the vehicles was given at no charge by Nelson Tinoco of Edwards Auto Service.
"The international group, PFCI has given us ambulances and training," added Scott. “The organization has strict rules how the service should be run. It doesn't allow for any of the paramedics to be paid and doesn't offer any financial assistance to the volunteers”.
A paramedics training session scheduled for March, 2003 did not take place as there were not enough funds from the Roatan contributors to cover the cost of stay for the Paramedics for Children International. In order to conduct the week long course PFCI requested 3-4 hotel rooms, 300 LPs food allowance per person, transport to and from Copan and transportation on Roatan.
"For the lack of ability to move forward, something that is important to the development of this island will be lost," said Romero, himself a native of Olanchito. Romero suggested that the ambulances be placed under the responsibility of the municipality and a tax similar to that of the firefighter's tax should pay for the maintenance and service of the paramedics help.
Elton Woods, chief of Roatan Fire Department, said that the firefighters would welcome an opportunity of providing ambulance help if they had the vehicles. On May 9, a 1987 ambulance truck could be bought instantly on E-bay for $3,500; a 1991 Ford F-350 ambulance model could be bought for $2,750.

reasonable service for the people of Roatan. We have worked under severely limited conditions for several months. However, we cannot continue because we cannot fully comply with the rules of the parent organization, PFCI, which require 24 hour/7 day-a-week service provided by PFCI trained volunteer personnel, phone line, and working ambulances," the letter stated.
According to Jose Ramon Romero, assistant to Coxen Hole fire chief, many of the phone calls the paramedics receive are from the cruise ship visitors who have to be transported to the airport. According to Romero the paramedics received an average of seven calls for assistance a week.
During the 18 months of service, the paramedics provided help on hundreds of occasions. The paramedics assisted during high profile events like the Triathlon and Semana Santa. The ambulance was requested to provide all day standby support assistance during a head of state regional summit held in Roatan. On occasion, the Oak Ridge municipality used the service provided by the ambulances.
Local news
Utila Electric
Soon Utilans will have a big sale on electric power generators. After three years of work, 780 Utila households will finally get their first taste of electricity. The first electricity day is scheduled for Monday, May 26.
The electricity should come to everyone who didn't forget to prepay their meters. The "pay as you go" system worries some as they realize the high electric bill Roatanians are paying.
Utila Power Company is based in Utila with investors from US and Honduran and has spent 2.5 million dollars on the project. The return-on-investment is expected in 10-15 years.
The second phase of the electric project will begin in June with a wind farm of two or three, 600-800 kilowatts wind turbines. They will be located in the wind-alley off the airport. The turbines will stand 84 meters tall and have the capacity to carry the entire grid load of the island on most days.
Using a "waste heat" from the energy production UPCO plans to generate pure desalinated water to Utila. "We'll be purifying initially 15 to 20,000 gallons of fresh water a day with the capacity of going up to about 60 or 70,000 gallons a day," said Robert Blenker, president of the Utila Power Company. From a town with no electricity, Utila could be the first city in Honduras to have potable water in it's water system.
An eight kilometer extension and several underwater cables will connect the 120 UPCO customers on the Utila Keys.
Local news

by Marcia Quinn-Strehlow

It's ironic, but until recently, stealing a cow in Honduras got you a longer jail term than murdering a person with one bullet. Cow theft yielded 16 years (four years for each hoof) while a murderer, with good behavior, can be out on the streets again in just six years. Of course, that's IF he's arrested and convicted. .
Tito Dixon, Police Chief for the Municipality, confirmed the cow theft penalty was just reduced to 4-6 years, regardless of the number of hoofs. Dixon also adds that if you use two bullets in the murder, your jail term is longer because you really wanted the person dead.
Many expatriates on Roatan feel threatened by the increase in violent crime and the lack of effective law enforcement. For example, on Sunday, May 18, at 10 a.m., a group of four men, three armed with AK-47s, invaded the home of a couple near Palmetto Bay. After the armed robbery, the men escaped into the woods.
Last month Commissary Manuel Escobar, Policia Nacional Preventiva, met with foreigners as a follow-up to concerns over security. It was in the wake of the murder of Richard Bourgerie. Several residents expressed anxiety that no arrests were made since the February murder.
The crime issue is complex, with two different law enforcement agencies working the island. Officials say the lack of money for equipment, transportation, communication and salaries is a hindrance; while this is true, Gringo residents say criminals, if apprehended are back out the next day; the police are not mobile enough to be an effective deterrent in outlying areas; court witnesses are commonly bought; the corruption of officials and judges is widespread; and additional police training is needed.
"The entire island is one small family and you can't put someone in jail who is your relative," explains Bob Lee of Blue Rock. "So, very few criminals are put in jail long-term."
"Every Expat I know on Roatan has at least one story of being robbed, most of them have multiple tales," says a foreigner, who asked to remain anonymous. "We have been robbed five times in three years. In each case we had the criminals arrested and put in jail only to find out the following morning they were back out. The judges exact words were, "The boy is actually a good boy and I am friends with his parents,

there is no need for him to be sent to prison as the parents will ensure he does not rob again." Guess what, he robbed us again less than a month later. We had him arrested again to no avail. In this instance we do not blame the police who did respond and were very helpful. When we spoke to them they said they are doing all that they can but they can not fight the legal system and corruption."
So, what's the solution?
"People need to remember that they are living in a third world country and take precautions," says Mike Brown, a security consultant. "There are things we can all do to be less of a target. These include being aware and taking security measures such as installing an alarm system with a loud siren."
That was one of the measures taken by a Calabash Bight couple, following a recent brutal robbery. On the morning of April 19, the woman was beaten in her home, after a young man asked for water at the front door. "While he had my attention, two accomplices jumped me," the woman explained. "All were masked and had guns."
The thieves ran taking two purses and a watch, but not before breaking her teeth and giving her a split lip that required stitches. This was the third criminal incident the couple encountered on their property since December 2002. No arrests were made.
"Most of the crimes are crimes of opportunity and Gringos are providing a lot of opportunity," says Jim Colledge of Sandy Bay. "For example, last Saturday, a friend was robbed and beaten up after leaving a West End bar.
Colledge, who previously lived in LaCeiba, suggested using common sense, staying alert and not being flashy with your money or possessions. Dixon echoed his words, saying drinking too much and flashing money creates problems.
To protect your home, Dixon recommends hiring a watchman. Other countermeasures include high fencing with a barbed wire topper, owning aggressive dogs that are not family pets, and installing lights that can be easily switched on to illuminate areas around your house. Neighborhood Watch programs might also help in clustered communities.
Dixon says he thinks crime has increased recently, but the majority are committed by people from the mainland coming to the island or by people carrying weapons into bars. We all need to be aware and use security measures.

Business news

by Sandi Stephens

If you want to find the only hydroponics farm in Honduras you don't have to look much further then Roatan. Blue Harbor Plantation is a 121 Acre hydroponics farm on a gravel road to Mud Hole. Hydroponics, or the growing of plants without soil, has gained popularity in Europe and the US while it is relatively unknown in Central America.
The plants are grown in gently sloping plastic gullies and cooled by reverse osmosis. Water, containing fertilizers and nutrients, is continually supplied to the roots of the plants. The average time needed for the lettuce to mature is 50 days and the planting season is not interrupted by the rain season. Tomatoes, depending on the variety, need about three months to be ready for picking. Both the prices of tomatoes and lettuce are around double those on the mainland.
The 13,000 square foot screen house is not cooled, but the water feeding the crops is. This protects the lettuce from turning bitter and bolting on hot days. The process manipulates the chemistry of the fertilizer water, controls water temperature passing next to the roots and varies levels of shading.
Using these methods, it is possible to grow crops in the tropics that can normally only be grown in temperate regions or in the highlands. The water chemistry is critical and must be monitored many times each day. Since there is no soil to buffer any damaging factors, the slightest imbalance of nutrients, introductions of a pest or disease, or stoppage of the pumps for 20 minutes, can wipe out an entire crop.
To harvest continually growing tomatoes plants require an unusual method of weaving vine on a tomato cage. The vines hang along a line, much like a clothesline. The bottom ripens first. The tomatoes and leaves are then picked. As the vine grows longer, the end (tip) of the vine hangs further and further along the line.
Val Eylands says that in many ways hydroponics growing is ideal for an island environment. It is more water efficient, uses fertilizer, requires less insect control and is not being dependent upon the fertile soils.
Even though Val Eylands has a PHD in Agronomy, the farm began as a hobby. The couple has spent most of their professional careers working in agricultural development for USAID in Africa and Asia. Jana Eylands plays the financial role in their endeavor. In 2002 they began focusing on ways of supplying local resorts and restaurants with the fresh, unstressed, rich flavored vegetables and herbs. The system was perfected by trial and error. To this day, though, the couple continues to learn and adapt. Val and Jana are thinking about expanding their business. The $100,000 price tag will have to be picked up by other investors.
Blue Harbor Plantation now supplies about 30 island clients with five types of gourmet lettuce, cucumbers, cherry and beefsteak tomatoes, and many culinary herbs, including basil, coriander, arugula, dill, parsley, chives, mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and tarragon. In addition to the plantation, there are approximately 1,000 tropical fruit trees of some 60 different species in the family's orchard.
Virtually all of the upscale resorts and restaurants on Roatan serve salads with lettuce from the Plantation. Many of the herbs show up in dishes and as garnishes as the island's chefs revel in finally having some quality cooking herbs. The Plantation also supplies produce to several locations in Utila and La Ceiba. As an individual, you may purchase their products at H.B. Warren's in Coxen Hole or Eldon's Supermarket in French Harbor.


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