by Thomas Tomczyk
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Alfredo and Juand Diego Ponce perform horseback acrobatics.
French Poodle Coqui and clown Fernando Ponce after his
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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,"
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, May 18, Circus Brothers Ponce gave its last performance
in front of Roatanans.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Service is No More
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
SAFE, STAYING SECURE
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
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
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
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."
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,
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
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
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
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
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.