story / editorial
/ local news
by Thomas Tomczyk
by Michelle Sanders
Hidden behind an unmarked door along the Central Park of Coxen
Hole on Roatan, sits the main post office for the Bay Islands.
Six other post offices, located in private homes, are located
throughout the island. Both Utila and Guanaja boast a Honduran
post office as well.
The office in Coxen Hole is sparse, with peeling paint and cracked
wood, missing ceiling panels, wires hanging, and bags of mail
piled on the floor against the wall. The regular customers seem
not to notice, and go about checking their P.O. boxes and help
to identify recipient names. There are occasional tourists looking
to buy a souvenir stamp for their collection back home.
Four full-time employees work in the Coxen Hole office. There
is a Postmistress, who oversees and manages the office; the Certificado,
who handles all certified mail; the Apertura, who receives and
sorts all incoming mail; and a Mail Carrier for the Coxen Hole
district. There is a part-time mail carrier for each of six other
districts on Roatan, namely West End, Sandy Bay, French Harbour,
Oak Ridge, Punta Gorda and Santa Helene, as well as a full time
Postmistress on each of Guanaja and Utila.
According to Douglas Merre, the Mail Carrier for Coxen Hole, the
mail service of the Bay Islands handles about 800 pieces of regular
mail per week. Certified mail parcels add about 200 per week to
that number. The cost of a Honduran stamp for regular mail is
three lempiras. This will pay for a letter to any destination
within the Bay Islands or mainland Honduras. For international
mail, the cost is higher and varies by country. A letter to the
US, for example, costs Lps. 12. Certified mail to the U.S. costs
Delivering mail on an island with no street names and no house
numbers is not easy. The mail system is no longer government subsidized
and it isn't financially justifiable to send carriers to outlying
locations until there is a sufficient quantity of mail to deliver
there. Destinations with few mail receiving establishments like
Cayos Cochinos suffer the most.
Mail arrives on Roatan from Tegucigalpa on SOSA airlines on Tuesdays
and Fridays. This includes all international and Honduran mail.
The only mail for Roatan that doesn't come from the capital city
is mail traveling between the Bay Islands. The Apertura receives
the mail and sorts it by destination. The carriers from each district
know they can pick up their mail sacks after 11am on Tuesdays
Santa Helene is an exception to this. To avoid the long journey
to Coxen Hole, the carrier for that district must pick up the
mail at Oak Ridge. The Oak Ridge carrier picks up the mail for
both Oak Ridge and Santa Helene. The Saint Helen carrier stops
by to pick up the mail after it arrives in Oak Ridge, typically
once a week on Wednesdays.
for Cayos Cochinos goes from Roatan to La Ceiba, then on to Cayos
Cochinos, but not regularly. According to Mr. Merre, "We wait
till we get a lot of mail to send [before sending it to La Ceiba]."
Halcyon Bush, the postmistress for Utila, says that mail for Utila
comes from Tegucigalpa, through La Ceiba, to Utila. It comes from
La Ceiba by air daily on weekdays. When mail comes from Roatan to
Utila, it is usually mail that was misdirected to Roatan and it
is forwarded whenever there is enough to send. Most of Utila's mail
is for tourists there and comes in care of the dive shops. There
is no delivery, as Ms. Bush is the only employee at the Post Office.
People have to come and present their passports to pick up their
mail. Laveine Connor, the Postmistress for Guanaja, delivers her
mail whenever she can. Other times, just like on Utila, people must
come to the post office to pick it up. Mail for Guanaja comes by
air daily on weekdays from La Ceiba.
Each of Roatan, Utila and Guanaja has its own four digit zip code,
but few people seem to know them and even fewer put them to use.
Information on each piece of mail is manually tracked by listing
the date received and the name of the recipient. Then, the mail
it is numbered and finally when it is delivered, the delivery date
If your mail carrier doesn't recognize a name, delivery of the mail
becomes impossible. Some senders use creative descriptions and directions
to try to get their mail to their addressee.
If a recipient of a document can't be found, his name is added to
a list kept at the office in Coxen Hole. If the mail goes unclaimed
after ninety days, it is sent back to Tegucigalpa.
Timely delivery is among the greatest concerns by the users of the
island mail service. "They are never really on time,"
says local Roatan business man Kirby Warren, Jr. "We have to
use the shipping companies because this mail [delivery] is not reliable."
Because of this his business, H. B. Warren grocery in Coxen Hole,
never sends outbound mail through the local system.
Julio Galindo, owner of Anthony's Key Resort in Sandy Bay, says
of the mail service, "Our guests use it for postcards and we
buy local stamps for the tourists, but for anything urgent, we would
advise differently. (
) The carriers are amazing: they deliver
by name only."
"It's both good and bad. One of my vendors sends invoices by
mail," says Mitch Cummins, owner of Paradise Computers. He
laughs a little and adds, "Sometimes I get the invoice a month
or two after the product arrives, and sometimes the invoice comes
a month or two before the product arrives. There's no standard."
Cummins also never uses the mail system for outgoing mail.
In 1995, the mail service for all of Honduras was taken over by
a private firm. What used to be Correo de Honduras, an agency of
the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Housing, is now
Honducor. The Honduran government is no longer in the mail business,
although some government officials still sit on the board of directors
for Honducor, along with private sector individuals.
According to Merre, the standard protocol for all mail offices in
Honduras is to fly the national flag only during the month of September,
the month of the Honduran Independence Day. The Honducor Post Office
in Coxen Hole is open on weekdays from 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm.
On Saturdays the office opens from 8am to 12pm.
After Honducor took over the mail service, the company did put a
sign on the door. "But," according to Mr. Merre, "the
weather washed it off, and Honducor funds are low." He is hopeful
that a new sign will be placed back soon, along with some needed
repairs to the office itself.
story / editorial
/ local news
______________back to top
A CITY IN DECLINE by Alfonso Ebanks
days ago an article in a newspaper caught my eye. The article had
to do with the economic situation of La Ceiba. The paper mentioned
how the city no longer has any industries or any factories of consequence.
All this is nothing new. The city of La Ceiba started to decline
when the banana exporting companies shifted loading facilities to
Puerto Castilla. The old dock in La Ceiba had long ago became a
relic of a bygone era. The locomotives pulling the cars loaded with
bananas had switched to diesel, but everything else was from the
previous century. The trains would come from up the line pulling
or pushing cars loaded with bananas on the bunches (stalks). These
cars would then be maneuvered out onto tracks and laid on the dock
where men would form banana brigades to pass the fruit to the conveyer
belts that would lift the bananas up to the ship.
I remember there were always a few guys that went around with short
but very sharp machetes. Their job was to cut the stalks so they
would not overhang the step-like conveyer belt; all this chopping
and slashing was done while the fruit was being hand-carried to
the lifting devices. This system worked well enough for the big
ships that loaded the bananas but for the much smaller island freighters
the loaders had to use another system. First they appointed a god,
or at least a king, who ruled over the hand operated carts (burras).
He was omnipotent. His word was law and his nod was a command. He
and he alone decided what articles would be carried out to what
boat and when each would be carried. A body could not hand-carry
a suitcase out to the boats without his approval. If you ever tried
to hurry things along without completing the appropriate ritual
of the greasing of the hands, he would keep you waiting in the mid-day
sun for hours. I thought he no longer existed, but he's still there
sitting on the stump of a long dead coconut tree. His feet hoisted
up on an old rusty "burra", dreaming of the good old days
and asking for a few lemps "para los frescos." He must
be at least a hundred years old.
With the banana shipping business closed down the authorities and
the merchants of La Ceiba realized that they had to do something
to save their city. They then petitioned the government and finally
got the muelle de cabotage built. This was to serve two purposes:
First it would make the loading and unloading of the smaller boats
much easier, and second and more important, by building it exclusively
for the small boats that ply the island trade routes, they would
lure the island merchants away from Puerto Cortes, where the islanders
conducted half of their business.
The article in the newspaper failed to mentioned that the boats
from the Bay Islands and the Mosquitia carry away from the muelle
de cabotage about one hundred millions lempiras in freight every
year. The paper also failed to mention that there must be at least
ten flights into La Ceiba every day from the Islands. These passengers
spend a lot of money in hotels, taxis, restaurants, night clubs
and a lot of other places.
There are no statistics to give account of this money and it mostly
goes unnoticed, but is a very big part of monies spent in La Cieba
every year. You would think that with all we contribute to La Ceiba's
economy the merchants of that city would give us the consideration
we deserve. But, no. Whenever you go into a store for something
that you want to carry out with you, you had better have the cash
because they don't take credit cards and you can only pay with a
personal check if you are going to have the item shipped next week.
Some of the older stores will take your credit card if you agree
to have them add a surcharge of twelve percent and have it listed
on your bill as a tip; nobody hands out tips in a hardware store.
This is the twenty-first century. Plastic is in and someone should
tell them that.
Some of the bigger wholesale places use the islands for dumping
goods that they would otherwise have to throw awa. This is especially
true with grains and beans, some sacks of beans containing beans
of up to six different colors; the beans are all of the same species
so a difference in color means that the beans are of different ages.
They are mixing old beans, including some that have been wet, with
Some merchants in La Ceiba will not put prices on their goods, so
the price you pay for something in one of these stores could well
depend on the way you are dressed or on the way you talk. The real
problem with La Ceiba right now is that the Bay Islands are in a
severe economic slump and islanders are not purchasing like they
The Mosquitia is not buying right now because that part of the country
depends almost one hundred percent on the Islands for its livelihood.
So what can the Ceibenos do? They can start taking credit cards
without adding surcharges and they can improve their system for
check verification so that you can pay with a check and walk out
of the store with your goods. They could also try to modernize some
of their businesses: some of those buildings haven't had any changes
since the early nineteen hundreds.
And one more thing
they should also remember that the CARACOLES
makes up a large percentage of their business, so threat'em nice.
story / editorial
/ local news
Saturday from 2pm until 8:30pm some serious dominos are being played
For the last nine years Roatan has hosted an
on-again off-again island domino league. There are currently four
active domino clubs on Roatan: the Barrio La Punta Domino Club (12
players), The Bight Domino Club (12 players), both from Coxen Hole,
and the French Harbour Domino Club (12 players) and Flowers Bay Domino
Club (16 players).
None of the clubs have women teams or players
and only a couple of women spectators show up at the Flowers Bay Saturday
match-up. "This is a serious thing here," says Junior McField,
president of the Barrio La Punta Domino Club.
With the hosting team providing food to visiting
players, the weekly games are as much social events as they are sporting
matches. Every now and again a team will host two visiting teams and
play a double-header. On Saturday, January 31, French Harbour beat
host Flowers Bay 3,000 to 2,100 points. In another match-up, Barrio
la Punta Club scored a victory against Flowers Bay. When one team's
members score 3,000 points against their opponents that team wins
The first Roatan tournament lasts from late
January until mid June. Another tournament is held from July till
the beginning of December.
Even though Roatan's domino clubs are not in
touch with Utila or Guanaja domino players, McField said that this
year there will be an effort to bring in teams from across the islands
for a one day tournament.
BOTTOM BOAT GOES HIGH AND DRY
Wednesday, January 28, the glass bottomed boat, Underwater Paradise,
ran into technical problems and washed onto the reef at Half Moon
The boat made two scheduled trips earlier that day, at 8:00am and
9:30am. The third trip, booked for 70 passengers from the Carnival
cruise ship, was cancelled due to increasingly bad weather. Strong
NW gusts of wind created 5-6 foot waves. At 10:30 am the boat was
on its way to take shelter at the Inn of the Last Resort.
Halfway through the reef passage between Half Moon Bay and the open
sea Capt. Vargas lost control of the hydraulic steering mechanism.
Captain Vargas said that he jumped off the marooned boat and with
a mask and snorkel; he dove 30 feet to locate the anchor and attach
the boat with a rope. As one of the buoys was missing this was the
only way to attach the boat. The waves pushed the boat completely
onto the reef and within five minutes the vessel was stranded on
the reef at the south side of the entry to the Half Moon Bay.
Several hundred West End residents and cruise ship visitors watched
the spectacle from shore. "West End was lined with spectators.
I've never seen as many people lining the road," said Gaynore
Pook, local resident..
Paradise was eventually anchored and around 1pm a boat captained by
Bobby McNab, the Bobby Junior II, came out to tow the glass bottomed
boat to French Harbour for repairs.
Underwater Paradise sustained minor damage to the hull and is expected
to be back in service after a week of repairs at Fisherman's Dry-Dock
in French Harbour. According to Capt. Vargas, who has served seven
years on the glass bottomed boat, this was first incident of this
scale that happened to the vessel.
The boat is owned by Kenny McNab and works out of Half Moon Bay resort.
The eight year old boat is 45 feet long and sits 7.5 feet below the
water line. Underwater Paradise is one of two glass bottomed boats
doing business on Roatan.
story / editorial
/ local news
2ND ANNUAL BAY ISLANDS TRIATHLON REVS-UP FOR BUSINESS
the first Bay islands Triathlon in 2003 achieved its goal- it broke
even. "It is a typical case for any new Triathlon," said
Leslie Poujol-Brown, Bay Islands Triathlon's race director. "It
will take three to four years for it to be financially stable."
Originally from Tegucigalpa, Leslie Poujol-Brown, 43, is the running
the Triathlon again in March 2004. She began getting involved in
the organizational part of the sport in her adopted town of Columbia,
South Carolina. In 1999 she helped to organize the Lexington Triathlon
and has been a race director for the event since 2001.
In Central America, the sport is most popular in Costa Rica and
Guatemala, where 4,000 registered triathletes compete. All Central
American countries belong to Central American Triathlon Union (PATCO),
a governing body for the region. Roatan is home to one of two Honduran
triathlons. In 2003 a small triathlon in Amapala, on the Pacific
coast, attracted mostly local athletes. Preceding the International
Triathlon Union (ITU) sanctioned Roatan triathlon, Federacion Hondureña
de Triathlon (Honduran governing body for the sport) organized a
triathlon event on the island in 1999.
This year the race registration fee for Mexican, Central American
and Honduran residents was brought down from $95 to $65. So far,
four Bay Island athletes have registered for the event and Poujol-Brown
hopes that this number will grow to 50. $5 from entrance fee goes
to Federacion Hondureña de Triathlon and a $500 fee is paid
The 2004 event has some extra costs to take care of: building bike
racks, a finish line, buying pendent lines, renting fencing and
scaffolding. This race hardware was all rented from Set-Up Inc.
for the 2003 event. The new equipment will stay on Roatan and serve
in subsequent events. Jackson Shipping has provided free shipping
of equipment imported from the US.
Another increase in cost for the race organizers is the winner's
purse, paid this year by Cerveceria Hondureña, which went
up from $6,000 to $8,000 and will be divided equally between the
top seven men and women finishers. Then there is the issue of insurance
fees. ITU requires a $1,000,000 insurance for race directors and
all sponsors of the event. Due to high prices of getting insurance
in Honduras, ITU has lowered that requirement to $250,000, up from
$125,000, in the 2003 race. The insurance costs for 2003 were $1,000.
This year, the athletes are covered up to $10,000 for the half day
of the competition. Aseguradora Hondureña is picking up that
insurance bill as part of their Bay Islands Triathlon sponsorship.
The annual event generates a plethora of income for local business.
"I believe each athlete spent about $250 dollars per day [during
their stay on Roatan] easy," said Poujol-Brown. The athletes
stay a minimum of three days on the island and many times travel
with a support team. "We had every hotel in West Bay completely
booked," says Poujol-Brown about the 2003 event.
Partnering up with Set-Up Inc. Poujol-Brown set up the event in
2003 for $20,000. Sponsors provided $14,000 and another $6,000 came
in from the 110 participants. This year, the estimated cost of setting
up the event went up to $25,000. So far $11,000 has came in from
sponsors and 70 athletes registered for the race. The number of
athletes competing as a team is expected to grow from 10 teams last
year to 15-20.
"We give about 20 free entry fees to disadvantaged professional
athletes or people coming from very far away," said Poujol-Brown.
One athlete from Burundi and another one from Brazil already took
advantage of this opportunity. "We are looking for home stays
for our disadvantaged professional athletes," said Poujol-Brown.
"They are people with at least Master degree and I have a list
of 10 to 12 people right now." The Bay Islands Triathlon is
one of six races in South and North America in 2004 that offers
qualifying points for the Olympic Games in Greece. This should boost
the presence of international athletes in this year's competition.