bi-weekly news magazine for Roatan, Utila & Guanaja

feature story / editorial / local news / business


photos by Thomas Tomczyk
written by Michelle Sanders

A 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 Lps. 22.
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 and Fridays.
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.

Mail 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 is noted.
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.

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A CITY IN DECLINE by Alfonso Ebanks

A few 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 newer beans.
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 normally do.
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.

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Every Saturday from 2pm until 8:30pm some serious dominos are being played on Roatan.
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 game.
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.


by Thomas Tomczyk

On Wednesday, January 28, the glass bottomed boat, Underwater Paradise, ran into technical problems and washed onto the reef at Half Moon Bay.
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..

Underwater 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.
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GETTING READY... by Thomas Tomczyk




Financially 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 to PATCO.
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.

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