story / editorial
Words by Don Pearly Illustrations By Thomas Tomczyk
how some good people of guanaja faired
hurricane on record
Bayman Bay Hotel on the Bay Island of Guanaja in Honduras, Central
America was filled to capacity with bored and cranky SCUBA divers
after an entire week of troubled waters. Hurricane Mitch had
sent an advance warning that she was coming, and the ocean was
too turbulent for sport diving. The guests played games and
watched diving videos from years past.
I was the General Manager of Bayman Bay Club and had experienced
several nasty storms on Guanaja but this approaching storm was
sending an advanced warning that was more powerful than any
weather we had ever experienced.
When Saturday morning came and their departure eminent, the
spirits among the troubled guests rose a bit, and as they literally
jumped aboard the dive boats waiting to take them to the airport,
everyone was somehow sad to leave. The surge was so great that
the dive masters had to pick up the older female guests and
wait for the dive boat to rise up enough to pitch them aboard
to other waiting dive staff. A miss here could be disastrous
as I personally found out when I fell between the dock and the
moving dive boat. In shock, but still in control of my senses,
I forced myself to open my eyes and headed underwater for the
relative safety of the pier area. I admit I was scared like
I have never been scared before. A watery grave is just not
my favorite way to go out, I would much prefer to overdose on
fried chicken wings when my time comes.
The guests were given the ride of their lives up the North shore
and through the cut in the island to the airport. There they
were picked up by the very last Aerolinea Sosa flight to leave
Guanaja for some time to come.
With the responsibility of entertaining the guests over, Bayman
Bay staff set about arranging things for the impending storm.
All of the mattresses from the casitas were gathered together
and put into one concrete apartment under my manager's house
for safekeeping. A shopping trip to Bonacca Town to gather all
of the food stock they could gather at this late date was underway
when word came that Mitch had made a turn to the North and everything
looked better for Guanaja. What they did not know at that point
was she did go north but then had second thoughts and stalled
off of the Belize coast while she took her sweet time plotting
her next move.
Late in the afternoon, two water taxis showed up bearing six
new guests. They dumped them on the pier and headed back to
the safety of the airport area. The wind was blowing, rain was
coming down and the water was worse than ever. As they made
their way up the hundred steps to the clubhouse, I met them
and asked how in the heck they managed to come to the resort
when airlines had shut down days prior because of the storms
in the area. It seems they had been in Copan and came over using
various local means and no one gave them a heads-up about anything.
They had pre-paid for their Bayman stay and by goodness they
were going to enjoy it no matter what. They insisted on their
cabin keys and no matter how hard I tried to explain how rough
it might get, they wanted their designated cabins and that was
Watching the surge pounding the piers, we decided to move the
expensive dive gear and compressor equipment off of the main
pier into the safety of the grand entrance building at the foot
of the stairs. With that ugly task behind us we came back up
the fifty-three feet to the clubhouse level and watched the
ocean twisting and churning around our pier. With all concerned
hands watching, the surge came up and under the planks and lifted
the long poles right out of the sand leaving the structure intact,
but floating on the water. An incredible sight only captured
by the newsreel cameras.
Then they started separating and breaking up after being tossed
about like corks. The last to go was the grand entrance that
was recently blessed with the task of safeguarding the compressors.
Everything was lost and our adventure had just begun.
As predicted, when the first roof blew off their cabin, the
guests rushed back to the office for some help. We sequestered
them in that concrete apartment we had previously loaded up
with some forty-five mattresses. The room was wall-to-wall mattresses
and no room for anything else. They were not happy campers but
they were now indeed believers in the power of Mitch. They had
not seen anything yet.
two 35 foot dive boats along with the three 24 foot skiffs and
one speedboat were taken to the cut and rammed at full speed
into the mangroves. Once lodged there they were tied together
and abandoned. Staff from the hotel made their way home to Savaghnna
Bight, Bonacca Town and Mangrove Bight where the smart ones
gathered their families and made their way back to the relative
safety of Bayman Bay Club. Some 54 souls arrived and made themselves
at home in another concrete room beneath the main dining room.
They rigged up a makeshift kitchen and settled in eating like
kings and preparing gourmet meals for the guests and management.
We are proud to say, not one single meal was missed for the
The staff had done all they could do and now they were on vacation.
They chatted and played dominoes, ate and drank and dared Mitch
to show its ugly face. The big generator was producing electricity
and all was well at Bayman.
Mitch in the meantime was turning around deciding what to do
next. Everyone had evacuated Ambergris Caye in Belize and was
hiding with friends and family in the interior of the country.
Mitch had made enough overtures to the islands of Belize. The
majority of the inhabitants took the hint and went elsewhere.
After several false starts Mitch finally did a one eighty and
headed south again, this time straight for Guanaja. Unheard
of and unbelievable, but there she was bearing down on our little
island. Winds clocked at 275 knots sustained were reported on
the local radio station, more rain than ever imagined possible
was packed in the black clouds as she steered a course right
over Bayman Bay Club.
When she hit nothing was strong enough to handle her. Every
roof either tore off completely or at least partially. A few
cabins were de-roofed then left alone. Some cabins moved some
fifty feet and settled in another location almost intact. Some
of course were never ever seen again. In fact five entire cabins
dissolved completely with maybe a toilet seat or a door found
The casita known lovingly as The Honeymoon Suite, lost her roof,
but managed to keep hangers on the clothes racks in the closets
and even left some envelopes sitting on the writing desk.
Ex Governor of Arizona had just finished building an estate
on the adjacent property and later, much later after Mitch left,
you could see from the water where a tornado spun off of the
hurricane and ripped a path up the beach, up the mountain and
through the house only to continue a quarter of a mile up the
mountain. It uncovered a fresh water spring that would later
be dammed up and used for drinking and bathing.
Just the pillions and floor system, completely tiled were left
of the Governor's Mansion.
Neither he nor his family had seen the finished product and
I was the one who had to give him the news. As a side note,
the family elected to rebuild and rebuild they did, bigger and
better than the first one.
For five days and nights Mitch took its best shot at Bayman
and the surrounding areas. Roatan, a mere 35 miles away was
left undamaged. Punta Gorda side had some action but nothing
worse than the usual northers bring each year. The ship called
the Phantom decided to leave Roatan for the supposed safety
of Guanaja in spite of Bill Evans, the owner of Cocoview Resort's
advice. She was never seen again nor was her entire crew. Bits
and pieces peppered Guanaja's shores for months. Life vests,
cabin doors, spiral staircases, the bow carving, a big wooden
sign all came to rest on Guanaja and can be viewed in Savaghnna
bight as they are used for decorations on some of the local
Bayman, the trip from one safe house to the kitchen area required
passing some eight cabins and my Manager and I did the deed
each and every mealtime. On some trips I recall going one way
counting eight standing cabins and then counting only seven
on the return trip just a few short minutes later. Entire solar
panels with hot water heaters full of water sailed some fifty
feet and took out the front wall of my house. Doors, windows
and furniture were flying about as if being carried by pterodactyls
that eventually dropped them like bombs. Nowhere was safe from
flying debris. Two by four lumbers was sent through walls and
kayaks scooted around the pathways looking for a launch spot.
The wind was so strong they later discovered it blew the bark
off of the pine trees further up the mountain. The pines withstood
the wind force, but their skin gave up the fight. The wind carried
saltwater to our level and above and when it was over not one
single green leaf could be found. If it managed to hang onto
its tree, it turned brown from the salt.
On one food run I had to interrupt the food service and quell
a girl fight raging in the employee bunker. It seems earlier
in the season, a boat driver fell in love with one of the sub-managers
and when he brought his wife and three kids to the resort to
ride out the storm it all came to a head. The boatman had a
decision to make and declared he was no longer with his wife
but he was now with the other girl and bottles and flashlights
started flying. I physically stepped in and moments later regretted
that decision. With a few new bumps and the help of some brave
dive masters, we broke it up long enough to separate the contestants.
It was decided the lady manager and her new boat-driving lover
would be required to spend the rest of the hurricane outside,
under another building. Now there is a honeymoon to remember.
On the bunker housing the guests and management, the metal door
that opened outward just for hurricane reasons, had a long knotted
rope attached to the inside doorknob. It was tied there so that
four grown men could hold it slightly open while I slipped the
antenna lid of a laptop satellite phone out into the weather.
When it reached the end of its wire I was able to communicate
with head office in ft Lauderdale Florida and receive the latest
weather reports. Before each broadcast I would write a script
containing names and phone numbers and I would then ask Florida
to make calls to loved ones for the trapped guests. We were
only on the air for exactly one minute in the morning, and one
minute in the night at specific times in order to conserve the
satellite phone battery that I knew could not expect to be charged
in the near future.
One evening brought the news that CNN wanted to do a live interview
with the captives. It was coordinated and orchestrated and went
off without a hitch. Now the world knew where Guanaja was, not
just a name they read on "T" shirts now and again.
I tried to be casual but they told me later that my voice was
about three octaves higher than usual. I thought I was quite
And then, one morning, after some five days of hell, the metal
door was pushed open to find zero wind, a light misty rain and
a lot of darkness. The inhabitants of the safe room climbed
their way over fallen trees and bits of cabin to join the others
near the main clubhouse. Some 65 people hugged and kissed and
thanked God for their survival.
Soon someone noticed their ears were blocked and swallowing
un-corked them. It was as if they were climbing into the sky
in an airplane or diving down into the ocean. We were experiencing
some radical pressure changes.
Several of us gathered on a balcony outside of the dining room.
I looked out into the misty morning and saw a familiar post
sticking out of the water. I knew it well as it marked a coral
head just before the point. As I looked at it it vanished. Moments
later it re-appeared only to disappear again. What was going
on, I thought as I pointed out the magic post to someone standing
near me. Their theory was that there was a black wall as high
as the eye could see. It was moving back and forth ever so slightly,
but as it was the tail end of Hurricane Mitch it would soon
zoom out of sight leaving us alone. I knew better, it was not
the tail end, it was the stomach lining, we were dead bang in
the middle of Mitch. We were in the eye of the hurricane.
While we stood there digesting what this meant to us, with some
twenty witnesses, a shocking thing happened. A United States
Coast Guard four engine airplane painted white and orange pierced
the eye of the hurricane and flew past the resort. As I mentioned
we were at 53 foot above sea level and we were looking down
into the cockpit and for one split second I saw a clipboard
strapped to the co-pilot's right leg. I swear I did. This meant
the plane was flying maybe 30 feet off of the choppy sea and
doing some fancy maneuvering around the point.
One guest shouted to her husband that they have come for us
and said they had best pack the bags. They had not come for
anything, but measurements in the eye of the hurricane. Yes,
Guanaja, Bayman Bay in particular would be playing host to the
eye of Mitch for the next 39 hours.
With one eye on the weather and the great wall, we set about
to light up the generator. One of the guests was fortunately
a generator expert and with the help of our able staff they
got it going in about three hours. Of course we had to follow
the trail and put out little fires that sprung up all over the
estate. There were bare wires, over protected circuits and eventually
fires. But, with everything as wet as wet gets, no biggie. We
had lights at Bayman Bay Club. Now that has to be some kind
of a record. We had the comforts of modern electricity whilst
huddled in the eye of a category five hurricane.
We were stylin', but no one felt secure knowing Mitch would
have to leave sooner or later and we would be cast into the
other side of the damaging storm, probably the worst side of
the storm from everything we had heard.
Now we could charge up the satellite phone and call to our hearts
content. As another sideline, our bill ran some one thousand
eight hundred dollars just for that one week. The owners tried
to get some kind of forgiveness but nay, pay or lose your phone.
Two local radio stations called us and CNN called again as well.
They put us on stand-by, but never called back to put us on
the air. I guess the excitement was gone from our situation
although we certainly did not feel that way.
As I mentioned, Mitch hung around for 39 hours keeping right
exactly over Guanaja. Each time we received an up-dated weather
report we noticed the winds were calming down. 175, 140, 125.
The winds finally dropped to a mere 115 M.P.H. when she finally
moved off. This was only tropical storm magnitude, and absolutely
nothing to worry about after going through what all of us had
gone through earlier.
She left us a lot faster than she came to us and after only
two days we started seeing a helicopter dragging a huge cargo
net beneath it. We went out of our main roof and painted our
name in great big letters. When the chopper kept passing us
by we went out and painted a black and white version of an American
flag only later to find out she was a British Hilo moving water
and food to Mangrove and Savaghnna Bights. I guess the American
flag gave them a bit of a laugh.
After another day we re-established our VHF radio links and
sent for a Sosa airlift. The same water taxis that brought the
guests came back for them and in horrible undulating water stood
offshore waiting for us to ferry the people out past the danger
Four of our guests were in their 80's and the two ladies had
back and leg problems. Up jumped our trusty dive masters again
and actually carried the ladies down the jagged cliffs, into
the water and hoisted them into the taxis. Off they went to
the airport with stories of the most different vacation ever
dreamed of. As a final side note, the four guests returned to
Bayman Bay Club in 2001 just to say hello and to thank us for
our hospitality and good cooking. Their return visit was comped
by head office
All in all it was an experience few people would want to live
through more than one time, but would probably not miss that
one time for anything.
story / editorial
/ local news
______________back to top
Shuffle by Thomas Tomczyk
"security girls" perform luggage searches at the main
waiting area for anyone with time to spare. Just like that, they
fold their tables and leave. No one knows, or cares who had their
hand luggage hand inspected. Why bother? The fee for the experience-
voice through a muffled speaker says something to the extent: "Attention
passenger. The flight to Atrhta brrpt." "What did they say?
Is Houston flight delayed?" asks a Texan in his sixties.
is no air conditioning and an overweight lady from Atlanta is about
to faint. "I just want to get to the plane so at least we could
get some air," she says.
Roatan airport on Saturday serves as a safety valve for anyone thinking
about moving to the island. If it wasn't for them, the island would
probably swell and burst with visitors and migrants. There are other
safety valves: RECO black-outs, rude and dangerous taxi drivers, a
semi-existent road system, but the "Roatan farewell" leaves
a lasting impression and sometimes clouds the images of colorful reefs
and sandy beaches. This was my arrival departure experience on two
of April's 2007 Saturdays.
airport security man comes with outstretched arms. Going between rows
of hundreds of tourists sitting on the floor waiting for their flight,
he carries two Sony Vaio laptops that were left behind at the security
point. Anyone willing to raise their hand could end up with a Vaio.
hundred passengers line shoulder to shoulder waiting for 45 minutes
to clear immigration and pay one of world's highest departure taxes.
"Entrance to Honduras is free," reads a sign at the arrival
hall and immigration area. There probably should be another sign:
"But, if you want to leave Honduras, make sure you've got $34
I get within 40 people from the security the lights go out. "How
romantic," I say. "I've been here four years ago and I almost
forgot why I didn't come back here for so long," says a woman
next to me.
of people cue at the only security scanner. An airport scanning machine
can be bought on E-bay for $4,500 and could double the speed of the
clearing. Instead every Saturday, the airport becomes a scene of hoodlum.
driver shouts: "$20 dollars to West End, $30 to West Bay. Cheep!"
I don't think so. In New York City the four mile ride, similar to
West End to Airport would cost you 4x5x$0.40 plus $2.10 initial fee=
$22.10. At least
to the airport 2 hours before departure, then spend the next hour
and 45 minutes standing in cues and chaos before getting to your airplane.
couple argues over a $150 fee for overstaying their 90 day visa by
four days. The only immigration official doesn't relent. The two hundred
passengers stare in amazement.
story / editorial
/ local news
Poor Help Themselves by Tamy Emma
Micro-credit companies offer lending programs to
Roatanians with hopes of better lives
helps empower women through "unity, discipline, hard work and
courage," a slogan which the members shout at the beginning
of every assembly. Education about human rights, business and heath
care are an important part of Adelante's program to create independence
and self-sufficiency in its lending groups. A team of health and
social educators travel to Roatan every month to train volunteers
from the assembly. "The idea is to try to have a bit of a holistic
approach of the problem through financial products but also through
education," says Stone.
Adelante divided the island of Roatan into nine geographical areas,
each represented by its own assembly. 320 women are members of Adelante
on the island and Flower says more women are likely to join the
program. "We are planning on forming three more assemblies
on Roatan for 2007," he says. Foundation Adelante has 4,700
clients nationwide and offers loans at 3.5% monthly rate, equivalent
to about 42% yearly interest. "It is very expensive to provide
these women credit. If you want to sustain a program that allows
providing for these people, you have to have interests like this,"
says Stone. A majority of Roatan borrowers are looking at their
monthly lending costs and are often not aware of the actual yearly
interest rate that their loan carries.
Other lending organizations such as ODEF and the Cooperativa Santos
Guardalia also offer micro-loan services on Roatan. ODEF's starting
loans vary between Lps. 3,000 and Lps. 15,000 with a monthly interest
rate of 3 percent. According to Walter Suazo, Director of ODEF Roatan,
the organization is the first private regulated financial company
of its kind in Honduras. The program was implemented 20 years ago
on the mainland, but has only been available on Roatan since 2005.
No micro lending program is currently available on Utila and Guanaja.
Just like the rest of the world, Honduras has seen a boom in micro-credit
lending companies since the success of Muhammed Yunus' Grameen Bank
in Bangladesh. In acknowledgment of the power of micro-credit as
a tool to fight poverty, Yunus and the Grameen Bank won the 2006
Nobel Peace Prize. Today, there are about 20 micro-credit companies
While UN has named 2005 as the year of micro credit, there are authorities
that are skeptical about the universal effectiveness of micro credit
programs. "The idea that if we make micro credit available
to the masses is unproven," said Thomas Dichter, a UN development
consultant with 30 year experience in the field in a BBC interview.
"It is a good idea, but entrepreneurs are rare." Dichter
believes that micro credit works best in countries with low corruption
and ample growth opportunities.
from Adelante's La Punta assembly gather on the lawn of Leticia
About a dozen women sat on a sidewalk, some in plastic chairs, some
standing and one swinging in a hammock. Foundation Adelante, a micro-credit
company working in Roatan since 2003, was having its bi-weekly assembly
in Barrio La Punta. The meeting was not much different from a scene
in rural Bangladesh, where Grameen bank, the original creator of micro-lending
was founded. "After Hurricane Mitch, I went to Bangladesh where
I learned from the Grameen model that the poor are worthy consumers,"
says Tony Stone, founder and chairman of Adelante.
Foundation Adelante works with the poorest of the poor, lending as
little as Lps.300 to women with a goal to better themselves. To obtain
a loan a woman must think of a business plan and choose four trust-worthy
friends who will depend on each other during the loan-payment process.
Part of Adelante's lending policy is the assumption that co-signing
for loans will practically ensure that the women make their payments
on time. "If you are in a group and you are all co-signers, you
will make sure the other women pay their dues so you can all keep
receiving your loans," says Renny Flower, Adelante's Roatan coordinator.
Another part is the belief that women are more trusty borrowers than
men. "We typically only accept one man per assembly. Women are
known to be more responsible when it comes to paying back their loans,"
Lucie Greenwood, a 37-year-old Oak Ridge woman living in Coxen Hole,
joined the lending program almost two years ago. She started with
a loan of only Lps. 2,000 to kick off her door-to-door clothing enterprise.
Lucie has never missed a payment and often pays three or four payments
at a time. "This way, if another woman in the group skips her
payment, she can borrow from my money and our loan doesn't get frozen,"
says Lucie. Her good payment habits have allowed her to obtain Lps.
8,000 for her fourth loan in December 2006. In the next two years,
Lucie hopes to turn her door-to-door business into a permanent store.
Taking Boats Again
Fiscal vs. Eduardoño boat owners Saga Continues
Anti-Drug official coordinating the recent seizures, who could not
reveal his name, said that Atlantic Coast fiscal Joel Serrano was
forced to resign his post two month ago also for releasing several
Roatan seized boats. "This is exactly why he doesn't work there
anymore," said the Anti-Drug the official. Another perspective
on the contradictory ruling had fiscal Campos. "This is strictly
a ladder of command issue," he said.
TGI, Diving with Sharks, Fantasy Island and at least three other boats
were also seized in the latest raids and according to fiscal Campos,
will be available for sale at auction in La Ceiba in May.
Subway Watersport decided cut their losses and salvage their two engines,
hydraulics, bimini top, etc, and abandon their boat with the fiscal
as they have originally bought it- an abandoned shell. Several of
the boats confiscated by the Bay Islands fiscal office were given
in "temporary possession" to Foundation Cayos Cochinos.
Subway Watersport's Voyager is towed away by the fiscalia from Barefoot
April 26 another chapter begun in the confiscation of the Eduardoño
boat saga. Three fiscal representatives and an officer from Anti-Drug
squad came to Diving with Sharks, Subway Watersports, TGI and for
the second time this year confiscated the dive shop's vessels.
The confiscations began in January when Isai Campos Rodriguez, director
of Bay Islands fiscales, had ordered a seizure of 30 Eduardoño
boats. The Subway Watersport's 33 footer panga was taken originally
taken on January 29 and, under the authority of Atlantic Coast fiscal
Joel Serrano, released back to Subway two weeks later. Complicating
matters further, in a document dated March 23, Tegucigalpa Chief Fiscal
Omar Cerna Garcia annulled the order given by Serrano.
Are The Champions?
triumphs over the tiny island of Little Corn
the afternoon game the Nicaraguans were able to somewhat control their
demise and even scored a home run. Still the Islita team was overwhelmed
by Roatan's powerful pitching rotation and succumbed to Roatan 7-4.
While Roatan fans danced and celebrated the victories, the Nicaraguan
team picked up their gear in silence. "We will fly nine of our
players from Managua," threatened Stanford Kingsbury, Islita's
owner, jokingly. The Little Corn Island team, founded over 30 years
ago, is one of six baseball teams on the Nicaraguan English speaking
archipelago and did not finish last season's pennant.
According to Kingsburry, the team was promised matches against "neighborhood
teams of Roatan," and was not ready for the "Roatan selection."
Many Roatanians were under the impression that they were playing an
entire Nicaraguan selection, or at least the Swan Island archipelago.
In fact they played the only team of Little Corn Island- population
1,100. While Nicaraguan baseball is considered better that Honduran,
the Islita players were no match for the best players of 73,000 populated
The next day, April 22, Islita players got pummeled again. They lost
to the Roatan selection 9-4 and 11-4. Roatan players are expected
to make a trip to Corn Islands in August.
April 21, on the newly upgraded and renovated Sandy Bay baseball field
became the site of Roatan's first in the long time victory. Too bad
it was against an unprepared and overwhelmed Nicaraguan team from
Little Corn Island, a 1,100 person island 800 miles South-East off
Roatan. Still everyone had fun and the Sandy Bay field got a facelift.
The Roatan selection, composed of the best 24 players from four island
teams, pummeled the Nicaraguans in the morning game. The several hundred
fans cheered and screamed as the morning collision ended 16-3, with
Roatan hitting three home runs by Mike Williams, Jed James and Walter
James Jr. who scored a grand slam.
Goes the Money?
Islanders ask who will benefit the most from the coming ZOLITUR status
ZOLITUR law requires an archipelago wide census to be done before
May 28. The ZOLITUR decided not hire a company to do the census,
but will use local municipal resources to do the work due to end
on May 15.
In September 2004 Bay Islands VOICE conducted a Bay Islands population
estimate based power demand and estimated the archipelago population
at 85,000. Over the last 30 months the energy demand in the Bay
Islands has grown considerably and B.I.V. estimates there are 73,000
people on Roatan, and 94,000 on the Bay Islands. (see chart on opposite
While the law brings in elements of education, security and social
development, almost all questions at the meeting focused on the
issue of who will benefit financially from the ZOLITUR law. "The
only people who won't benefit from this law will be the people who
don't want to work," said Congressman Hynds.
An ID will be given to Bay Islanders, anyone who can prove that
they have lived here continually for the last five years. Fire arms
are allowed only at homes and in businesses. The people found carrying
arms will be fined, their arms confiscated and they risk a one year
jail term. ZOLITUR offices are operating in the French Harbour's
Jared Hynds Community Center.
free tourist zone will indirectly, but positively affect every one
residing in the Bay Islands, was the message of the ZOLITUR board
meeting with island business owners on April 27 at Coral Cay. The
best off financially will be those who already have an established
business here, any business that can be connected to tourism. "Gravel
qualifies too. You don't think I would pass this law if I wouldn't
benefit from this myself," explained Congressman Jerry Hynds
jokingly. The 'tourism related business' will be able to import goods
tax free and resell them locally to additional saving.
While the sales, tourism and personal taxes will be eliminated beginning
May 28, the revenue is expected to be compensated through other means.
Municipal taxes, 4% capitals gains taxes, land sale fees alongside
a $6 international passenger tax, $1 domestic passengers and $2 on
cruise ship tourists tax are expected to more then make up the revenue
available for the development and security of the Bay Islands department.