story / editorial
Greener Pastures By
continue to attract foreign
residents, some of them leave. Why are they leaving, and can anything
be done to keep them here?
Islands, like it or not, find themselves in competition as a retirement
and resettlement destination against Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
and Mexico. Despite the influx of foreigners to the Bay Islands,
a trickle of people continue to leave Bay Islands for a "better
A litany of issues has distressed many, some to the point that they
have left the island. These issues range from frustration with getting
legal residency documents, bribing officials, and falsifying land
titles, to worries about emergency healthcare, education of children,
the environmental destruction. Many are concerned with the direction
the island is growing toward. Many have simply grown restless.
Today Bay Islands is host to a growing number of foreigners whose
goals don't go beyond making a quick profit on a temporary investment.
Flip a property, make a profit and leave. Most don't see themselves
staying here more than absolutely necessary. While the business
climate is attracting these people more and more, this article focuses
on those people who have developed a deeper, more long-term commitment
to the islands but who have decided to leave.
While education, law enforcement, security, and outpatient healthcare
are incrementally improving, the process will take years and by
no means has a secured future. Bay Islands VOICE has identified
ten chief reasons why foreigners, and in some cases islanders, are
leaving Bay Islands.
More preoccupied with discouraging people to move to Copan than
with explaining her move away from Roatan, Tanya Clemenston says
jokingly, "Tell them not to come to Copan. There is dengue,
malaria and dirty water here." She is not alone in her desire
for Copan to remain a well-kept secret. Copan has become a refuge
for a small colony of around half a dozen ex-Roatanians: Lloyd Davidson,
Jim Bracken, Pat Merritt, and Dennis Bridal. Other than an occasional
visit to Roatan, they haven't looked back. They almost all own successful
Copan businesses-restaurants, bars, a bird park, tourist info places-and
are quite comfortable in the cobblestone streets of the small but
The town offers the accessibility of driving to San Pedro Sula or
Guatemala City, both just a few hours by car. The mountain town
is more laid back than Roatan, growing yet still very much affordable.
"We don't even have one real estate office," says Lloyd
Davidson, with a certain amount of pride.
Colonia La Ceiba:
Some potential Bay Islands investors who were priced out of the
Roatan market have turned to investment in La Ceiba, a costal town
of 150,000 people which offers the affordability Roatan had five
years ago. La Ceiba's lure to those suffering from "island
fever" is bolstered by its proximity to mountain rivers and
national parks, its convenient drive to San Pedro Sula and its low
Several Bay Islands expats moved to La Ceiba in an attempt to educate
their children. Terry Anderson, Michelle Lopez, and Susan and Henrik
Jensen all lived in La Ceiba while their children attended Mazapan
High School. While some remained, most of them eventually did return
Kent Owenby, developer of several Roatan early home projects like
Las Palmas and Palmetto Bay Plantation, has lived in La Ceiba for
several years now. He started Mango Tree Villas, a real estate development
project on the coast and has a real estate office as well.
This Central American country has been attracting expats with its
nature, affordability and low crime rates. Nicaragua has attracted
the interest of at least two Roatan expats.
Francois Paparone, a French restaurant owner in West End, moved
to Nicaragua after his West End home was robbed four times. He lost
all his baby photos, collection of watches, even baby clothes. It
was the straw that broke the camel's back. Paparone sold his business
within a couple of months and packed whatever remained of his belongings.
Today Paparone runs Palermo Restaurant in San Juan del Sur, an hour's
drive from Grenada.
Hal Sorrenti, a designer who created a successful architectural
office on Roatan, has lived on the island since 1994. He now has
another growing office in Grenada. While his Nicaraguan clientele
grows, Sorrenti finds he spends more time there. "It's just
really nice," says Hal.
Americans and Canadians aren't the only foreigners going to Panama.
Chinese, Columbians and Venezuelans see Panama as a place to invest
and to settle their families. Some Columbian businessmen, in fear
of family kidnappings for ransom, have moved their families to Panama
and fly in to visit them for the weekend. The airport abounds with
daily flights to Cali, Cartagena, Guayaquil and Bogota. The infrastructure
of Panama is impressive: a hub of air and sea transport to all over
the world, 110 banks, five fiber optic cables passing through its
Still, the city of Panama is far from perfect. You can see street
prostitutes and the foreign sex tourists who flock to them. Additionally,
child prostitution is visible on the streets of the capital, as
are plenty of foreigners who take advantage of it. These foreigners
can be seen walking the streets holding hands with Panamanian street
The problems don't end there. The city has never developed an adequate
septic system and much of its sewage ends up in the bay. During
hot months the stench at the seawall can be overwhelming.
Despite the image of banking hub, Panama is on the US list of 25
countries that lack transparency in their banking. Still, and maybe
because of this, the place is bursting with baby boomers. Attracted
by tax incentives and easy residency, between 10 and 30 thousand
American are expected to retire there in the next 10 years.
Their move is eased by information centers and internet portals
offering all kinds of advice. One of the biggest, just around the
corner from Veneto, Panama's biggest casino, is Expats Information
Center sponsored by Panama Relocation Attorneys, a team of lawyers
specializing in arranging residency papers and business and land
purchase documents. Around 20 people a day walk through the doors
of the center. They are mostly English speaking, mostly couples
in their late fifties and sixties. "What people need is a place
they can trust," explains Gonzalo de la Guardia, director of
the Panama Expat Center.
"Four years ago International Living put Panama on the map.
Two years ago they did the same with Panama City," said de
la Guardia. In Panama City, 50 living towers are either finished
or under construction. Another 70 are approved and will likely dot
the Panama bay's horizon. Still this energetic growth is chaotic
In the old part of town, Casco Antiguo, tourist police on bicycles
do double duty as tourist guides, telling tourists where to find
a museum or a restaurant. They speak English, are dressed in shorts
and wear bike helmets. A far cry from the camouflage-wearing and
berretta-carrying tourist police that ride around in tuck-tucks
on Roatan roads.
play on the Casco Antiguo beach with the booming Panama City
skyscrapers in the background.
You can make a small telephone book with a list of ex-Roatanians
who have moved to Panama. Linda and Paul Roberts, who lived on a
sail boat in Brick Bay, have moved to Bocas del Torro. Frank Canalli,
developer of Sundancer, has moved to Panama City. Dennis Belvedere,
frustrated with development on West End point, has moved to Panama's
Vulcan. Lisa and Mike Weiss, after living several years on Roatan's
north shore and growing fed-up with just as many robberies, have
moved to Panama City. Real estate office owners: Port Royal's Al
and Janette Western and Bob and Liz Warring both have purchased
property in Panama and spend some time there.
Not far behind are Mike Saunders, 51, and Susan Scott, residents
of Brick Bay. They are in the process of selling their Brick Bay
home after living there since 1998. "Lack of medical facilities
and hot climate became more of an issue here," says Mike. In
December the couple took a two-week trip to Panama and haven't looked
back since. "As soon as we can get there we're gone,"
says Saunders, originally from Maine and a deck officer at a seismic
For Scott, the hassles of Roatan's daily life, such the electricity
outages and neglected road system, grew too draining. "I am
just tired of standing in line for four hours at the bank,"
says Scott, 55, a retired editor and a volunteer at a Roatan veterinary
Pascal Accard, 50, and Lainie Cohen, 38, met on Roatan in 1996.
Here they had two children and built a successful and efficient
ecological resort in a then almost empty West Bay. Since then, especially
after 2000, they have seen the island develop quickly. The couple
became restless, frustrated and finally decided to leave Roatan
for Panama. "We were very disappointed with the development
on the island. I hope that at least my efforts of zoning West Bay
didn't fall flat the minute I left West Bay," says Laine, who
served as a secretary of the West Bay Association.
While they wait for their beachfront resort to sell, they surround
themselves with a busy schedule of activities in Panama City. Laine
is taking yoga classes, apkido, hung-fu, tai-chi and salsa dancing.
Almost every weekend the couple drives to one of several national
parks surrounding the city. "I am having a blast here,"
says Laine, sitting in a hammock of her two bedroom La Cresta apartment
overlooking the bay of Panama.
Catharine McAbe and Steve Helm are an example of a expat couple
whose presence on Roatan brought positive, real change to the community.
When they left for Panama in 2006 they also took their energy, enthusiasm
and initiative. Catharine has been the main driver and catalyst
for the creation of the French Harbour's Library and Social Center.
Steve, while still going back and forth to Los Angeles, has volunteered
his time and effort in educating and SCUBA-certifying 76 local policemen.
They purchased their Roatan property in 1999 and eventually moved
to the island in 2003. "We reluctantly left because of medical
issues effecting Steven.
When the doctors said he could no
longer dive, being surrounded by the incredible waters of the island
was unbearable for him," writes McAbe who owns a duplex in
Panama City and a property in the Cerro Azul Mountains bordered
by the Chagres National Park. "We arrived in Panama loaded
down with surge protectors and dozens of candles. ... We don't need
the surge protectors and only use the candles for a romantic evening
a deux," writes McAbe.
"Do we miss Roatan? You bet. But, are we thrilled with our
new home and country," writes Catharine, who takes advantage
of the city's rich cultural offerings: theater, international circus
shows, etc. "What is better about Panama are the cultural opportunities,
the first world medical services, and the incredible selection of
gourmet foods and really good restaurants," writes Catharine.
Island to Island:
A trickle of Bay Islands expats have moved from one Bay Island to
another. After Hurricane Mitch Don Pearly and Helen Murphy, both
managing businesses on Guanaja discovered new opportunities on Roatan.
Pearly owns Trans Island Enterprises, a design-construction company.
Murphy has a landscaping and plant nursery business.
Recently a newer trans-island migration of Roatan expats is directed
towards Utila. Four Roatan transfers have settled in Utila's East
to US of A:
Dr. Ron Worley, founder of Punta Gorda's Polo Galindo Clinic in
2002, has been living on and off Roatan since the 1990s. Only three
years after founding the Punta Gorda medical clinic that was going
to be his legacy, a labor dispute with a medical doctor who worked
at the clinic tumbled it and its staff into a legal whirlpool. The
clinic has never recovered. Combined with promised but unfulfilled
government agreement to use the clinic to treat the local population,
the situation has become a constant object of frustration for Dr.
In 2006, quietly and to the surprise of many, he sold his French
Cay home and quietly moved back to the States. There was no party,
no good byes; and for his work and vision, he certainly deserved
all of that.
A number of foreign residents had to relocate off the archipelago
due to lack of medical facilities here. In June, Larry Schlesser,
a real estate professional with a successful practice, was diagnosed
with an aneurism and advised to live within minutes of a hospital.
Roatan is not that place, at least not right now. "I am surprised
that retirees consider to retire here when we are so ill-equipped
to take care of them [in emergency cases]," said Kandy Hyde,
RN and a president of Littlest Angels Foundation, a nonprofit whose
goals are to improve healthcare facilities on Roatan.
There are foreigners who have left Bay Islands and Honduras and
who cannot come back for legal reasons. In the case of two American
couples living in Sandy Bay, an order of capture and arrest was
recently issued due to pressures of another American while they
were away from the country. The situation prevents the two couples
from returning to Honduras. While complicated, their case is by
no means the only one in which Americans were forced to remain outside,
or even extradited from, Honduras.
For all the foreigners who moved away there is a number of foreigners
whom many people wish would leave. "Much of the havoc that
the foreigners undergo is caused by other foreigners," said
Arlie Thompson, Bay Islands Governor. As strange as this sounds,
a brief analysis by Bay Islands VOICE confirms this. In a vast majority
of legal cases involving foreigners, other foreigners are a party
to the problem.
A key to contentment in the Bay Islands is the ability to accept
and be comfortable with change. You also have to be able to accept
that as time goes by, many people will come and go. Many friends
you have made will leave.
While some of them make a slow, gradual transition, still keeping
homes, slowly selling them or visiting Roatan from time to time,
others have left and never looked back.
What is inspiring is that while no ex-Panama expats move to Bay
Islands, some people who left Bay Islands for elseware do come back.
One person who returned to Roatan after leaving for Copan is Rick
Gilson, owner of West End Rick's. Also, Drew and Harmony Storms,
having traveled to New Zealand have also returned to Roatan to raise
their daughter. "We just came back because of the social life,"
says Drew, who recently began working as a realtor on the island.
For Drew it was a hard to go into a 9 to 5 work schedule and begin
the competition lifestyle all over again.
story / editorial
/ local news
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Junjaweed Perspective by Thomas Tomczyk
I find it unacceptable to blindly follow the calls of "save
Darfur" and "stop the genocide." I cannot support
something which has causes and a context that have not been
accurately defined. Not addressing the root causes of any
violence is useless and in fact can be counterproductive and
While the Darfur conflict is indeed savage and brutal, it
is a civil war, not a genocide. The term genocide is defined
as "deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic
or national group." The action by the Arab horsemen,
the Janjaweed, is hardly systematic, nor is it deliberate.
The 6.5 million people of Darfur, divided into at least three
major tribes (Fur, Zaghawa, Massaleit) are far from being
exterminated. These types of conflicts, with population shifts,
rapes and slaughters, have been happening in the region for
millennia and in Darfur itself as recently as the 1980s.
Darfur is far from being the land of the angels. Darfur is
the Afghanistan of Africa and has remained semi-autonomous
until 1916. In the 1980s Darfur became an active base for
Sudan in destabilizing the Chadian government. The current
black Muslim on Arab Muslim conflict can be traced back to
2003 Sudan Liberation Army attack on an army garrison in which
75 Sudanese soldiers were killed. The Sudanese government
didn't take to that very well.
Now don't get me wrong: I do feel bad for the suffering Darfurians.
But more importantly, I'd like to keep things in perspective.
If anyone wants so desperately to find situations resembling
genocide, there are plenty of them: the extermination of the
Yazdi and Mandeans religious groups in Iraq. While few people
may have heard about these people compared to Darfur, these
groups were once prospering, contributing to cultural world
heritage far beyond the numbers they represent.
Not so the Darfurian tribes who have hit a demographic peak.
Even though there are 6.5 million of them, their culture resembles
that of smaller pastoral tribes.
The only people I hear speaking out about Darfur on television
or in print are Western journalists and Bono-like do-gooders.
Even in the commercials, "ordinary New Yorkers"
are asked to read statements by Darfurians who somehow never
speak for themselves. So where are the Darfurians themselves
in all of this?
You won't hear Darfurians speak out on Western media because
they see the conflict best kept in the family, and bringing
foreigners and infidels into it would just bring them shame.
only viable leadership Darfur tribes have are military commanders
of Justice and Equality Movement and National Redemption Front.
These commanders are too busy fighting each other to give
a hand in American commercials supporting Darfur.
While the Darfur conflict is one of many in which Muslims
are involved, what is interesting is that both the victims
and the oppressors are Sunni Muslims. Muslim countries are
constantly accusing Western powers of meddling, and I am inclined
to join with them in saying, "Let the Muslim countries
control the situation themselves, if they so wish."
As far as unwelcomed Western intervention goes, no good deed
goes unpunished. Muslims around the world, just like during
Western meddling in Kosovo, Palestine and Iraq, will be criticized
and their "good intentions" used against them. "Opportunistic
foreign intervention has further inflamed the [Darfur] crisis,"
writes Prof. Kareem M. Kamel on Ilamonline.net, an Islamic
The main reasons for the Darfur conflict are land and the
desertification of vast areas controlled by the Arabs. Overpopulation
and racial overtones are also a factor.
Millions of acres of semi-desert northern Darfur were turned
into desert and this, combined with growing Arab and tribal
populations, has brought on the land pressures and military
Other than calling to "stop the genocide," I would
call to bringing water and irrigation to the Arab north Sudan.
Other than calling to "bring the UN troops," I would
call on bringing education opportunities to both the Arabs
and tribes of Darfur.
We should all be careful to avoid developing a habit of following
the do-good causes without knowing their full context.
story / editorial
/ local news
dolphins die in a cavern system on the south shore of Roatan
the initial reason for dolphins ending up in the caves, the incident
was a tragedy on a scale unheard-of on the Bay Islands. "It
had to have been just hell in there," said Notton, explaining
that all the dolphins had major scratches from coral, some with
broken beaks and broken fins.
This is not the first time that dolphins were found dead at the
Dolphin's Den dive site, a system of caverns 11 meters deep and
50 meters long, just north of Pollitilly Bight. Ben Gonzales, a
Roatan dive shop owner, reportedly found three dead dolphins in
the caves around 1997. It was about that time that the dive site's
name was changed from Verde Grande (Big Green) to Dolphin's Den.
In the early 1990s, Jackson discovered close to a dozen skeletons
and dolphin carcasses with flesh still on them at the same site.
Despite all of this, few people believed in the story about dead
dolphins until now.
While cases of dolphins drowning while becoming disoriented in underwater
caves have been documented, the number of dead dolphins makes this
particular event extremely rare. Tim Blanton, a videographer from
Cocoview documented the site on August 2 and found an octopus, several
eels and lobsters scavenging on the dolphin corpses. Nine dolphin
corpses were left at the site "out of respect for the animals,"
of the dead dolphins with visible scratch marks (photo by Tim
exit from the Dolphin's Den cave system. (photo by Tim Blanton)
There are three theories about what could have happened to a pod
of ten common dolphins that died in a cave system off Pollitilly
Bight on August 1. One of the young dolphins could have swum into
the cave and become lost. As the other dolphins followed it into
the cave, navigating and even turning in the narrow caverns could
have become impossible. As the dolphins' ultrasound system bounced
off the rock and coral, the animals could have grown more and
more disoriented and panicked. They could have repeatedly slammed
into the coral and run out of air.
Three of the individuals were found "jammed in" at a
narrow window of the cavern, trying to pass it at the same time.
The wide exits from the cavern were in plain site just a few meters
away. "We are perplexed why they could not surface at these
openings and breathe," said Gillian Notton, owner of Subway
Water Sports dive shop who discovered the tragedy on an afternoon
It is also plausible that the pod was chased into the cave system
by a shark and lost their way. One of the dolphins was found with
significant signs of predation, possibly that of a shark.
Jackson, a Roatan diver of over 20 years and owner of Native Sons
dive shop, believes that the silversides are the reason for dolphins
dying in the caves. "The dolphins just go into a feeding
frenzy chasing the fish," says Jackson. In the caves literally
filled with fish, dolphins can hardly tell where the silverside
colony ends and coral begins. The only way to potentially confirm
this would be to examine stomach content of the dead dolphins
for presence of recently eaten silversides.
Party on Utila
Midsummer partying gets competitive
the week, neighborhood evening parties were staged as well as daytime
volleyball tournaments with 666 participating teams and hundreds of
spectators. A Roatan team ended up taking the first prize and $1,000.
On Sunday, 24 floats participated in a parade from Chepas Beach to
Industrial Dock while the La Ceiba musical group, Banda de Guerra
del Manuel Bonilla, marched to their own beat. Half of Utila was on
parade, while the other half watched. You didn't even need to have
a place of work to fund your own float.
"Carnival has to function on its own with its own infrastructure,"
said Flynn. "The few problems we had will be worked out and organized
better for the next year."
While the accounting for the Carnival is still not closed, Flynn expects
the event to break even or even bring in a modest profit. "We
came out far ahead of all the past years [Carnivals]," said Flynn.
In a bid to boost the number of tourists, the Carnival organizers
paid room, board and transport of the media to the event. "It
is our goal to see it become an event to equal the Sun Jam,"
group, Banda de Guerra del Manuel, on the main street of Utila.
The weeklong celebration on Utila ended with a bang. On Saturday,
July 28, the biggest fireworks display the island has ever seen took
place in Utila's harbor. With UPCO working overtime, there was enough
energy in the place to not only power every hotel in town, but to
keep people dancing well past midnight. "It is the first year
we did not have a power interruption," said Patrick Flynn, president
of the Carnival committee.
2007, the 11th Edition
lack of sun couldn't even slow the momentum of the infamous annual
festival of hard-core techno heads. The foreplay started with the
arrival of Luis, the methodical, electronic manipulator of minds
and spirits, along with his collection of the continent's best DJ's.
Alfred, the pied piper of party animals, once again proved that
the human body and mind could be pushed beyond its physical and
In the early morning hours of the 24-hour conscious-altering festival,
all reality was gone and the only thing left was Pure Party Pleasure
ragging at an orgasmic pace.
On the following day The Coco Loco kept the funky jam going for
anybody who wanted one last quickie before returning to earth. The
only regret anyone had was that they will have to wait a whole year
before they can again experience the best party the world has ever
Thank you, Alfred. Thank you, Luis. Thank you, DJ's. Thanks to everybody
involved in putting Sunjam together. And a huge thank you to all
the people that came together to make this event a perfect mixture
of human forces which culminated in the climax of the year.
site of the future Roatan stadium
talking to my friend, Johnathon, on the morning of Sunjam. I said,
"You know, this is the best party in the whole country of Honduras."
And he said, "No, this is the best party in the Western Caribbean
and Central America." Then at the same time we concluded, "Sunjam
is the best party on this planet."
Utila, the 11th Edition, took place at Water Cay on Saturday, August
4. As promised, it took everybody beyond the bounds of human experience.
story / editorial
A sea and air search follows the disappearance of
two Roatan tourists
search operators relied on local boat captains for their experience
and advice as to where the disappeared could be drifting. As current
and wind were likely to push the remaining kayak and the missing
couple northwest, on August 18, the search focused on areas close
"[In this type of situation] the best thing you could do is
call Miami Rescue Coordination Center and ask them for their best
guess where the missing could be," said Lloyd Davidson, owner
of Flying Fish, who has used the maritime service in the past. Based
on the time, wind and current information, the center can plot the
likely route of the missing.
Rosales contacted Honduran navy, Belizean coast guard, seaplanes,
local airlines, private helicopters and boats, even secured the
help of two US army helicopters from Soto Cano Army base. With just
the private helicopter costs of $560 an hour, the search costs were
running into tens of thousands of dollars.
At the same time volunteer divers from West End conducted an underwater
search for the bodies off West Bay, but found nothing. "We
are satisfied with the rescue efforts," said Spanish embassy
representative, Alberto Miranda, who came to Roatan on August 19
to check on the search.
The disappearance of the two Spanish tourists follows the September
2006 disappearance of a Henry Morgan resort employee who was blown
to sea on a sea kayak off West Bay. In December 2004 two women in
their twenties disappeared and were assumed to have died while on
a kayak trip to Utila's Water Cay.
One of two Honduran navy vessels used during the air-sea search
for missing tourists.
On August 16 two Spanish tourists, Maria Carmen Arenas, 46, and Francisco
Romani, 49, are presumed to have been blown out to sea while kayaking
in West Bay. Their kayaks were available with their home rental, and
it is unclear what time they left.
After 10 days of little or no wind on Roatan, August 16 brought winds
with gusts up to 50 miles an hour and high waves. "We went out
looking for them in a boat at night, but turned back when waves reached
eight feet," said Vice Mayor Delzie Jackson Rosales, who coordinated
the search efforts.
At 5am the next day several planes, a helicopter and numerous boats
began searching the sea east of Roatan. Around 3pm a helicopter from
San Pedro Sula with three volunteer spotters had located one of the
kayaks 25 miles north of Utila. The kayak was picked up a few hours
later by the Bobby Jr. boat that was participating in the search.