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To Greener Pastures By Thomas Tomczyk

While Bay Islands
continue to attract foreign
residents, some of them leave. Why are they leaving, and can anything be done to keep them here?

Bay 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 place."
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.

The Copan Contingent:
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 growing town.
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 construction costs.
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 to Roatan.
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.

Nicaragua Transfer:
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.

Booming Panama:
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 oceanic isthmus.
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 children.
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 and uncoordinated.
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.

Children play on the Casco Antiguo beach with the booming Panama City skyscrapers in the background.

Roatan to Panama:
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 exploration vessel.
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 clinic.
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 Harbor.

Back 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. Worley.
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.

Coming Back:
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.

 
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The 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 dangerous.
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.

The 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 website.
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 conflict.
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.
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A Dolphin Tragedy

10 dolphins die in a cavern system on the south shore of Roatan

Whatever 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," says Notton.

Three of the dead dolphins with visible scratch marks (photo by Tim Blanton)

An 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 dive.
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.
Alvin 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.

Big Party on Utila

Utila Midsummer partying gets competitive

During 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," said Flynn.

Musical 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.
Pure Party Pleasure
Sunjam 2007, the 11th Edition

The 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 mental limits.
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 seen.
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.

Dr. John McVay

The site of the future Roatan stadium

I was 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."
Sunjam Utila, the 11th Edition, took place at Water Cay on Saturday, August 4. As promised, it took everybody beyond the bounds of human experience.


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Lost at Sea

A sea and air search follows the disappearance of two Roatan tourists

The 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 to Belize.
"[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.
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