story / editorial
in a Pill
by Thomas Tomczyk
Theme Parks Provide a Way to Learn about the Archipelagos' Culture,
History and Nature
air is filled with the sweet smell from the white flowers
of Spiral Ginger. Pale pink brats of Mussaenda Philippica
-Lady Flowers surround the tree's miniscule yellow flowers.
Overhead a pair of soaring Scarlet Macaws land in the branches
of a 300-year old La Ceiba tree. This is Gumbalimba, the biggest
of the "Bay Islands in a pill" parks which has been
marketed and likely, according to most definitions, has become
an eco-tourist park.
Located on the western slopes of West Bay's Cohoon Ridge,
the park's main attractions are the free flying birds and
free roaming monkeys that interact with the visitors. Still,
the reptiles are the quiet kings of the park: Green Iguanas,
Spiny-Tailed Iguanas and Whiptail lizards bask in the sun
amongst the thorns of cactus and in the foliage of trumpet
A major element of the park is water conservation, water recycling
and responsible water usage that contributes to recharging
of the aquifers. "One thing I knew is that you can't
have a park without water," said Marco Galindo, Gumalimba's
founder, who drilled five deep water wells, then dammed a
gully and created a three acre pond for thousands of tilapias
and painted turtles. Each year the water pond reservoir serves
as a resting place for migrating birds.
The entire idea of a nature reserve and park began for Galindo
over 20 years ago. A National Geographic team working on Roatan
mentioned how funds could be brought in to support a wildlife
habitat on the island. This planted an idea in Galindo's mind,
but he didn't act on it until 2003. "I regret not starting
this 20 years ago," says Galindo, who purchased the 50
acres from Edrick Smith. The park, set in a 50 percent old-growth
forest, has created several completely new habitats: a pond,
a river creek and a cactus garden. A mature 300-year-old and
150 feet tall La Ceiba tree is its own habitat for hundreds
of creatures. "We need to take advantage of what nature
offers us on the island," says Galindo.
While for independent tourists the best times to visit are
the quiet non-cruise ship days, on some cruise ship days the
park's employee ranks swell from 100 to 150, making Gumbalimba
the biggest tourist attraction in the Bay Islands. Most of
the guides work on a Lps. 2,000 monthly retainer and, depending
on the day, make $50 to $150 in tips.
The guides are constantly updating their knowledge of the
island and environment, listening to lectures by visiting
nature specialists or to old islanders reminiscing of days
gone by. "We are here to teach locals how to appreciate
nature," says Galindo. "They are starting to find
out about and understand the animals and trees
tend to kill something that they don't understand."
The park's guides often end up showing not only birds and
monkeys but sometimes things that most islanders take for
granted, things that many tourists have never seen, such as
cutting ants, termite or wee-wee nests and a banana plantation.
"People have heard about Jamaica and Caymans but not
about Roatan. We need to maintain our edge, maintain our natural
resources," said Galindo, who along with his six sons
and daughters look after different elements of running the
the park has grown based on the growth of Roatan as a cruise
ship destination, it adds diversity to its attractions. The
park's guided tour offers the opportunity to experience a
vast variety of Roatan flora and fauna. Its 50 acre park site
is home to over 200 species of orchids, 20 species of heliconias,
dozens of different ferns and tropical flowers. There is a
cactus garden and a palm tree nursery. The cable bridge overlooks
a pond and a man-made 50 foot waterfall.
interact with a spider monkey.
great to have such an intimate contact with monkeys,"
said April Larow, a tourist from New York who took a half
day break from diving at a West Bay resort to come to the
park. She poses for photographs with a spider monkey resting
comfortably on her shoulders. While the couple decided to
visit the park based on tripadvisor.com reviews, Gumbalimba
has also received some great reviews in the American press,
from mentions in New York Times to CNN.
park serves as an animal refuge accepting animals that can
still lead lives without being caged or endangering other
animals. The "no caging" philosophy created a small
"Noah's Ark" phenomenon where visitors constantly
notice free-roaming animals living in fair harmony. "We
are much more than a tourist attraction; we are a sanctuary
trying to preserve species native to the island for future
generations," said Galindo.
The island's biggest snakes, boas, live on and around the
park but don't attack the birds and monkeys as often as they
used to a few years ago. The introduction and proliferation
of iguanas and agoutis to the park have likely created a better,
more ample food source for the boas.
"People stealing the animals is my biggest problem,"
admits Galindo who only this year lost three macaws, three
monkeys and a sloth to the poachers. "They also come
and steal iguanas, shoot the agoutis and deer. [
let my animals loose and their friendliness becomes their
Every year Galindo likes to add a new attraction to the park.
In 2008 it was "monkey town" and "monkey island"-habitats
created exclusively for the Black Howlers, White Faced Cappuccino
and Spider monkeys. The majority of these primates were brought
to Gumbalimba as rescued animals. They roam freely, jump on
shoulders of caretakers and visitors and spend nights high
in the branches of oaks and magic-cow trees.
The plan for 2009 is to create thermal pools and mud baths.
Galindo plans on bringing in Costa Rican volcanic mud and
creating an environment where visitors could en masse cover
themselves in mud, then soak in pools overlooking the entire
islander tourist with two birds at the Gumbalimba park.
Cay, Gumbalimba and Yubu Garifuna Experience all offer a way
of spending an entire day learning about Bay Islands and taking
part in more active tours.
The Yubu Garifuna Village was an idea of Susan Jensen, a South
African business woman who has lived on Utila, Cayos Cochinos
and Roatan since 1994. Inspired by Zulu theme villages in South
Africa, Jensen envisioned Yubu as a living museum where Garifuna
culture could be promoted and kept alive. "It's original,
but not authentic," says Jensen.
With three partners: Averyl Morris, Barbara Perillo and Mike
Sheppard, Jensen opened Yubu in October 2004 and focused on
attracting the growing the cruise ship clientele. Three years
later Yubu is in the black and tries to give back to the Garifuna
community. Yubu has begun to give 10% of the business's profits
[around $500] to the Punta Gorda's patronato. "We wanted
to help the Garifuna to promote themselves," said Jensen
who explained that around 20 Garifuna are able to support themselves
from working at Yubu. According to Jensen the initial criticism
about the project being outside of Punta Gorda and foreign owned
has subsided. Jensen hopes that down the road more resorts will
book the Garifuna Experience tours at the park, providing a
more varied type of tourist visitor and better
Yubu has begun to give 10% of the businesses profits [around
$500] to the Punta Gorda's patronato. "We wanted to help
the Garifuna to promote themselves," said Jensen who explained
that around 20 Garifuna are able to support themselves from
working at Yubu. According to Jensen the initial criticism about
the project being outside of Punta Gorda and foreign owned has
subsided. Jensen hopes that down the road more resorts will
book the Garifuna Experience tours, providing a more varied
and informed type of tourist visitor.
While Gumbalimba struggled to fill its craftsman center, the
Yubu was successful at attracting authentic Garifuna artisans:
a jeweler, carver, basket weaver, a cassava bread cook and bracelet
maker. The key is the proximity to Punta Gorda and the fact
that Yubu doesn't charge them rent to display their craft.
story / editorial
/ local new s
______________back to top
Freely in Honduras
by Thomas Tomczyk
of Speech is only as Strong as People Prepared to Exercise it
Without Borders in its annual 2007 survey of freedom of
the press ranks Honduras "satisfactory" and 87th
out of 169 nations ranked. "Media freedom in Honduras
is restricted by punitive defamation laws. These require
journalists to reveal sources in certain cases. Journalists
tend to exercise self-censorship to avoid offending the
political or economic interests of media owners and there
have been cases of journalists accepting bribes from officials.
The level of violence against journalists is alarmingly
high," reads the 2007 Reporters Without Borders country
What my mainland colleague failed to understand is that
all these laws protecting free and journalistic expression
don't actually ensure there will be a free expression of
thoughts and ideas. Freedom of the press legal protection
is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient condition
to the existence of free press. While I am exercising my
journalistic free expression on a monthly basis, my mainland
colleagues may feel differently about their work.
I believe that "freedom of expression" is a self-evident,
human right that stands above a legislating apparatus. The
laws protecting free speech are not even necessary for free
speech to exist in a society. For example, in the 1980s
communist Poland I lived in, a small but vibrant underground
press and underground radio existed which allowed for expression
of thoughts and ideas not allowed in the country's laws.
Today the internet circumvents borders and makes journalistic
expression even less dependent on any given country's laws.
If you want to write, video or photo document what is going
on in Burma, Darfur, Cuba or La Mosquitia, you can easily
do so online for the entire world to learn about.
Laws of countries can protect free, journalistic expression,
but it is the publishers and working journalists who have
to make it a reality. If there is no will on their part,
no ability to practice their profession ethically or to
follow reporting standards, then there will be no free press.
I was discussing with a La Prensa reporter of 30 plus years
the existence of freedom of the press in Honduras. She said
there was no freedom. I told her there was. What I believe
was happening was that we were defining "freedom of the
press" differently. She defined it as a "reality
of working on the Honduras mainland." I defined freedom
as a "legal protection for journalists and publishers
prepared to exercise their right."
The La Prensa journalist began to tell me about how the mainland
press is dominated by three publishers fighting one another
and looking after their own interest. While that may be accurate
and sad, I believe it is only a result of society not holding
the press accountable for the topics it covers and the manner
in which it covers them.
Freedom of expression is not always comfortable, or easily
achieved. On the pages of Bay Islands Voice, I have published
letters to editor which I don't agree with. I have also published
editorials by our editorial writers which I don't agree with
and find personally hurtful. Even though I have the right
not to publish them, I believe by exercising that right I
would limit the ability of my writers and their free speech.
In addition, by doing so I would lessen the value of the Bay
Islands Voice as a vehicle of free speech.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
reads: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion
and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions
without interference and to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
story / editorial
/ local news
Branding Company Produces a New Image and Catch Phrase Campaign
to promote the Country
far as Central America, Honduras came into the tourism branding
market late, over a decade after Costa Rican and Belize had fully
developed their identity and were pounding the tourists with images
of toucans and snorkeling holidaymakers. Honduras began its branding
efforts with a logo of a colorful rooster in 1999, and in 2003 President
Maduro launched the "Honduras-one small country, three great
worlds," branding campaign.
The current campaign claims to be different. "This is the first
time we have had such developed research and studies," said
Karla Malidonio, chief of purchasing at the Tourism Ministry, who
has spent the past 11 years at the ministry. The "Honduras
- Everything is here" campaign aims at reintroducing and growing
Honduras as a tourist destination to the US and Canadian market.
In English, the new campaign slogan sounds a bit different: "Honduras-the
Central America you know, the country you'll love."
Contracted for the campaign is "Ypartnership," a marketing
company based in Orlando which conducted polling of tourists and
their perception about Honduras before producing images, slogans
and photo shoots. Ypartnership has produced branding campaigns for
Disney, Universal Studios, Mexico, and received $170,000 for the
project originating from International Development Bank funds.
three Honduran logos.
The familiar three squares of the "three different worlds,"
Honduras brand has been replaced by a logo of a parrot, a parrot-fish
and a flower followed by a phrase: "Honduras- Everything
is here." On June 18 at Coral Cay a new Honduran branding
campaign was introduced to the public in the Bay Islands. "Its
good to change the slogan from time to time," said Nerdo
Bonilla, a Coxen Hole businessman. "We had a few campaigns
before. We should pick one and develop it," said Julio Galindo,
president of CANATURH- BI.
The transition from logo to logo has not been smooth. "Honduras
Tips," the country's twice-yearly official guide, has continued
to print on its cover both the Honduran Rooster logo and the three
squares of the "three different worlds," through 2007.
Clinic that Heals and Teaches
Esperanza Celebrates a Year of Work in a New Building
or two doctors and between six to ten medical students are typically
on staff. "We have so many volunteers we send them to other
places, French Harbour Community clinic," said Stranges,
who coordinates the daily workings of the clinic and gives care
to its patients. "I feel like a mother hen." In 2007
110 volunteers, staying from seven days to six months, helped
at the clinic to the total of 11,500 hours.
The transition to a sustainable medical program hasn't come
easy for Clinica Esperanza, and the shadow of an imploded Polo
Galindo Clinic in Punta Gorda hangs over privately run medical
facilities on the island. "Three of four mission hospitals
fail in the first four years," said Dr. Patrick Connell,
a long-time clinic supporter. "We want the clinic to be
here in 50 years." So before donors tire out, Stranges
hopes to create an endowment large enough to support of the
operation of the clinic. It costs a monthly $7,000 to sustain
the clinic, but once the building is completed it will cost
as much as $25,000 a month.
The clinic is expanding and investing in its future. Dr. Ivan
Pineda, a podiatrist, is the latest of the specialists to join
the clinic's eight paid staff. The 2,200 square foot facility
is due to double in size when construction on the second floor
birthing center is finished. Every week prenatal classes and
diabetic classes are given. A newly acquired ultrasound machine
will serve to educate local doctors in a course scheduled for
volunteer Lauren Young tends to a eleven-year-old Brittany Lucas,
as her mother watches on.
Esperanza, often called Hospital Nurse Peggy, has completed
a year of operating at its own building in Sandy Bay. Other
than the much smaller AKR clinic, Clinica Esperanza is the only
medical facility west of Coxen Hole. "We have patients
coming from Flowers Bay, as far as Oak Ridge," said nurse
Peggy Stranges, founder of the clinic.
The facility is bustling with young medical students running
room to room tending to patients coming for medical attention
that rarely costs more than Lps. 50.
The clinic has become a place of training for dozens of medical
students and doctors completing their residencies. Seven US
medical schools have sent their students to the clinic and some
of them receive a class credit for working at the clinic. "This
is the first time I've learn with real patients," said
Lauren Young, 23, a first-year medical student from University
of Texas, Houston. Young came to Roatan for a five-week period
to gain hands, practical medical knowledge.
on the Beach
Shrimp Festival at Marbella Beach Turns back Time
logistics of setting up the event on a strip of sand was challenging
at the least. Four generators provided electricity to the north
shore beach site few islanders realized existed. Palapas were
built, booths constructed, parking spaces designated. The Parrot
Tree location used on two different occasions of the Shrimp
Festival has filled with condominiums and became too small.
After the sun rose on June 16, around 3,120 tickets had been
sold, 28 sponsors had participated and 18 exhibition booths
had been set up. "This was the best festival so far,"
said Edwards. The profits from the festival go towards Parrot
Tree Educational Fund, a nonprofit foundation whose goal is
to raise money for school programs. The event generated $96,000
in revenue and donations and after expenses turned $41,000 in
Elena Lopez, 16, from Punta Gorda received the title of the
Beauty Queen of the Festival and $1,250 towards a high school
education. Her school, the Primary of Punta Gorda, received
$10,000 for building improvements. According to Edwards, $5,000
has to be given out for the best school-organized sports educational
project and another $5,000 for the best school art project.
The fifth International Shrimp Festival is planned for June
Lopez from Punta Gorda, the winner of the beauty contest.
Sambula, Sopa and the Survivors were some of the local bands
that took part in the fourth International Shrimp Festival.
The Rawstin duo from Dallas, Texas, and Bare Essentials from
Jamaica were the international bands that kept the public hopping
until midnight of June 15.
Sunday is not a typical week day to have a party, but this mid-June
day was different and felt more like a Saturday. Thousands of
islanders altered their weekend plans and anticipated coming
in to work late on Monday so they could attend the fourth International
Shrimp Festival. "The idea was to have an event that would
last all day and would attract the entire family," said
Suyapa Edwards, organizer of the event.
story / editorial
of Control Land Theft
BI Police Focuses On Violent Crime, White Collar Crime Undermines
Confidence in the Islands' Growth
defends her work at the SGM cadastral office but also agrees that
the Municipal land registration problem is substantial. Cartagena
has substantial experience in cadastral work and Roatan land surveys
in particular. Prior to her SGM posting Cartagena worked at a 2000
cadastral census with PMAIB for six years. Cartagena says that of
the SGM 3,700 plot surveys, 1,200 plots have unresolved problems.
As many as 2,100 plots contained problems when she began working
in SGM, but according to Cartagena, she was able to resolve around
900 of these "problem" land parcels. Cartagena believes
that her work has not been entered in the cadastral system computer
database. "I want for the cadastral office to be audited and
my work," said Cartagena.
Cartagena gave particular examples of how the cadastral system is
manipulated. "I have found errors, up to 4 acres discrepancy
between the two databases. Also, people have realized that the owners
of some properties are unknown, and they have taken advantage of
it and produced claim for these properties," says Cartagena,
who worked at the Santos Guardiola cadastral census in 2000.
In December a new SGM cadastral team, headed by Pedro Melendez,
took over from Cartagena. "We are more competent than the previous
[Santos Guardiola] cadastral team and we are making efforts at assuring
the public that the cadastre in Santos Guardiola is better,"
said Melendez, SG cadastral director. Melendez, who previously worked
13 months at the Roatan Municipality in their cadastral department
estimates that only 3% to 4% of land plats have problems.
Santos Guardiola is not alone in its struggle to assure land ownership.
"I think the land problems on the west side [Roatan] are just
as severe," said Annie Kulp, an island realtor with Roatan
Realty office. An antiquated system of registering land documents
is not coordinated with computerized cadastral mapping and vulnerable
to tampering and falsification. "Books one through five are
crumbling, disintegrating," said Anni Jones, an islander real
estate agent with Roatan Realty, about Roatan property registries.
Some property registry books date back to the early 1900s. Lack
of book preservation and lack of access to land registries have
been a cause of conflict and insecurity. "When you touch them,
they become powder," Kulp described the condition of the books.
"The white collar crime has become very prevalent, especially
the abuse of authority by local officials and real estate offenses,"
said Jones. "These crimes affect our personal security, mental
You don't have to tell that to a retired American couple, Greg and
Cindy, who would not disclose their last name for fear of endangerment
their security. The retired couple in their fifties has been in
a legal battle over their property in Pollitilly Bight for the past
three years. "Our life was threatened and we managed to get
one of them [land grabbers] in jail. [
] It's about theft,
forgery and bad checks," said Cindy. The couple hired a bodyguard,
lives in an "undisclosed location," and has reported their
legal and criminal problems to the US State Department. "Even
our lawyer doesn't know where we live," says Greg.
While the situation of property registration on Bay Islands is chaotic,
there are some central government efforts to improve the land registration
procedures and resolve conflicts. For several months INIPSA, a consulting
agency, had a verification and integration process with property
owners all over the island department. The cadastral reform in Honduras
has seen most scrutiny in the Bay Islands, but the soaring property
values has placed the system under stress.
of the "problem parcels" on the north shore of SGM
Islands, and especially Roatan and Santos Guardiola (SGM) Municipalities
have been plagued with growing land dispute problems, and the
crisis has escalated as property values soar. While Bay Islands
police and ZOLITUR security commission has focused on keeping
in check island's violent criminals, dealing white collar crimes,
especially land thievery, has been left for later.
For years island property owners, realtors and investors have
been left to their own devices in their struggles to assure their
property rights. They are caught in a circle of corrupt officials,
failed property registration and cadastral structure and inefficient
legal system. Land disputes, land document falsifications, moving
of fences and changing property lines, issuing false land titles
and land invasions are just some of the ongoing and growing problems
with land that islanders, foreign investors and realtors face.
The people that benefit from the chaos at the land registry and
cadastral offices are land pirates and lawyers.
Fausta Elwin, an island business woman from French Harbour, has
been caught in a legal battle trying to keep two of her inherited
properties in Santos Guardiola. When she came Oak Ridge to pay
property taxes for her Fidler's Bight property she found that
the five acre lot was divided amongst five people and registered
in their names. "I was trembling when I found this out,"
says Elwin. "It's a property that was in my family for generations."
Elwin's Port Royal property has been tied in another legal battle
over land titles for years.
While islander families struggle to keep what is theirs, foreign
and mainland investors are at the mercy of competent real estate
brokers and lawyers. On Santos Guardiola, Cathy Thompson, a city
council member, has pointed a finger at two people: Ernan Acosta,
the current SGM vice-mayor, and Carmen Cartagena, a SGM cadastral
director who worked at the SGM cadastral office until December
2007. "They took out the cadastral survey program onto their
laptop and were changing the land boundaries at home, bringing
it later to the municipal office," said Thompson, who believes
that over a hundred properties in Santos Guardiola could have
a boundary problem.
"There are many more land problems here than at Roatan Municipality,"
concurs vice-mayor Acosta about the cadastre problems. Due to
personal conflicts at the Municipality, Acosta has been sidelined
from performing his duties as vice-mayor of the first National
Party administration in the SGM's history. Acosta hasn't attended
SGM corporation meetings or been in his office for over a year.
"I don't want to begin a confrontation," explains Acosta.