Sign-up for Bay Islands Voice Updates:
Photo Story by Benjamin Roberts
Fire In La Entrada
The Destruction of a Popular Business and Apartment Complex Raises Doubts on Safety and Readiness

In regards to the billiards club and lavanderia, business manager and owner Carlos Molina says he has only 25% insurance for his businesses, not nearly enough to start a new store somewhere or even supply new equipment. For now it seems, nearly twenty people have had to relocate their homes, losing much of their belongings and two business owners must restart as well. A sad story told time and time again.
Clothes, toys, and furniture either burned or saturated in smoke coat the floors of the upper apartment complex of the Arco Iris. Although no fowl play was suspected, serious issues remain with Roatan's fire safety and prevention systems.

Residents scramble to save the Arco Iris residential and business complex on June 22nd.

On Tuesday, June 22nd smoke could be seen bellowing from the outer layers of Coxen Hole. This is nothing new, residents here and across Honduras and The Bay Islands burn trash, leaves, and any other refuse on a regular basis. Arriving on the scene the first sight was a crowd of approximately 200 persons surrounding the blaze. The Arco Iris, an apartment complex at the upper levels and billiards club / laundry service on the bottom was fully engulfed in flames. At ground level existed a chaotic brew of mud, ash, flames, and Samaritans, trying desperately to douse the burning flames. Buckets of water being thrown to upper levels, it seemed as though once an assembly line could be formed and some kind of control was achieved, the fire had moved to another area of the structure. By the time the Roatan Fire Department landed it was far too late. The Bomberos were able to finally put out the blaze but by then the building was far too gone.

What happened?
Jose Siguenza, owner of the Arco Iris, had a somber reaction. He believed fowl play was not involved and the fire was most likely started by faulty wiring in the building, or a pile of clothes ignited because of close proximity to an outlet. "These things happen," remarked Siguenza. "There isn't much you can do." However, according to Roatan Fire Department Logistica, Brian McNeal there is much that can be done and should have been done to avert the blaze. According the McNeal residents did not called the Bomberos when the blaze began and instead attempted to put out the fire themselves. "When we arrived on the scene the structure was fully involved." At this stage in a building fire nothing can be done to save it and firefighting crews cannot enter the structure until applying hoses only on the exterior.

It's unclear if the Arco Iris could have been saved if the Fire Department had been contacted immediately, but the chances would have been substantially higher. When asked if there was an investigation into what caused the fire, McNeal cited the great need for a arson investigator here on the island. "The real need is not to investigate the cause of a fire, but the preventative measures an arson investigator offers." Although the Roatan Municipal has building inspectors, fire safety and prevention is not always a top priority. "For every dollar you spend in prevention you save 10 in the long run, this is a position we need on the island."

Roatan's wild Wild West
An Easterly Excursion

The journey is through Santa Helena can hours or a full day from morning till night to complete. It is a trip well worth the time and little cost, and most certainly, when finished, a sense of excursion and accomplishment shall manifest. For this place is truly our wild wild west of the Caribbean in modern day.

In these small communities the residnts quite often live a top one another. The small, quiet streets, friendly greetings anf fond salutations give this remote part of Roatan a sense of the way “things used to be.”

The central dock to Santa Helena’s Seaco community receives to most traffic on the small island, who’s main industry is fishing.

For most residents in Roatan the term Santa Helena conjures up images of adventure, mystery, and a sense of the way things used to be in Roatan, the kind of small, almost hidden communities that this place was before the resorts, restaurants, and gift shops. Those who have visited this place are of two factions; adventure thirsty tourists, or old time islanders residing in Roatan's easterly sections.

Split into four sections; North, south, west, and east, the majority of Santa Helena's population resides in an area designated as Seaco (loosely translated) and North Side. Saeco, which is located on the island's southwest corner, and according to local residents the community hosts the highest population of around 500 people. This is also where Helena's small clinic and bilingual school are located. When you enter you are greeted with Seaco you are greeted with bright faces and a smile a mile wide.
This area does not have many visitors and it's said that there are even locals here that have never been to the North Side, which without a boat can be quite a hike. If things seem as though they move a little slower than normal in Camp Bay, this place is comatose. The community just received their first "power plant," a large and rather noisy generator about two years ago.

Helena's North Side community takes the visitor through another cut of mangroves and around the west points of the island. From these vantages the sights of Barbareta and Morat Island's is stunning. There is no view from sea level quite like this throughout the entire Bay Islands. Pigeon and Rose Cay are also scattered along the west. A 10 minute boat ride is about all it takes and as you cruise parallel to the island you can often see soccer practice taking place right along the shore. North Side seems more mountainous than Seaco and the terrain can be quite arduous. The community boasts a population of around 300 and the primary food staples for all of Santa Helena is alligator, carp, bonefish, and snapper. It is said that before Hurricane Mitch devastated the island the mangrove roots were large enough that those who felt a little hungry could simply walk along them and catch fish and lobster in the shallow water system. Even today there are people who love amongst the mangroves and as you pass through the "cut" you can see their private property sign strewn about.

An incredible history
A Frightening Future

The citizens of Roatan need to remember their heritage. This issue has succeeded in some aspects with the Heritage Center in Punta Gorda, as well as tourism based businesses such as YUBU. These groups are a good start, but as Roatan's natural resources are slowly chipped away with each new resort and hotel, so is its heritage. There is no doubt that the island is suffering from an identity crisis. The descriptions of the Bay Islands no more than ten years ago make it sounds as if it was another world, and perhaps it indeed was. Some argue this change is good for the island and the people on it; however the changes have not come from the hands of those who inherited this island over 200 years ago, but by those who have come to tap into the natural beauty and passive temperament of those who reside here. It seems as though the gap between past and present tense, in this case at least, should be measured in light years.

Traditional Garifuna-style dance was shared during the 213th anniversary of their landing at Punta Gorda on April 12th.

Children play one the shallow banks, paddling around Punta Gorda small coastline.

On April 12th, 1797, around 2,000 Garifuna tribesmen and women landed on Roatan Island after losing a century-long war with the British army. The once native people to the region of Lesser Antilles had been living amongst (but segregated from) the Amerindian tribes that occupied that region and others like San Vincente. The British army, which was also receiving funding from the French, distinguished that it was the "Black Carib's" that had to vacate, and not those who belonged to the "Red or Yellow Carib's." Around 5,000 Garifuna were packed into a series of ships and sent to the island of Roatan, with only half surviving the journey. Landing on a region of the island named Punta Gorda, a large majority of "Islanders" live there now, however their Diaspora reaches to almost every end of Roatan and the smaller islands of Utila, Guanaja, Cayos Cochinos and many other areas around and along the Caribbean coastline and even as far as Guatemala and Nicaragua.
This day is Roatan's Independence Day. But the connotations of "blaze and glory" we associate with our Fourth of July isn't exactly a shared sentiment amongst the islands majority. What they celebrate is the preservation and the general adoration for their ancestors. Their legends are full of myth, lore, and mysticisms that. An oral history of ghosts and tokens remain vibrant to this day. The celebration is small in nature but was fascinating to witness the traditional dances along with the inherent garb. Garifuna-style food is made (many dishes include iguana), and children commandeer their parents dory's once the landing has commenced. A cultural event like this is may be rare to the Western eye. With our own Black heritage in the U.S., little if anything is taught about the Garifuna or Black Carib's in Western schools. Many of Roatan's very own residents, with family ties spanning to the very beginning, are unaware of their own heritage. Some are not even sure of their direct ancestry, grandparents or great grandparents seemingly lost in the vapor of poor record keeping, if any was done at all. Some locals joke that (they're) all related, so there is no need.

Drop by Drop
Let the Living Water Flow

After returning to Jacksonville the issue continued to surface, "How do we help?" A return visit was scheduled less than six months after the initial trip. Tours were scheduled with a guide who resided in La Colonia. During the very first time visit their tour guide Henry noticed a young girl carrying two large buckets of water toward her home many meters up one of the numerous peaks in Roatan's largest barrio. With one sentence, without the slightest hesitation Henry remarked "we can take care of that." The rest is history. Subsequent travels were made back and forth between Jacksonville and the island, logistics were planned and soon the couple was building a house backing the edge of La Colonia.
Separated into four districts, Balfate, Monte Carlo, Bella Vista, and Policarpo, La Colonia is staggeringly big. Most that walk through only see fractions because of the extremely undulated terrain. Some would even describe it as mountainous in some areas. Although these borders are not physically marked, the Patronas keep a close eye on their respective neighborhoods. On the Policarpo side neglect of the region's well had resulted in the manual digging of ground water, and three children died in 2007 from drinking contaminated water. This is where Henry and his team began their mission. Three plans were laid out, an emergency plan, a short term plan, and a long term. The past couple years have seen much progress and since Living Water 4 Roatan's inception the emergency plan has finally given way for Henry's short term plans of access to water through much of La Colonia every 8 days, hopefully this will soon be shortened to 6 days.
The ultimate and final target is to provide clean and purified water to every home throughout La Colonia; however this objective cannot be done exclusively with outsourced management such as Henry and his team. "This is their water" says Henry. "It's not mine, it simply must be theirs and they have shown great ownership of this project." Truly this problem, and the solutions which Henry Zittrower has put into motion is merely the beginning, help is needed in all reaches.

Living Water's next step is to begin providing water in the Bella Vista district. Water is delivered every eight days and is stored in large containers near homes which pay for the water.

Did you know that more people die every year due to drinking contaminated water than all fatalities resulting in all the wars currently being fought on this planet? Every year almost 4 million people die worldwide due to drinking contaminated water. That's almost 10,000 people every single day occurring almost entirely (about 98%) in developing regions like Roatan's La Colonia, which have seen its share of illness and deaths as a result of have little or no access to drinkable water.
Five years ago Frances and Henry Zittrower visited Roatan by sheer happenstance. Like so many of the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit this island on any given year, philanthropy was indeed not on their agenda for the day. Henry, a retired project manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield had long since retired. The couple, like so many, embarked on a cruise for their 39th wedding anniversary. They hailed a cab at the Port of Roatan and started driving. "We were travelling through Flowers Bay," remarks Henry, "and witnessed a line of children in their very Sunday best walking up toward a church barely standing over the ocean, like they were pine needle sticks or something." To Henry now, looking back it seems funny how certain images standout in ones mind, this one could not escape his memory. "That was the image that really stirred my heart and nothing else. We had gone on other cruises and visited countries like Jamaica, we had seen poverty."

Out on the Edge
Adventurers Welcome

This is what the island's landscape has proved over time, that it is always subject to change. Camp Bay, a quiet beach community that supports around 80 residents is a great example of Roatan's pristine environment untouched by flashy and expensive resorts. Supporting nearly two miles of beach, and a reef with little interference from diving expeditions, it is the perfect location for those who truly "want to get away from it all." Restaurant and bar owner of La Sirena de Camp Bay, Jimmy Andrade came to Roatan almost five years ago looking for that special spot in the Caribbean but was ultimately turned off by the Americanized aspects of area likes West End and West Bay. After tapping in to his adventurous spirit, Andrade explored what else the island had to offer. He stumbled upon the tranquil community, and it has since been his home for over three years. Yet, Andrade is cautious in his rhetoric, he doesn't want to make it seem tourists are not welcome here, quite the contrary indeed. The Camp Bay Adventurers Lodge is currently in motion, offering potential guests Camp Bay's first hotel accommodations. With miles of white beach and pristine resources, Camp Bay appears to have many advantages for tourist destination developers. However, with many other resorts nearby, it's not like Roatan's "East End" has gone totally undiscovered. Developments like Marble Hill Farms, and Paya Bay Resort are among some the island's best places to visit, already holding much of the east end tourist market. Camp Bay would indeed have to be something special given the distance one must travel for the amenities any tourist would expect, a trip of nearly an hour from Mahogany Bay Dock and the exhausting ride along Roatan's non-paved roads (about which there have been talks between mayors in both municipalities for years.) But this discussion has arisen once again as of late and it seems that both Roatan's Julio Galindo, and Santos Guardiola's Perry Bodden are very serious this time around.
This road will no doubt change the scenery for the region. However as the hilltops grow higher and the spaces get less and less crowded the further east you drive, those impacts are certain to slow as everything else does along with it. For now at least, Adventurers are definitely welcome…

Camp Bay's only church overlooks the pristine reef which closely surrounds the community. The surreal blue waters and gentle waves give Camp Bay a sense of tranquility.

Most tourists flock to Roatan to escape from it all. Whatever "it all" in fact is, depends on who you're talking to. Work, school, the city, family, friends, your constantly pestering significant other, you name it. Yet when one arrives here on Roatan the hustle and bustle most tourists are running from seems more in-your-face than ever with taxis speeding along, tour guides yelling at you from every which way, or the controlled chaos that envelope certain centers like Los Fuertes. One may even think it safe to stroll along West End during the morning hours only to be consumed by the pounding audible ricochets of dance music pouring from one of the numerous drinking establishments. The question must be asked: Is paradise lost on Roatan Island? A place which finally paved its roads not much more than a couple decades ago? Fortunately the answer is a decisive "no." To the amateur Roatan visitor, the name Santos Guardiola sounds like a different island altogether, and those of us who have experienced the island of Roatan to its fullest, would be hard-pressed to be in disagreement. It's true, Roatan's two respective municipalities look and feel like two completely separate landscapes. And when one returns from the East End, communities like Sandy Bay and Flowers Bay seem like bustling, urban environments.

"Banking on Risk"
A small portion of Roatan residents spend their lives picking through our garbage. But do they know the dangers?

Truly these citizens know little about the health impacts amassed when working in such an environment. And although the majority of those residents the BIV has spoken with deny any issues with their overall well-being as a direct impact from spending their days here, many are not able to recognize such risks in general. Especially for those who live a stone's throw away from the materials we choose to throw away. These risks are numerous and may be further exasperated due to the lack of health care options in Roatan, as well as limited access to them. One serious risk for those working in close quarters of waste refuse is the presence of disease carrying insects and vermin. Mosquitos and flies coat this area and with the ever-present threat of malaria (the world's 4th highest cause of death according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control 2005 World Health Report) the danger is real. A young girl living in close proximity to the Roatan dump reported to the BIV that she recently contracted the illness, but she denied any association with her living environment. While adults say they try to prevent those under 18 years of age from working in the dump, this cannot always be achieved. Many dumps or landfills in more developed regions bury and enclose refuse to isolate such seepage because another substantial threat to those working and living amongst the island's waste is the contamination of water and the respective runoff into crops and fields, possibly affecting entire communities. Another concern is the constant exposure to inhaling the delicate yet constantly fuming methane gas which radiates from the decomposing garbage. And although little has been concluded about persistent exposure to this highly flammable gas, most officials concur that it is inherently unhealthy.
For now little can be done or said about these residents' occupational decisions, and while many consider the work undignified, the truth is the work they fulfill makes up for much of our wasteful and irresponsible lifestyles. An unfortunate paradox at best.

Hundreds if not thousands of bottles and other materials are scourged every single day.

The Roatan Municipal Dump has served the island's citizens for some time now as a place where the island's citizens can dispose of their waste with virtually no questions asked, and little, if any, restrictions. This place seems to take on a life all its own and the never-ending loads resemble the green mountainous area that surrounds it. The constantly bulging piles of trash seem to grow more and more each day, breathing in and out as the sun sets down. They wait patiently, as the caravan of garbage trucks comes rushing down the uneven dirt road till a necessary but seemingly random destination is reached. The anticipation rises, wondering what treasure could possibly be hidden amongst the piles and piles of waste. Glass, plastic, metal, even electrical wiring is amongst the material sought after. This is nothing new. A handful of Roatan citizen's toil day in and day out picking through our garbage. And with some effort and know-how the profits can be substantial, some reporting profits of around Lps. 8,000. However after hauling nearly six thousand pounds of plastic to San Pedro Sula many would ask if it is worth the effort. Especially with the potential health hazards associated from working in such a caustic environment.

Down Along the Valley
A Community Awaits.

Roatan provides higher wages, which attracts many immigrants from all areas throughout Honduras. Although minimum wages are indeed higher, around Lps. 7,000 per month in comparison to Lps. 5,500 on the mainland, the costs of living are substantially higher as well, thus the wage disparity. Many island immigrants do not take this into account. The case of Los Fuertes is a prime example. Many people came from the mainland because of a high demand for manual labor during Roatan's labor boom. When this period of rapid growth subsequently ended, the surplus of workers remained with nowhere to go. When it was time for the laborers to leave, shanty towns were set up. Government and various churches were forced to get involved and began to take the area by force in favor of the squatters. Hence the name: Los Fuertes.
Times have changed. Not so many are as eager to help, nor support those once thought less fortunate. Virtually all of Roatan is now privately owned and closely watched. On October 15 the residents of a small area in Oak Ridge were kicked out of their homes, their time was up. "Oak Ridge was a disaster," remarks a local Roatan attorney who has since moved out of realty litigation. "A disaster created mainly by the Municipal. They were more interested in receiving funds than keeping records." Although the residents were indeed paying taxes on their homes, the all important issue of "when" and "where" was never documented. The land owner nowhere to be found, the process went unchecked until the property was handed ultimately down, and the dispute came to light. The litigation process began, the property owner won, staking claim to his new inheritance, leaving dozens homeless and angered.
As for the family along the path, like so many other families along so many other ambiguous trails, snaking through the jungle, the end of their story here on Roatan Island remains open-ended. Will it be one of dispute or resolve? Perhaps both may emerge like so many other shacks and sheds one can find along the way down in the valley.

With no electricity, the sun seems to set more rapidly than usual
Many of these structures are compiled of mud, stone, and sticks. Whatever nature is able to provide, and traditionally known as "Bahreques."
Walking along what seemed to be a once beautifully ornamented drive, the weeds and grass have now taken over the carefully placed stones. The path curves around and ascends; it looks as though there should be nothing here, yet there is another piece of random and poorly planned construction, failing to proceed years ago. It is so common here in Roatan. This specific place doesn't even give the impression that it should exist at all. You reach the top, to the left is a large resort overlooking Caribbean and the other side, a shell of a building. Not so much resembling a skeleton nor solid structure, as the concrete walls surely someone's dream home way back when, such as the decrepit cobblestone drive would indicate. There is a path there, to the right, cutting just past the structure and moving down and through the tall grass and forest. You reach an opening just before you descend into yet another ambiguous valley yet another structure appears. This one is not made of steel or concrete, but wood and flat metal. Dogs, almost a dozen of them in all sizes, colors, and demeanor, show their teeth but only at first instance.
There are people here too, mostly children and young adults. The parents and patriarchs arrive after dark when they are done with work. Around 15 persons in total, ages ranging from 2 to 49 years, occupying four living-quarters attached at the seams, create what appears like an exterior dormitory. The small complex of enclosed rooms, clothes wires with garments strewn about, and a chicken leave much to be desired. Three of the four families are here with permission of the owner, a man named Marco. However friends in need are beginning to move in as well and most likely don't have his consent. They are all from the mainland and all have traveled here for a better life.
Roatan's Paradise Within
Carambola Gardens Faces Paradox

Even then, Bill Brady states one could witness the impact human progress was making upon the natural environment here. "At that time you could really see what development was doing to the island." Fearing the outspread of further commercial, industrial, and agricultural expansion, Brady's goal was to create a sanctuary for wildlife where Mother Nature could develop and sustain itself with little or no intervention. "We basically just overplanted and let nature do the rest." A visit to the Carambola reaffirms this testimony; a gardener of any type is rarely seen.
However times have changed for Brady and his tropical gardens. Roatan's second cruise ship dock at Mahogany Bay promises to dramatically increase the number of visitors to Carambola and with it, threatens the pristine environmental sanctuary that is its Gardens. As common sense would infer, the more people any natural environment sustains, the further its degradation. Yet, Brady remains unfazed. Trusting the consciousness of his guests as people who love nature, Brady speaks with confidence in regards to progress. "We have room to grow." Brady said. Explaining that his gardens have seen upward of 350 guests in a day and room for more, Carambola's secondary trails remain practically unexplored by the majority of visitors. When asked how many more guests Carambola could sustain Brady is certain with one point. "We will never expand our way out of what we made (the gardens) for."

Visitors trek along Carambola Mountain for an unfortgettable view atop its summit overlooking Anthony's Key.
Bill Brady dissects a thunbergia flower along the main trail.
When Bill Brady first began the Carambola Gardens in Sandy Bay, the idea was clear: Make an environmental sanctuary to teach and educate Roatan's residents and youths about the wonders of the Caribbean wildlife that make up the Bay Islands. However with the influx of tourism during the last two decades here on Roatan, the motive has shifted from merely the island's residents to citizens of all nations. "Nature is the star here," remarks Brady, who is constantly seeking a balance between sustainable environmental education and business promotion. "We could all use a little extra dime."
Brady found his way to Roatan while serving the U.S. Peace Corps in 1971, acting as an architect and engineer here on the Bay Islands capital. "Many of the buildings I designed are still standing here." After three years working on Roatan, volunteering for a an extra year after the initial two-year stint was up, Brady briefly revisited his home of North Carolina before returning to the island. A decade later, with money saved from his architecture firm, the Carambola Gardens were sectioned and planted years before cruise ships and the respective influx of tourists began adorning the docks of Roatan.
Saved by Grace
One Nurse's Contribution to the Island's Poor

Dawning a wooden Crucifix around her neck at all times, Stranges faith can be seen not only through her personal attire, but throughout her home and work. Peggy takes this one step farther, calling on herself to act in a manner of Christian ideals always. "If you have to ask if I'm a Christian I'm not doing a very good job."
Originally deemed as Project H.O.P.E (Healthy Opportunities Promoting Education), Clinica Esperanza quickly morphed from a small kitchen table in Peggy's home into a two-story facility that includes a triage center, pharmacy, dental lab, pediatrics office, obstetrics unit, and a general medicine wing. And that's just the first floor. Stranges plans to add a birthing and surgical center upstairs. "It's only going to cost about $1 million," Peggy says with a look of quiet confidence. Ever since Peggy started Esperanza she has relied on the help of others. Whether it be the land which her Clinic is built upon, the unsolicited help of experienced physicians, or simple money donations by friends and strangers, it seems that everyone wants to pitch-in. However Clinica Esperanza has been seriously impacted by the economic downturn and donations to the organization have been cut by more than half
When asked why Stranges had decided to drastically change her life from a RN and dental physician in the United States to now bearing the burden of the Bay Islands largest non-governmental clinic they answer is short and sweet, yet theologically complex. "I don't do what I do to get a higher place in heaven," states Stranges. "I'm a sinner saved by Grace."

Peggy sits and chats with a friend and Roatan teacher at her home only moments away from work which she visited several times during the day, a Sunday.
Ms. Peggy smiles while discussing plans for her surgical and birthing unit on the upper level of Clinica Esperanza.
Sitting in her living room nursing a tall cup of black coffee, Peggy Stranges sorts through files after committing herself to another day of countless favors and acts of sacrifice. Today is Sunday, and while most Roatan residents have spent the weekend relaxing after a long work week, Stranges' job is never, ever finished. Offering numerous trips to the airport for volunteers, attending a baseball game to support a neighbor, running back and forth to her work to wrap-up loose ends, and now babysitting responsibilities on Saturday and Sundays, the only payment considered is a couple ears of corn for lunch or maybe a few bananas to serve her guests in the morning.
Known affectionately on the island as Ms. Peggy, Stranges' never intended on offering health care at all. While visiting San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba on a mission trip in 2001, the Ohio native was asked to view Roatan by a friend and colleague. After chatting with a local pastor for a few hours, Stranges decided that she belonged here. In June of 2001 Stranges was visted by her daighter Lori he began "passing out bandaids" to those in need during her two-week stay with Stranges. While seeing-off her daughter and grandson, Nathan, in San Pedro Sula "The one thing that stood out was the great need for health care. What he was saying and what I had been feeling matched perfectly" The transition took six months from living in the United States, packing her things at home and moving to the largest island off the Honduran coast. "I had four vacations a year and drove a Mercedes at home, I was very content" Stranges commented. "But I am totally at peace with what I am doing."
Click for the latest Roatan weather forecast.