In La Entrada
The Destruction of a Popular Business and Apartment Complex Raises
Doubts on Safety and Readiness
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.
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.
scramble to save the Arco Iris residential and business complex 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.
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.
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."
wild Wild West
An Easterly Excursion
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.
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.
central dock to Santa Helenas Seaco community receives to most
traffic on the small island, whos main industry is fishing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Frightening Future
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.
Garifuna-style dance was shared during the 213th anniversary
of their landing at Punta Gorda on April 12th.
play one the shallow banks, paddling around Punta Gorda small coastline.
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.
Let the Living Water Flow
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.
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.
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
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."
on the Edge
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
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.
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.
A small portion of Roatan residents spend their lives picking through
our garbage. But do they know the dangers?
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.
if not thousands of bottles and other materials are scourged every
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.
Along the Valley
A Community Awaits.
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
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
no electricity, the sun seems to set more rapidly than usual
of these structures are compiled of mud, stone, and sticks. Whatever
nature is able to provide, and traditionally known as "Bahreques."
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
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.
Carambola Gardens Faces Paradox
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."
trek along Carambola Mountain for an unfortgettable view atop
its summit overlooking Anthony's Key.
Brady dissects a thunbergia flower along the main trail.
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.
Nurse's Contribution to the Island's Poor
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."
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.
Peggy smiles while discussing plans for her surgical and birthing
unit on the upper level of Clinica Esperanza.
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."