A Mystery of Somber Bay Island

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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 persons surrounding the blaze. 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?

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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. According the McNeal residents did not called the Bomberos when the blaze began and instead attempted to put out the fire themselves.

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 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. 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 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 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. The citizens of Roatan need to remember their heritage. 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 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. On April 12th, , around 2, 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. 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.

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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. 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. After returning to Jacksonville the issue continued to surface, "How do we help? 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.

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.

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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 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.

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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. 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 had gone on other cruises and visited countries like Jamaica, we had seen poverty. This is what the island's landscape has proved over time, that it is always subject to change.

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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. 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.