Monday, August 22, 2011

Pitfalls of island living!

Living on an island without any roads is a rare experience for most of the world. It is quiet here with a lack of pollution and noise that is associated with automobiles. There are no roads to mar the scenery; unmaintained and filled with potholes. Nor does one find debris associated with these non-existent roads. No huge billboards or disfiguring signs, no old tires, no broken down cars, no “tossed out the window garbage”, just nature and its beauty.

Then there is the sea, beautiful in its various magical colors of blue and green. Wonders to explore by diving or snorkeling and the ever relaxing day of fishing. Of course the sea has it dangers and no matter how hard man tries, the sea always wins!

A young couple recently came to Guanaja from Roatan via Canada this past week on their honeymoon for relaxation and snorkeling. Unfortunately for them we were being invaded by a jelly fish not common to these waters.

The box jelly fish, or sometimes known as the sea wasp, is usually restricted to the Indo-Pacific but had suddenly appeared on the West side of the island in shallow water during the calm period just before Tropical Cyclone Harvey hit. While they are mainly found in Australia and the Mediterran, they can appear in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and in the sub tropics. Prior to this incident, I had never heard any reports of this particular jelly fish in the waters off Guanaja. It has an extremely potent venom which is contained in its tentacles which contain nematocyst (a harpoon-shaped mechanism that injects venom into the victim). They are very fast moving (can move up to 4 knots), are transparent and prey does not realize it has been stung until some time after. Once a tentacle adheres to the skin, it pumps toxin causing a stinging sensation and agonizing pain. Vinegar is generally poured over the skin and then the tentacles are removed with the aid of a towel-covered hand or a glove as direct contact with the skin can release more toxin to anyone attempting to remove the tentacle.

We met the couple when we were flying back to the island from the States last week at the airport in La Ceiba. They had booked a room at Bo's Island House and were looking forward to a week of relaxing and snorkeling. They got a lot more than they bargained for. They went snorkeling on Friday, a calm day (which is what these jellyfish love) and enountered a large group of box-like jellies swiming very quickly through the water. They never felt the initial sting and swam around for a short while in the group of jelly fish trying to get away. That evening the agonizing pain began and the blistering. No one knew just what to do because they had not seen this type of jelly fish before. So, no vinegar was poured on the stings nor were the tentacles removed! The photos below were taken on Sunday and the blistering had gone down but they were still experiencing much pain. There were more stings than those shown in the photograph and I do not envy them when they have to put clothing over the area and buckle up in an airplane pressed back into the seat for their return flight! They are returning to Roatan on Tuesday for 8 more days and they hope that by then the injuries will be healing over so that there will be less discomfort on their long flight back to Canada!

Then, we had a tropical cyclone approach the area which threatened us with high winds, rain and rough seas. This one was named Harvey and we were ready. Not that much in the way of preparations must be done for a tropical depression/cyclone/storm. A few plants may be brought in to protect them and maybe some lose furniture moved out of the way. This storm was rather gentle in that some of the “Northers” we have in the winter are far more damaging. There was not a lot of wind, enough to blow leaves off the trees and break weak or old branches, but there was little rain. There was, however, a lot of surge action in the sea. It came ashore at our house about 1 a.m. Saturday morning and we could hear the waves crashing on the beach. Previously, on Thursday while shopping for groceries on the Cay, our clear skies turned dark and for over 2-3 hours it poured on the shoppers. We registered 3” of rain at our house while parts of the island had absolutely nothing! Some of the streets were flooded as can you can see in the photograph supplied by my friend, Cathy, below. The children took advantage of the rain, making the most of the flooded streets by running through the shin-deep water!

The week was topped off by the outage of electrical power supplied by Belco, the privately owned electric company here on the island. Power will be on for 4 hours a day (sometimes a little more) with no power for the rest of the time. From all reports, they are running out of fuel. This is something that happens quite often and, so, not unusual to hear. What is beyond my comprehension is a company supplying power through the means of fuel has run out. I don't know why stocks of fuel are not cataloged so that they are aware when they are running low or why fuel is not replenished in time to avoid this, but for some reason it happens on a regular basis. This time rumors are running rampant of the company enlisting the help of an individual to bring them fuel and gave him $1.5 million to buy it and he ran off with the money, or simply they were having trouble getting fuel delivered and the boat captain of a delivery boat wants a share of the fuel for his payment and the agreement not to pay any electric bills, or, the excuse that is given most of the time; people are not paying their bills and they cannot afford to replenish fuel at critical times. Although I was assured once by one of the members of the board of Belco that this is not the case and that anyone not paying their bill has their electricity cut off. Well, we know for a fact that in certain cases that does not happen, but the owners of Belco will never admit that. For the most part, they do have trouble collecting money for the power used. The rates on Guanaja are the highest in Honduras and it is no wonder that people are having a time paying their bills. But, if one wants electric power one must then accept the rates and pay for what they use. There is no clear cut answer to why the power is being turned off, it is a fact of life here and I can only say that I am very glad that I have solar and do not have to be inconvenienced by this outage.

Then we find out that this Monday through possibly Wednesday there will be no water to certain parts of the island due to the fact that the water company is cleaning out one of the dams. We were told later that school children will be used to clean the dams during their school days! While some people see nothing wrong with this and believe it will teach the children a love for their island (???), my argument is that these children get a scant education at best and to take them from school to use them as cheap labor is unconscionable. Besides, if they want children or volunteers to clean the dam, why can't the do it on a weekend? Well, then we get into the territory of the Seventh Day Adventist Church which is the leading church on the island and work is forbidden on Saturday. One person pointed out this would be the same as a "field trip" for educational reasons! Never in my life did I go on a "field trip" to do free labor for a profit making company! We went to museums, concerts, historical places, etc. all to learn about our country and the history of the world. But, again, we live in a country where education is not a high priority and the rights of children and/or women are low on the totem pole.

I say, use the labor force that is sitting in the jail to complete these tasks, not the children of the island! There are projects for beautification of the island that are periodically done and one sees children cleaning the beaches of trash. When this is on a school day, I see no redeeming value to missing classes. If they want to organize a beautification project, then it should be done on a weekend or after school. However, my voice is small and, since I am not a citizen of this country, I have no say in how they handle their "education" or clean-up/beautification projects.

Of course, every society has their own set of rules and customs - I just think it a shame to sacrifice education in the name of custom.

And, so, island living is not for everyone!


  1. Wow- What the hell kind of jellyfish were they??? Obviously not real box ones, or the people from Canada would be d-e-a-d....Time to call the Nature Channel or National Geographic!!!

  2. Ronnie is right! Any chance you could contact them to see if they would be interested in an investigation? Not a nice way to spend a honeymoon! Great Post Guanaja Sharon WB