|The whistle from across the canal that meant that John was back from his “down Island” shopping excursion came way too early. “Oh no”, I thought to myself, “he must have forgotten his wallet or something”.
“What did you forget?”, I asked him as I drew up to the dock in our dingy, saving a mile long walk around to the point, a water taxi charge or a dingy docking charge. We were shocked to find way up island here in Oak Ridge that they want 50 lempiras or $2.50 to allow us to leave our dingy at the dock where we catch a bus down island. It doesn’t sounds like a lot of money but it is shocking after spending so much time in crowded West End where no such charge existed.
He scrambled down into the dingy and I noticed he carried no bags. Normally he returns laden with supplies which are unavailable in Oak Ridge. “Three shot, you wouldn’t believe it”, was all he said, pointing to our boat, meaning Home James Home.
The details tumbled out in bits and pieces as he began to tell me his tale. He had ridden as far as the Jackson Plaza, between French Harbour and Los Fuertes. There is no bank machine in Oak Ridge and normally the closest one is Eldons Supermarket in French Harbour but the machine sits unused the in the old Eldons and every time John asks in the new Eldons about a bank machine they point him in the direction of the Kodak machine. There isn’t much point in asking or “axing” as they say around here when the machine will be moved anyways because the answer will invariably be “next week”. It means nothing, not next week that is for sure, we have learned that much.
So now our closest bank is or should I say was at Jackson Plaza. John was just about to turn the corner when Stephen, a friend of ours from French Harbour, physically grabbed him and shouted at him to get on his motor scooter. “They’re coming after YOU”, he said and tugged at John. Stephen is a great guy and John trusts him and hopped on behind him with little hesitation. Around the corner, unknown to John was a riot in progress, or a civil disturbance, revolution, we’ve heard many descriptions over the last few days. John could hear the gunfire as they sped off back towards French Harbour. “Just go home man”, directed Stephen. “When this happens everybody stays home, don’t go to the bank or the store, just go home”.
French Harbour was a ghost town. Most stores were closed, locked and gated. The new Eldons was open but not only the guards carried rifles, as usual, but the clerks as well. Creepy.
There were few taxis on the road and any that did pass by heading east towards Oak Ridge were more packed with passengers than usual and that is saying something. Finally John got a taxi, the cost was 100 lempiras vs the usual 40 lempira fare because an armed guard rode in the front. John hadn’t eaten, hadn’t even made it to the bank for cash and to make matters worse a couple of girls in the taxi ate their Bonjangles chicken on the way home in the taxi which would be torture to a hungry man.
The taxi driver’s theory was that the riots had something to do with the supposedly “duty free port not being duty free”. We are not sure. There is a lack of reliable news on the island, at least for us without television.
The next day we called Air Roatan to check on a package we are expecting. They had closed the day of the riots, which we found out later began the previous night. According to the clerk, the riots were over. So hubby headed back down island, it’s a long trip and not one you would care to make two days in a row but we needed cash. The bank machine at Jackson plaza was out of service so John continued west to Coxen’s Hole where there are several banks. He stopped at a little restaurant/bar and watched the television for a while, not understanding all the Spanish but getting the gist of it.
The taxi passed the Zolitur office on the way, which was destroyed. Apparently all the computers were smashed. Rumour has it that 3 or 4 rioters were shot by police but we do not know for sure. The monthly news magazine ‘The Voice’ when it comes out will cover the incidents but until then we know nada. On one side of the road was a group of 30 or 40 protesters, on the other side of the road bout 30 riot police, back up by military personnel. The taxi floored it through the area. By the time John returned, the protesters were gone. The riot police remained, a group at each end of Los Fuertes and a group at RECO, the power company which was the target of some of the protests last fall.
One thing we know is that this spells economic suicide for the already suffering people on this island. There was a construction boom underway until the recent recession. Hundreds of Spaniards from the mainland were brought over to work on the new cruise ship docks and many resorts, condos and other developments on the island, leaving workers unemployed and without the means to return to the mainland. Most of the projects ground to a halt last year and during the fall there were several of these disturbances.
The cruise ship companies threatened to cease stopping on Roatan if there was even one more incident. Sure enough last Wed, when all this occurred, one regularly scheduled ship turned away as well as three that had turned away from Mexico due to the Swine Flu outbreak and had been rerouted here.
The airport was closed and the ferry did not make the daily run from the mainland. Friends of ours visited West End and West Bay on Friday and the beach at West Bay was deserted. They only saw about 10 tourists, compared to the hundreds you would normally count. We went to Hole in the Wall yesterday. Two Sundays ago the place was packed and the line for the buffet wove around the entire restaurant. Yesterday there were no tourists, only a few locals and boaters, most of whom can’t afford the buffet. OH our poor Island. What have they done?