Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Diving Away in Margaritaville at Anthony's Key Resort, Roatan, Honduras

The entrance sign along the main road from the airport is difficult to miss.

We visited Anthony's Key Dive Resort during May 13-20, 2017, as a college graduation gift for Cathy's son Bristol. Despite the rave reviews Anthony's receives from many travelers I was not that impressed with the quality of the diving or with several aspects of the resort. First, however, the positives.

After emerging from Customs and Immigration in the tiny Roatan airport you are met by several representatives of Anthony's Key who transport your luggage in an open truck, and transport you in an air-conditioned bus, for about 15 minutes to the resort.  Luggage is then transported for you via the water taxi from the mainland to the key where the cabanas are located.  Check in is swift and the orientation is simple.  During orientation you learn which boat you are assigned to and who your dive master will be.  Cathy had dived here a couple times before and asked specifically for John Carter as our dive master. You should ask for him as well.   All your dive equipment is kept in lockers next to the dock so you don't have to lug it all over creation between dives or at the end of the day.  The dive shop is managed in a highly efficient way by Kevin and his associates who will take care of your every need.  Just ask.  Our cabana (#46) (with a shared balcony) offered superb views of the Caribbean and especially sunsets.  Another excellent amenity of the resort is the on-site medical office staffed by 3 bilingual physicians and a hyperbaric chamber (divers know the importance of one of these).

AKR offers stand up paddle boarding and kayaks (for free) as part of your package and one day they transport visitors to the south side of Roatan to Maya Key (that you fly over a few inches below you on final approach to the airport) for a shore lunch.  Thursday night is "Island Fiesta" night complete with a Spanish-speaking duo that sang Bob Marley and Peter Tosh songs in perfect Jamaican, mon.  The highlight of the Island Fiesta was the exciting Hermit Crab Races.  I studied the available crabs and chose one based on its apparent strength and endurance.  It came in dead last.  

Another facility of the resort is the well-stocked gift shop where, despite extremely high prices on virtually everything on the shelves, you can buy all sorts of t-shirts and other clothing to add to your "been there, done that" collection.

Staff of Anthony's Key are all bilingual which, unfortunately, most American's can't say about themselves.  I speak Spanish at a level slightly better than "survival" level and was impressed by how every Honduran I met at the resort would reply in crisp English whenever I asked for anything in Spanish.

The view of Anthony's Key from the top of nearby Carambola Mountain.  Our cabana was at the left-most tip of the island.

Now for the mediocre part of the trip.  I'm a retired wildlife biologist so I view natural communities differently than most other people view them.  Through the eyes of a wildlife biologist I was not that impressed with the diving on Roatan. Granted because of a medical restriction I was only able to make 4 dives (including one night dive) but on those four dives I was disappointed by the low diversity of reef fish compared to other West Indian islands like Bonaire or Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Visibility was great - up to 100 feet at times but there was very little to see in that clear water.  The same cannot be said for beautiful Bonaire, and I long to return there - sooner rather than later.

Another frustration is that Anthony's Key offers (for an additional $100 plus tax) a 3-hour "shark dive" where participants are transported to the south side of the island to view Caribbean Reef Sharks.  I'm vehemently opposed to "chumming" or feeding sharks just to draw them into view.  My opposition comes from the very real fact that artificial feeding alters the normal behavior patterns of the sharks and makes them partially dependent on humans for food.  During the shark dive (which I did not participate in) people saw somewhere between 16 and 20 sharks, many of them just feet away.  Great video was captured but it was in a totally artificial situation. I would much prefer to have a random encounter with a shark or not see one at all rather than participate in an activity that alters the natural behavior of wild creatures.

Now for the negatives.

Anthony's Key puts great emphasis on tipping its employees. At the check in desk there is list of "Tipping Policies" with a suggestion of whom to tip and how much.  There is also a link on the AKR app informing visitors about whom to tip and how much.  I prefer to tip people based on the performance of the task they completed for me.  And I prefer to tip according to what I think is appropriate.  I do not like being told by management whom to tip and how much.  Tipping the front desk staff? Seriously? I will not tip them and I did not. Perhaps if Anthony's Key offered its employees a living wage (not that difficult in Honduras) they wouldn't have to pressure guests to cough up extra to tip everyone who walks down a path or opens a door for you.

Second negative is the food.  Actually the food in the restaurant was quite tasty and I recommend the Honduran breakfast which I tried every morning.  My concern is the variety of options.  Other than breakfast you are offered 2 options for entrees at lunch and at dinner. One is a fish dish and the other is either chicken, pork, or beef.  There is also a veggie option.  Thus at any given meal if you don't like the two main options you are sunk until the next meal.  Also the food is portioned out for you like in a restaurant and served accordingly.  It is not a buffet like arrangement. For one meal we asked if a second entree could be ordered and were told no.   Granted this process reduces the amount of wasted food and most importantly for AKR management, it reduces costs. However for guests it also reduces options for your meals and after 3 or 4 dives in a day you're usually famished.

The final concern is health. During our orientation we were not informed about the problem of Norovirus at the resort. In fact the only mention of it was a half-sheet of white paper sitting under the two bottles of purified water in our rooms. During our stay I know of several people who became violently ill and who missed almost all of the diving because of severe gastrointestinal distress.  I had a similar issue for 4 of the 7 days there.  On my final day I visited the clinic where they handed out some anti-diarrheal medicine that was like Imodium on steroids.  I told the person in the clinic what I needed and she said, as she gave me the pills, "There is something going around the resort."  No kidding!  It would have been nice to know about it especially since they knew about it.  Related to health was the super abundance of biting sand flies.  Cathy's back and legs looked like she had a case of the measles after two days of walking across the sand from our cabana to the water taxi.  Other people were similarly affected by these biting insects.  A bottle of "cactus juice" to help ease the itching was available in the gift shop for an extortionate $18.00!  Granted the sand flies are a seasonal annoyance but they are there and if you are the least bit allergic to their multiple bites you'll wind up with welts all over every exposed area of skin.

The closest I have come to the ultimate dive location is beautiful Bonaire in the Dutch Caribbean, and our friends at Toucan Diving and the Plaza Resort Bonaire.  I'd return there in a nanosecond.  From what I saw and experienced I would not return to Anthony's Key to dive. There are too many other dive locations in the Caribbean that have greater biodiversity.  As I keep searching for the ultimate dive location I will remember that, for me, Roatan and Anthony's Key, are not it.  

I sincerely hope your experience will be more biologically fruitful and positive.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Murders and the Murderers at Kent State University

"Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming, we're finally on our own.  This summer I hear the drumming; 4 dead in Ohio."....Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

My book "Slices of America's Pie" tells the story of my successful quest to visit each of the counties or parishes in the Lower 48 states and Hawaii, and the Burroughs in Alaska. For the story I recount one memorable county or one memorable incident in one county in each state.  For Ohio I chose Portage County because that is where Kent State University is located and that's where the Ohio National Guard committed murder and stole my innocence on May 4, 1970, at 12:27 p.m. Eastern Time.

I wasn't a student at Kent State; thankfully I was more than 1,000 miles away from the murderous guns wielded by the chickenshit Ohio National Guardsmen who fired, without provocation or orders, on students exercising their constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression.  As long as I live I will never forgive the Ohio National Guard and I will never forget what they did that long ago day.  You should not either.

Below is my chapter on Portage County, Ohio, reprinted with my own permission as the manuscript was submitted to the publisher.


Never Ever Forget Kent State

Portage County, Ohio

At 12:27 p.m. on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard committed murder on the campus of Kent State University in Portage County, Ohio.  It was the single most important formative event in my young life and one that changed my personal and political views forever.

I was a freshman on the University of Wisconsin River Falls campus that day and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was one of the first warm days of spring that year and there was not a cloud in the sky. I was back in my dorm room, 209 Johnson Hall, studying when someone on the floor yelled "They're killing students in Ohio!" I thought at first it was just a normal afternoon drunken outburst on the floor. Then someone turned on a transistor radio set on WCCO Radio from Minneapolis. They gave complete coverage of the carnage, at least as much as they knew at the time. As we all sat around listening to the news a feeling of gloom set over us.

Granted, UW River Falls wasn't a hotbed of political activity in those days but we had experienced our share of campus protesting of the intractable unwinnable unnecessary and illegal war in Viet Nam. Now Richard Nixon had expanded the war into Cambodia and our few campus activists were more agitated. I wondered as did most of the others on my floor if the Wisconsin National Guard was going to show up and start shooting us.

Kent State happened because of the over reaction of the Ohio National Guard in response to legally assembled (according to the United States Constitution ) students exercising their legal right (according to the United States Constitution) to protest an illegal war (the President never asked Congress for a formal declaration of war therefore it wasn't a legal war) and its expansion. I will never forgive the Ohio National Guard for what they did that day.

When it finally sank in that students were being killed, and the government that sanctioned this killing was a Republican government, I rejected all of the conservative mantra that my ultra-conservative mother ever spewed (if she was alive today my ultra-conservative mother would be one of the Tea Bag anarchists who think Sarah Palin has an IQ greater than a cucumber and that Faux "News" is fair and balanced). The next day May 5, 1970, I started to let my hair grow and I participated in my first anti-war sit-in. My politics and my outlook were forever changed. 

Just two days before the massacre, Richard M. Nixon made the following statement regarding the campus unrest. Never once in his statement did Nixon acknowledge that it was HIS actions that were causing the unrest.

You know, you see these bums, you know, blowin' up the campuses. Listen, the boys that are on the college campuses today are the luckiest people in the world, going to the greatest universities, and here they are, burnin' up the books, I mean, stormin' around about this issue, I mean, you name it - get rid of the war, there'll be another one. -- Richard Nixon, New York Times, May 2, 1970.   It is my most sincere hope that one day I get to piss on Richard Nixon’s grave. 

Despite the tragedy that day there were some positive outcomes. Most importantly for me is the very real fact that my political beliefs were forever altered. In response I have voted in every election since my first election in 1972 (the first vote I ever cast was for George McGovern and I feel proud of that vote). In that election I voted a straight Democratic ticket. I have never missed an election since that day in November 1972 and I have never once voted for anyone who was not with the Democratic Party.  I would eat a steady diet of used kitty litter before I would vote for a Republican.

Another positive outcome was a song with its haunting music and haunting lyrics written by Neil Young.  On May 4 1990 while living in Grand Island Nebraska, I contacted every radio station in town and in the surrounding area and asked them to play at the exact minute the murders took place at Kent State 20 years earlier "Ohio" by Neil Young as a memorial to the fallen students. All the stations agreed to do it but one where I was told by the programming director "We don't have the music or I would play it." I asked if they'd play it if I brought the music to them. They would.

I was standing outside the music store in Conestoga Mall at 10:00 a.m. when the door opened. I darted in and purchased the vinyl album and raced down to the south side of town to the radio station. I arrived there by 10:30 with 57 minutes to spare. Breathlessly I told the woman behind the counter that her station was going to be playing this song as a memorial to the murders 20 years earlier. She looked at me with a deer-in-the-headlights look on her face not understanding a thing I'd said. Finally I asked her age. "I'm 19" she said. She wasn't even born when the single greatest formative moment in my life occurred. I would be afraid to ask the question again today.

The murders at Kent State were the catalyst in 1988 for the University to establish the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Violence.  The mission statement for the Institute reads:

* promotes interdisciplinary research on the causes and prevention of violence
* engages in the design, implementation and evaluation of community-based programs for violence prevention
* trains teachers, law enforcement personnel and other professionals on principles and practices related to violence prevention
helps bridge the gap between science and practice to effectively inform public policy related to violence prevention

Some good has come out of the insanity of that day after all.

In 2005 I traveled to Kent State for the 35th anniversary of the murders. Stepping from my car in a University parking lot I asked a couple I saw walking "where's the Hill?" Without batting an eye they pointed to the west. As I walked toward the hallowed grounds that are the site of the murders several students came up to me and asked "were you there?" I told them I was there in spirit alone that day.  Approaching the Hill, I found four curious areas cordoned off with light fixtures. Asking what they were I learned that they were permanent memorials that marked the outline of where each of the four kids died that day. The first one I found was Alison Krause.

Standing on the Hill overlooking the scene I met a mother and her college freshman son. The son was showing mom the campus and brought her to the Hill. I saw them and made a comment about the tragic deaths that day. The mom, about my age, snapped back in reply saying "Those fucking kids DESERVED what they got that day."

Shocked I said "you mean Jeffrey Miller deserved to die for protesting something that was wrong?" Mom said "You're god-damned right he did. All of them did."

Her son then jumped on her case and supported what I was saying. They walked away yelling at each other. I guess there still is a lot of angst and anger and mistrust on the Hill.

Now the Kent State University Historic Site has been established and dedicated on the campus as a memorial to the tragedy of that day. I hope the memorial is completely successful in helping America to never ever forget Kent State.