25 Years Ago
I have never gone hunting for deer nor peccary (wild pig), but I have many friends who do, and from what they tell me, it is a fun-filled yet difficult trek. Jose Gonzalez and don Gaby Perez have been San Pedro’s most skilled hunters and have now been joined by Sammy Gonzalez. The most popular hunting grounds are found in the area of Basil Jones up Northern Ambergris Caye. A hunter penetrates three or four miles from the beach into the bush. He either finds an existing path, or cuts a trail with a machete.
Several persons have asked me to write about wild animals, I mean large animals that roam the bushes of Ambergris Caye. I’ll be honest; I’m no expert on this but I will try. The bush experts that I know were don Juan Verde, “Charlie” Marcial Cardenez, and Guadalupe Cardenez, who were the hunters of their time. Then there is Mr. Jose Gonzalez and Gaby Perez who have been the number one hunters up until this day along with Sammy Gonzalez.
Okay, you have heard several stories about there being no meat on the Island of Ambergris Caye and in San Pedro. However, with a little bit more research, I have learned that there was a period of about 30 to 40 years when there was cattle on Ambergris Caye. These cattle were part of a herd started by Don Julio Tolosa just before 1900. He found a nice track of bountiful grass on northern Ambergris Caye and fenced it with barbed wire for a cattle ranch.
Please don’t get me wrong because I am not trying to encourage the hunting of manatees, a mammal in the wild and protected for good reasons. However, twenty five years ago they were hunted and quite understandably so. In the days of no refrigeration, there was no meat on the Island, and the villagers did have a craving and a need for meat. Well, you guessed it right. The closest thing to beef or pork was the manatee meat known locally as “carne de manatin”.
How unfortunate that today nobody has the privilege of enjoying a delicious fish soup called “Torta de Macabi”! It used to be awesome, an island favorite. I would venture to say that anybody who has not tasted and enjoyed this torta de macabi does not really know what good eating is all about. In short you smoke the macabi (pronounced macabee) in your barbecue grill for about forty minutes, twenty on each side. You peel the skin open and start to remove the flesh from the 1,001 bones that it has. Then you hash the flesh or break it into fine particles.
I was taking my early morning walk last week when I came up with my topic for this week. I had just left the beach and was on the road on my way home when this young man on a bicycle rode past me. He almost knocked me off my feet, not with his bike, but with his strong foul odor.
Twenty Five years ago there were not many ways of bleaching clothes, but one simple way. It was by placing the clothes on patches of grass in the yard or even on the street grass right in front of one’s yard. The clothes bleached in the hot sun as well as overnight in the moonlight and night’s dew. This generally gave the clothing a dazzling white bleach and a most pleasant green environmental aroma, quite unlike the smell you receive as you pass by La Margarita Apartments.
Last year while walking downtown Albert Street in Belize City, I saw a fruit vendor offering for sale seagrapes. She had a whole bucket and told me she got it from San Pedro. They were being sold at a dollar a bag. Last week a young man passed by my house offering sea grapes at five dollars for a small bag. These incidents reminded me of fruits of San Pedro because seagrapes grow wild in San Pedro and nobody thinks of buying them because it is a sport to go picking grapes.
In the late 19th century and the early 20th century from 1900 to about 1940, the San Pedro people celebrated a grand Mestizo Festival known as “La Gran Mestizada”. It was celebrated for the Dia de San Pedro on June 29, just prior to the departure of the men who went to work in the chicle or logwood camps.
No, there were no renowned celebrities, artists, actors etc. twenty five years ago like we have today for the Costa Maya Festival. The few that came around just walked around the village like Mexican Jorge Rivero, American Harrison Ford, and nobody even approached them for an autograph nor a photo, and we never got the opportunity to see them perform.
With the big festival of Costa Maya right around the corner, I have been narrating big events in old San Pedro like the Tenth of September celebrations and then the Annual Meeting celebration of the fishing cooperative. I would say that another event awaited with anticipation was the Baron Bliss Day Regatta.
Today there are so many cultural, social and civic events that the town waits for eagerly like Costa Maya, Mother’s Day, Miss San Pedro Pageant, Lagoon/Reef Challenge, September Block Party, Food Festival & Lobster Fest, to mention just a few. However 25 five years ago, back in the 1950’s, there were very few events that aroused so much interest and I wish to recall them one by one- Sept. 10th., Cooperative Annual General Meeting, and Baron Bliss Day and that is about it.
For the past month or so during my morning walks down the beach I could not help noticing the great amounts of seaweed on the shoreline. And that will not change because it has been drifting to our shores “Since Adam and Eve”, as my good friend Norman Eiley would say. And it will surely continue, “As sure as God made Moses”, Norman would add. “Hola amigo” I said to my friend who rakes the beach every morning. “Too much grass,” he responded.
Last week the landing of a seaplane caused a bit of excitement because it is something one does not see everyday (See page 6 for story). Imagine the landing of the first plane in San Pedro 25 years ago in the 1960’s.
I say these are lobsters for the gringo market because they were not to be consumed by Sanpedranos. The locals, up until today to a certain extent, could only eat the small, more succulent, free, and tastier ones. The large ones were strictly for the export market.
On my walk down the beach I witnessed an incident that reminded me so much on the early days of tourism, and I’ll tell you why. “Señorita, señorita, se le olvido su sun tan,” said one of the waiters of Rico’s Restaurant at Banyan Bay to a young U.S. tourist. I stopped to see what would happen. The young man smiled as the young lady turned around and walked to receive her bottle of sun tan lotion.
On my walk down the beach last week I noticed the guys drinking coconut water from coconuts pulled near the beach which is public access. This week I noticed a small pile of some fifty coconut husks, and my mind went to those old days of coconut harvesting, and of course of the many uses of the coconut husks.
I watched with interest last week the children of San Pedro marching in a demonstration pro “recycling”. “Great”, I thought, “finally the children of San Pedro are being taught to recycle, to make do, to save and economize, to protect the environment, to improvise and be innovative.” And then I thought I would write about recycling 25 years ago and also thank Holy Cross for their initiative on this program which I applaud.
On my walk down the beach last week I noticed a small number of coconuts, about seven, lying right on the edge of the sea. They were chopped off at one end with a small whole, so it was obvious that someone had enjoyed their sweet, refreshing water. However I wondered who would be so inconsiderate that he would enjoy something and leave the trash right there.
This week on one of my early morning walks down the beach I stopped by Banyan Bay beach area to chat with an old friend, Mr. Pablo “don Rancho” Kumul and a young security guard, Roberto. “What a lovely day! Great to go out to sea.” I suggested. “You don’t need to go far out to sea. There are some mullets right here on the beach” said Roberto. “Then light up the barbecue pit and we can smoke few of them,’ I added.