By Angel Nuñez
Being first is quite a fete. It is nice to know that you were first in your class, first to set a record like Eric Donis is attempting to do, first to build something, first to achieve something, or even first to have the honors like kissing the queen's hands or stealing the first kiss from a young lady.
It is not quite pleasant to be the first one to go to jail for whatever reason, or commit a serious crime or to be the first one to suffer a terrible accident. During the next few weeks "Twenty Five Years Ago" will be taking you through a list of "Firsts" in San Pedro and Ambergris Caye. These events or persons have set the pace for a good start and have led to the development of San Pedro as we know it today. So WHO and WHAT and WHEN and WHY were the "Firsts"?
First Airstrip: The first strip of land used for landing planes here in Ambergris Caye was at Basil Jones area in the northern end of the island. This airstrip that goes back to the early 1950's was used to fly in personnel and goods for a petroleum exploration company that was drilling on the island looking for crude oil. I understand that traces of oil were found, but nothing in commercial quantities. Very heavy equipment was barged in and the high officials were flown in using this all-grass airstrip at Basil Jones. Old timers call it “El Aeropuerto de Berce Yon”. The airstrip is still there according to some hunters who know the area, and from time to time, there have been rumors of plans to re-open that airstrip.
But in actuality, the first airstrip built to serve the needs of San Pedro Village came about at the time when the first hotel was built in San Pedro by John Greif and Celi Nuñez. John Greif (deceased) also contributed much towards the opening of that airstrip. Area Representative Louis “Cuz” Sylvestre at the time was very influential and so was Mr. Jim Blake (+), who was the owner of the land. That first airstrip was all grass, very narrow, and about one third the length of the present airstrip which has very appropriately been named the John Grief II Airstrip. It used to land one plane occasionally and has grown to what we enjoy today.
First Airplane: The first plane to land on Ambergris Caye had to be one from the Petroleum Exploration Company at Basil Jones up north. However, the first plane to actually land here was a sea plane owned by a young and handsome pilot of Kentucky, Mr. John Greif. The first aqua landing was at the lagoon behind the village and the seaplane docked at a little pier by the football field. The entire village came to see this historic and awesome landing. (I guess we call it a landing) This first sea plane was one of the moving factors behind the Holiday Hotel, the pioneer hotel for San Pedro and owned by John and Celi. From there came the development of the airstrip, local commercial airlines, and the commencement of tourism for San Pedro. This dates back to the 1960's. Today we have the best airstrip in the country, even over the Belie City strip.
First Doctor: The first doctor to offer his services to the people of San Pedro was Dr. Manuel Lizama of Belize City, and I truly do not know if he is still alive. (I pray he is) Today we complain because of the inadequate number of doctors and insufficient medical services in San Pedro with a population of about 18,000 and thus the increased need for such vital services. Dr. Lizama only served San Pedro once a week and it seemed that people waited for that day very patiently. In fact, there were some days when the good doctor came and only had one or two patients with minor problems. You need to remember that at the time of Dr. Lizama, there was a population of some 500 persons, so that was one doctor to 500 persons. Today we have about 8 medical doctors on the island with a large population so our ratio must be one doctor to some 2,000 persons. Dr. Lizama operated at a little wooden building that belonged to the good Mr. Apoloño “Tuto”Alamilla (RIP) where The Alijua Building is at present. However, the first doctor to live permanently on the island was our good and beloved Dr. Otto Rodriguez at the Lions Community Clinic, where he served for well over 25 years and then moved on to the Poly Clinic II. Thank you Dr. Lizama and Dr.Otto Rodriguez (RIP).
First Cinema or Movie Theatre: The first movies shown here in San Pedro were at the park by the government information service. They were not even movies but documentaries about malaria and cow diseases, etc. cows and agriculture or control of diseases. The entire village of some four hundred inhabitants stood around Central Park to witness such spectacles. We used to call them movies.
The first cinema to be completed was owned by Jim Blake (deceased) where Sun Breeze is presently located. It never went into operation as it was destroyed by Hurricane Hattie a few weeks before its scheduled inauguration in 1961. It was a first class cinema with cushioned seats and large screen etc. The first cinema to operate was Teatro Arenas owned by Mr. Wilfrido Nuñez Sr. (deceased) It is the same building now used as Jaguar's Temple, but used to be located where Fido's Courtyard presently stands. There we enjoyed, twice a week, many Westerns and Mexican movies and in the days of no television, trust me, the place was jammed packed at every showing. The cinema was then passed to Mr. Pedro Salazar, son-in-law of the late Mr. Fido Nuñez and finally displaced by the advent of television.
Today my friends, we take all of these things for granted, but I would like to salute on your behalf all of those who put in the time, effort and resources and had the vision to make it all happen. Hats off to you guys.