T he San Pedro Intemational Festival has come and is gone. It was expected for many weeks with great enthusiasm and it was enjoyed tremendously for six days. Now what?
Well, next week there will be another extravaganza and if nothing, you can have a fine time at the discotheques or hang out by Fido's or one of the beach resorts that might host a beach party or some special promotion. Yes, there are small but good festivities every weekend, but the fact remains that the Sea and Air Festival is today the most long awaited, most anticipated, most organized, most enjoyed and most attended "fiesta" or festival in San Pedro.
Not so 25 years ago. As it can be recalled there were four fiestas that the San Pedranos planned and prepared for - Easter, Caribe~as Fishing Cooperative Annual General Meeting, Christmas and New Year's Eve. First of all there were no parties held from Carnival to Easter during the 40 days of Lent.
There were no parties from March to July because this was the lobster off season and money was scarce. There were no fiestas during the month of November as it was respected and venerated as the month of the souls in purgatory. In fact the priest would not even marry you during Lent nor during November.
And if you were unfortunate to have been born during those same two seasons - Lent and November - you could not even celebrate your birthday. Consequently, Easter which marked the end of Lent, was San Pedro's most long awaited occasion, sort of today's Sea and Air. Weeks before the event, the band was hired, the propaganda was made, the dance hall was signed up, and the ladies started getting their new clothing for Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Yes, there were international artists. Chetumal's number one musical band, Benito y su Grupo was the island's favorite. Another favorite was Los Belicenos from Belize City which featured the Acosta brothers - Manuel Acosta behind the drums, Chuchin (Jesus) Acosta at the saxophone and Paps Acosta at the trumpet. These artists were the idols of San Pedro. Other favorite bands were Tropical Managua of Chetumal, Mauro y sus Profetas of Orange Walk and Los Caneros of Corozal Town.
Whenever these bands arrived for Easter, the entire village was at the beach for a welcome. They would immediately set up and play 2 or 3 selections to stir up the crowd. The Easter dances would start around 8 p.m. and went "jamming" until 3 a.m.
The Caribeña Dance also stirred up much enthusiasm. This one awoke the spirit of the children and older folks also. The dance would start about 7 p.m. and continue until 4 or 5 a.m. The children got free drinks and snacks at 8 p.m. and were taken home to sleep. Food and pop were served to the ladies at 10 p.m. And don't talk about free beer and drinks. Every year 100 cases of beer was served at no cost to the entire festival attendees. And don't even think that this was a small amount of beer. Remember that the population in the 1960's was a mere 500 people counting men, women, teenagers and children. If there were 100 drinking men, this represented 24 beers per man. With only one police officer, usually a fist fight or a bottle fight would ruin the spirit and end the party at 4 or 5 a.m.
Christmas and the New Year's Eve dances had a purely local flavor with the accordion and acoustic guitar bands. Yes, some men even put on their "shoes" for this very special occasion. The Christmas one went until 5 a.m., but the New Year's Eve party went til 9 or 10 a.m. Yes, hot coffee or chocolate drinks were served at sunrise to keep the crowd on their toes and if the accordion player was still not drunk the dance would go on til midday. It was only when he made his last full stretch of the accordion, and there was no more energy to push the accordion back in, that the dance would be considered officially over. And even then, if someone was willing to keep banging the pig tail bucket (the percussions) or scratching the coconut grater (the accompaniment) the fun would continue for another hour or two with some die-hard fans and hard- to- give-up rock and rollers.
Relieve me there were no Ilegales in those days, only Mexican beer that was allowed by verbal consent. But, those festivities did fill everyone's heart with joy and created the same empty feeling in the following days, just as we are feeling today, now that the Sea & Air is over.
What's next for next year? Thalia or Miami Sound Machine! And how will the Sea & Air be 25 years from now?