Bestbird Page Five:
to build and trying to learn.
Settle down and settle in: (13 Apr 2000) I had already made arrangements for a place to stay while Victoria House was getting underway. It was the middle house of the three houses (each having been built on one of the four lots sold by "Eugene") which were just south of VH and were the only houses south of VH at the time. The house seemed to suit my purposes just fine. Although it was not in too good of shape, it did have a butane gas stove, a tiny electric refrigerator, a small generator sufficient to run the refrigerator and a few naked light bulbs, a tank to hold water falling on the roof and funneled into the tank, and (best of all) a location near to the VH land. I don't remember who had given me the name and telephone number (also unremembered) of the gringo who owned the house - it was either "Mrs. Eugene", one of her Memphis lawyers, or, more likely, Cruz Nunez, who looked after the house for the gringo. Before Mike and I left Houston, I had made a deal (by telephone) with the gringo and was told to contact Cruz about anything else and to pay the rent to Cruz also. It would not be the last place for which I paid rent to Cruz - a fair (if not cheap) lessor if there ever was one. The settle down part: The settle in part:
Add a truck and add a Bob:
Sand and sand flies:
Belize it! and a shell game:
Starting Victoria House:
Three wheeling and for four pining:
Loving and losing a Mike:
Add a Fidel, gain a friend: (15 Feb 2000) During the early construction period, a young San Pedrano, Fidel Ancona, approached me (at Fido's, of course) with a pitch about how his background in people management and food preparation (at the lobster fisherman's Co-op in San Pedro and a school in Canada) made him an ideal candidate for what he called an Assistant Manager. I knew that, once the hotel opened, I would need help in recruiting and managing the hotel employees, a task for which I was peculiarly ill-suited; so, I convinced him, or he convinced me that I convinced him, to come aboard now. Well, that worked out well - he proved to be an honest and loyal employee who lasted through thick and thin during my tenure at Victoria House and stayed on beyond that, a time when I couldn't care less about the honesty and loyalty of its employees. More than that - we became, if not amigos, at least very close friends. He has a special family too. His lovely wife, Lupita, is a great wood carver, and they then had two wonderful children, Mariana and Fidelito. My recent discovery of the internet miracle led me to ambergriscaye.com and a renewal of that friendship (and others) via email. My God, San Pedro and I both have changed so much - for good and ill, I guess.
Loading and lunching with Rudon: (10 Mar 2000) While the hotel was in the early building stages, it was routine to go to Belize City every Friday in order to get the cash to pay the workmen. Why? There were no banks on the island at the time, and, if I had paid them (on any Saturday) by check, I would have been attacked with machetes. To get cash was never the only reason for the trip. There was always construction material to buy and get loaded onto the Caribbean Queen or the Emma V. ("Vee" for Varela, not for "Fifth") for transport to the island. Sometimes, I had to make two trips a week to Belize City for buying. Rudon would faithfully meet me at the Municipal Airport, stay with me all day (except, in the beginning, during lunch) and, when the day's work was done, take me back to Municipal for the trip home. Large purchases were delivered to Alamilla Wharf by the vendor and smaller purchases that would fit in Rudon's trunk were taken by him to Alamilla Wharf or by me on my flight back. The cash became my burden to tote in my brief case. The lunch part:
Conch shells and concrete:
Rebars and plaster:
Moving to town, welcoming the family:
Movies and maneuvers: (12 Apr 2000) Susan was still charmed by the ambience of San Pedro. One of her likes was the town's only Movie House (and, remember, there was NO TELEVISION there in 1980). It was San Pedro's largest building (in area) was located across Front Street from the Town Park on the beach. It was operated by "Pete" Salazar, who, when a movie was to be showing, which was maybe one or two nights a week, could usually be found at the entry selling tickets without a stub and popcorn (from an antiquated machine) without any butter. Inside, the movie was usually crowded, with noisy children (including mine) and showing some Class B production starring Randolph Scott or his ilk. Susan and I were looked at by some of the other patrons as if we were aliens - not only to Belize, but to the planet as well; but, I do confess that the experience was enjoyable - mainly because a frequent occurrence was for one of the San Pedranos with a beautiful voice or a facile guitar, or both, to add live entertainment to the playbill. The movies ran periodically for a few more years until the same Pete Salazar killed his own business by installing a large television dish and starting a television business. That much "progress" is, perhaps, inevitable and for the best; but, I just read a blurb (on ambergriscaye.com) which reminded me of the old movie theater by stating that the location now housed "Tarzan's Discotheque." I ain't got anything against dancing, which I guess the new enterprise entails, but, whatever kind of events are held there will not, I'll wager, strike me as epitomizing progress. Heck, they could, at least, have put up a parking lot. The maneuvers part:
A porch and a pilot: (text coming later) John Greif and Tropic Air.
A saint, a don, and a horn: (01 Mar 2000) Near the end of the old south road, where it became only a path impassable to pickups, jeeps, and Land Rovers, there was a casa with several outbuildings. Those buildings and the surrounding land were then called "San Telmo" by its elderly chief occupant and "Encenada" by some of the other old timers. The chief occupant's name was Severo Guerrero, but I never heard him called anything except "Don Severo". There other two occupants, whom I knew then only as "Spanish" (later, I learned that his name was Jose Pacifico) and his lady friend, Margarita, were a transplanted Spaniard and gringa. Being young, energetic, and some other good things which I will mention later, the two of them took care of the place and looked after Don Severo. Since San Telmo was on my way to the Victoria House property, I would stop and chat with the "caretakers" about their interesting activities which I also will mention later. One day I was invited in to meet Don Severo at his request. His English was no better than my Spanish so our conversation was limited. However, when he noticed that I was showing interest in an old and battered baritone horn which he had hanging on his wall, he bounced over, took it down, and proudly handed it to me. My interest was natural. I am an old baritone horn player myself, and finding a fellow player of such an uncommon instrument in such a remote place was somewhat startling. The "caretakers" told me that the prized instrument was in its battered condition because Don Severo had left it in the road and a pickup had run over it. This paragraph is here to add my bow to the memory of Don Severo, who died in 1983, and to the great esteem in which he was held by all in San Pedro.
Now, you tell me: (02 Mar 2000) Emory King just mailed me a little book about and named, The Little World of Danny Vasquez, a book that I wish I had owned in 1977, but it wasn't published until 1989, two years after I moved away from San Pedro. It tells, in Emory's inimicable style, of the life (and what a life it was, particularly in its deeds, but also in its length, 1902-1993) and times of Danny Vasquez, Emory's father-in-law. The book is a must for anyone who wants to know of the people of San Pedro and of what life was like on Ambergris Caye and in British Honduras during Danny's youth. Of particular interest to me, although others might prefer the more adventurous chapters, was the chapter which dealt with Danny's music. I heard while I was in San Pedro that there had been a full fledged band in San Pedro in the early days, but that was about all I learned to help solve the mystery of why such a remote island with such a small population should have so many with such an interest in, and aptitude for, music. The book completely solved that mystery. For instance, it told me the story of how not only Danny's, but also Don Severo's interest in music began, and when - about 1910. It also told me things I didn't know about some of my favorite San Pedranos in their more youthful days. The only history of San Pedro, musical or otherwise, that I know first hand and, therefore, am qualified to comment on is that of the early 1980's. If you read the book, you'll know everything about the life and times of Danny Vasquez that I know. The book can be purchased at the Emory King web site.
Burgers and a singular telephone: (10 Mar 2000) On the southwest corner of the intersection of Middle Street and the side street that ran between the Barrier Reef and Martha's (I simply refuse to learn whatever silly names have lately been given to the streets of San Pedro; although entrepreneurialism, civic or otherwise, has it's place and is a worthy endeavor, there are limits. If one samples the heady thrill of naming streets, it may lead him to indulge in more thrilling intoxicants, like actually paving them) stood the one and only public telephone in San Pedro. The telephone part: (13 Mar 2000) That singular telephone was in a small booth with a tin roof and no ventilation; and, I would spend one to three hours in that enclosure whenever I needed to make a call to the States. Those calls were frequent considering my recurring need to cry for more of the money that the investors had told me not to worry about, and a need to hear the voice of my wife and kids from time to time. The telephone was in the charge of Enrique and Elvia Staines, whose casa was on that corner, and the routine was that I would check in with one of them for a connection to Belize City, give the operator information for the call, and then wait for him or her to call me back if and when the call was to be completed. The burgers part: (13 Mar 2000) There were only two redeeming features in the whole ordeal. Firstly, all calls had to be collect. Secondly, Mr. and Mrs. Staines were operating a takeout burger operation from their casa. That "Burger Isle" was open from noon until no more customers were waiting; and, sometimes, before or after hours, Mrs. Staines would take pity on me and sell me a burger or two from the front porch. For a better understanding of what that corner was like then, and a complete rundown on the wondrous things that have happened there since, click on Elvi's Kitchen.
Floating rocks and sinking wood: (22 Feb 2000) I had read someplace, probably in an Emory King book, about Belize being the only place in the world where the rocks float and the wood sinks. I put it down to be just a facetious overstatement until one day when I was watching botan logs (to be used as posts for the pier) being thrown off the freight boat, which could not navigate the beach's shallow water. As I watched the botan logs sink immediately to the bottom, so help me God, several pieces of pumice (rock defined by Merriam-Webster as, "... volcanic glass full of cavities and very light in weight used especially in powder form for smoothing and polishing.") came floating up to the beach. What I had read may not have been intended to be facetious, but realizing its truth made me give a hearty chuckle. Incidentally, the botan logs seem never to rot as long as kept posted in water with the exposed end cut protected by a good coat of paint or polyurethane.
Another visitor to the tropics: (04 Feb 2000) One morning during the heavy building phase, I did my usual routine of getting up, making coffee, and taking it with me to Fido's, which was the location to which Bob would drive the pickup to pick up the workmen (including me) who lived in town and take them to the jobsite. I happened to look in Fido's and spied a lone occupant sitting (or rather, slumping) at an outdoor table. With his head buried in his arms, he looked to be in bad straits, which (I assumed from the wafting odors) was probably the result of a hard night and morning at Fido's - not an unusual happening in San Pedro. Without disturbing his slumber, I joined him at the table to finish my coffee and await the pickup. Presently, although I had not said a word, he partially raised his head and began to recite, "So you've come to the tropics. Heard all you had to do ......" The dots represent most of the poem Down And Out which he told me (thanks to a late truck) was in a book entitled, Best Loved Poems of the American People. Although I don't remember ever speaking to that gentleman again, I was so impressed by the poem and his rendition thereof that I, recalling that (lo and behold) there was a book by that name in Susan's library stash, located the book, memorized the poem, and terrorized the island for years with (usually rum induced) renditions of the treasure. Well, just yesterday, I acquired another copy of the book; so, to atone for my prior mistakes in regard to the poem, I have corrected the version thereof which (probably unread) scrolls across near the top of the Window (index) page, given proper credit to the author (not the guy in Fido's?) whom I would like to have known, and offered my visitors a full and correct rendition thereof by clicking this Down And Out. If you have a hint of an adventurous spirit, you'll check it out.
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