largest of the 200 plus islands of Belize, Ambergris Caye (Am-BURR-jis Key)
is a twenty five mile long island made up
of three main areas. Mangrove swamps, lagoons, and sand. The lagoons are to the western (leeward) side of the island. The Barrier Reef lies about a half mile to the east of the island, running
the entire length, the reef and the land touching at the northeast of the island at Rocky Point.
The sand reaches a height of three to five feet above sea level, to a maximum of 10 feet at San Pedro Town.
European contact with Ambergris Caye settlers is documented from 1508. At that time, the area was populated by the Maya. An incredible people, the Maya lived throughout Central America, flourishing from 250 A.D. to 900. Many Maya settlements were still
thriving when contact with europeans was made.
The Mayan civilization flourished in Central America from about 2000 B.C. to about 1000 A.D. These short, muscular built, red-skinned Indians built great temples, made astonishing artifacts, tools and pottery, carved their history on slabs of stelae and made scholastic achievements that forever changed the world. They were great astronomers, created an efficient calendar, derived their own writing system and developed ingenious mathematical concepts including the concept of 0.
Among their greatest achievements was that they managed to devise a fantastic trade route throughout Central America from Mexico to as far off as Roatan Island, Honduras. It is believed that the first Mayan setters that occupied Ambergris Caye totaled 10,000, inhabited almost every part of the island and initially set up fishing villages. As their settlements progressed they converted their settlements into trading centers.
To better accommodate their trading, it is believed that the Mayans dug a narrow channel, less than a mile long and no wider than a few feet, at the northern most tip of the Caye. Actually, Ambergris Caye is not really a caye but rather the end of the Yucatan Peninsula. The channel separates Ambergris Caye from Mexico and allowed the Mayans to cut their travel time considerably, since they no longer had to travel all the way around the island to get to northern mainland Belize and Chetumal Bay. Today the channel is called Bacalar Chico and is a marine reserve.
Very scientifically advanced, the Maya had a system of mathematics more advanced
than Europe. They had a detailed written language, and as farmers, they raised corn along with tobacco, cacao, cotton, and other vegetables.
The Maya had this really great system, the village, the Acolde, the Village
common land where the Acolde (mayor) gave permission for each villager (and
where) to make milpa.
Ten Hectares is sufficient to feed a family of 7 for ever and one day. As
they need to only plant one Hectares per year and in ten it is ready to do
The Spanish were astounded by the "easy" life the Maya had. In six months of
work they could grow enough food to feed themselves with enough left over
for trade for other necessities. The other six months of the year was
available for any pursuit they wished. They did have 22 major fiestas per year!!
Now this "system" operated in perfect harmony with man and nature for many
thousands of years. Population levels were around 2 million just for
Around 800 A.D. the Maya began to abandon their cities in Central America. Various causes such as
lack of water, disease, poor soil, or class uprising are suspected. Click here for tours to the Maya world.
When Europeans arrived on Ambergris Caye, the island was ruled by the declining, but still functional Maya principality
of Chetumal. There was a trading system throughout northern Belize, especially between the Chetumal and the Ulna regions. Trade was
based on cacao, with canoes travelling south from Yucatan with fish, cloth, clothing, slaves, and other items, then returning home with cacao.
Ambergris Caye was a hub of a this activity.
Centrally located in the trading web, it was a rest stop for traders headed north or south on the route. All the Chetumal traffic
came by Ambergris Caye. The local economy was thus based on fishing, providing
foodstuffs for the northern Belize logging camps as well as large parts of the
Maya area. Boat related industry, due to the significance of the trade route,
were also important to the island.
The island was also important for its abundant seafood supply and it strategic military position at the mouth of the Bay of Chetumal.
There are numerous ruins on the island, though not of the large-temple type that you see on the mainland. The locals islanders were fisherman, and their
camps when discovered are lower to the ground, with pockets of conch shells and pottery pieces. Tending to be marked by black or dark colored dirt, sites such as the one at Tres Cocos are just beginning to be fully explored. For a text-only description of Maya life on Ambergris Caye, click here.
The Mayans continued to thrive until about 1000 A.D. when they declined and left the island unoccupied until the coming of a new people who would contribute monumentally to the history of the Island.
In the 1600s British pirates roaming the Caribbean found a little haven, discretely tucked inside a great barrier reef. It is believed that the pirates used Ambergris Caye as a safehaven to hide-out and stash their valuables and that they eventually dredged the Bacalar Channel to facilitate the transportation of their treasures to mainland Belize. It is during this period that Ambergris Caye supposedly got its name. The pirates, always out to make a quick buck, are believed to have been whalers and eventually logwood cutters. It is said that the pirates collected Whale excrement, called ambergris, that washed up on shore of the island. The oil from this ambergris was sent to Europe where it was highly valued for its use in making perfumes.
The pirates eventually turned to logwood cutting on the mainland, and left the island unoccupied.
The island served as a hideaway for the ships attacking the Spanish fleet during the 17th century. The remote locations and safe harbours offered a haven for the English, French, and Dutch pirates of the day.
The many shipwrecks in the area can attest to that! The village of San Pedro was founded by Mestizo refugees from the wars in the Yucatan area. English officials allowed them to settle hoping they would
help to feed the workers in the wood-products camps. The first big migration was in 1848-1849. Thus the English became landlords over the farmers and fishermen of the area.
As time progressed the British settlers who inhabited mainland Belize achieved great economic and political advances. A company of wealthy businessmen formed a company named Belize Agriculture Company and held the first legal title to the island. They acquired the island for agricultural purposes. and it is believed that they might have planted Sea Island Cotton. This business failed and in 1842 the land was sold to Mr. Welsh and Mr. Golf. These men later approached the Superintendent in charge and requested that they be given title to the land because they had purchased it from the Belize Agriculture Company. The Superintendent was hesitant because there was an ongoing territorial dispute between the British and Mexicans over the island. Mexico claimed Ambergris Caye as a part of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Superintendent did not wish to provoke the Mexicans but eventually conceded an issued a Crown Grant on March 19th,1842.
By this time the Caye was already inhabited by Mexican fishermen and their families, probably from Xcalak, Mexico just north of Ambergris Caye. In 1847 the Mayans in Mexico who had been kept in legal slavery by the Spanish and Mexicans for more than 300 years revolted and the Caste War ensued and lasted for 60 years. Mayans, Mexicans and even Spanish fled to find a safe haven that they could call home.In the first year of the war refugees entered the British settlement and requested permission to settle mostly in the northern part of present day Belize. Permission was granted and a small number of immigrants numbering about 50 families, came to Ambergris Caye and joined the settlers already there.
In 1850, the very first document was signed and sent to Belize City by residents of the island asking that Cristiano Novelo (great great ... uncle of Mito Paz) be named head of the alcalde – the government system used for small villages. The village was officially called San Pedro in the document.
In 1866 Robert Humes purchased the land from Golf and Welsh. Humes later sold the land to James Mercier Putman, William Standernwick Cary and Justavo Von Ohlafen. The three men later mortgaged the land to a Mr. Antonio Mathe for $9,000.00. Mathe later died bankrupt and the bank ordered the Caye to be auctioned. On September 13th, 1869 Mr. James Humes Blake purchased the Caye for $625.00. Mr. Blake at the time was a Magistrate in Corozal, northern Belize. The island was passed down to members of the Parham and Alamilla families who married into the Blake family.
The Blake family (a family of British descent but living on the mainland of then British Honduras) were land owners and business people. They were in the logwood business – a tree that was logged heavily in Belize and used for die. When there was a substitute found for the dye, they moved into the chicle business. Trees (the sapodilla) used for extracting rubbery material used for bubble gum.
In the 1870s, the Blake family bought Ambergris Caye and started a coconut business. Mr Blake and his wife from the Alamilla family moved to San Pedro to run that venture.
For years, the island was all about coconuts. And the land owners were the Blakes, the Alamillas and later the Parhams. Laborers grew, husked and dried coconuts (called copra) for shipment to the United States.
Throughout the next 50 years, settlers developed the island's fishing industry, planted and harvested coconut plantations and contributed to the islands distinct beauty and history.
The economic base of the island has switched between fishing, logwood, chicle, coconuts, lobster, and tourism.
Ambergris Caye has a long dry season that extends from March through May. The other 9 months average 50 inches of rain. Average temperature is 89-94 degrees during the summer and 70-85 during winter. A few hurricanes have hit the island, but the reef offers
sturdy protection, and no lives have been lost.
The logwood on the island was useful to the European wool industry to make dies, so about 1890 contractors employed San Pedranos to fell the huge logwood thicket on the island. Difficult work, it wreaked a toll on the workers. Market forces served to kill this industry around 1910.
The base for chewing gum, chicle, was derived from the juices of the sapodilla tree, which were bled to get the raw material. Around the turn of the century, Ambergris Caye began to derive income from this industry. Still the hub in the area, San Pedro became a growth town overnight as the huge new fields in the Quintana Roo area were opened up for production.
Wealthy individuals provided funds to hire workers to bleed chicle in certain areas. Groups of three to four men would bleed and cook the sap. They then sold the chicle to the contractor. Effectively, it was the age-old system where the worker works all day and owes the boss at the end of the day. And a class of involuntary servitude was created.
Eventually, by the Depression of the 1930's, the chicle boom collapsed as a result of the general economic malaise plus the development of synthetic substitutes for chewing gum base.
The coconut industry was central to the island economy from the 1880's through the 1930's. Brought by the Spaniards, this crop thrived in Ambergris Caye. The Blakes, Alamillas and Parham's, the most influential families of the times, also owned most of the coconut plantations that were established on the island. The work was capital intensive, and San Pedranos served as the workers, not as farmers. Sometimes having
to wear nets over their entire bodies while they worked, the insects were a bad problem for the working crews. The nuts were picked, peeled, then delivered to storage sheds where they were
shipped to Belize City.
|This is a map of the original land grants and the 83 families who received them. Courtesy George Parham.
The indentured system continued to flourish, as many of the cocals, or work areas, were too far away for
workers to get home at night. Thus the bosses built sheds for the workers, and charged them to live there, for food and provisions, and the same old story was repeated.
Since the Blakes and the Alamillas owned the entire island, they were able to prevent any competing businesses on the island. Their ownership of most
of the boats travelling to and fro the island completed their hegemony of the island's trade.
Workers were paid very poorly in the early 1900's, around $12 a month plus a few rations. The coconut farms were heavily hit and eventually destroyed by a series of hurricanes between 1942 and 1955. In 1942 a hurricane made a direct hit on Caye Caulker in November. It is estimated to have hit with winds at 110 mph but as Wikipedia says that may be a conservative estimate. It left only 7 buildings remains in San Pedro, destroyed the northern settlement (the village that was north of Rocky Point) and all of the coconut trees.
The attack at Pearl Harbor had happened less than a year before and World War Two was raging across the globe. The men of Ambergris Caye were jobless (no coconut palms, no jobs) – and many left the island looking for work. America was looking for male labor (Mito Paz’s uncle went to work in a factory in Pittsburgh, later to return). A few joined the war effort (we were still British Honduras at that point), one or two went down to Panama to help with expansion and lock work on the canal, some went to the mainland. And after the war many returned.
By then lobstering was on the upswing,
and labor for coconuts became scarce. The farms were abandoned in the 1960's when speculation made the land worth more for real estate than farming.
The islanders enjoyed a life of freedom but it was by no means an easy one. In the late mid 1900s the villagers claimed that the Blake family in the person of, Anita Alamilla the great, great grand daughter of James Humes Blake, was charging outrageous amounts of money for land rental. This was money that they could not possiblyafford. The first settlers had been squatters and had not been charged rent until the Blake/Alamilla/ Parham family had come into possession of the Caye. On several occasions they petitioned the Governor to render whatever assistance he could. Through very short correspondence the Governor responded that because the land was privately owned there was nothing that he could do. This continued until Belize became self-governing in 1964 and the Peoples United Party came to their assistance by purchasing land, having it surveyed and issuing lots to the settlers.
Prior to the 1920's, lobsters were considered "trash fish," more likely to be swept off the dock than harvested. The waters were "infested" with them, and got caught in the fishermen's nets.
A few years later, the spiny lobsters were being herded like cattle onto the beaches, the clear waters turned red with the herd.
By the 1950's, the "trash fish" were the base of the islands economy.
The lobster export business is highly dependent upon freezer storage. The lack of competitors to sell to hindered the price for years. Most freezing equipment was based on the mainland,
and the attempt to get good equipment onto the island of Ambergris Caye was fought for years.
A Captain Foote came to the island buying lobster for one cent a pound, later freezer boats and canning began to buy lobsters and prices crept up slowly. At one point after WW2, a man with a Catalina seaplane would fly down to the island, fill it with a few thousand pounds of lobster and fly away to Florida. Taking the lobster on concession! He still owes local fishermen for his last load.
The arrival of the freezer vessel Betty Jean marked the introduction of the island to the market. No money was paid to the islanders until the lobsters were sold, and once a shipment of 4,000 pounds was
never paid for.
20-30 foot boats carried the men to the lobster grounds, which began to encompass Turneffe, Lighthouse Reef, and the Blue Hole as the closer grounds became fished out. This required longer
trips, and the method of catch became skindiving to catch lobsters in the deeper waters. Skindiving is now the hallmark method of the San Pedrano lobster fisherman.
An attempt to eliminate the middleman was behind the rise of the co-operatives in the 1950's and 1960's. Hard bargaining and the last minute help of an American freezer company saved the day when the two major buyers attempted to
bust the co-operative in 1960. One company, Del Caribe, announced they would pay a penny a pound. The fishermen, stuck with a huge opening day harvest, thus with their backs to the wall, had to boycott both buyers. Butcher Scott held the lobsters in his cold storage long enough
for the negotiations to occur. By late 1960, the co-operative was able to sell the 4,000 pounds held in storage. They did better and better each year.
Fishing really started to take off on the island – and the boat were not all that different from the ones used today.
The biggest differences? Today, ice is used and then they used a “live well”. Water circulated through the center of the boat to keep the catch alive. The boats were out to sea for up to 15 days. AND there was no motor.
Fishing, mainly for snapper, mullet and bonefish, continued. Small scale at first. The pre-Lenten season was the most active with dried fish being sold as far as Honduras. Much was done using nets, some using fish traps. You can still see a few on the back side of the island today.
Attempts to organize a co-operative in San Pedro began in late 1961. Every fisherman was contacted, but many were skeptical. Twenty men
finally agreed to join, and letters were filed to begin the process of legality.
In the early 1960s, to unite and get a better price, the Caye Caulker fishing co-op was founded and then a year later, one in San Pedro.
In March 1963, the San Pedro co-operative was registered under the name Caribeña Producers Co-operative Society Limited. Some had to use their homes and property as collateral.
The Caribbean Queen Company agreed to purchase and export the lobsters under the co-operative's quota. The co-op received lobsters from the members on the beach in front of the village. After learning from this initial arrangement, the co-operative
attempted to get a freezer plant on the island. When this fell through, and for other reasons, the co-operative decided to stop selling to Caribbean and begin to deal with a company headed by Apolonio Alamilla.
Through 1964, the co-operative exported through local agents. This kept the price down, and the market was $1.04 a pound, despite rising prices in the U.S.
These years also brought the beginnings of the export of conch and scale fish as well, providing an alternate product for the fishermen of Ambergris Caye to sell.
A four month lobster season was also mandated.
In 1964, negotiations for a freezer plant were finally completed. Thus plant allowed annual production to hit 179,132 pounds in 1965. The record high of 184,000 pounds was in 1984. The co-operative and its 217 members were then the
backbone of the community, which nearly put a halt to coconut farming and work in the bush.
Making a living became easier with the unity and the co-ops but the island’s industry was about to shift to tourism.
A growing scarcity of product and the growth of tourism have resulted in a decline in the membership of the co-operative today. Production in 1992-1993 was an annual low of 18,000 pounds. Today, tourism is the economic heavy. Beginning with the Holiday hotel, started by the Grief family in November of
1965 and built with a foundation of ground conch shells, began attracting the tourism
that is the mainstay of the economy now. In 1967 the Paradise opened, and by 1970 the Coral Beach Hotel had established the first
dive shop. Tourist accommodations started popping up all over the place, and some local folks converted rooms or build small guest houses on their land. Visitors remember this personalized atmosphere and laid-back style. It became a trademark for San Pedro.
More and more fishermen began to add
to their income by serving as fishing or diving guides for tourists. Guiding came
naturally to them, as it involved things that are important to their way of life-
fishing, snorkeling, sailing. As fishing declined, tourism increased.
Ambergris Caye has a past full of contrasts. The Maya who settled throughout
the island and developed an economy based on trading and exploitation
of the marine resources had practically nothing in common with the pirates
who succeeded them, or with the British agriculturists who marshalled their
slaves in a futile attempt to convert the island into a cotton plantation. And,
of course, all these were distinct from the Mestizo refugees who fled the war
in Yucatan for the tranquility of the caye.
Conditions in the island have also
differed greatly from time to time. The
way of life of the first permanent residents of San Pedro was quiet and
unpressured. The villagers fished, farmed their milpas and tended their
chicken and livestock with almost no outside interference. They had
brought with them their Yucatan culture and customs, their diet of beans
and tortillas, their simple homes of thatched roofs and walls plastered with
white lime and mud.
Then the unexpected advent of the Blake dynasty radically changed the
life of the San Pedranos. Overnight they found themselves without any legal
rights to remain on the land they had lived on and farmed for several
decades. From independent small fishermen and farmers they became wage
labourers working for a triumvirate of ruling families in a succession of new
industries - logwood, chicle, coconut - their lives transformed into a grinding
monotony, guided only by their employers' need to accumulate more
This was a time when ownership of almost the whole island was concentrated
in the hands of a few people. Virtually any person on the island could be
orders to vacate, for the flimsiest of reasons and at a day's notice, the house
in which he or she had been born, raised and lived all their life. This was
the case of the local midwife, Desideria, who was ordered to dismantle her
home because its rustic condition detracted from the elegance of the Casino
which was being built on the lot next door.
Those were the days when a desperate bachelor such as Natividad Guerrero
could get a bride from the transient Maya settlements at Basil Jones in
exchange for a box of groceries from Belize City.
Life is no longer this way on the island, of course. The absolute power
which the Blakes exercised over almost every facet of the villagers' lives
has long gone. The erosion of this hegemony began in 1943, when the
Colonial Government initiated the forerunner of the present day village
council by appointing a small group of villagers to make recommendations
on plans and projects for the caye. In the 1960s, it continued with the
acquisition and redistribution by the government of large portions of the
village to San Pedranos. Finally, it culminated with the growth of the fishing
and tourism industries which allowed the villagers to break the Blakes'
The growth of the fishing co-op had a profound effect on life in Ambergris
Caye. The establishment of the co-op's headquarters and processing plant
on the island kept the maximum amount of money circulating in the community
and therefore significantly contributed to the overall increase in the
villagers' standard of living. San Pedro, which was abandoned by several residents
during the 1940s as a result of the economic depression which followed
the devastation of the 1931 hurricane and the decline in the coconut
industry, was by the mid-1980s one of the most economically affluent communities
In 1984 San Pedro officially went from being a village to a town. Victoria House was built, and the airstrip began getting a little more business. The tourist industry began to grow faster. For an account of this time, click here for Mervino's Hole in the Web.
Today the island's prosperity is dependent on tourism. Innumerable job
opportunities created by tourism and related activities have attracted people
from throughout Belize and new immigrants from Central America mix with
the island population. Although official figures reflect a population of about
1,200, it can be estimated that close to 4,000 people reside on the island,
half of whom are new arrivals.
San Pedro's education system includes two primary schools, a private school,
three pre-schools and a high school established in its own new building. At
the latter, training for the tourism industry is offered, as well as ample preparation
for higher studies. San Pedranos can also receive medical care at the
recently established clinic.
In line with world trends in communications San Pedro now boasts a TV
station, cable network with 22 channels, fax machines and a telephone
exchange system linked by satellite. A new desalination water system has
been installed and will soon be followed by a second one. The island is
extending a complete water and sewerage service, which will reach the new
areas of San Pablo and San Pedrito.
Tourist accommodation is provided by over 50 hotels, ranging from small
pensions to luxury resorts which can double the island's population during
the high season. With the only hyperbaric recompression chamber in Belize
Ambergris Caye keeps up its reputation for being a diver's paradise.
What used to be a simple airstrip located at the south end of the town has
grown to a small yet busy airport surrounded by houses and tourist establishments.
Frequent flights from three airline companies link the island to various
destinations in Belize~e, Guatemala and Mexico. The government has
recognized the urgent need for a new airport outside the inhabited areas and
plans are under way for its relocation The island is also accessible by sea by
the many boats which provide regular ferry or special taxi services to and
from Belize City, a ride of about one hour through the numerous neighboring
One of Ambergris Caye's most pressing concerns is the availability of lots for
houses. Real estate has been subject to high speculation and prices for lots
have become unaffordable for most Belizeans. Foreign ownership has
helped to complicate the problem, making it difficult to obtain good lots for
the future expansion of the town and to accommodate its growing population
of 800 young people. In an effort to find solutions the Town Board has
set up a development project known as San Pablo. Some 200 lots have
already been issued and sold at affordable prices and some 600 more are
available for distribution and sale. An additional 250 lots will be distributed,
mostly to young people whose needs are immediate, through a reclamation
project spearheaded by the government.
With the continued development of the tourism industry, San Pedro and
Ambergris Cave must carefully chart the course of its development. Close
attention must be paid to the protection of the environment: the land and
beaches, the sea and the reef, as well as the air. Ecology is threatened and it
is urgent that San Pedranos develop an increased appreciation of the island's
fragile environment and learn to respect and protect it in their daily lives.
The passing of laws and development of conservation measures is also necessary.
One step in the right direction is the creation of the Hol Chan
Marine Reserve. Following its success, Ambergris is considering other reef
reserves, beach reserves - as in the case of turtle nesting grounds - and bird
sanctuaries. The reef and its underwater beauty must not be taken for granted.
Development and sea dredging can result in damage to the reef.
Moreover, the water table on the caye flows out into the sea so that waste
water and sewage disposal must also be considered carefully.
Ironically, it is the very vehicles of emancipation, the development of the
fishing and tourism industries, which pose the most serious threats to the
island's future. The caye's fragile ecology is threatened by massive and
uncontrolled expansion; the resources of the sea are being rapidly exhausted;
the village's sense of community and cultural identity has been altered.
Paradoxically, it is by turning back to their past that San Pedranos can find
solutions to their problems in the future. Today, as tourism takes an ever
increasing share of the caye's economic and human resources, as the villagers
are submitted to increasing bombardment by foreign values, ideas,
and influence, it is important that San Pedranos have a strong sense of their
history, their identity and self-worth. A people cannot choose the circumstances
in which they make their history, but they can become conscious of
themselves and their past, and from that font they can attempt to draw the
confidence, discipline and ideas to deal with their potential problems in the future.
In the past, San Pedranos have proved that they are resilient, resourceful
and courageous. The problems and challenges that they face in the future
are no worse than the problems they faced and partly overcame in the past.
Given a continuing commitment on their part to finding workable solutions
to their problems and a continuing belief in their own dignity and value,
there is no reason why they should not succeed and no reason why the
island should not remain, for many years to come, a paradise with a future
equal in richness to its past.
If you enjoyed this history, and would like more detail, click here for a text-only larger extraction from the Glenn Godfrey book just below....
The above was paraphrased from the
book "Ambergris Caye, Paradise with a Past" by
Cubola Productions, Belize
Click here for more information about this excellent book.
Click here for an overview of Belize History- Shipwrecks, wars, pirates, early fortifications, genesis of the names "Belize" and "Ambergris Caye", artifacts discovered in the area, and more!
Today, Ambergris Caye has some 13 dive shops, offering complete rental and services of qualified instructors and guides. Three day courses provide the novice diver with a complete course on the safety in lessons in a safe underwater environment. And the sights offered inside the reef, in six foot deep water, offer the casual swimmer and
life-jacket floater with a mask access to more incredible views than divers in most places in the world....
Other attractions include para sailing, glass-bottom boats, jet skiing, hydro sliding, beach combing, horseback riding, bicycling, bird-watching,
basking in the sun, riding in golf carts, or taking a day-tour to one of the many sites on the Belizean mainland.
Over 800 rooms are available on the island, in absolutely any price range, and all expenses are moderately priced.
My first time there, I was amazed at how many places I could eat really inexpensively. Definently cheaper than at home, in Eugene, Oregon- not exactly a high-priced area.
I spent much less money than I thought I would. Many fine restaurants are available, with exquisite tastes for your taste buds to savor. The night-time boat rides are a dream, the sky ablaze with stars. You can swim 24 hours a day. The world of beauty in the water both animal and plant life is of a color and diversity unforeseen. Truly stunning, and peaceful.
Lots of night-time music mixed in a family-type atmosphere make for a incredible place. No sex industry in sight, a welcome relief from the bombardment of images in many cultures and vacation spots of today. A
quiet and charming little town.
In one short afternoon, I saw the incredible world of the Ambergris Caye barrier reef. In a mere six feet- eight feet of clear, warm water, wearing only goggles, I was able to sit on the bottom
of the ocean, inside huge schools of wondrously colored fish. Friendly sharks would come cruising by, stingrays that you could feed if careful. I had never snorkeled or gone diving. I was a total rookie. Yet I got a never-to-be-forgotten
first view of wonderland. I swam around for
hours, sometimes with a snorkel, but I most preferred it with mask only. The
silence that allows you to close with the beasties is so peaceful and beautiful.
I will be back many times to that world, but I will always owe Norman Eiley my birth into it. Just as I cherish the midwives that bore my children. Come and stick your toes into the water...
Marty Casado, webmaster, AmbergrisCaye.com
|You Know You are an Old-timer Belizean if:
You know Paslow Building
You have to cross swing bridge before it swings at 5:30
You buy a pack of bread every day
Your get your free calendar from the grocery store
You know Georgie August meat market
You used to get your bun from Sonny and Tan
You eat either kraft cheese and bread, fry cake and beans or Johnny cake and fry fish for tea
You chew up your chicken bone
Your neighborhood grocery store used to give you credit and mark it on paper or in a book
You feed your dog with table scraps
You eat fish on good friday
You know Catto rules the canal
You go to the cayes on Holy Thursday
You listen to cross country bicycle race on Holy Saturday
You know it will rain when the Harriers (roaches) start flying around
You burned fish (mosquito coils) for flies
You argue which meat pie is better Gunns or Darios
You know Gunns sells the best tamales and panades
You get new clothes for Easter Sunday
You Get Box from States and keep enhaling the box to smell "states smell"
You eat apple and grapes around Christmas time
You go to Brodies to see the electronic Santa waving in the show window
You pull out your old sweater when Joe North(Christmas drizzle) arrives
You only get toys for Christmas
There are always three glass salad bowls among your wedding presents
Your birthday presents included a wash cloth and a cake of soap
You know where Shubbu got shot (butt)
You know Mass Man (bucket covered his face)
You Know they say that George Price and Seffe da batty man
You know Rudy Cabral and Shirley were Belize first queens (transvestite)
You know Bialzibug and Chicky Chick
You know Tablada
You try to ride Ramsey Mule & Cart
You buy Craboo at Bridge Foot
You know Simon Quan only wear bilgy T-shirts and rides a bike
You know Augusto Quan's kids were security guards, on the ladder in the store
Every oriental person is a chiney
You listened to Doctor Paul or chechie
You got a birthday request on Radio Belize
You listened to Saturday night top 10 on Radio Belize or childrens corner before school
You wait up to hear boledo play at 9'o'clock at night and lottery on Sunday
You walk home for lunch, if you did not get a piece of pig tail in your beans you felt cheated
You Goal in Life is to go to SAM
You good shoe is your Sunday pair
You went to the faucet to get bath water
You bathe with a dipper, brush your teeth at the back step and wash your face in a basin
You peed in a white bucket
You know the scent of a canal anywhere
You wade through high tide when it rains hard
You have used Lifebuoy or Lux soap before
You use cuticura powder to dust your chest after a bath
Your first tooth paste was colgate
Sometimes you cleaned your butt with hard paper
Your Grandmother had a Glass Scrubbing Board and wooden clothes pin
Your Grandmother shopping cart is a big hand bag
The "bouy" was the star of the show
You washed your clothes in a bath pan and used Soap Powder
You used Yodora or mum (deodorant)
You fresen up with Limacol, Bay rum or dettol
You varnish your furniture, get new linoleum and curtains for Christmas
You use Batty Bus to get to Chetumal or Merida
You dance behind Lord Raburn band in the parade
You only eat turkey for Christmas or New Year
Every sunday you eat Rice & Beans, chicken & salad
You eat Megan smokey Rice & Beans after dance
You eat McClarens hops & Pies at break time
You know Malick eye drop in the ice cream
You know cashew wine or seed come from Boom or Crooked tree
You know scissors Wednesday is sewing factory pay day
You drink chevans lemonade before coke came to town
You just had to have an ideal, greasy greasy, honey bun or a wangla
You went to big hospital once in your life
You had a romantic walk at the Fort (Baron Bliss grave)
You bathe at barracks or hanger
You went to birds isle at least once
You know the weed smoking bad boys hang out a Yabrough bridge or Majestic Alley
You know Jane Usher is queen of credit union
You purge with castor oil, worm oil or serossie before school opens
Your school supply were two exercise book and a pen
You had to dodge your friends to empty the bucket in canal
If you read all this and agree with at least five you are either a Kruffy, Kerub, Panya, Koolie, Wiika, Engin or half Limey, no buts or maybe.
You are a true Born Belizean, All a-wi da wan -----Sub Ombre Floreo
Can you remember when...
Close your eyes and go back,
Before the Internet or the MAC,
Before semi-automatics and crack,
Before Hattieville Ramada,
and all the problems with Guatemala,
Before SEGA or Super Nintendo
when life was simple and air conditioning was your open window.
Go way, way back.
I'm talking bout playing hide and seek at dusk,
sitting on the veranda, eating hot Creole bread and butter. Seferino,
Eustace Usher and Everall Waight on Radio Belize. Red light, Green
light (those are games, we had no traffic lights in Belize).
Powder milk (AKA Klim) and a potted meat sandwich for lunch
Kottobrute, tableta, stretch-mi-guts, wangla and goatshit
Boil corn and ducuno from Fullmoon Bevas on Hydes Lane.
Macobi (pepitos) seeds from Bredda Roy or Don Marin at Holy
Playing caparuche or gamma in the neighbour's yard,
Hopscotch, marbles, ludo, snake and ladder, Jacks, cricket,
Mother May I, Say, Say, Say and Ring around the Roses.
Hula Hoops and racing bicycle rims.
Bradley's lemonade (all flavors were lemonade) and 2 panades
for 5 cents.
Dit's meat pies (1 for 5) and Happy Hour's cowfoot soup
Black shoe polish on mustaches to get into Eden, Majestic,
Crossing kinnel iron, a nude dip at barracks.
The smell of the sun and lickin' salty lips.
10:30 Sunday morning matinee, Superman, The Three Stooges
Back further, listening to Reverend Matthew and Chichi on
Catching needle cases (never knew their real names) off the clothes
line, Making your own kites with kite paper from Angelus Press and
Making sure roaches wouldn't eat your kite by putting
kerosene in the paste.
Playing sling shot or using rubber bands with orange peeling
to sting maclala.
Remember when walking from New Road to New Market seemed far
And going downtown on Albert Street seemed like going
Ghost stories at bedtime, climbing trees, gathering black
berries and mangoes.
An ice cream cone from one-eye Mallick on a hot summer day,
Tuti-Fruti, Sour Sap or maybe Sugar Corn. You found his
other eye, you say?
A burger and coke from Shammah's drug store on Queen Street,
A million mosquito bites, flit, fish (for mosquitoes) and
sleeping under nets.
Kerosene lamps, gas lamps and candles.
Etnas (one-holed kerosene stoves), chamber pots and the good
old white bucket.
Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, playing house (oooh,
I liked that).
Steve Reeves and Gordon Scott, when all leading actors were
Sittin on the fence whistling at girls passing by.
Sliding down the rail of the steps, catching a splinter in
Jumping on the bed (if you had one) and pillow fights.
Running from Catate and Dilo till you were out of breath,
And laughing so hard that your stomach hurt.
Being tired just from playing. Remember that?
I'm not finished just yet.
Eating Klim with sugar, kawsham too.
The sneakers at Bata for girls and boys were called puss?
And you were ashamed to wear them at school cause they only cost a
dollar? When it took five minutes for the transitor radio to warm
And you listened to championship fights and that was fun?
When nearly everyone's Mom was at home when the kids got
When every kid owned some type of dog?
And how you cried when they poisoned yours?
When five cents was a decent allowance, and 10 cents a
When Saldivar bread went up 2 cents and everyone talked
about it for weeks?
When you lined up outside Jail at 5:00 AM for hot jail
When you'd reach into a stinking, muddy drain for a penny?
When girls neither dated nor kissed until late high school?
And jukking behind convent or up by Haulover was cool?
When girls wore quindolyn to church every Sunday?
And your clothes were always clean and pressed, even though
you didn't have many?
And we'd all have to be at the 8:30 AM mass on Sunday or
When you got brawta from the grocery store regardless of how
much you bought?
And 12 cents American cheese and a pack bread fed a family
When laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes or towels
hidden inside the box?
When any parent could whap any kid and nobody, not even the
kid, gave it any thought?
When being sent to the principal's office was nothing
compared to the fate that
awaited you at home?
When you wore two or more pairs of short pants under your
long pants to ease the sting from that sash corn or tambran whip
from one of your male teachers?
When we were in fear for our lives but it wasn't because of
drive by shootings,drugs, gangs, etc?
When our parents and grandparents were a much bigger threat?
When you didn't dare talk back to your parents, at least not
to their face?
Didn't that feel good? Just to go back and say, yeah, I remember that!
There's nothing like the good old days! They were good then,
and they're good now when we think about them.
Share some of these thoughts with a friend who can relate, then
share it with someone who missed out on them.
BELIZE and AMBERGRIS CAYE HISTORY LINKS
Early History of Belize, Glyphs, Timeline
150th Anniversary of San Pedro Town
Field Guide to Ambergris Caye
Angel Nuñez' column "25 Years Ago on Ambergris Caye"
Herman Smith's column on Archaeology in Belize
Maya History of the island
Maya Sites in Belize
Alternative Medicine in Belize
Aztec Account of Spanish Conquest
Excavations on Ambergris Caye
Belize History - Extensive
Popol Vuh, Mayan Religious Document
Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa
Aztec Life |