25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Tell anybody who is 50 years or more the word "embarcadero", and he will immediately carry his mind to the public toilets sitting over the lagoon 25 years ago. Young people today do not know that type of "embarcadero". There is a famous embarcadero in Mexico known as Xochimilco, which is a waterway and tourist attraction. There the embarcadero is a beautiful wharf with large canoes or rafts and you are taken for a ride with mariachis and music, photographers, flowers, food and souvenirs. The place is really romantic and picturesque-a true tourist attraction, sort of like floating gardens.
The embarcaderos we had 25 years ago were a pain in the neck. There was one at each street leading westward towards the lagoon. They were known as Embarcadero de Don Polo, de don Cleto, de Emilio, de don Match and El embarcadero de Pablito. The names given were of the persons living at the end of that street leading to the embarcadero.
|Fishermen bring home the lobsters from the embarcaderos.
The embarcaderos were, to begin with, dump sites. The villagers disposed of house garbage, building debris, and other waste at the embarcadero. They threw waste on both sides of the street all the way up to the lagoon and even partly into the water. It was not until the small pathway was closing up with garbage that the village council had it burnt, raked, and pushed and cleared. To give you an idea of the location of the embarcaderos the first one extended all the way from Juvini's bar to Thunderbolt's dock. On the other side of the soccer field was the second one extending all the way from the Azueta residence to the lagoon. And so it was at every street leading to the lagoon all the way to CaribeŇa and the butane gas company.
The embarcaderos were very practical for the small population of some 500. The men usually threw the garbage up on the pile, but children would drop it anywhere, even on the path. Children practised their shooting skills with sling shots by shooting and breaking bottles. Some men actually cleaned the area when they went to throw garbage, but when it was overfull and some six feet high, it was burnt. It was like a celebration when the embarcadero was burnt because people, by nature, seems to like to see fires. Children would go to the site of the fire to throw stones and enjoy the spectacle of the sparks flying in the air. Of course there were no houses in those areas at that time so there was no danger of any house catching fire.
You might ask, why an embarcadero or dump site so close to the village. Well, it was a population of some five hundred and the practice probably started with someone throwing garbage in his backyard. Then others joined in. Also there were no vehicles then so it was not possible to take it far away. You simply picked up your bucket or wheelbarrow and took it to the dumpsite. However, on a positive note, the garbage helped fill up the swampland along those areas. A large part of the soccer field was filled up like that, and then some fill was spread over it to make it a good playing field. By the way, an embarcadero is the Spanish word for wharf. It is a place for embarking or disembarking into a boat. Were there wharfs there? Yes, there were.
There was a short wooden pier or wharf beginning at Thunderbolt's wharf all the way to CaribeŇa and Texaco. These wharves served for the local fishermen to anchor and sell their product to the public. The villagers came up the wharf to purchase their snapper, shad, mullet, grunts, barracuda, or jacks. These were the popular fish gotten from the fish traps. Some of the villagers brought their knives and cleaned their fish right at the wharf, before taking it home. In fact, one way that the villagers knew that there was fish at a certain wharf was to look at the sky for the frigate birds. Birds flying over the embarcadero was a sign that a fisherman was there selling fish. This also was true of spots along the beach.
Now listen to this. At the end of each jetty or pier, there was a public outdoor toilet called a latrine standing right over the sea. It could seat 2 or 3 adults at any given time, and the faeces "landed" right on the water. These public toilets were used only by men. The women used outdoor toilets in the backyard. The boys used the home toilet until 8 or 9 years of age, and then they were required to use the latrines at the embarcaderos.
Nobody talks about the embarcaderos without remembering the fish called X'pinta. (pronounced eshpinta)] These fish ate all the faeces and were abundant at the site of the latrines. I hate to say this, but the fishermen washed their fish just some twenty feet away from this area. Fishing was not considered safe at these places, but I do recall some kids casting their fishing lines from these embarcaderos, and if mom would find out, these fish would be thrown away.
It was about 1978 to 1980 that the village council of the day decided to close down these public latrines or embarcaderos with no opposition from the villagers, but that was because politics had not yet come into the picture. What was more difficult to close down were the dumpsites for people had gotten used to them and had no means of disposing of their garbage, so the village council initiated a garbage collection system. On the walls of the embarcaderos there were love message, hate messages and secrets revealed. Perhaps if you caught a friend in there and you remembered something he did to you and you wanted revenge, you would take a coconut or stick and splash some water from underneath. You can imagine the rest of the atrocious incidents. But today we can safely say: "Thank God the embarcaderos are history and are only memories of twenty five years ago."