25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Ice... When it was Scarce
Mr. Milo Paz of Milo's Ice tells me that he has five ice machines that manufacture two thousand pounds each and even that is not enough for the needs of the town. Can you believe that? And can you believe that in the 1950's there was no ice made in San Pedro? Today we take ice for granted in San Pedro as we just pick up the phone and place an order. Twenty five years ago it was a very precious commodity and the villagers preserved it for as long as it could last.
When there was no ice in San Pedro nor refrigeration, people used to preserve their fish and meats with salt. Salt could keep fish preserved for even a month. We used to go to birthday parties and drink our sodas or refreshments at room temperature or without any ice. What about beer? That was entirely out of the picture.
Then came the importation of ice. Tio Pil with the famous Elsa P used to bring ice blocks from Belize City for a few people who dealt in ice. These huge four-foot tall blocks of ice were placed in large crocus sacks with rice shell used as insulation to prevent them from melting. Once in San Pedro the merchants used to place them in large ice boxes manufactured with wood, styrofoam , and sheet metal. Here ice could be preserved for about two weeks.
The most common use of ice was the selling of "fresco" or raspado as it was called locally. A small device with a blade like that of a carpenter's hand plane was used to shave the ice, and syrup and mild would be added. It was absolutely (still is) refreshing and sold for 2 cents. Tio Dolito used to sell fresco at Daddy's Saloon while don Juan Alamilla popularly known as "Mista John" used to go around town with his wheelbarrow and then with a tricycle to sell fresco. For five cents he would fill your cup or with twenty cents you could get a large pitcher filled with crunchy fresco or shaved ice. If you needed a small chunk like to chill a bucket of cool aid, they would sell it for 10 or 15 cents.
For a big event like an upcoming wedding, people used to order two or three of the giant blocks of ice one week in advance with Tio Pil. With that the beer would be chilled, and with an ice pick, they chopped small chunks to serve with rum drinks. The day after the wedding, friends would come over to take home the leftover ice to make ice cream or for their wonder drinks at home.
Manufacturing of ice in San Pedro came about with Caribena Fishing Cooperative. Prior to this all fishermen had to go to the city for their 8 to 10 blocks of ice for their fishing expeditions. About 1965 CaribeŅa obtained its block ice machine to supply the fishermen, and after a fishing trip there was a lot of ice even to throw away. Thereafter, ice became common and no longer a precious item. A few years later came the shell ice machine also for CaribeŅa. At that time Caribena started selling ice to the general public at 5 cents per pound. For weddings or big parties they would sell you five baskets for ten dollars, which was dirty cheap.
This tells us that twenty five years ago we did not have the luxury of enjoying nice piŅa coladas nor frozen margaritas. We used to conserve ice because it was scarce and a special commodity. Today we take it for granted and even waste it. Well, don't. Don't even take your spouse's love for granted. Caribena lost its ice plants. You can lose yours too.
Addendum from Regent Albert:
What year and which general merchant established Belize's first ice factory?
The correct answer to the question is Henry Gansz in 1890. BEL's generating plant on Magazine Road was originally the site of the Ice Factory.
I remember going there as a kid and watching the men handle the big pieces of ice. The freezing process took place beneath the floor which was like a big pool of sub freezing temp liquid. There was an overhead gantry that would handle the rectangular metal tanks the the ice was made in. Pieces of the floor would be lifted up and the tank would be filled as it would sink into the liquid and left to freeze, at a certain point it would be lifted back out and would be tipped over to dump the center part which was not frozen yet (this part had by then become full of air bubbles and some sediment - as I recall) the center would be topped off with new water and the tank dropped back into the pool; this way they ended up with a large sold chunk of clear ice. When it was completely frozen it would be pulled out again and the men would hose the tank (maybe 5'x3'x2' and tapered) and the whole large section would slide out and they would slide it across the floor to a large freezer section to store & further chill it. Ahn if dah nuh suh, dah neali suh!
What liquid was the metal box dipped into?
I don't know. Today it would be like an anti-freeze that could be taken down below freezing temp and remain liquid. Back then, maybe an alcohol mix or a salt water mix - but don't know.
As a boy coming up we used to get ice packed in saw dust and shipped from the City on Herron H. Then Mr Jones built an ice factory on Citron St. in Dangriga late 60s or early 70s.