C onditions on Ambergris Caye have differed greatly from time to time. The way of life for the first permanent residents of San Pedro was quiet and unpressured. The villagers fished, farmed their milpas and tended their livestock of chickens, turkeys, pigs and ducks. They had brought with them their Yucatan culture and customs, their diet of beans and tortillas, their simple homes of thatched roofs and plastered walls with white lime and mud.
Steel rods and cement were unknown to San Pedro up until the 1950's. The Mestizo house was made of palmetto sticks on the walls. There were cracks or spaces between the sticks and anything could pass through - wind - sunlight, flies, mosquitoes. To help in this regard, the villagers plastered wallpaper on the walls, not fancy wallpaper like we buy in the stores today. Pages of books, magazines and newspapers made the wallpaper trick. A glue was made using flour, water and kerosene. This paste was used to stick layers of paper on the walls, and at the end of this project you had a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns on the wall with comic book pages, glossy National Geographic pages, maps and newspapers.,The kerosene, by the way, was used to prevent roaches from eating the wallpaper.
The more "affluent" villagers went one step further. They plastered the outside wall of palmetto sticks with white lime. Mixed with water, this hardened and looked like white cement. No need for painting. For Christmas time, a mixture of white lime and water served to re-whiten the walls. Oh, these were a few only - the houses of the richer San Pedranos.
To cover the roof, there were two types of palm leaves. The "Huano" was a large palm and if cut in the right moon it could last up to ten years. Then there was the "chit", a smaller palm leaf that could last three or four years. Now you take this as a fact. If set properly, there was no chance of rain leaking through your roof as it does today on shingle, asbestos or even concrete roofs. These thatched roof houses were water proof unless you got a 70 mile per hour wind which would start lifting the leaves, sending them in all directions.
What was on the floor?? Nothing; it was a hard dirt floor. If sandy, it became hard after several months of use and regular sweeping. What was used for sleeping? Only hammocks. What was used for cooking? A big "fogon" or fire hearth. What was used for lighting? Candles or a kerosene lantern. Was there any sort of entertainment? Of course - comic books, picture novels, and battery operated radios. And on the walls? Wallpaper! Any center table? No. Any lizards? Yes. Any roaches? Just like today. Cold during the winter months? You bet. Was it a fine house? Splendid (I was born in one.)
Yes folks, what tourists enjoy-today as a luxury cabana, a thatch room with an air conditioner and tiled floor was indeed 25 years ago San Pedro's everyday home.