The Very First Ones

or the newcomers to San Pedro, here is a summary of a few “firsts”. You can learn a whole lot of informal history about San Pedro by simply perusing along. At the same time this is an acknowledgement to those people who set the pace for development of our beloved San Pedro and Ambergris Caye.

FIRST AIRSTRIP: The very first one on Ambergris Caye was at Basil Jones up north. It was a private strip for an oil exploration company. The first one in San Pedro came about through the efforts of John Grief, Jim Blake, Area Representative in the PUP Louis Sylvestre, and influential villagers.

FIRST AIRPLANE: There was a small plane belonging to an American who had a bar in San Pedro by the name of Chris. Undoubtedly the revolution of flying was brought to San Pedro by our good friend John Grief Sr. who set the pace for the development of Holiday Hotel and tourism in San Pedro. The first plane was a seaplane.

FIRST SPEEDBOAT: Vernon Hammon, a U.S.citizen who retired in San Pedro, was about to inaugurate a resort known as the Reef Colony Club. His speedboat which he used to commute from San Pedro to Belize City was the Reef Colony, captained by Cruz Nuñez and Libby Azueta. The hotel was never inaugurated as it was destroyed in 1961 by Hurricane Hattie. Scores of Sanpedranos traveled this speedboat for free. No wonder Vernon Hammon and his wife Terry were very much liked.

FIRST VEHICLE: Caribeña Fishing cooperative brought the first Land Rover jeep to haul its boxes of lobster for exportation from the cooperative to the main pier. It also hauled blocks of ice for the fishermen to the main pier.

FIRST DOCTOR: Dr. Manuel Lizama flew in once a week from Belize City to offer medical services to the islanders just a few years before the Lions Clinic was founded. The first resident doctor to actually live on the island was our good Dr. Otto Rodgigurz who came here in the 1970’s along with his lovely wife and two charming baby boys. Yes, as young as Dr. Otto Rodriguez looks, he has been here for a while, and thank you for your dedication to San Pedro.

FIRST CINEMA: The first cinema to be completed was by Jim Blake (RIP). Exactly where Sun Breeze Hotel is. It was built with cushioned seats and large screen too. That also did not into operation as it was destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961. The first one to operate was Teatro Arenas owned by Fido Nuñez (RIP), situated at the now famous Fido’s Courtyard.

FIRST BAR: Indisputably the first public bar was owned by Mr. Gildardo “Daddy” Paz Sr.and was situated in a small building where Big Daddy’s is. It expanded to boast billiard tables, dance hall and small restaurant. Many young loving couples met and courted at Daddy’s Club dance hall, a most popular place in the village.

FIRST TELEPHONE: Again Area Representative Louis Sylvestre brought the first community telephone to San Pedro. It was located at the home of Mr. Enrique Staines Sr. (RIP). Mr. Staines sent messages to villagers to come and answer the phone or wait for phone calls at telephone Number 52. There was one line and one phone, and when it was busy, that was it.

More on these “first’s “ next week and for a few weeks to come.

Last week I hit in summary form a little bit of history of San Pedro by acknowledging the very first ones. It is good to know where we come from and who helped in the molding and development of our beloved San Pedro. Today, we thank the Chamber of Commerce for doing so much for San Pedro. They too are making history. So here go some firsts.

First Electric Plant: The very first one was privately owned and supplied power to El Casino and some neighbors. The remains still stand in the property occupied by Sands Hotel of Mr. George Parham. The first one to supply some power to the village was at El Astillero, now Sun Breeze Hotel. It belonged to the Blake Family. The first government owned Electric Plant was brought about by PUP area representative Louis Sylvestre.

First Water System: Long before WASA and BWS there were private shallow wells in San Pedro. Everyone had a system in his yard. The first village water system was again a Louis Sylvestre project, which operated 5 wells along the airstrip. It had a pumping station and an elevated tank that gravity fed the village. The first desalination water system was a project of Area Representative Glen Godfrey.

First Hotel: Our first hotel to operate in San Pedro was indisputably the Holiday Hotel, owned and operated by Celi and John Grief. It opened its doors in 1965, exactly forty years ago. Hurrah to the first 5 rooms offered to visiting tourists in San Pedro. The first shower taken by any tourist was done with a hand pump maneuvered by Celi McCorkle. It was not hot and cold, but it was strenuous work for Celi.

First Mayor: The first mayor for San Pedro when it gained its township status was Mr. Gilberto Chico Gomez back in 1984.

First Horse: Horses have never been part of our culture or way of life. They have been exciting when we have had them. In the 1940’s there was one by Tio Mac, whatever. But in 1963 the village council brought one and hitched it to a cart hoping to establish a garbage system. The horse refused to move forward. It gave a few steps backward and then became as stubborn as a mule. Gonzalo “Reds” Lara bought it and offered rides to the guys in town for 25 cents.

First Bank: Those living in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s remember when Scotia Bank used to bring in two girls to offer banking every Wednesday. The office was about ten by ten feet located downstairs of Mash Residence across from the Catholic Church. Great banking- savings and withdrawal with perhaps money orders. (I hear they are coming again soon. Welcome, especially with loans.)

First San Juan Residents: Remember when as long as 1980 the end of the village used to be around Paradise Hotel area? The rest was a dense forest of coconut trees, mangrove and bush. George Eiley and family and Mrs. Leonor Rosado and family were the first to construct homes in the San Juan area when there were no roads, no electricity, no water, no telephones, no cable television, not even people. Hats off to Georgie and Mrs. Leonor for their faith in government because San Juan has indeed come a long way.

Hey, thanks to all the first ones and congratulations for setting the pace for development of our Isla Bonita. More of these first’s next week.

For the newcomers to San Pedro, here is a summary of a few “firsts”. You can learn a whole lot of informal history about San Pedro by simply perusing along. At the same time this is an acknowledgement to those people who set the pace for development of our beloved San Pedro and Ambergris Caye.

FIRST GIFT SHOPS: Have you ever wondered who set the example by having the vision that tourists like buying strange and exotic things that they can take back home and call them souvenirs? The first one did not have a name. It was Genaro Nunez who was a fisherman and he found some bottles on the beach and sold one or two. That started his ambition and eventually he grew into Sea Turtle Gift Shop under his house, then at Barrier Reef Hotel, and then to its own building on Pescador Drive. At about this same time Dimas Guerrero was painting T-shirts, and working on frames with island paintings and conch products. Because he was Dimas and his girlfriend Gloria, I suggested the name D and G’s which stands up until this time. Pretty soon it was Paisano who entered with two gift shops on the island. Had he stayed on the job, he would be pretty rich today, or perhaps he is and we do not know!

FIRST DIVE SHOP: The first tourists that came to the island did not know what to expect. It was Holiday Hotel that set their itinerary with fishing and snorkeling mostly. But as tourism became popular, so did diving. It was Coral Beach Hotel, owned by Allan Forman, that set up the first dive shop equipped with an air compressor, about two dozen tanks, and the rest of the gear. It became such a popular sport after that all hotels started advertising spectacular diving in Belize and opening more dive shops. Thank you, Coral Beach Hotel.

FIRST SANPEDRANO PILOT: I only wish I could say it is Johnny Grief Jr. because I have seen him all my life in San Pedro and I know he feels and acts and thinks San Pedrano. I genuinely consider him a San Pedrano too, for all the good he had done in our island, but Johnny was born in the United States. So for the record, the first San Pedrano pilot is Nando Trejo Jr., who once was owner of Island Air. Nando worked as handyman at Holiday to earn enough money to go make his dream a reality. Through good luck and effort, Nando dated this beautiful girl (not as beautiful as Mercy) and her father gave him the opportunity to go study for his dream. Nando also got help from Bob Witte, a friend of his family and pretty soon he was back in San Pedro to fly with Tropic Air. It was Nando who opened the eyes of many young Sanpedranos, who have now venture in this adventurous yet risky profession- flying the skies of Belize.

FIRST GIRLS OF THE EASY LIFE: In the 1980’s there was the first attempt to establish prostitution in San Pedro. It was a hotel with a bar known as Casa Solana that brought a few young ladies as bait to attract men to the bar. San Pedro women put great resistance and were about to hold a demonstration when the management decided to get rid of the girls. It was a victory not for the women, but for San Pedro. Casa Solana then sold to Royal Palm and the story stops right there.

FIRST DEMONSTRATION: The first demonstration in San Pedro was a protest, one organized by the first PUP town council. In 1985 just months after we got our township, the UDP elected government decided to reduce the boundaries of our town making it very small so that the PUP town council would not be able to collect taxes and fail in its administration. Minister Goldson (may he rest in peace) informed us of the decision and hundreds of Sanpedranos took to the streets to protest. Goldson informed us (I was there) that he would not do it without consulting the people. However, the following hour he signed the paper, which rolled back our boundaries. That was the infamous “Roll Back”, and it happened in 1985. So for the record, the first demonstration in San Pedro did not achieve its desired objective.

For the newcomers to San Pedro, here is a summary of a few “firsts”. You can learn a whole lot of informal history about San Pedro by simply perusing along. At the same time this is an acknowledgement to those people who set the pace for development of our beloved San Pedro and Ambergris Caye.

FIRST GRADUATION: Graduations in other parts of Belize go over one hundred years ago. In San Pedro it dates back to the year 1976 when San Pedro High held its first graduation ever with eleven proud graduates of its first graduation class. The first recipients were Abel Guerrero Jr., Clarita Ancona Paz, Milly Castillo, Guillermo “Mito” Paz, Orlando Trejo, Odilia Nunez, Lydia Gonzalez Lavin, James Azueta, Efrain Guerrero Jr. and Pedro “Sony” Vasquez. The very first diplomas were signed by Principal Angel Nunez and Hon. Said Musa who was Minister of Education.

FIRST QUEEN: Our first beauty queen dates back to the year 1956 when Leni Aguilar Alamilla was selected and crowned as San Pedro’s first queen. Prior to that there were no celebrations of September 10, our National Day, but George Price entered as political leader and started creating a national awareness of our identity. Soon San Pedro had its first lovely Miss San Pedro.

FIRST PRESIDENT: The tiny fishing village of San Pedro had no need for presidents like president of Lions, Red Cross, Chamber of Commerce, Alcoholic Anonymous, and other organizations. The first need of a president was when the fishing cooperative was founded. Mr. Jeminiano Aguilar was duly elected to act as the first president of San Pedro’s Caribena Fishing Cooperative. He is deceased, but survived by Julie Aguilar Alamilla, Oscar Aguilar, and Leni Aguilar Alamilla. His first office was downstairs of Tio Pil’s house where Cholo’s is presently located. It used to be a storage room for corned fish.

FIRST STORE: Where was San Pedro’s first store. Take a big guess. Here’s a clue. It was located where present day Alliance Bank is. Yes, it was a store owned by the Blake family, the wealthiest family and powerful family in San Pedro. Well, they had bought the entire island for 625 dollars Belize. They had coconut plantations etc. and they employed a lot of the Sanpedranos to work in the harvesting of coconuts. Well, they had a nice store, concrete floor, polished shelves and even glass counter. For us Sanpedranos it was like being in a shopping mall today. It was the only place in the entire island where you could get something cold. The name of the store was El Comisariato. You, know it has enough history to have a weekly column all by itself. Next week, okay?

FIRST COMMERCIAL LOBSTER BUYER: Thirty five years ago the selling of barbecued bony fish for 10 cents and boiled lobsters for 5 cents each was common around the streets of the village of San Pedro. Then commercial buying of lobsters brought a boost to San Pedro. Mr. Efrain Guerrero Sr. was the first buyer who did so for an agent in Belize City who then exported them to the United States. Mr. Guerrero weighed the whole lobster at the beach. He then loaded hundreds (yes, hundreds) of sacks of whole lobster into his boat, La Ilda, and sailed away to Belize City to deliver to his agent. As a child I remember good prices starting at 8 cents per pound and fishermen were extremely happy. On first day of the season I remember my father delivering up to sixty sacks of lobsters each weighing some 60 to 75 pounds. (Full story on this topic soon)

It’s not that being first is the most important thing in your life, but knowing that you were a pioneer and helped in the forming and development of your community brings some form of satisfaction. These issues on first’s, gives acknowledgement to those people who helped carve San Pedro. Kudos, thumbs up, congratulations, our respect to all of you.

For the newcomers to San Pedro, here is a summary of a few “firsts”. You can learn a whole lot of informal history about San Pedro by simply perusing along. At the same time this is an acknowledgement to those people who set the pace for development of our beloved San Pedro and Ambergris Caye.

First Village Council: I am told that the first village council was headed by Chairman Wilfrido “Fido” Nuñez, who did a great job in leading good old San Pedro to progress. However, in all fairness, there might have been another one who was first, so we would like to acknowledge early village chairmen like Efrain Guerrero, Abel Guerrero Sr. J.P. Esq., Alfredo Alamilla (deceased) and Enrique Staines Sr. (deceased).

First San Pablo Residents: Development of San Pablo with roads and waterways etc. took some three years. Around 1990 we had our very first residents who were Bruce and Victoria Collins who owned the San Pedro Sun. Second was Lincoln Eiley and third was yours truly. In those first days there was no water nor sewer system, no lights on the streets but a lot of flora and fauna. Today there are over one hundred residences, restaurants, stores, bars, churches, apartments, hardware store and more.

First High School: San Pedro High School was founded in 1971 (33 years ago). The first enrolment was of 25 students and two teachers. It was located at the community center, now the San Pedro Town Council for sixteen years. It was not until 1987 that San Pedro High moved to its own building with four classes and 95 students. Today there are twelve classes and 325 students, 21 rooms, laboratories etc.

First Air Accident: In the early1960’s an American pilot, whose name remained unknown, tried to take off on a windy day with a light plane covered with a canvas-like material. He had loaded the airplane with several bags of sand to help stabilize the airplane. It was a grass runway and a short runway, but it was the strong breeze that flipped him over and he landed wheels in the air on the west side of the airplane more or less where Captain Sharks is located. He escaped death, but the plane was totally destroyed. As children we delighted in taking metal rods from the plane’s body and used them for spearing fish. Yes we made spears out of them. Gladly this occurred before commercial flying.

First Skiff Accident: Mr. Armando Graniel, the famous contractor of Graniel’s Cabinet, hit a floating log with his skiff, El Veloz while on his way from Belize City to San Pedro. At that time, Armando was a daring fisherman. The skiff started leaking and was about to sink. As soon as he landed at the football field area, he pulled it up, sprinkled gasoline over it and lit it. It burned to ashes. Later he was told that what he had done was a crime called arson, but nothing happened, of course.

First Two-Party Election: Before 1984, village councils were elected at public meetings by a raise of hands. The first two party election campaign was held in November 1984 and was contested as follows: P.U.P.- Pedro Salazar, Betito Marin, Gilberto Gomez, Angel Nuñez, Nicolas Varela, Luis “Chato” Nuñez (deceased) and Gustavo Arceo. For the U.D.P- Claudio Azueta, Kevin Gonzalez, Manuel Heredia, Jose Gonzalez, Ramon Nuñez, Efrain Guerrero Jr. and Gilberto Paz. I am not sure whether we need any more political campaigns for they have become rather nasty.

FIRST SCUBA DIVERS: I do not have a documented record of many of these firsts, but a good and accurate idea of most of them. In scuba diving there is no known record, but probably “Mista” Jim Currie who lived aboard his yacht The Pamelyn had diving equipment in his luxury yacht.

As I recollect, Jerry McDermott and his partner who came to build Paradise Hotel some 40 years ago were among some of the first to engage in scuba diving. Alan Forman had also gone down in the “cenote” (deep fresh water hole) at Basil Jones with a scuba tank. Do we call that scuba diving? By the way, Jerry McDermott’s friend lost his life in one of those early dives outside the reef on a very windy day. Other early divers were Edwardo Brown, Adolfo Ayuso, and Ramon Nuñez.

FIRST FEMALE PILOT: Without a doubt many of you will guess this very multifaceted woman to have the record as San Pedro’s first female pilot. She is also one of the first female graduates from a high school, a great woman with a great personality, a great chef, a lovely mother and spouse, and active community service-minded person, and first in the hotel and tourism business. By now you are no longer guessing but know that I am talking about our first Sanpedrana pilot, and she is none other than Celi McCorkel, of Holiday Hotel.

FIRST BEAUTY QUEEN: The first beauty pageant and popularity contest held in San Pedro was in 1955 (50 years ago) and the winner was Miss Leni Aguilar now Leni Alamilla, proud mother of Leni Nunez, Chabby Ayuso, and Lucy Marin. Miss San Pedro 1955 is still going strong, very active in family and religious affairs, and still a beauty at her age. San Pedro is proud of this courageous girl who in 1955 took that first and historic title.

FIRST LIONS: The very first San Pedro Lions were actually members of the Belize City Lions Club. They are Wil Alamilla, Allan Forman and Pete Salazar. Lionism was introduced to San Pedro by these Lions and our very first president was Pete Salazar who was installed on October 25, 1975. The secretary was Johnny Lizama and the charter night ceremony was held at Marino’s Bar and Rooftop. The meetings were held regularly at Skin Diver’s Club belonging to Lion Ovidio Guerrero. Of the 35 founding members, only about 8 still remain in the club, which is now going on its 30th year.

FIRST LIONS GOVERNOR: For the country of Belize, it was Lions Pete Lizarraga (RIP), who was elected at a Lions convention held in San Pedro. The first Sanpedrano Lions Governor was Lion Pete Salazar.

FIRST MISS SAN PEDRO: Lovely girls in San Pedro there have always been and Sanpedranos have no difficulty in locating one for a beautiful wife. But lovely and willing to participate in the Miss San Pedro pageant, there have not always been more than enough volunteers. The first volunteer to become Miss San Pedro back in 1955 was Leni Alamilla, who is mom to Leni, Chabby, and Lucy- all three beauties themselves.

FIRST BEAUTY SALON: The very first young lady who became interested in the art of beautifying young people was Helen Paz, a Sanpedrana who married a young man from Belize City. Her parents owned the Seabreze Hotel and later on the Sunbreeze Hotel. She studied in Mexico to be a beautician and did the honors in San Pedro with beauty queens, brides, quinceañeras and all the lovely Sanpedranas in general. Her success story led to the opening of some 8 beauty salons now operating in San Pedro.

FIRST ACCORDION BAND: You see them on television today. The accordion bands are extremely popular in southern United States, in Mexico and all over. In San Pedro the accordion bands started in the 1950’s and provided lots of dancing pleasure to San Pedro and neighboring X’calack for many years. El Conjunto Sargaso (The Sargasso Band) featured Wil Alamilla at the accordion with talented musicians like Emilio Rivero Sr. (guitar), Betito Marin (accompaniment), Carlos Marin Sr. (deceased- banjo), Johnny Forman ((bongos), and a few others. Accordion music provided boleros and cumbias for the dancing pleasure of Sanpedranos for some 15 years. Other accordion players that came on later were Ovidio Guerrero, Aldo Marin, Wilber Marin, Wil Nuñez, and Yours truly.

FIRST ALL ELECTRIC BAND: Caribeña Fishing Cooperative purchased some electric instruments including a saxophone and they were given to interested parties. From there the Sargasso Band started, but was really a combination of accordion, electric and acoustics. The first all electric band was named “The Shadows”. It featured Wil Nuñez with lead guitar, Wilber Marin with accompaniment, Angel Nuñez behind the bass, Nando Trejo at the drums, Oscar Aguilar as vocalist, and Pete Graniel with the tambourines. The Shadows made its debut in 1971 at a primary school dance. They played weddings and parties regularly for 50 dollars a night and on Sundays they entertained at Marinos Bar for 2 dollars a song. The Shadows broke up as individuals got married and left the group.

FIRST SCUBA DIVERS: Who really knows? It is hard to tell as it happened so casually. Good old Mr. Jim Corey probably had Scuba diving equipment on board his yacht, the Pamelyn. But as I recollect, Jerry McDermott and a partner of his who came to build Paradise Hotel some 40 years ago were among some of the first to engage in scuba ;diving. Allan Forman has also gone down in the “cenote” at Basil Jones with a tank. Do we call that scuba diving? Jerry and his partner, guided by an inexperienced guide, took a diving trip outside the reef one very windy and rough day. Jerry’s partner was never to be seen again. Either he surfaced too far away and was lost, or never surfaced, or was attacked by some sea monster, but sad to say, our early scuba diving has a death in its record. Today we do have highly qualified scuba diving instructors to guide our avid divers at Ambergris Caye.

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