25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Village Life, Simple & Easy
When we think of a village we usually think of a very simple way of life where you are awakened by the singing of birds and not of tractors. When we think of town or city life, we usually imagine the hustle and bustle of a busy place.
Well, how did San Pedro fit in with village life 25 years ago? For that I will take you back into the 1950’s when I was 5 to 10 years of age.
It is 5:30 a.m. and the sun is just peeping from behind the reef in the horizon, which only seems a few miles away. There are about 25 sailing boats anchored just a stone throw from the beach and three of them have set sail for Glover’s Reef, their destination for the next fishing trip.
There are five men in each boat; one of them boasting a 15 horsepower Johnson’s outboard motor, but it has raised its sail to take advantage of a brisk wind and save on gasoline which was selling at an expensive rate of 50 cents a gallon. Maria is at the beach waving good-bye to her husband, her son and the rest of the crew in the boat, La Lupita.
In about 15 minutes, only the sail of La Lupita can be seen in the distance as it has crossed the channel in front of La Ensenada (now San Telmo) and is sailing southward. Maria goes home with her head low and her spirits down because she won’t see Antonio until 10 days’ time, but a little happy knowing that when he returns it will be with about 800 pounds of lobster tails that will yield a whopping $400. Four hundred dollars! That is equivalent to about $4,000 today. Maria begins daydreaming of that Singer sewing machine that she needs and also the kerosene refrigerator that she has been begging for quite some time.
Most of the houses’ doors are now open. It is 6 a.m. and Luis is in his canoe with a small sail and 2 paddles now leaving the beach en route to his fish trap and lobster traps.
He stops at the “tendedero” to pick up his net. (The tendedero was a long bamboo on a few sticks right over the sea where the fishermen put their nets to dry in the air.) Because it was Saturday, his nine-year old son Miguelito is accompanying him, all eager and enthusiastic to learn his father’s trade.
Today Miguelito will sail the dory - the ropes of the sail in one hand and the ropes of the rudder in the other. They carry a cast net, hooks, diving masks and a hammer and saw, which they will use to repair the wooden lobster traps that had been damaged by wear and tear, by the dolphins and porpoises or by human intruders who had gotten to the traps before the rightful owner. Miguelito also carries a lunch bag with flour tortillas and fried fish as well as a plastic bag which he would fill up with sea grapes and coco plums which abound along the coast during the month of May.
Meanwhile, Maria has arrived home and begins her laundry. She scoops several buckets of water from the drum where she keeps her “legia”. (Legia was well water poured into a drum with ashes. The ashes softened the well water making it lathery and soft and good for washing the hair or doing the laundry.
Maria’s “batella” (the place in which she washes) is heaped with jeans, work shirts, several cotton shirts and some made of flour bags. The heavy working shirts had been bleached in the sun so much that only a slight image of the lettering remained. Also there were some men’s underwear made of some flour bags. There were neither bikinis nor high cuts in the “batella”, just plain large underwear.
As Maria progressed in her laundry rubbing by hand and using the scrubbing brush on the stubborn rags, she takes a little time to light up the firewood and coconut husks in the “fogon” or fire hearth.
She places a pitch-black kettle over the fire to heat water for the morning tea. The fogon creates considerable smoke and the village is soon filled with a blanket of smoke which smelled of coconut oil, fried fish, and manatee. It was this smell of smoke and gourmet that gave the village of San Pedro that distinct feeling of village life twenty five years ago.