REPORT #347 July 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Caye Caulker is a small village on a little low lying Caribbean Island, where the height above the sea is never more than eight feet. The island lies one mile from the Great Barrier Reef and has been around for at least 4000 years that we know of from Mayan relics.

The island is about four miles long and around a quarter mile wide at the widest. A mangrove fringe protects the island from erosion. The village itself is only about 800 permanent inhabitants. Coconut trees, sandy streets, wood and lately some cement houses are the rule. Houses are mostly on stilts, or hardwood posts. There is a sandfly season of calm weather and a mosquito season during the rains in the summer and fall weeks. The rest of the year it is idyllic! Trade winds, warm breezy days and turquoise waters. Barefoot living, a swimsuit, or raggedy pants and blouse the only clothes necessary and a hammock is the favored piece of household furniture. You can walk everywhere in the village, of three streets and about a mile of houses.

At first glance, the visitor might take in this quaint Caribbean island charm and first impressions just might be a sort of self sense of superiority over these poor village folks, if you are coming from some metropolitan city in a manufacturing country full of gadgets. You would feel sorry for them, they are so limited and deprived.

Looks can be deceiving! People on Caye Caulker are the way they are, by choice. That says it all. They live this way by choice! In their minds, quality of life is more important than hustle and bustle and the artificial life of hectic concrete jungles called cities. Some have worked as Executive Secretaries to Embassadors and Metropolitan Police Chiefs in advanced countries. They choose to live barefoot. They choose to outlaw vehicles with combustion engines, they chose to have land legislation making their island a protected area, so no foreigner, or Government Minister can authorize a sale to a foreigner, no matter how much money he or she may have without approval from the Village Council.

Poor uneducated folks you say! No big hotels! Looks can be deceiving!

The older generation that laid this foundation of the what the village of Caye Caulker is, are now between 55 and 70 years of age. Their children are now running things. This newer generation are usually between 30 and 40 years of age. Don't let that fool you either! They may look like small village folks and uneducated country bumpkins, but they are not. They could probably do a better job running the country of Belize in Belmopan than the townies from the port town do, because the townies are always broke and need a government paid job. But it wouldn't interest the Caye Caulker people, unless they could run the government from Caye Caulker by e-mail.

In that little village, the generation running things today have a wealth of worldly experience. There are in this village generation, those that have run Super Oil Tankers from Saudi Arabia around Cape Horn and up the South and North Atlantic to Europe and North America. There are those in this generation who have piloted small planes from Panama to California and other places around. ( Usually without the formality of paperwork or a license.) There are aircraft mechanics, body workers who have put several years in body shops in that automobile mecca of Los Angelus. There are bank managers, who have run banks and Trust Companies in a dozen different countries. There are accountants. Many of this new generation have traveled all of Africa, or Europe and North America, including Mexico, USA and Canada. Even Budapest and Eastern Europe has seen tourists from this generation of Caye Caulker managers. ( At their own expense, not like the mainlanders of the port, who usually travel only at taxpayers expense. ) Some of those fishermen have fished for lobster off Nova Scotia in the cold North Atlantic, or off the Yucatan Channel in that dangerous seven mile an hour Gulf Stream current off Isla Mujeres in Mexico, or the cold waters of the Falkland Islands on the edge of Antartica. Central and South American countries are no stranger to this generation. They are marine architects, shipwrights and scuba instructors. The famous PADI got started in the USA , from getting their scuba certification when Caye Caulker was still a Crown Colony called British Honduras, from the then British Honduras Scuba Association headquartered on Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker has been doing coastal management and marine biology training for locals and foreigners since the mid 1960's. There are more than 50 Parks and Wildlife people for Texas and the Western USA states that came to Caye Caulker and got their training from locals in marine biology, research and coastal management. People who are EXPERTS in environmental science today in many countries around the world, came to Caye Caulker to learn how it was done when they where students. They did their Thesis and Phd work with the help of the villagers of Caye Caulker. For thirty years the village has helped train visiting foreign experts in Cooperative Management, marine conservation and similar fields. The current Marine Park system in Belize started first from Caye Caulker. ( Check the archives in Belmopan) Caye Caulker had the beginning Fisheries Research Station, which later evolved into the Government Fisheries Department. You have electronic whizzes and fairly competent computer nerds in this generation on Caye Caulker.

The village of Caye Caulker is deceptive. They look like barefoot country bumpkins. But don't let that fool you. They live here because in their value system, the Quality of Life, is better than anywhere else in the world they have travelled. They are their own bosses. They work when they must, or want to and play and socialize as they feel like it. Their small children can run free into any home in the village, barefoot, carefree and happy. Gadgets don't make for happiness, nor does a big paycheck. Friends and neighbors, parties and social afternoons under the coconut trees gossiping while the children play, are as important to Caye Caulker people as money. They don't ignore money either. The mainstay of the village is lobster. But the season is fairly short for practical purposes. The other mainstay is tourism, and most families have a restaurant, bakery for coconut pies, or a small guest house, or cable t.v. Business, e-mail service, or something. You want to talk deep stuff, like the Dow Jones Average and financial matters and the setup of IBC's or Trusts and various tax advantages, you can find that too. But mostly, one day runs into the next, one week into a month and one season into another. Nobody much pays attention to time! It is the cycle of life and birth and the three generational family that absorbs Caye Caulker people. The interplay between the new youngsters, the middle managers and the generation waiting until the grim reaper comes for them. Time is calculated by seasons, the phases of the moon and tide, or when fruit trees bear their crop, or fish are spawning. These are the important things. To have friends, to love and laugh, to relax and share, to raise children in an environment without fear or hassle, yet challenging. That is what makes Caye Caulker people different from all those places around the world they went to see in their exploratory twenties. They have made their value decision of life's importance. Weighed the different options and decided, that Caye Caulker life is better than anywhere else in the world.

They are not country bumpkins, and often are more worldly and experienced in the world and travel, than many of the millionaires, doctors and academics that come as tourists. Except the tourists don't know it! Life is what you make it! As a visitor to Caye Caulker, be careful how you make your value judgements. You may not be so smart after all. Only idiots wear shoes, or work at a desk in an office for a salary, or wear a suit and tie. The world is a big place and there are a lot of places like Caye Caulker, smart people could move to and live happy.

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