Sketches of St. George's Caye during the colonial era.
"Lesmore," the Biddle residence on St. George's Caye
Photo by David Magers
Kayaking off St. George's Caye, 1977
Grandmother Bradley's house is on the left of the crawl house.
This is the line up of who was out at the caye about 70 - 75 years ago. There were only 12 houses on the island. Lind's, empty lot, Mackey (Bunny M) empty lot, fisherman house, Dragton, Ayuso, Bowman, Bowman, Gegg, empty lot (later Bowen), Castillo, Eyles, Biddle, empty lot, Melhado, (later Plihal) empty lot, Hofius. Then nothing until you got to the grave yard, then Bradley and nothing else.
What it was like to vacation on St. George's Caye back in the day
by Michelle Rivana Buckley
Walking St. Georgeís Caye was a must. The Caye was split in two after Hurricane Hattie. Leaving a huge split the with of the Belize river. To get to the other side where the British BATSUB you had to use a dorey, boat or swim across. All the older teenagers from Fisherman side were allowed to swim across the split. The water was dark green from the giant pine trees hanging nearby. The current would be strong. My brother and cousin would borrow old man Harold dorey and paddle from Fisherman Side to meet their sisters and friends and try to help cross them. It was funny seeing the dorey capsize a few times from the teens climbing into it. There was always laughter because my brother, guy friends and his buddy cousin would intentionally capsize the dorey to have a good laugh. The branches of the tree hang so low and it would be fun to us kids moving from branch to branch because some areas were like quick sand. The Playall family home was next to it. We would have to walk in the front of his property to get to the split. One year the government had to intervene because he refuse access to us locals. His home was a mansion and he like typical greed would not let anyone pass. Well fisherman side was upset and he was told that in Belize he had to allow beach front access to us locals. Dr. Huesner, his wifeMrs Laura, and Ms. Hortence Dyer/Deshield led the way for this cause with the aid of PUP. The wealthy folks such as the Geggs, Mackenzies were genuinely generous to us. They would allow us to Han around in the evening on their pier and crawl (an area of the sea surrounded by wood with opening for swimming. On our walk we would stop at crawls then swim and be on our way to get to the split. Dr. Huesner property was next to Mr. Geggs who had the white picket fence. The only problem was the sea met in that corner of the fence and there was no path. We would hold on to his fence then swing our feet to to land on solid ground. It was fun during high tide because it was an excuse to get wet or fall in. Dried sea grass would accumulate in this corner and you could walk to the back a little on Dr. Huesner land and their you would find the coco plum trees mixed in with the mangroves. We would sneak and pick them. Someone would be on the look out for Ms. Laura and you hear laughter because the person on look out would yell ďRunĒ. She would yell ďWhat you kids doing behind there? I think she got a kick from us doing this. It was always fun walking the old Baymen wharf that remain on the edge of the Caye on Fisherman Side the wharf was about 8 inches in with and some areas would be partially submerged if you go to the southern tip of the Caye. The Wharf would lead to the old canon. I do believe every family The Mahler, Trench, Coye, Encalada, Deshield, Alvarez, and Dyer probably have photo of the old canon in their album.
An old photo of the path at Fisherman Side St Georgeís Caye! To the left of the photo you could see Faustino family home. This photo of my older sister was taken in the 60s. You could catch barracuda in the evening off the pier. My sister caught that one.
Once you went to the other side of the split we would be allowed by the British soldiers to swim at their pier. Sometimes Mr. Francis Cadd would allow us to use his pier which was at the back. If my dad found out we went to swim in the back oh boy you would be punish all day by not being allowed to go swimming. He did not like us swimming in the back because of the school of barracuda that would be behind their and crocodile. Hell he didnít like us swimming across the split due to the current and sharks that would pass through. We would sneak and get away with it anyways.
Later on in the 80s the split was filled up with beach sand and plenty of coconut trees. This allowed us to walk to the old StGeorges Caye Hotel owned by Roger Dinga. We would get a kick out of going their to buy a glass of soda. The staff were nice to us. If the had plenty of guess we had to wait. It was a thrill for us to sit on the hotel deck and drink you soda. You felt grown up because you were served in a crystal glass. We were so used to drinking soda from the bottle. The silly things we did. There was a house next to it and on the first floor a marine biologist lived. He had aquarium with beautiful species of sea creatures and fishes. He would let us go in and look to our delight.
There was never a dull moment we swam, played race to see who could reach the old canon first. The brothers and friends would go behind Mr. Playall plot of land and go raid the coconut trees. All you would hear was the old security guard with his gun and machete firing a round or yelling in Spanish. We would all laugh because he knew we would do this. Before we go pass he would wave and acknowledge us and on our journey back the coconut trees would be enticing. Everyone scrambling with laughter. I donít believe he would have harmed us. Mr. Playall sons would let us use his crawl and they would swim with my brothers but when their papa was there it was off limits. Their crawl was made from chain link fence and was far out in the deep.
They wealthy folks had the best crawl and piers/bridge but to us the government pier on Fisherman side was the best. We were allowed to sleep on it every night. All us Caye kids with their sheets. Waking up was funny a prank would be played on someone. Pushing and bumping someone in the water for fun or tying an anchor to them while they sleep. It was a good laugh.
Mr. Luciano Alvarez had his own hotel (the very first hotel) and we were so proud of him. For a Belizean tonown his was the talk of the Caye. Boy did we swim in his crawl day and night. His younger siblings would hang out with us. We would take our evening shower under the old Galvanized vat in his yard and Mrs. Hoare yard. At the back lived the Mahler family and the Trenches on the side. In front of his hotel was a giant tree with its base about five feet in diameter maybe arms length open wide. You could lay or sit on the branches that hung over the shore and watch schools of fish swimming by or the odd ones. It was funny if one of us kids would fall out the tree and into the water.
High tide would show best in front of the Trenches home. It would come in a few feet from the shore where the sea grass grew. At high tide this walk way would be flooded with baby crabs. We would look for the prettiest ones and pick them up with our hands and it was fun when they nipped you. It tickled us with laughter.
No one wore shoes or slippers bare feet was all it took. Playing hide and seek behinds the mountains of crayfish aka lobster pots. We would help build them or load them
In the boat. There was never a dull moment. If you feet get jook aka wound, you limp home your feet place in a bucket of salt water and rinsed. You would howl because it stung and then iodine would be added to the wound and there would be a second howl. I was unlucky and fell off the top bunk and split my top lip. I was trying to get away from the ghost shadow that came thru my window when opened my eyes. Scared stiff I jump up to run and forgot I was sleeping on the top bunk. My scream pierced the night because everyone was in the backyard at the bonfire. I was wise to take the flashlight with me because the ghost stories scared me and to beat the darkness I left early for bed. I suffered for that entire two week vacation. Lips so swollen and painful and yes had to wash it every morning with the sea water.
Walking the Caye kept us busy talk about latch key kids. Our parents would go do their own things for fun and we were left to do ours. My parents and uncle would go to Dr. Huesner home to drink, smoke their cigarettes and play card games such as gin, pitty pat and others until morning.
You roam that Caye and lived the good life eating seafood daily cooked in so many ways and on Saturday was Boil Up (ground rooted vegetables such as cassava, Cocoa, potatoes served with fried fish, boil eggs, and pigtail cooked in coconut oil and a tomato onion base sauce with boil cake so thick it seeps up the sauce). My dad would corn the fish he caught to make salt fish. If he caught a shark Lord help us panades would be made and he would not discard the the skin he would let it sit in the sun until the oil drain from it and give to us as a cleanser for cold. It stunk and tasted like castor oil. He would say if you take Cod Liver Oil itís the same thing. We were the only kids at Caye that had to endure this. Our snack of choice was orange or grapefruit with sweetened condensed milk. We took two sacks of oranges and grapefruit and my dad would go trade at Water Caye to get dried coconuts and sea grapes firs us. You had watermelon on weekends. Fry Jack was daily or Johnny cake with can bacon and hot dogs in the can. Peanut butter was traded for jelly or sausage in oil Blue Boy brand.
Weekends was bonfire night with ghost stories and my dad telling of being lost at sea during WWII. My mom would provide marshmallows and we would use the thin picks from the branches of the coconut tree to hold our marshmallows for roasting. You would get your own coconut to drinks itís water and big lucky chopped in half to get the gel. Mr. Harold always kept busy by clearing the sea grass from his swim area. On his pier was a built in bench with thatched roof. This was where our mothers would sit and chit chat with each other. Once in a while they would be swimming and doing handstands to show us kids. Mrs Dyer and Ms Tency would be laughing. Waking up early morning to go sit with my dad as he puff his cigarette and looking at the blue water, clear blue sky was peaceful and every now and then you would catch a glimpse of a rati (crab) Burroughing in the sand. That cool morning breeze and the high tide coming onto the shore in front of our home. Small crabs finding their holes.Our dog would walk the Caye with us and swim with us. He ate fresh fish all the time he had a whole fish to himself. We could leave our home unprotected and it was safe. We could walk on our own there.
Yes Caye life had its moments especially if a storm came through. The Caye would flood, roofs would leak and us kids listening to the wind blow felt every wood in the house move. Our parents stayed up lantern and all. Next morning it would be so calm the sand flies would come in to have a bodily feast. Cleaning up the yard from the fallen branches of the coconut trees nearby was our only chore. Everyone meaning all the adults would gather to see if the old wooden outhouse was still there itís bridge wobbly as ever still going strong. That outhouse was a gem to us. It survived many hurricanes and tropical storms.
At the end of our vacation all of us would walk the back of the Caye on the old wharf and thru the mangroves no fear at all. I could only imagine how the Baymens felt living their and having to defend their homes. The Caye life is love in a nutshell. Neighbors living neighbors eating the same food and swimming in the sea. Too bad no one found any treasure from all them Queen conch we ate and Not one pearl. Oh well we canít have it all.
Trevor C Vernon:
Ten years ago I met and briefly interacted with an offspring of the Playall clan, a Guatemalan Ambassador fighting to claim Belize in Washington. They apparently sold the SGC property to Mr Sal Espat of the roses toilet paper fame. He subdivided the big property. Chopped it in two, I believe.
Michelle Rivana Buckley: Dr Heusner who was a tall Hispanic looking gentleman with bald head. Mr. Playall was racist and only hired Guatemalans to work for him. They had a small house next to Geggs. The British training station was always there before the seventies. Mr Playall refused for locals to use the path in front of his home to go to the other side. There is an article written about the event in the newspaper it made political headlines. He would hardly step out only to go to his boat. We all knew when he was in town because the lights would be on all night.
Eugene Trench: There were coco plums that were in so abundance. Our property was in front of the Mahlerís and beside Don Luis Alvarez. We used to love when they brought in their lobster catch for the day and clean them which we would help, and fishing at the same time on their bridge. Indeed they had a kraal which we were allowed to bathe in. In fact in there I got my first swimming lessons. The split indeed broke in half. I remember to prove youíre a good swimmer you had to swim across, which separated the man from the boys. That swim across proved your manhood lol. Now the Caye is joined back. All those property owners you mentioned I remembered them all. Sure had some fun days at St Georgeís Caye. I remember in the 70ís we use to go to St Georgeís Caye for summer vacation but on the other tugs which was moored by the swing bridge the names of the tugs were Nigga Gyal, Chico, Pride 1 , and Pride 2 the tug shown above look like the ones which were owned by BSI which use to pull sugar barges from OW.
Michelle Rivana Buckley: They were flat and no top cabin only the hull that was the seating area with built in benches. Sir. Faustino was our neighbor and his family is Mayan their ancestors were their before others. His mom name was Chaya I think and she would wear her traditional Mayan dresses all the time.
Karl M Leacock Sr.:
Heusners are my family and only Heusner with property next to Batsub was Leroy and he look like Creole.
Geggs had a property way down towards the graveyard and I am talking the 60's.
Janet Finlayson: Wait... we had a hotel on St George back in the 70ís? Or is Michelleí s
post talking about Cottage Colony? I am confused.
Her account has a few mistakes. But its her recollection so decided to not comment. Like our property having the water come up to the fence. LOL
Foustino's parents were fishermen too... they had a bridge with small kralls that they kept live sealife... their home was close to the public bridge. This was their bridge with crayfish pots... the boat in the background was tied to the main public bridge. This was me, my nephew and a family friend. We had such wonderful times on holiday there.
Brian Keating: I remember Mr Harold!
Here is another one, 1972 on Foreshore; I remember Harold so well! My wife to his left & Tony Tattersfield.
Kenneth B. Cox:
St. Georges Caye was the first capitol of Belize. here's a pic of the last remaining canon, presumably used in the "battle". Taken July 2017
Michelle Rivana Buckley:
Back in day parade would be held on the Caye Ms. Hortence aka Tency would dress up in her white suit gloves and march. Playing 10th songs.
Lesley Sullivan: Such a special island that brought so much joy to so many of us. It is still the most special place for me. I remember the Easter Egg hunts at the Galaty's every year. Soldier/hermit crab races, and stories of the Grey Lady haunting the island. Playing card games in the evening with kerosene lanterns to light the table. Spin the bottle down on the crawl when we were a little older - what innocents we were. Not being allowed to swim on Good Friday or we would turn into a fish. LOL and sneaking off to test the theory. I remember one Easter I got a pair of roller skates and trying to skate out on the crawl. Didn't work out very well for me. Loved sitting on the verandah watching the storms come in or roll by. If the came in, afterwards sand flies would pepper your rass. Drop fishing haul with Faustino. So much fun to catch back then, but now adays that would be next to impossible. And I wouldn't want to take that many fish. Below the caye 4 years ago Easter. We had such beautiful weather and great family times!!
Christine Heusner Robinson: My mother and father (Lucille and James Heusner) at St. Georgeís Caye.
I so remember those wonderful summers, especially when the Cay was split by the hurricane. I learned to swim across the splits.
Top photograph courtesy Belize Abroad
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