From Sea and Air to Costa Maya - A Festival History

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 26            July 29, 2004

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From August 5th – 8th, San Pedro Town will once again welcome its Central American neighbors to rendezvous in "La Isla Bonita" in celebration of one of Belize’s most awaited and festive events of the year - The International Costa Maya Festival. During these four days of festivities, Belize joins the Mundo Maya countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico (and this year, Costa Rica) to stage this one-of-a-kind show.

     As we get ready to celebrate the thirteenth year of this festival, we must not forget the hardworking team who came up with this clever concept. This week, The San Pedro Sun travels back in time to provide its readers with a history of the Costa Maya Festival. In 1991, a chapter of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry was formed in San Pedro and John Edwards was elected as Chairman. He and a few others, such as Don Pearly, Kevin Gonzalez and Stuart "Taff" Elliott felt it was a natural function of a Chamber of Commerce to promote business for San Pedro during the slow season. They formed the nucleus of the committee which was to plan the first event of this kind to take place on Ambergris Caye. The first Festival Committee consisted of Chairman Don Pearly, Bruce and Victoria Collins (former owners of The San Pedro Sun), Katie Brickey, Carlos Pariente, Eddie Halliday Sr., Jack Westerhold, Ann McGlaun, Kevin Gonzalez, Santos Acosta, Eli Pearly, John Edwards, Taff Elliott, Llewelyn Burgess and Alida Nuñez.

     During a trip to Honduras, several committee members attended the Festival Folklorico of San Pedro Sula where each of the Central American countries participated, with the exception of Belize. From information gathered on this trip, the committee came up with the idea of inviting the Mundo Maya countries to gather at a festival in San Pedro to share their musical and cultural diversities. They were hoping to attract many visitors to the island, who would arrive by way of private aircraft or sea vessel, so they named the event The International Sea & Air Festival.

     The first festival was held July 21st - 26th, 1992, on the grounds of the San Pedro Roman Catholic School and featured Denyse Plummer "The Calypso Queen" of Trinidad & Tobago as its headliner. This festival was a five-day event, as was the 1993 festival. A sixth day was added for the third festival in 1994, but one of the invited countries (Cuba) did not show up. Each festival proved to be very successful, bringing much-needed income to the island. Every evening during the festival, one of the visiting countries was scheduled to perform. This concept, unique in its own way, attracted hundreds to the event. Each night, the country being showcased displayed their finest music, cultural dances and crafts.

     As the years passed, the festival got bigger and better. For additional entertainment, other events were planned to take place at different locations in town each morning of the festival. These would include: bicycle, golf cart and cardboard boat races, parades and much more. Wanting to cater to all age groups, the organizers also introduced mechanical rides for the youngsters.

     Eventually a new attraction was introduced: the Miss Sea & Air Pageant. This event proved to be a favorite of many. Ms. Sylvia Castro of Mexico was the first Miss Sea & Air Festival, starting a tradition of international contestants. In 1993, Ms. Diana Galvan of Guatemala won the title. In 1994, Tessie Duran Tonaco of San Pedro Town was the first local woman to win the title. Over the years, women from all over the world participated, including representatives from Central America, North America, Australia and Europe.

     As time passed, the pageant was changed to the Reina de la Costa Maya Pageant. Contestants are now required to be a titleholder in their country, making this event a first-class pageant. The first Reina de la Costa Maya Queen was crowned in 1996, a lovely representative from Mexico, Miss Maria del Socorro Retolaza. Each year the crown passed to the following: 1997 – Miss Carol Aquino from Guatemala, 1998 – Astrid Ramirez (also from Guatemala), 1999 – Denise Guzman of Mexico, 2000 – Sandra Glower Silis of El Salvador, 2001 – Evelyn Lopez of Guatemala, 2002 – Elsa Burgos of Mexico, and last year, Belize’s beauty ambassador Leilah Pandy won the coveted title.

     Today, the festival has gained international exposure because of the wonderful entertainment provided by performers from all of the Mayan countries. To give you an idea, the following lively acts have put many in the party mood: The Garifuna Kids, La Gran Banda, Los Ilegales, La Salsa Clave, Chico Flores, Los Malecates, Garibaldi, Los Phoenix, Santino’s Messengers, Rene Alonzo and La Banda Lazzer, Paloma Martin and Mariachi Los Galleros, Los Gatos Bravos, Andy Palacio, Sergio Blas, Kairo, Laura Leon, Las Chicas Roland, Maribel Guardia and Niurka. The pageant has also featured many famous international hosts: Mauricio Islas, Rodrigo Vidal, Valentino Lanus and Gabriel Soto. This year, the festival will also provide an opportunity for the public to meet renowned soap opera star, Rafael Amaya, who will be the official host of the Reina de la Costa Maya Pageant. Headlining the festival will be Mexican singer Pablo Montero accompanied by a Mariachi band.

     The festival has gained international recognition and is organized every year by a dynamic and hard working team. Some of the long-standing members include: Gach Guerrero, Einer Gomez, Wil Alamilla Jr., Milo Paz Jr. and Marisa Salazar. Through their dedication, this team of volunteers has managed to make the festival an event that brings much-needed income to the entire island. Today, the festival is celebrated for four days and will once again feature lively music, folkloric dances, children’s entertainment, food and drinks galore and many other surprises.

     The 2004 International Costa Maya Festival is scheduled for August 5th – 8th. The following information contains the already confirmed performers and events. Thursday, August 5th – Reina de la Costa Maya Pageant featuring co-hosts actor/singer Rafael Amaya and Mexican television personality Lilian Villanueva. A dance will follow with "The Tribals" High School Band. Friday, August 6th – Grupo Folklorico Chachaclun of Guatemala, Grupo de Danza Identidades of El Salvador, Banda Ibanes of Honduras and Las Bandidas will perform. Saturday, August 7th – International Night – San Pedro Dance Company, Escuela de Danza de Quintana Roo, Sabor Bahia musical band, and Pablo Montero accompanied by Mariachis from Mexico City will entertain. Sunday, August 8th – A night of jump-up with the "Tribals" High School Band, Sabor Bahia and cultural entertainment from Mexico.

     Tickets for the festival are now available for: Season Passes – Adults – $85/Children – $40. Day Passes – Adults – $20/Children – $15. International Night Passes – Adults – $50/Children – $20. Tickets may be purchased at Fantasy Garden Restaurant, Amigo Travel, Wally’s Electrical, Ambergris Store, Rock’s Shopping Center, War Paint, Milo’s Store, Excalibur Tours, Emerita Muñoz and Island Magic. A limited amount of food and product booths are still available. Anyone interested in purchasing a booth may call Wil Alamilla Jr. at 226-4163.

     On behalf of the Festival Committee, The San Pedro Sun invites one and all to be a part of this wonderful celebration of the Mundo Maya – The 2004 International Costa Maya Festival!
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