|Mr. Gonzalo "Chalo" Valdez Sr. offers many delightful snacks and treats to the R.C. School children during their breaks. |
Ambergris Caye has and is advertised as a vacation destination known for its gorgeous waters and beautiful surroundings – the perfect place to relax. Tourists fall in love with the island, especially its people; some enjoy it so much that they return home sell their belongings and move back to this small Caribbean isle. However, shaping the island into what it has now become, is in great part due to its senior residents and this week we proudly feature Gonzalo “Seño Chalo” Valdez Sr.
Gonzalo was born in the quiet town of San Pedro to Narciso and Aurelia Valdez on January 5th, 1948. Along with his four sisters and four brothers, he grew up playing marbles and swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Like every other child, Gonzalo was fond of school and had many experiences during his years at San Pedro Roman Catholic School. He remembers going to classes at a small two-story house which was located right next to where Atlantic Bank is now. “At that time, as you got older, you were moved from the first floor to the second floor of the school house. Education was limited, so once they thought you were old enough, your parents usually took you out of classes,” Gonzalo said. Seño Chalo happily recalls the “good old days” when he would play football or softball on the beach during breaks from school.
When Gonzalo was 13 years of age he went to work as a fisherman with his father. Every morning, they would head out to sea, cast their nets, and return home with boats full of fish. Some of the catch would be sold to the residents of the island and what was left would be salted (as a preservative) before being shipped out to Belize City or Corozal Town.
In 1963, Gonzalo met the love of his life, Maria Luisa at a dance at what is now Big Daddy’s. The couple got married on February 18th, 1970 and are the proud parents of Conchita Flota and Gonzalo Valdez Jr.
The Valdez family decided to open a little grocery store out of their home located on Barrier Reef Drive. The store, called Maria Luisa, was stocked with staples such as flour, rice, beans and other everyday necessities that were needed on the island.
After a few years, many other stores had opened on the island and unfortunately the Valdez’s were not making ends meet as much. They decided to close shop and rent the space to another business venture. The rent money was good but they still wanted to keep busy. Gonzalo and his wife saw that children that attended the San Pedro Roman Catholic School needed snacks for their breaks. On the other side of the school’s fence, they set up a vendor’s booth where they sold chips, ideal, candy, oranges and other small items that children enjoy.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck on December 1999, when a fire erupted from a neighbor’s house. The Valdez’ home caught fire as well and within a couple hours their entire home had been completely destroyed. Thanks to the generosity of the community, a fundraiser was held and with the money earned the Valdez’s were able to build a new home. “That was something unexpected to our family but the way that the community came together for us is something I will never forget. I still thank them,” Gonzalo says gratefully.
Today, you can still see Gonzalo and his wife selling their treats at the school. “We enjoy the everyday interaction we have with the kids. We can honestly say that we miss them when they are gone on vacation.”
A hardworking, resourceful man, Gonzalo Valdez has learned to make the best of whatever life has offered and today enjoys the company of those who will grow up to make “Our Community” a better place.