During our four years in Belize, we saw many changes.
The first year we visited and bought our property, Placencia was a very laid back fishing village which offered some very nice dive locations. Yim and I rented a small house close to the water tucked away in the mangroves 25 feet from the clay road which led to the village. The roads were covered by palm trees and had no pavement in any direction for at least 25 miles.
The cost was $300.00 a week. We stayed for three weeks.
We rode bikes across the airstrip to watch the planes land and take-off just over the ocean, watching them arch quickly to gain altitude. We walked along the shores and watched small rays forage for food along the Ocean’s Edge.
When we visited the property we eventually bought, we knew this was where we wanted to be.
When we left in 2004, there was a construction company that had opened 500 feet down the road from us which started work at 5 am and a resort adjacent to our property on the way up, at least 25 fairly major developments in various stages of construction, crime on the rise dramatically and we knew this was no longer the place we had wanted to be.
On last view, there was virtually a solid row of resorts along the coastline of Placencia and more under construction faster than we could have possibly imagined. The growth was explosive. This is not sustainable development.
Placencia is a 12 mile peninsula. At it’s widest point, I’m guessing it is perhaps 1/8 of a mile wide. On many occasions, we were told that we were very lucky as we had purchased the highest point of land on the entire peninsula. Our property was six feet above sea level.
As we watched the development take place, we had to wonder what this would do to the local environment. Where would the sewage go. The sand could not possibly leech away all that additional waste. How would that affect the surrounding waters?
I think what I found hard to deal with was the alienation the resort owners had with the locals. I found that it was difficult to share the local values if the owners spent their time in New York City and came down to continue development. There was little respect for the locals and that is where I believe Placenica will eventually fail.
The village of Seine Bight was a good example. By North American standards, the villagers lived poorly. Often, their homes had no windows, no running water and no garbage removal services of any type, so the ocean was their form of washing away the garbage which accumulated.
The introduction of resorts surrounding the village did little to help as very few of the resort owners recognized that while they may have been employing the villagers, they were certainly not assisting them in any way. That is not sustainable development.
Villagers had some money now but overwhelmingly, the resort owners insisted that these villagers, myself included to a smaller degree at first, show up for work at exactly 8 am and ‘put in a full work day’. From my perspective at the time, I loved to scuba dive and was building a business where all my staff could earn a decent living and create a better life for themselves. Why would they not want to be a part of that?
I quickly learned that what was important to me was certainly not important to the locals who had lived there their entire lives and I began to spend a little time with a couple of my employees out spear-fishing or lobster hunting on our off days, which helped me understand a little better what their value systems were.
But let’s be honest here. I was brought up in Montreal. A big cosmopolitan city. I may have aspired to being able to culturally adapt but I can’t fool myself. I had certain ingrained expectations that required a very open mind to simply look at when it came to some local customs, and quite frankly, who was I to say if my ways were better than their ways, with the exception of a few things.
It’s always easier to reflect on experiences after they’ve happened. No doubt about that, but I like to think that the days Yim and I got to wander north along the coastline of Belize, splashing our feet in the water and trying to encourage Sheba, our Belizean mongrel pup, to actually come in the water were the days where Belize was what it was supposed to me for me.
In the mornings we would walk to the Ocean’s Edge and have our coffee, Sheba trying to dig up a buried crab frantically and sometimes, a small juvenile manta ray would bump into our feet.
But then again, we had some money, not a lot, but we could simply drive into town and buy some food if we chose. Lots of the locals had no money whatsoever and their days were focused on the most basic of human needs… nourishment.
In that context, where does money come into play?
I have ben writing a book on Belize and one of the short stories I am including goes as follows;
Title: But Steve… I caught three fish.
We waited and waited for Wayne to show up for the bone-fishing charter we had arranged. Eventually, we managed to find another fishermen at 9:30 am but by then, it was already too hot for the best bone-fishing of the day.
I waited almost three days until I saw Wayne again. Wayne was a good guy… fairly dependable and a likeable fellow so when I saw him, I asked him if he was all-right, thinking something must have been wrong.
He said he was fine and asked why I thought something was wrong.
I said, ‘Well, Wayne, you had a fishing charter that a guest was really looking forward to and you did not show up.’
He replied, ‘Well Steve, on my way in that day, I caught three fish.’
A little puzzled, I said, ‘Yes, but you had a charter, Why didn’t you show up?’
He repeated to me that he had caught three fish.
Now a little annoyed, I said, ‘Yes Wayne, but we had a guest who waited for you for almost three and a half hours.’
He repeated to me once again that he had caught three fish, only this time he added, ‘So I didn’t need any money for a few days. I had food.’
It was on that day when I realized that it would be a long time before I would be able to figure out just what made the world go around in southern Belize.