Here on Ambergris Caye in Belize, “Mind the gap” gained special relevance over the past weekend when the landlord of the Palapa Bar & Grill removed 10 planks in the pier used to reach the iconic bar.
The man, who recently bought the property — a diminutive and abrasive Texan, kind of a very bald Yosemite Sam — claims the longtime leaseholders, Scott and Jodi Harnish, were behind in their rent.
Scott and Jodi produced paperwork showing their financials are up to date and the guy’s own lawyer confirmed it from Dallas.
The boards were quickly replaced — in time for locals, ex-pats and many tourists to pack the bar on Sunday in solidarity with Scott and Jodi. Many claimed they were willing to jump the gap. But getting home after drinking all that solidarity? Could have been a problem.
After the boards were replaced the Texan — who clearly wants the lease broken — reportedly told Scott “I’m not done f*****g with you.”
When you live on an island, the phrase “What goes around, comes around” carries serious weight. The island consensus is that time is ticking away for the tiny Texan with the hair-trigger temper. Ripping up planks is a close kin to burning bridges — although his is more of a scorched earth policy.
I still want to create a T-shirt “Palapa Bar: Mind the gap” with this picture on it, which is the closest I come to publishing anything these days.
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The same Texan — I’m sorry. “Texan” is beginning to sound like a pejorative term and it isn’t so. I guess this guy personifies a certain type of gringo who shows up on this small island tossing around money, influence and insults with no regard for culture, tradition, or the people who live here or their way of life.
Sure, that’s the way business is done in Florida, for example. But not here.
At any rate, this same guy has announced plans to build a four-story resort on the property adjacent to the Palapa Bar, by erecting large signs on the property. The news came as a huge shock to the largely residential neighborhood where two-story buildings are the height of luxury.
Too early to say what will happen with that. But if Yosemite Slam keeps up his current pace of rootin’ and tootin’ public abrasiveness I see some fresh new for sale signs slapped over the resort posters.
Ex-pats who blow into Belieze and disrespect the people find a hard road ahead.
Last year, another Texan — oh, god, I’m sorry. I think it is just that Texas is so close to Belize — set up a barbecue restaurant and boasted about buying the finest beef and pork available from the mainland. Then he publicly insulted every other restaurant on the island. He also abused his Belizean staff, shouting at them and insulting them in public. I saw that first-hand.
Soon, he had no staff and no guests and went back home to Houston for a “medical problem.” I saw him at the airport and he vowed he’d return. He did, for about a week.
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There are bigger problems in Paradise.
The San Pedro Ruling Families are currently engaged in a drug-turf war with a Belize City gang that wants to move in and run the island.That gang is sending shooters over by boat to take out rivals. The victims so far include a two-year-old baby. His mother was wounded. A 13-year-old girl was shot but survived. Several others have died — and this is all in barely a month.
Their style is to sneak in through the lagoons at night, open fire on a targeted house and then jump back in the boat for their trip back to the mainland before the smoke has cleared.
Admittedly this is about the most cowardly thing I have witnessed in decades.
Belize has sent over Gang Suppression Unit soldiers — armed to the teeth, dressed in camo fatigues, buzzing up and down the island in pickup trucks. It is a nice show of force but mostly they end up finding small quantities of pot or cocaine or an old pistol in some vacant lot. Always in a vacant lot.
We’ve seen this scenario played out at least twice before in the year we’ve lived here.
The prime minister has ordered a more aggressive response by his government. Smart move. Tourism, especially Ambergris Caye tourism, is the country’s top revenue generator. There is nothing like a wide open drug war to keep tourists and their money at home.
We can only hope and pray that it works.
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Our own problems are so much smaller — a flat bicycle tire, a failed water pump, a boa constrictor hanging out in the tree next to our building’s entrance.
The rains have begun falling — short and powerful squalls, mostly at night or late afternoon — which is good for the many cisterns that are dangerously close to empty.
Stuff always seems to happen just when you need it here — a weekend drama, rain, cool breezes, friendships, a holiday.
Speaking of which, Monday was a holiday, Baron Bliss Day. The ailing baron pulled up to Belize in his yacht the Sea King in the 1920’s, fell in love with it while never stepping ashore, did some fishing, then left his fortune (about $1 million) to the country before dying aboard ship.
It is a great and sad story of a man’s long search for Paradise, only to find it, then die at the gates.
The holiday’s focus has shifted some from what the Baron left the country to the many people and organizations dedicated to doing good for Belize.
Belize is an easy place to love. Sometimes a hard place in which to live.
In spite, or because, of it all, this is still Paradise. Because it is home, it is real.