Hurricane Earl destroyed a lot of livelihoods when it ran down the coast of Ambergris Caye, here in Belize, tearing out piers like stubble on the end of a razor.
At least temporarily.
So many docks have been rebuilt, so many businesses were quickly up and running again within days of the terrible storm.
But none has been more anticipated and welcomed back from its watery grave than the Palapa Bar & Grill on Boca del Rio.
That happened on Sunday.
In a little over 114 days, the iconic island watering hole went from sea-soaked kindling to this new, expansive super-iconic beach bar.
Fans, family and friends came out on Sunday to help Scott and Jodie Harnish celebrate this new beginning, their third in less than a year.
It was the end of 2015 when the Palapa moved from its original spot in the Tres Cocos neighborhood. It had taken years for Scott and Jodie to turn the original Palapa from a sweaty drug and hooker den into the island’s most and iconic popular bar — inviting to locals, expats and visitors alike.
It took a rather demented new landlord, bent on breaking their lease and driving them off the property, to convince Scott and Jodie to move onto their own pier south of the bridge — a spot once known as Wet Willie’s. Their newly built second-floor addition was barely open when the hurricane hit — and the scattered remains of the Palapa looked like it had been ground zero to a neutron bomb.
The bar and restaurant’s staff immediately became a search and recovery crew, joined by many from the community. Soon they all became the construction crew as well. And now they are back pouring drinks, serving up food, cracking jokes and giving out hugs to regulars and newcomers alike.
The back of their new Palapa T-shirts on Sunday said it all in big type: FAMILY.
Sunday’s opening was blessed by a tropical sun shower, what my family always referred to as a Hawaiian blessing, and a spectacularly full spectrum and complete land-to-reef rainbow. It all sort of underlined Scott’s vow on Sunday: “We are here to stay!”
These photos were taken on Sunday afternoon, with a couple of exterior shots from earlier this week.
By the time we arrived, patrons had already been busily engaged in the bar’s signature past-time: Scrawling names and initials on every available piece of woodwork.
(Neighbors from California once memorialized their honeymoon at the old Palapa and asked us to check on their handiwork when we moved here three years ago. Yes, it is that important! I, on the other hand, have a phobia against writing on furniture — since that moment in my childhood when I was inspired to take a seashell and etch “Zorro” into the top of my grandmother’s coffee table.)
Coconut Leo arrived and baptized the interior of the Palapa Bar by climbing up high into the tent pole rafters and hanging upside down above the heads of an appreciative crowd. After World War II, my dad apparently did that sort of thing too while in college, earning the nickname Monk. Some experiences just transcend time, cultures and distance.
The Palapa v 2.0 (or 3.0, if you count the original) is a superior piece of beach bum craftsmanship — almost cathedral-like with its high ceilings and wide-open architecture. If the bar be the altar, then its center-stage position speaks to all liquorial persuasions quite well. There is no jostling for position with a bar this long.
Workers were still building out bits and pieces — including a set of stairs into the water, where the trademark inner-tubes await aquatically inclined drinkers.
All in all, the Palapa is back, and it is big, bad and beautiful. And it feels like a little piece of the island soul, stolen by Earl, has been restored.
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