There are office parties and then there are OFFICE PARTIES.
Yesterday, the good folks who have been preparing Leonardo DiCaprio’s 104-acre Blackadore Caye for development into what will likely be Belize’s most prestigious and eco-friendly resort island ever held a party for staff and friends. Around 150 people came to the island on four boats organized by Marcos and Karen Zul’s Creative Tours Belize to shuttle back and forth from Ambergris Caye.
It was a celebration and a bittersweet farewell at the same time.
This was the last time that the public will be able to step onto the pristine island as construction is set to begin in 2017.
We have been so blessed to visit the island on several occasions, including a surprise birthday party for me, organized by Rose Alcantara in April. Thanks for the use of the island, Leo. You’ve got something really special there.
The island base was alive with arrivals, the fizz and pop of Belikin caps and wine corks, kicky music, chatter and the greeting of old friends. Blackadore’s crew had a couple of whole pigs cooking underground, Mayan style, under the supervision of Pepe, a civil engineer who learned how to prepare and cook pibil as a child from his grandfather and other family members.
He spent some time describing to me the three chambers holding the pork, the fires that were started the day before to heat up the rocks that do the actual cooking, the layers of plantain leaves, the tin roof that covers all before layers of soil are shoveled carefully over the pit to hold in the heat.
“It is like a pressure cooker in there,” said Pepe. “You don’t want the heat escaping.”
He had me poke a finger through the cool surface of the soil and sure enough it was piping hot inside. Pepe and his crew had begun before the sun rose on Sunday. The pigs had been cooking for two-and-a-half hours when we talked and he expected as much time more before the unearthing of the pibil.
That meant time for my favorite Blackadore exercise — walking alone down the narrow island’s sole path, soaking in the raw beauty and the silence, trying to imagine who or what might have walked this path a century or two ago. There is a Jurassic feel to this. Something about the lack of human clutter — mostly. The transcendent, undisturbed, feeling of lost in time. Even though scientists on the island can probably give you an exact count of every plant, bug, rodent and bird.
As I walk alone in silence, I half-expect to see a gang of baby velociraptors bolt from the tall savanna. The sound of children kicking a day-glo football about returns me to the present.
On this day, the rain has passed, the sky is a mix of fluff and robin egg blue, the breeze is a gentle caress and the water beckons. All seems so right on Blackadore Caye.
But I shed my skepticism long ago: This is an island in need of rescuing, or loving care, at minimum. Signs of ocean over-run and shoreline erosion are everywhere and dying palms litter the island. The island will submerge in the rising ocean waters and blow away to the west a bit more with each major storm — Earl took a chunk of beach and relocated it well to the west — if Leo’s crew does not intercede.
Homeostasis would be the natural course of things but, looking around, I find it unthinkable when something good can be done for the island, for tourism, for employment, for the economy and the reputation of Belize.
I turn and head back to “civilization” where the Rompe Raja Band is setting up its gear and Pepe is preparing to extract the pibil and venison. The Belikin is chilling on ice and the covered dishes are being set out in the bodega.
The other Blackadore highlight is finding a nice spot in the shallows to sit in a circle with friends and chat, gossip, reminisce and generally enjoy our special Ambergris family.
The feeling is that great things are ahead for Blackadore and the development staff there has been extraordinarily generous in listening to the public, adjusting its plans accordingly, sharing this island gem with all when it can, and creating an exciting future for Blackadore that will include significant employment and economic opportunity for Ambergris Caye citizens.
For now though, it is just another beautiful “desert island.” Enjoy the photos. (I apologize for the quality of some — my new waterproof casing wasn’t all that waterproof.)