The weekend after San Pedro’s Lobsterfest, and I’m back in the cayes, feasting once again on the delicious spiny little critters – only this time, I’m in Caye Caulker. And I’m not spending all my time quaffing rum punches and lounging about (not ALL my time, anyway) – I’m working. Like our trip to the Ag Show back in May, the BCVI is on an awareness-raising mission / fund-raising drive – this time, to raise money for our Rehab department and their work. As part of the BCVI’s mission to both eradicate blindness and to rehabilitate those who are already irrevocably blind, our Rehab officers know the 1,200 people in Belize who are on our blind register, and work with them, their families, schools, and employers, to help them lead as independent lives as possible. This not only involves the BCVI paying for the staff and their time, but also for the materials and equipment they supply; plus, the BCVI doesn’t charge its clients for these services (many of whom probably wouldn’t be able to pay anyway). So this vital service costs us a truckload of money to provide, but doesn’t generate any income (as a non-profit organisation, nothing we do [or sell] generates a huge amount of income). Hence the importance of fund-raising.
Like at the Ag Show, we have posters informing the public of our products and services, plus a sale of T-Shirts and sunglasses (and once again, the sunglasses are a big hit – selling cheap shades on a sunny day on an island covered in white sand and surrounded by water is the kind of money-making business venture that could win us The Apprentice [although probably not the undying respect of hedgehog-faced Alan Sugar or carpet-sample-haired Donald Trump]).
Similar to the previous week at San Pedro’s Lobsterfest, Caye Caulker has food and drink stalls, plus live music and competitions. But unlike San Pedro, this event is held mainly during the day. There are stalls set up by various local restaurants (once again, Panulirus Argus features heavily on the menus), plus various beach games and competitions, and, right next to our booth, a mini-Manhattan of speaker skyscrapers blasting out bass-heavy music all day long.
The booths are right on the beach, and there’s a continual moving production line of raw lobster passing us by – being hauled out of the traps still wriggling and dripping with seawater, dispatched quickly with a large machete, cleaned and prepared, then chucked on the barbecue.
There aren’t as many fancy ways of preparing and serving it here, as opposed to in San Pedro (where there were prizes awarded for innovative dishes [such as Lobster Cannoli] and creative drinks [including Lobster Bloody Mary!]). Here, it’s mainly barbecued lobster, served with rice & beans and a cold drink. It’s also considerably cheaper to stuff your face here than in San Pedro (but that’s true all the time, not just at Lobsterfest). The other noticeable difference between the two events is that, while San Pedro’s was dominated by North American tourists and foreign expats, Caye Caulker’s is much more local – in fact, there seems to be half of Belize City here (which means the other half must be coming tomorrow).
Just like our visit to the Ag Show, our presence here is the brainchild of David and Gillian, our newest foreign volunteers. And like the Ag Show, our trip here is well worth it, as we sell over one hundred pairs of sunnies and make several hundred dollars.
Entertainment during the days (it’s a weekend-long event) ranges from cultural moments like traditional dancing (well, dancing that doesn’t involve gyrating buttocks or enthusiastic dry-humping), to the sophisticated songmanship of Belizean musical elder statesman Gerald “Lord” Rhaburn, whose calypso ditty “Pussy On Fire” is apparently not-at-all-rude and genuinely about a flaming feline! Hmmm…
After staying the night (and eating more lobster for dinner!), and then helping out on the second day of the weekend, it’s time to pack up and go home. And this is where I have my only complaint about the whole experience (in fact, it’s one of my main complaints about living here) – the Belizean public transport system (if system is the right word, unsupervised free-for-all would probably be more appropriate). There are a finite number of boats back to Belize City, but a seemingly-infinite number of passengers. And no one (except a few polite locals, some tourists, and me) queues up. There are actually enough boats for everyone, but everyone wants to go home immediately and no one wants to wait; and the ferry company employees (who are about as much use as an inflatable dartboard) don’t seem to have the ability (or the desire) to tell people to wait their turn. So I dutifully wait in line (remember – an Englishman will form a queue of one person if necessary) while observing the swirling, churning, shouting, sweating, swearing mass of Belizeans haranguing the ineffectual ferry staff (who simply grab everything that’s passed to them, from bags to babies, and dump them in the boats). The passengers then surge en masse towards every water taxi, threatening to sink each one as they pile on. Imagine if everyone on the Titanic were told that there was only one lifeboat, and then James Blunt started singing on deck – that’s the kind of feverish desperation to leave that these people have.
Finally, after well over an hour, the Mongolian Clusterfuck subsides, and I (along with the remaining queue-lovers who haven’t sharpened their elbows and joined the scrum) get on board the last water taxi. Belizeans may well be a relaxed and friendly bunch most of the time, but you wouldn’t think that if you ever had to board a boat or bus on a holiday or busy weekend. To be fair, this sort of carnage doesn’t happen every day (thankfully) – Lobsterfest is a particularly popular weekend, and the situation is mainly the fault of the overwhelmed ferry staff. And it must be said that, in true Belizean style, everyone gets home (eventually!).