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Ice, When It Was Scarce

Mr. Milo Paz of Milo’s Ice tells me that he has five ice machines that manufacture two thousand pounds each and even that is not enough for the needs of the town. Can you believe that? And can you believe that in the 1950’s there was no ice made in San Pedro? Today we take ice for granted in San Pedro as we just pick up the phone and place an order. Twenty five years ago it was a very precious commodity and the villagers preserved it for as long as it could last.

When there was no ice in San Pedro nor refrigeration, people used to preserve their fish and meats with salt. Salt could keep fish preserved for even a month. We used to go to birthday parties and drink our sodas or refreshments at room temperature or without any ice. What about beer? That was entirely out of the picture.

Then came the importation of ice. Tio Pil with the famous Elsa P used to bring ice blocks from Belize City for a few people who dealt in ice. These huge four-foot tall blocks of ice were placed in large crocus sacks with rice shell used as insulation to prevent them from melting. Once in San Pedro the merchants used to place them in large ice boxes manufactured with wood, styrofoam , and sheet metal. Here ice could be preserved for about two weeks.

The most common use of ice was the selling of “fresco” or raspado as it was called locally. A small device with a blade like that of a carpenter’s hand plane was used to shave the ice, and syrup and mild would be added. It was absolutely (still is) refreshing and sold for 2 cents. Tio Dolito used to sell fresco at Daddy’s Saloon while don Juan Alamilla popularly known as “Mista John” used to go around town with his wheelbarrow and then with a tricycle to sell fresco. For five cents he would fill your cup or with twenty cents you could get a large pitcher filled with crunchy fresco or shaved ice. If you needed a small chunk like to chill a bucket of cool aid, they would sell it for 10 or 15 cents.

For a big event like an upcoming wedding, people used to order two or three of the giant blocks of ice one week in advance with Tio Pil. With that the beer would be chilled, and with an ice pick, they chopped small chunks to serve with rum drinks. The day after the wedding, friends would come over to take home the leftover ice to make ice cream or for their wonder drinks at home.

Manufacturing of ice in San Pedro came about with Caribeña Fishing Cooperative. Prior to this all fishermen had to go to the city for their 8 to 10 blocks of ice for their fishing expeditions. About 1965 Caribeña obtained its block ice machine to supply the fishermen, and after a fishing trip there was a lot of ice even to throw away. Thereafter, ice became common and no longer a precious item. A few years later came the shell ice machine also for Caribeña. At that time Caribeña started selling ice to the general public at 5 cents per pound. For weddings or big parties they would sell you five baskets for ten dollars, which was dirty cheap.

This tells us that twenty five years ago we did not have the luxury of enjoying nice piña coladas nor frozen margaritas. We used to conserve ice because it was scarce and a special commodity. Today we take it for granted and even waste it. Well, don’t. Don’t even take your spouse’s love for granted. Caribeña lost its ice plants. You can lose yours too.

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