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If You Find it on the Beach, It’s Free!

Not many things drift onto our beaches today like they used to in the past. The only things we hear are bales of cocaine or marijuana, but it does not become the talk of the town to attract all the folks to the beach to do our famous beachcombing. One or two persons are said to find the cocaine, and then you don’t hear any more about it. The next thing you know is that that person is buying new boats, building new houses, or living it big. That is as far as drifts go today.

There were famous and meaningful drifts that go all the way from the 50’s up to the 90’s. The first one I remember was lumber drifting to our shores all the way from X’calak in Mexico to Caye Caulker in Belize. There was lumber all over the sea and the word quickly got around. There were thousands upon thousands of square feet of 1 x 3, and 1 x 4, and 2 x 4 and 2 x 6, 2 x 10 and even 4 x 4. There were also hundreds of sheets of ¾ inch plywood also. All the lumber was new as there were no nails on it. Some kinds came even in bales fastened with metal straps. When the word got around fishermen, their children and even their wives hit to the beach to pick up lumber. Smarter ones paraded midway between the beach and the reef and collected the lumber long before it hit the beach. This kept on for three or four days and slowly the supply of lumber started to decline. After about a week or two an occasional piece would be picked up, some of it with barnacles, which indicated that the lumber had been in the sea for a long time. New fences, new homes, new additions to homes were quickly noticeable in the village as all the villagers had a real bonanza with the large supply of lumber. Jokingly one fisherman shouted to his friend, “Did you hear that boxes of nails are now drifting to the shores?” But that was a joke and you knew that everyone was happy. Some folks were afraid that the government would take away their lumber as it occasionally happened when a skiff was found on the reef, so they hid it in the bushes. Others started selling their plywood at five dollars a sheet. The great lumber drift has been repeated at least five times since the 1950’s with the last one happening in 1991.

Guess what else has drifted to our beaches? Apples! Yes, big green juicy apples. From the village to La Punta, which is now Victoria House, my dad and I loaded our dory with about ten sacks of apples. And the word got around in a matter of minutes, so that everyone had “apples to stone dogs.” But what do you do after eating four or five apples? You could not sell them. To whom? Unfortunately we did not have the expertise of canning or bottling them, so we fed them to the pigs and much of it simply went to waste.

Want to hear about another famous drift? They were dolls. There were hundreds of small plastic dolls well sealed in plastic bags. Pete Graniel and I were on route to Belize City when we found our first doll between Caye Caulker and Caye Chapel. We found several more, but the next day we learned that all the fishermen had found hundreds of these dolls in the middle of the sea or on the beach. During that month in mid year, it was like Christmas for all the girls of San Pedro.

And listen to this famous drift! Twenty five years ago one full 55 gallon drum of perfume was found by one Lorenzo Mendez, popularly known as Lencho. He sold a full quart bottle for ten dollars and it sold like hot Johnny cakes, but after a while nobody wanted to use it since it was so common. Eventually this perfume was used it to deodorize bathrooms and urinals at the bars. For many years, if someone was caught using a very pungent perfume, her friends would tease her about using “Lencho’s perfume”. Occasionally a fisherman would find a drum of diesel or kerosene, but that has never happened in large quantities. What about cocaine, today? Do you think that still happens? I don’t think so, or you would see the entire town beachcombing along the beaches of Ambergris Caye. Yeah, you’re right!

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