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When Ice was Scarce

The other day my daughter, who got her ingenuity from her dad, who got his ingenuity from his dad, was making flavored syrup to enjoy some “raspado” or” fresco” right at home.

We got this electric ice shaver that can make some fine shaved ice in no time, and she treated us to some fine old time raspado or fresco that is still sold all over Belize. And this got me to remember when ice was scarce in San Pedro and the way we all got to value such a valuable commodity.

One thing we take for granted today is ice. We live as if it has always been around, and we get ice at the click of a button, but it was not so 25 years ago. Ice is a way of life for Milo’s and for Martha’s and I hear that pretty soon there will be another giant in the ice business. So like Creole says, “We wan have ice fi stone dag.

When there was no ice in San Pedro, Tio Pil of the cargo boat Elsa P. used to bring ice from Belize City for a few people in San Pedro. This huge blox of ice must have weight about two or three hundred pounds. It was placed in a large crocus sack filled with rice shell around it. This prevented the ice from melting as it was transported from Belize City to San Pedro via the Elsa P. Once it arrived in San Pedro, the merchants would place the giant cube of ice in a specially made ice bock which was a wooden box with Styrofoam insulation and sheet metal inside. These ice boxes could preserve the ice for at least two weeks. Unbelievable!

The most common use of ice was to make “fresco” or “raspado”. It was shaved ice with syrup. The ice was shaved with this gadget that looked like a carpenter’s plane with a sharp blade. Syrup and milk was added for a delicious and refreshing drink. You could suck it, lick it, chew it, munch it, or drink it once it melted. One fresco cost two cents, and later on five cents. There was this old guy named don Juan Alamilla who used to deal with fresco for many years, and there was Tio Dolito at Daddy’s saloon. We liked Tio Dolito because he really dipped the ice into the syrup, but we also preferred don Juan because he was very humorous, and if you did not have your money complete, he would still let you have his fresco. I remember don Juan passing by our house with his cycle and we would rush to him with a huge jug which he would fill up for 25 cents. The entire family feasted on that.

If you went to Tio Dolito he would sell you a small chunk of ice for ten cents. At times one needed a chunk of ice to chill up a lemon or orange juice or some natural juice prepared by mom at home. Most of the time they preferred to sell you the shaved ice because they made a bigger profit but because of their friendship with your dad or something they would sell you the small chunk.

For a big event like an upcoming wedding you could order with Tio Pil 2 or 3 of these giant blocks of ice one week in advance. The ice was used to chill the beers, and the day after the wedding several friends would come over to get their little chunks of ice to do wonders at home. Do you think that they would throw away a chunk of left over ice like we do today? No way, Jose! Just drink papaya juice or lemon juice or beer without ice and then you would know why ice was such a special commodity back then.

And then came Caribeña Fishing Cooperative! There they chilled the marine products, cleaned the lobster tails in chilled water, and stored all the products in giant freezers and chilling rooms. In the 1960’s they started manufacturing these giant blocks of ice and then there was ice to stone dogs. They also manufactured shell ice and crushed ice at a time when there were only a few refrigerators on the island. Today the simplest thing to do is to purchase a one or two dollar bag of ice and you can do all your wonderful mixes. Have you wondered how a piña colada would taste without ice? Or a frozen Kaluah or frozen margarita? My warning is not to take ice for granted. Preserve it and conserve it. Caribeña lost its ice plant. Don’t take your wife for granted either. You can lose her.

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