Saturday, May 05, 2007

Our Belize Trip: Day 1

Our trip to Placencia, Belize was an interesting and much needed one. It was nice to get away to a place that is pretty slow and low key, as well as not too touristy (yet). It took us most of a day to get there due to the connections we chose (but wasn't too expensive). So, I consider Day 1 of 4 our first full day there.

Day 1 was filled with a lot of nothing. We stayed at a place called Westwind Hotel. (See it located on the map. The black line is the sidewalk, and the gray path is the road). We sat around the room. We sat in hammocks. We sat by the beach (which, although hot, was very breezy). We walked to a couple stores. I listened to music most of the day on the beach while Kacey knitted. One time as we had walked out to explore, we walked by a place called Omar's Diner. Omar's is a two story *house* where the first floor is his restaurant and the second floor is where his family lives.

(Notice, this sidewalk is considered the second biggest thoroughfare of the town, and is about 100 yards off of the beach). As we walked by his place, he was advertising his fresh Red Snapper they had caught that day. It smelled good as we passed by, so we figured we would head back there for dinner.

We sat down for dinner later that night at Omar's Diner. There was one other couple there at the time who were ready to receive their food. Kacey ordered the Snapper, but I always love to try new seafood, so I got the Barracuda steak. We sat and sipped our juice as we waited a few minutes for our food. The couple next to us had ordered the same thing as us and were enjoying their food; we were looking forward to eating our meal!

It was getting a little dark out when I noticed the smell of smoke. This wasn't the smell of his kitchen, this was something burning. But, in a small village like this, I wasn't surprise if someone was burning something in their yard. But I got to thinking a little bit - a small fire, in a hot environment, with a very nice breeze always flowing, no fire department, and no access even if there were a fire department. I guess the wind shifted for a minute as the smell dissipated, but a couple minutes later, I heard the voice of an older woman yelling for Omar in Spanish. I asked Kacey if she understood, and she thought it was "Omar, Omar, come quick". Seemed strange to ask a known chef to leave his kitchen while preparing food, but he quickly ran out. Then, we heard yelling.

The smell of smoke had returned, so I stepped outside to see what was going on. Then, I heard someone yelling "Fire". The house next to Omar's Diner was on fire.

Let me describe the homes here just a little bit. All of the homes are small, but close together. Most newer homes are made out of concrete and a pine wood, shingled roof is placed on top. Palm trees and other bushes also surround the homes.

I could not really see much of a fire at the house next door due to the large amount of smoke pouring out as the trees and bushes were burning. I ran back to the other side of Omar's where Kacey and a few other tourists stood and let them know that yes, there was a good fire going. And, that with the winds, Omar's was next to catch fire. The next ten minutes were filled with lots of yelling, people running with buckets towards the fire (no fire department, trucks, or hydrants), people running in and out of Omar's house to remove their belongings (as most fires here tend to spread quickly, they know the drill), people removing palm branches and other brush from near Omar's house and the gift shop across the sidewalk, people trying to wet down the gift shop to prevent it from going up in flames, and us, standing there watching helplessly.

We don't know anyone, no one knows us, we have no buckets, we felt bad as we struggled with what to do. Then, we noticed a small girl crying a few feet away from us, so we look to her. She catches our eyes and says to use "I live there, that is my house and it is going to burn down". As we give her a little hug, we try to talk to her briefly, asking her about her family. She tells us that she has a couple brothers and sisters, but no one is in the house. Then, a local villager runs to her, crying, and starts hugging her. An old man starts telling us that he tried to convince the town last year that he wanted money to put in a fire department, but politics got in the way. Then, as he is telling us that Omar has two large butane tanks for his kitchen (a sign that Kacey and I need to get out of there), some men run by, toward the ocean, with a generator and pump, and a large roll of 3" hose. We decide it is time for us to get out of the way, away from the commotion and butane tanks, and walk back toward our hotel (up-wind, about 150 yards north of Omar's).

As we get to the beach, we see the men fiddling around with the generator. They do not have it started, and a 4-wheeler arrives to shed some light on the scene, as it is pretty dark out by now. In my efforts to enjoy the trip, I was not constantly carrying my camera with me, but at this time, I decide to run back, get it, and snap a few pictures of the scene at the ocean. When I return, I snap these.

Sorry for the blur, it was very dark, I was walking, and not wanting to use the flash due to the sensitivity of the situation. I then looked inland toward the house, and snapped these.

Here is the short video I shot of the fire. You will be able to see people throwing buckets of water on the house. I also heard rumors that a few men got onto the roof and were having buckets handed to them to dump in hot spots.


After shooting this, I turn back to the team at the generator, which is still not running. As I approach, I see their problem; the starting cord for the engine was pulled off. They had disassembled the starting mechanism to put it back on for another pull. They had to do this each time trying to start it. God was looking down on them as the next pull they tried, it started right up. Everyone started yelling and cheering! Then, as they started to pump, they yelled for help. The 12 foot hose that went into the ocean appeared to be duct taped to the pump, which meant with every wave, it could have been ripped off. Kacey jumped into the ocean with a couple other people to hold it down. I notice that a couple men are holding the end because they are using a milk crate to prevent seaweed from entering the pump. I jump in to help as well (with my camera and all my money). After a few seconds, I realize we are all going to be there a while. I quickly jump out, take off my shirt, throw it in the sand, and put my wallet and camera on the shirt. I jump back in to assist.

For nearly an hour, myself, and about 4 other men, struggle to hold the crate down, with the hose inside it, whilst about 3 foot waves pound us. We are constantly skimming seaweed off of the crate to prevent it from clogging up. Every once in a while, one of us will spot a large wave and yell "BIG" (that is what they shout in Deadliest Catch, so its what I started yelling). When a big one comes, it may knock one man down into another, while the others hang on. Kacey and a couple others are still holding the hose down to keep it still in the waves. As the hour progresses, a few other men tire jump out, but only because someone else has come to jump in and help out. We are all talking about getting a beer after this, and as most men were locals, I told them "I came to your country to enjoy some water activities, but I never imagined this!" Also towards the end of the hour, children begin to run and jump into the ocean. They seemed happy; I am guessing because what could have been a catastrophe, has been put out. One of the children asked Kacey, "You came here wanting an adventure, right?!" It wasn't until the last 3 or 4 minutes that I jumped out as many others had jumped in. The fire was mostly out, and just smoldering as the last fire report we received was "They are putting out hot spots, almost done". One of the two men running the pump grab me and shakes my hand for a few seconds, saying thank you my friend. And, after a couple minutes, they notice that the waves are washing out the sand below the generator, and it is falling into the ocean. They start to maneuver the generator and as I pile sand under neath it, it turns off. But, with the start cord broke, we decide, we are done.

Everyone quickly ran toward the house to see the damage. Kacey and I are left behind to just sit and asses the situation. I ask her to take all of our stuff back to the room and start drying the money and cleaning up (we were covered in seaweed, but she deleted those pics). I walk toward the house and in the dark a few people notice me, and thank me for helping while shaking my hand. The house is destroyed, but the gift shop and Omar's are saved (minus minor burning of the exterior wood).

It was an exciting night; many more memories are in my mind that I can write down, but here are a few pics snapped the next day. This is looking south toward the burned house with Omar's in the back ground.

A closer shot of the house.

Omar's

Omar's closer


We have a few more pictures, but they will be posted with all the others, once I get them online. Thanks for reading our story.

5 comments:

CB said...

I was wrong - but that was a much cooler story than helping save a runaway horse!

Steven said...

That was a good story. Did you ever get your barracuda steak?

Chris said...

Actually, no, I didn't get any barracuda!

Andrew said...

Crazy story - we just got back from staying at Omar's. Too bad you didn't get a chance to eat there (the food was great) but good work pitching in and helping save those buildings - while I was down there I attended a town meeting and they're finally in the process of buying a fire truck!

Chris said...

Good to hear! Thanks for reading.