Lobstafest/Hurricane Par-tay!

12 07 2010

One thing I’ve learned in my time here is that Belizeans love to party.  And they will use any occasion as an excuse to drink.  This weekend the celebration was centred on the opening of the lobster season, after a three month closure (which is supposedly timed to cover peak spawning season…but this is not the venue to discuss flawed management measures).  Lobsterfest, as you can well imagine, is an epic party equipped with rum, music, dancing and even a Miss Lobsterfest Pageant. And, as per the name, all the lobster you can handle.  These 10 legged crustaceans are certainly worth the hype, providing thousands of people with direct employment not to mention significant foreign exchange earnings for Belize (to the tune of about USD 6.5 million/year).

Enjoying some grilled lobsta

Big decisions had to be made, as two simultaneous “Lobsterfests” were taking place – one on a small island called Caye Caulker and one further south in the beach town of Placencia.  After much deliberation, I decided on Caye Caulker, namely because it is the original lobster fishing community in Belize and site of Belize’s first fishing cooperative.  Also, I was meeting up with my English med student pals from San Ignacio – the prospect of friends 2 weekends in a row was simply too good to pass up.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a different kind of party in mind.

Like an unwanted guest, Tropical Storm Alex showed up relatively unannounced and crashed our lobsta party in a major way.   Now it must be pointed out that Caye Caulker is nothing more than a small sandy blip, a freckle on the reef if you will – one can circumnavigate the whole thing in less than an hour – so definitely not the ideal place to weather out a potential hurricane.  Not that Belize City, being 2 feet below sea level, is much better…

I quickly became acquainted with storm season vernacular, words such as “low pressure system”, “tropical depression”, “tropical wave”, “storm surge” and the dreaded “hurricane”.  Never have I ever watched the news with such intensity.   Not that it made much difference because 1) weather people are terrible at making predictions and 2) Belize, being outside U.S. borders, is not worthy of any meaningful coverage (life lesson: when experiencing severe storm events in the future, be sure to check weather updates regularly, then promptly ignore everything)…So, armed with too little information telling us too many different things, and after a few too many happy hour rum punches, Team England and I had were locked in a “should-I-stay-or-should-I-go” debate.  And, after a few more rums, we decided to stay.

Stormy weather courtesy of TS Alex

Needless to say, our mindsets quickly changed from lobster party to hurricane party, as bikinis were reluctantly replaced with rain gear.  And by rain gear I mean awful Easter-esque pastel coloured $2 ponchos sported by Team England (being Canadian, I obviously was prepared and brought Goretex, duh…).  We stocked up on rations, including several litres of water each, several cans of Pringles each, a collective jar of peanut butter and, of course, a bottle of Caribbean Gold.

As the wind howled and the rain poured, while coconut palms were swaying precariously and waves were thunderously crashing against the reef, 8 of us took refuge in a single hotel room (we’d befriended 3 California girls by that point).  There was a slight tension in the air at first as none of us really knew what to expect of Mother Nature’s wrath, but our worries were quickly subdued with rum and girltalk.  We gorged on pizza (and uncooked ramen noodles for some…damn vegans) and proceeded to laugh the night away.  So, first hurricane party under my belt and I consider it to be a great success…high fiiiiiiiive.

The next morning, Team England was up bright and early to witness their football team get shitkicked by Germany.  Disinterested (I’m a Ghana girl…), I decided to go walk to beach to survey the storm damage.  All in all, other than a few damaged lobster traps and copious amounts of seaweed debris, it didn’t look so bad.  Phew.

The rest of the day was spent doing all things tropical, you know, fishing off the pier with local kids (mostly red snapper), tanning, drinking fruity cocktails and dancing to Garifuna drummers and island music.  Caye Caulker was back to island paradise status and you’d never know the day before, the Peace Corps evacuated all their personnel (thanks Canadian consulate, I’m glad you were so worried about me…).

Lobsterfest/Hurricanefest – either way, a great party!

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