Belize is a remarkable country that is rich in culture and history and some history only a few know about. Mike and I have were both born in Belize and after a short time in the USA, we returned to Belize and have lived here for most of our lives. We have enjoyed the beauty that Belize has to offer and raised our children to appreciate the same whether in the jungle or at sea. This week we got together with family, for my birthday, and the discussion came up about the history of Belize River Lodge and thought that we would like to share some of it with you.
Did you know that Belize River Lodge is the oldest resort and fishing lodge in Belize? And has been in continuous service since 1959/60?
Did you know that it was built by Vic and Elizabeth Barothy in 1958? And there are still Barothy’s family in Belize, who also happen to be my step-grandchilden (Elizabeth, Melanie & Rebecca) and great grandchildren (Chase, Zac, Andy, Gavin, Anastasia & Lucas).
Did you know that Vic Barothy’s mother still rests on this property? Mrs. Frances A. Barothy is buried past the bungalo (building far right) under the Zericote tree, surrounded by Ixora bushes.
Did you know that the most well-known guides you hear about got their start in fishing here at the lodge on the Olde Belize River? Names such as Andrewin, Eiley, Leslie and Westby all got their start under Vic’s tutelage. Mike and I have continued training guides that are well known in Belize and abroad.
Did you know that live aboard fishing and diving started with the legendary Vic Barothy? When Vic Sr. & Betty left Cuba, they brought their two motherships, the “Vickie” & the “Tarpon”. They started building their lodge on the Belize Olde River in British Honduras while running their live-aboard operation. After Hurricane Hattie in 1961, the live-aboard operation continued as they got the lodge back in operational order.
Mike and Marguerite continued with the live-aboard, the M.V. Cristina and M.V. Blue Yonder, operation until 2012, after taking on the Long Caye Outpost in 2011. In the years prior to 2012, the live-aboards were remaining mainly in the Central Belize area due to fishing congestion farther south, north and east and as the Outpost took off and the same well-trained staff and guides support the Lodge, the Outpost and the live-aboards, so the live-aboard operation was retired.
I could go on and on with more “did you knows” but I wanted to share more about what actually happened along with fishing in this area of Central Belize.
Barothy’s Lodge, which today continues as Belize River Lodge, has been a training ground or school for many Belizean families. The Lodge has provided jobs by training and educating men, their sons and grandsons in the art of spin and fly fishing, techniques of guiding, boats safety, conservation and so much more. The Lodge has been a school to many men and women who have gone on to be tour guides to Mayan sites, birding who share their love of Belize. The Lodge has trained sons, daughters and wives of guides along with young mothers or young girls interested in learning about cooking, making & decorating cakes and pastries, and an education in housekeeping and waiting tables. While learning the technique of guiding and being in the “service industry”, the most important lesson in this learning process that we teach is ~ our guests always come first, because without guests there is no tourism, no lodge and no jobs. We are so proud of the many men and women who gained an education at Belize River Lodge, those who have remained with us and also those who have gone on to be independent professional guides, chefs and upstanding members of their communities.
We realize that because of what has been accomplished in the past, it has brought us to where we are today.
- Tourism is now Belize’s number one growing industry and at Belize River Lodge we are happy to have been a part of so many lives and years of hard work and perseverance and know we helped in some way to reach today.
- We are thankful also to have been a part in getting good laws passed in the protection of Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish, and also in supporting conservations laws and by practicing conservation every day for this will take us further into the future. Presently, we continue to help in the protection of our Flats, habitat and Belize supporting the Coatalion of Sustainable Fishing, the Ban on Gill nets and many other conservation paths to a better Belize.
However, we must take a pause to see exactly why we say Historical Belize River Lodge. Besides the things that have been done to keep the lodge going forward there are so many things that come together to make it historical. Belize River Lodge has been maintained in its original state for over 59 years.
- Any new improvements have been finished to blend into what was there already with the “Colonial” feel.
- Beautiful mahogany walls have not been painted over, but rather these walls have been left to age graciously and grow into very warm and welcoming rooms. This warm feeling greets you as you enter the living and dining areas and the same feeling continues into the guest bedrooms.
- Our three full slab mahogany tables are set daily to host “family style” meals.
- The furniture in the living and dining rooms, some are cut mahogany sides from the saw mill that used to be downriver and some are Heusner, Cleghorn & Jones family antiques.
- There was also a book case full of books from the library of Elizabeth Barothy’s collection. She was an avid reader and artist and in her drawings she documented many orchids of Belize. The bookcase in Room #5 in the Cottage was Elizabeth’s.
- The big screened-in porch brings back great memories of the many colonial homes, which were built by “ship builders”, that once existed in Belize. The screened-in porch is open to let the breezes blow through and many guest often comment, as they all sit on the screened porch that opens into the living area, that they have the sensation of sitting on the aft deck of a great sailing ship. The screened-in porch is open all the time and is a great room where everyone can meet, relax and share their fishing stories and experiences of the day before the dinner bell.
- The dinner bell is another colonial memory and rings to call everyone to dinner. The bell, while traditionally Colonial, also is enjoyed by the ladies working in the kitchen. The bell system allows for them to be clearing and cleaning the kitchen, serving food to the guides all while you relax and enjoy your meal. The ladies hear the bell and can help at the table, allowing them to finish in the kitchen early for a restful night.
- At the lodge there are a series of bells in the front and side entrance that are still is use after so many years. The ladies in the kitchen ring the bell one time for one of the men to help if needed, three times is for the skiff to cross over to pick someone up from the parking area and so on
The grounds around the Belize River Lodge also have a lot of history. We still have a few mahogany and logwood trees on the property, remnants from when logging was prevalent in Belize, however, these trees are now majestic and stately trees. Logwood and Mahogany were the main goods cut and shipped out of Belize to England. The Lodge sits on a property that was part of the Olde Belize River traffic and the location where the Lodge now sits was called “poor man’s rest”. “Poor man’s rest” was a high spot on the river that if night caught travellers, they could pull up and camp out for the night. In the 80’s, we found old rounded bottom milk bottles and so much more from the days gone by.
Before there were highways and roads, the Belize Olde River and Haulover Creek were travelled daily by the people of Belize. People would travel in dug-outs, called a dory, to travel from their village to Belize to carry their fruits and vegetables for sale at the market and to take them home with their supplies from Belize City. The other means of transportation on the Olde Belize River were boats that resembled the boat that Humphry Bogart used in the movie “The African Queen”. It had an inboard engine and its own unique sound of “putt, putt, putt” that you could hear from a distance. One of these boats was still in existence when we came out to the lodge.
Another memorable event of living on the river was miles and miles of mahogany chained together coming down the river passing the Lodge.
The logs would bump together making a resounding “boom, boom” that could be heard for miles. There would be men walking across the logs making certain everything was going well. Originally these logs would go out the mouth of the river or through the Haulover Creek to meet and load them on their ships who would then transport the logs to England. When Mike and I purchased the Lodge in 1986, the logs float down to the saw mill at Gabourel’s Bank, down the bend from the Lodge, where lumber was sold within Belize and aboard. The tied logs would take up most of the width of the river, so only a single boat could pass.
Most of the lumber used to build the Lodge and it’s furniture came from mahogany logs that passed “Poor Man’s Rest” on the way to Gabourel’s Saw Mill. The Lodge owns unique pieces of figured mahogany that were made into tables, chairs, end tables, lamps and many more items. One of our “claim to fames” are the three mahogany tables 48”x70” of solid mahogany gracing the dining room; there are no joinings in the width of mahogany slabs. When sitting for breakfast or anytime, take a close look at the dining room tables, they are beautiful and impressive. For a historic note, it is said that the
mahogany tree from which these tables were cut, if it was lying on its side, the tree would have been approximately 5 feet in diameter, almost my height without my heels.
There are reminders all over the Lodge of the “days that came before”.
- Frances A. Barothy’s gravesite
- The old rounded bottom milk bottle
- Elizabeth Barothy’s bookshelf and few remaining books
- The support posts on the Guest House are made from “hand hewn” lumber made by Vic’s workers as they carved out the posts from a mahogany tree. Unfortunately, when we got the lodge in 1986, these posts were already painted, but if you look closely, the porch of Rooms 1 & 2, the support posts are rough cut, these were the original “hand hewn” mahogany posts. The support posts inside Rooms 1 and 2 are covered with finished mahogany panelling.
- After the flooding of 2008, when we raised the Guest House (building to the left), we realized that the downstairs rooms are slightly lower (1” or 2” only) than the upstairs rooms. The Guest House was originally a one story building and when good Ole Vic needed more rooms, he finished the downstairs – poured a cement rings and built up his walls and filled in. Needless to say, we have a much sturdier foundation now.
- The mahogany walls have stressed marks made by the workers building the lodge as they hammered away to drive the nails into the hard wood.
- A carving of young Vic’s initials is engraved in the wall near the front door by the dining room.
There are so many reminders of the immense work it took to build the lodge. Many photographs were saved from the beginning of the Lodge. A palm covered guest register has names and dates starting from Cuba and continued for the years the Barothys were in Belize and we still keep a guest registry to date. For years, this guest register has been a favourite of the sons and grandsons whose fathers fished with the lodge. Many have enjoyed spending time looking for their grandfather or dad’s signature, the date and the people he fished with. Still hanging to this day in our office is the original sign of the Registered Office of Barothy Caribbean Lodge, Inc.
Sometimes, it is easier to tear down and build with cement, however, Mike & I have always felt that what the Barothy’s started so many years ago should be saved, protected and kept in pristine condition. Karen and Debbie in the office and our ladies and gentlemen who work with us have learnt the value of the history of the Lodge and how to care for it and we hope that our present guests and those to visit in the future will continue to enjoy our rich history when fishing, touring &/or birding with us, here at Belize River Lodge. We hope you have enjoyed our little walk down memory lane and that it will make you take another look with different glasses when you come to visit our Historical Belize River Lodge on the beautiful banks of the Olde Belize River.