There is a rather well known place here in San Pedro called Zoola. I call it the Zoola as that is what I hear all the Israelis say, the Zoola. The Zoola is a hotel and restaurant, very, very laid back style. The Zoola has a reputation as a great place to hang out, eat, smoke, and chill, sometimes for hours on end. The Zoola was built about six years ago, and is owned and run by Israelis(which there is no shortage of here). Though the Zoola is not visible from any road or pathway, it has an impecable reputation and is always very busy. The Mayan ladies whom work in the kitchen don´t mess around and can make any Israeli dish that they are challeged with, among other things.
I live very near the Zoola. The other night, about 9pm, I saw a huge plume of smoke coming from directly where the Zoola is located, smoke that signaled it was not just a trash fire. I could also see flames, very big flames coming from the Zoola. I thought I was dreaming. And knowing that the Zoola is usually very busy, I kind of panicked hoping everything was alright, you know, minus the huge fire. I immediately assumed it was a fire from the kitchen, but being Monday, the Zoola was closed(its normal day to be closed).
I knew I had to go see what was happening, and to see if I could do anything to help. I walked on the dirt pathway to the Zoola, my heart racing. When I arrived I saw what I already knew, the Zoola was burning. As can be seen in the photos, the Zoola has a thatch roof, and that thatch roof was flaming, huge. By the time I arrived, there was plenty of people inside doing their best to put the flames out. San Pedro does not have a fire department, there might be some Bomberos(firefighters)in a neighboring town, but there is not time to wait for these things here. We also do not have regular running water here, so hoses were pretty much out of the question as well.
The fire was being fought with buckets of water being thrown up to the flames by Mayan and foreign men alike. This was a serious team effort. I stood outside on the grass pictured to the left, slack-jawed gaping at what was taking place before me. Every time a bucket of water was thrown up, flaming hot coals rained down. Perhaps you are wondering why I didn´t do anything to help, well, sometimes the best thing one can do is stay the hell out of the way. These men had this handled as best it could be handled, and I would have been in the way.
I was truly in shock, and as I stood there chatting in disbelief with my Mayan girlfriends, I was hoping and praying so hard in my heart that this place would not burn to the ground, and that all would walk away unharmed. The community of expatirates that live here is pretty tightknit, and all I could think of was the owners and managers of the Zoola and how devastating this all is for them and all of us that live here. The Mayan ladies in the kitchen were also weighing heavily on my heart as I am close friends with one of them and for these people to be out of work is crippling to an already miniscule family income.
After about an hour of fierce fighting, the flames were gone and the last bits of smoke were being tortured with bucket after bucket of water. The mood had lightened significantly, as the men knew they had won the battle, and laughing was heard as the soaking, dirty men continued to do what they could to kill the smoking coals. It was over, the fire at the Zoola had been put out by the persistence of normal people, all with something at stake.
How did this fire start? This was not a kitchen fire, being that the kitchen was not functioning at the time. The fire did not come from anyone chilling in the restaurant, the restaurant was closed. Want my opinion? This is obvious arson. The fire started on the roof of the Zoola, probably gasoline thrown, then ignighted. The fire started in the first break of rain we had had for days as tropical storm Andrés poured on us for nearly a week. The Zoola is a very sucessful restaurant owned by foreigners. This is likely arson perpetrated by someone whom has beef with either the owners, or the simple success of the place. Was it Guatemalans, was it someone who hates Israelis specifically? Seems an obvious act of racism, something we expats deal with on a daily basis here. Either way, this is a bit scary for all of us expatirates here, puts us all on our toes.
I went back on Tuesday afternoon to check out the clean up effort. Everyone seemed in pretty good spirits, and the remnants of the fire had been cleaned up very well. "We are reopening at 3pm". Take that arsonists!
In the meantime, the kitchen and another area of the Zoola are fully functioning, undamaged. Thankfully, only a small area burned, and is easily rebuildable. The folks of San Pedro, tourists and locals, will soon be able to chill in leisure at the Zoola once again. The Mayan ladies will continue to have work, and trust me when I say this, the Zoola will be as busy as ever.