Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A memory fades!

Just last week as we ventured to the Cay for our weekly shopping day, we discovered that one of the “watering” holes, FiFi Café a/k/a George’s Inn was locked. FiFi Café has been on the Cay sometime during World War II but the actual date is a little hazy.

The above are photos of the demolition of FiFi Café!

I had one photo of FiFi’s that doesn’t show much as you can see above, but then there was not much to see. The building was small, made up of two rooms divided by a partition. On one side you could buy beer or frescas (years ago we could buy baleadas which were cooked on the premises in a cubbyhole where a stove sat). On this side, there was a table for seating and a refrigerator which contained some of the cold drinks. On the other side of the partition were a few bench seats and booths and a couple of small tables. It was crowded and noisy in FiFi but after spending our time a few years ago at the Silver Dollar we had gravitated to FiFi for our weekly sit downs to trade information and/or gossip and news.

Now, we were informed, FiFi Café was closing, the building was getting too dangerous to occupy with rotting timbers and sagging floors. We have not heard just what plans Jack Haylock, the owner of the building has, but since Jack owns the Silver Dollar a/k/a Pirate's Den (where we have met for years), we are assuming that he will rebuild another bar on the location. Guess we’ll have to return to the Silver Dollar for our “International Symposiums” as one individual put it.

My husband searched through some of the old publications we once received prior to living in Guanaja. These publications enabled us to keep up with what was going on in the island before we finally made our move here. One such publication was “The Coconut Telegraph,” a Bay Island Magazine which was published in Coxen Hole on Roatan and came out about every two months, give or take a month. In October/November 1994 an article was published about “Guanaja’s George Haylock III.” It consisted of a lengthy interview with Mr. Haylock and his recollections of life on Guanaja from his childhood.

I found the article to be quite interesting and am going to reproduce parts of it here in my Blog for those who are interested in some prior history of Guanaja. I have only hit on some of the highlights, as the article was rather lengthy. I hope that people will enjoy reading about life on the island from its first days to 1994. I am unable to give credit to the reporter who wrote the article as his/her name did not appear anywhere in the article.

Here are the recollections from George Haylock III:

“If you’re looking for a little history or some legends about this interesting, off-beat place, follow Bonacca’s main walkway and stop by the FiFi Café. Order a cool drink and give a listen to George Haylock III.

‘My father was named George Haylock, Jr., my grandfather was named George Haylock, and my great-grandfather was named Robert Haylock. He was the first white settler on Guanaja.

Robert Haylock came to Guanaja from England in 1856, by way of Jamaica. He held in his hands a grant signed by Queen Victoria giving him title to land on the Mosquito Coast, part of the main island of Guanaja and two of its cays, which now form the main town of Bonacca. He owned the whole works, says George III.’

Robert took a mulatto woman for his wife and began raising hogs and cattle on the main island, but he couldn’t tolerate the sand flies so he built his home on one of the cays. He found that the sand flies bothered the hogs too, and moved them out to the other cay, which is how it got the name, “Hog Cay.” To get from his home to Hog Cay, Robert had to walk through water up to his shins so the other cay became known as “Sheen Cay.”

The name Haylock dates back to the 13th century. Their family motto, “Serva Jugum” means keep the yoke, and the falcon rising on their family crest signifies one who is eager in the pursuit of his objective. Generations of Haylocks from Robert to the present have lived up to their family name and have greatly influenced the growth and prosperity of Guanaja.

According to his son, George Haylock, Jr. was the most progressive of his brothers. ‘He was a dentist. He studied dentistry in Battle Creek, Michigan with Dr. Kellogg (the same as the cereal) in 1901. This is the original saloon, and my daddy had his dentist office right in here’ says George III, waving his cigar toward the other room [of FiFi Café]. In 1911 he [George Haylock, Jr.] won the mayor job here, he won the elections for four years, one right after the other.’

For nearly 60 years, residents collected rainwater or paddled over to Big Gulley to fill their hogsheads (barrels) with Guanaja’s sweet-tasting water. ‘In 1912, my father put the first water pipe here. My uncle Samuel Haylock … was the engineer.’

They built a dam in a creek and laid the first underwater pipeline to Bonacca. To accomplish this ambitious venture, they gathered together every dugout canoe on the island and even some from mainland Honduras. A section of galvanized pipe was placed in a canoe that was then pushed out just far enough to squeeze in another, and then the two boats were tied together head-to-stern. The next section of pipe was positioned in the new canoe and the two pipes were connected. By adding more and more boats, they eventually formed an unbroken chain that stretched from the main island to the settlement on the cays. Once all the pipes were joined, they lowered a red flag signaling the canoes to drop the pipe to the bottom of the sea.

Skeptics at the valve-opening ceremony refused to believe that water would travel under the bay and come out the other end without a pump, and they bet Samuel 50 pesos each that it wouldn’t work. Uncle Sam knew that the pressure from the dam, situated higher than Bonacca, would force the water through. He opened the valve and collected his bets.

George Haylock III was born in 1913 and in 1920 when he was seven years old, his father and his mother along with his younger brother left Guanaja for New Orleans…..George returned to the island in 1928.

Islanders found a seemingly insatiable market in the United States for plantains, bananas and coconuts. ‘A lot of people would sell their bananas, sell their coconuts, get a little money. We had coconut ships come in here. My father was agent for Hills Brothers. We had a big coconut house out here and one was down where there’s that fish house in the middle of the harbor [seemingly talking about what is now known as Alcatraz]. Coconuts went to the States direct from here by ship. We used to go aboard there when the ship’d come in, she’d tie up along the water house and they’d load her, taking a million coconuts out of this place. All the prominent people here had their sailing vessels runnin’ bananas, coconut, general cargo.’

George returned to New Orleans in 1933 and trained as a radio operator, returning to Guanaja to work for the government. Haylock was the highest paid person in Guanaja, earning 90 pesos a month, although he remembers that eight percent of his salary was deducted to pay for the stadium in Tegucigalpa.

Just before the war, Haylock opened a movie house and called it Teatro Venica. People were lined up to see the movies and he had to have two or three shows the same night. However, the rising cost of films and the increasing popularity of television [made] it too expensive to operate.

‘The war started, most of the young fellows went out merchant marine. I didn’t go ‘cause I had this old leg. I said to myself, if they all leave that gives me a good chance to make some money here. So I opened up this little saloon [presumably FiFi Café]. I found some tables my father had, some ice cream dishes, ice cream freezers, and an old iron chist, and I started a little ice cream business in here. …. That was way down in the 30’s, 36, 37, somewhere down there.

I sent some money up to the States, Tampa, and I got some beer, some flavorings for my ice cream, some evaporated milk, it was only $2.98 a case, and we opened with ice cream, a barber shop, a rum shop, we had Aguardiente [made from cane], we even had dynamite selling in here.’

The only way to get over to the north side of Guanaja was to go by boat around the east end or the west end, or you could walk it. Two narrow paths ran across the island, one not far from Bonacca and the other up at Savannah Bight. There was on-going construction on a canal which took many years.

George remembers the beginnings of Guanaja’s tourism business. ‘The first man up there by Posada del Sol, Dick Lundy was his name. He was the first one, came here and dug down the side of that hill and built the motel there, and had some houses up on side of that hill. He didn’t want to leave here, but his wife wanted to sell it. He died up there.’

In September of 1974, Hurricane Fifi wreaked havoc in the Bay islands. More than 20 inches of rain fell and wind speeds whipped over 100 miles an hour. Fifi damaged or destroyed most of the structures in Bonacca but the storm left George’s saloon standing, so he named it the FiFi Café. It’s a popular local hang-out and where you’ll likely find George Haylock III, although he’s confined to a wheelchair these days.”

So, this is the end of an era I guess one would say. I am sure there are many more stories on Bonacca to be told and, if one takes the time to seek them out they are probably going to be captivated for hours!

Here’s to FiFi Café and George Haylock III.


  1. Thank you so much, I used to talk to George H. almose every time I was in town. He told me a great fishing story onetime. J. C.

  2. I have enjoyed reading your Blogs. I first got an interst beacause I am
    coming down in July and wanted as much inforation as I could find. Now I
    just come back to it to see whats going on. I will be there for a week
    and you have given us allot of information that is only available from
    someone who lives there every day. I will be fishing without a guide,
    any suggestions?
    David R.

  3. So does that mean they are going to build something else? Where has the thursday shop hangout moved to?

    Hope your doing well in the new year. We are working on getting down around march.

    Chris & Lora

  4. We are meeting again at the Silver Dollar a/k/a Pirate's Den. Also, the Hotel Miller is revamping and they tore down the front porch, dinning area and Angie's InterNet Cafe. I think Angie is relocating in the hotel which will now be 3 stories high!

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  6. Thanks for the great photos and historical info, Sharon and Mike! Please tell me more about why Fifi's is being torn down. Does Jack Haylock have plans for a new building? Is that all the Haylocks own on the Cay now? Fascinating!!
    Joan C.

  7. Hello Sharon,

    I used to have that edition of the Coconut Telegraph! It's a fantastic piece of Bonaccan history... I would love to get a copy of it from you sometime...

    Are you back in Guanaja?


  8. Wow!! I really wanted to thank you for all the wonderful history of my family. George was my grandfather and as I grew up in Maryland I never got a chance to hear the stories of our family heritage. This was a wonderful article and I am also interested to see what my uncle Jack does with the building. I still have fond memories of papa G sitting on the ice cream store side of it with a cigar between his fingers. Thank you so much.

    1. Donna Haylock de la GarzaFebruary 19, 2014 at 8:19:00 PM PST

      Hey Katie!!! I too was fascinated with this story. I grew up in Texas and never knew any of this either (I would ask but my dad, George Haylock, IV always just told me we were from a family of Pirates! I haven't been down there since 2002, but I think it's time to pay You know that George was my grandfather as well and I remember crawling into the window of the Fifi Café when I was little to get ice cream without him knowing. I also snuck into that theater to watch the movie "Baby" with Juliek. In retrospect, I think he knew.

    2. Thank you Sharon for the beautiful story. I remember him buying ice cream from him as a kid. Again what a great story.