Ramon Nunez was born in a sailboat off the coast of Belize on June 12, 1940. His family lived up the coast about 12 miles from the village of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, known as British Honduras at the time. His father put his mother in the sailboat to get help with the delivery, but ended up delivering the baby at sea. He was the last of 14 boys, with one younger sister, Lupita. He was named Ramon after the Patron Saint of the Sea. At the time of his birth, there were only about 150 people living in San Pedro and the Nunez family was quite influential. Despite the family's prominence in politics, they were quite poor and even as a small boy, Ramon sold bread on the streets that his mother had baked to help support the family.
His mother's words to him as a small child followed him through life: "It's okay to be poor, but be honest and clean." Ramon was a bright student and excelled in school. The teachers advanced him from grades 4 to 6 and then quickly from grades 6 to 8. He had hoped to attend college, but it was financially impossible. Ramon then returned to the sea where his life began and joined his father on the fishing boats. At this time fish were abundant and for one week's work he earned one Belize dollar.
A young Ramon
with a steel band ~1982
His life took another turn when, at the age of 21, he married a beautiful young girl named Mickey. The young couple soon started a family with the birth of the first of their three children. During this time Ramon would go with his brother to free dive up to 80 feet for lobster and would easily fill an ice box in four days. They would receive 25 cents (Belize currency) for each lobster.
The face of San Pedro was changing quickly, however. Stores were popping up everywhere as more people moved to the island. When Ramon was just 24yrs old, a simple twist of fate would change the course of his life. One day Ramon and his cousin decided to go get some fish to eat and checked their fish traps, only to find an eagle ray caught inside the trap. Ramon grabbed the eagle ray to let it out, but did not grab the tail. The barb of the ray struck him in his right thigh. He sank to the bottom and his brother and cousin managed to pull him up into the boat. The barb was still sticking out of his leg and his cousin, Armando, wrapped a rag around it and pulled it out.
Ramon's leg was numb and he was in great pain so they rushed him home to his mother. In those days, it was common to boil poison out with scalding hot water, which is what Ramon's mother tried to do in a desperate attempt to help her son. The burns were severe, however, and gangrene set in so Ramon had to spend three months in the hospital in Belize City to recover from the affects of the barb and the burns to his leg. In time they found another piece of bone broken off in his leg, as well.
It was a few months later, while Ramon was still at home recuperating and in very low spirits, when he heard a knock at his door. Looking back to that dark time, Ramon describes the person who appeared at his door as "an angel," sent to help his family while in dire need. This "angel" proved to be an American named Jerry McDermott who was building a resort named the Paradise Hotel. McDermott offered Ramon a job, which the grateful man quickly accepted. Jerry took him to the dock of the resort and showed him a brand new boat with Ramon's wife's name already painted on it. In Ramon's words, he nearly fell to his knees in grateful tears for this incredible opportunity. Up until this point, Ramon had been relying on the kindness and generosity of his neighbors to care for his family. The year was 1969 and the Paradise Hotel consisted of only three cabanas, but that would soon change.
Ramon spent the next 13 years building a dive shop and business that flourished to 27 cabanas. Ramon loved people and knew how to promote by word of mouth. His
public relations skills were invaluable to the growth of the resort. Jerry McDermott had a lot of friends and brought Nyle Everett, a scuba instructor, and his boat, replete with scuba equipment, to the island. Jerry sent Ramon to Houston to be certified by Nyle at the Ocean Corporation. Nunez had already been diving with the Aqua Lung and knew the basic fundamentals of diving before attending the dive class. Graduating first in the class was no surprise for a man of the sea like Ramon. Jerry saw the long range benefits of a dive operation and bought 25 scuba tanks, Aqua Lung double hose regulators, some blow-up Mae West BC's, as well as a small air compressor, which was the first on the island. Ramon's brother-in-law, Adolfo Ayuso, as well as two fishing guides, Eduardo Brown and Gil Gonzalez, would be certified as divers a couple of years later.
In 1972 the Government contacted Ramon, the only certified native diver in the country at the time, and asked him to guide Jacques Cousteau during his visit to the country. He would guide Cousteau to the Blue Hole, as well as to the cavern under Caye Caulker. In Ramon's words, "This was the experience of a lifetime!" He lived aboard the Calypso for a week with all the crew, as well as singer John Denver, who, at this time, penned and sang the Calypso's famous theme song. Ramon remembers that the equipment on the Calypso was cutting edge and fondly recalls how every afternoon the crew would enjoy a barbeque as John Denver sang for them all.
The famous shot of the Calypso in the Blue Hole was taken after they brought the vessel around through the west entrance of Longboat Key, where the water is deep. Before Cousteau even arrived, Ramon and others had marked all the coral with buoys to prevent damage to the reef. No damage was done to the reef during the entire expedition. Ramon scoffs at the rumors of dynamite being used to blow a hole into the reef to allow the Calypso to enter the Blue Hole. Great care was taken by Nunez and others to prevent any damage to the precious reef. Marine Biologist, Richie Wood, was also present at the time and verified this account.
Ramon recalls that the only close call they had with the environment was when one of the explorer underwater mini subs got stuck at the bottom of the Blue Hole, which consisted of sinking sand, at a depth of 470 feet.
Jeff Rice, Ramon
Nunez, and Adolfo Ayuso
Cousteau himself demonstrated to the rest of the crew how to free the sub. Ramon himself had the opportunity to go to the bottom in one of the subs and learned much from the crew about diving, as well as the environment. The Calypso's crew went on to explore the cavern under Caye Caulker and the in and out line ropes that Cousteau put into place remain there to this day. On a sad note, Ramon lost his brother-in-law, Adolfo Ayuso, in the cave years later while guiding some divers from Houston.
Ramon wrote the final report of the expedition for the Government. It was quite favorable and emphasized that nothing had been damaged or harmed by Cousteau or his crew. Impressed by the experience, years later, Nunez still enthusiastically describes the intelligence and vision of Jacques Cousteau.
In 1980 Ramon made the big decision to leave the Paradise Hotel. Ramon had learned everything he knew about running a resort from Jerry and it wasn't easy to leave his boss and good friend of so many years. However, a group of investors from Mississippi invited Ramon to open Ramon's Reef Resort. They started with 10 cabanas which eventually grew to 20 and then
Corry and his son
Sean with Ramon
expanded into another resort south of Ramon's Reef Resort called Ramon's II. This resort was purchased by Corry McDermott and Ramon Nunez and operated by Landy Trejo. This second resort remained in full operation for a few years. Eventually it became too much and Ramon sold Ramon's II. He concentrated his efforts on his Reef Resort which was eventually sold to Richard Hedrick in 1987 with 20 cabanas. The name was changed to Ramon's Village and the size of the resort expanded yet again to 72 rooms. It has become one of the premier resorts of the country with a level of quality and a staff that cannot be beat. The resort, now the headquarters for PADI in Belize, caters to the diver and has certified instructors on hand.
At the age of 70 now, Ramon still shows up every morning to greet the guests and makes appearances in the evening as well. Guests love his presence
Ramon accepting award
on behalf of Tourism
and it is obvious that his public relations skills have only improved with time. In addition to his position at Ramon's Village, Ramon runs Reef Realty and was the recipient of the Belize Lifetime Achievement Award in October of 2010. The award signified Ramon's unwavering commitment to service and tourism over the past 35 years.
Ramon's achievements in the world of diving are indeed impressive: from being the first native of Belize to become a certified diver to the honor of guiding Cousteau's expedition into the world famous Blue Hole, he has certainly earned a place among the Legends of Diving.
(ILD would like to thank Ramon Nunez and Corry McDermott for the information and photos included in this article.)
*Ramon Nunez currently serves as President of Reef Realty LTD, a Belizean real estate company that has been serving Belize for the past twenty five years. He manages properties and builds private homes, condos, and commercial buildings. Ramon invites you to come visit Belize and find your Paradise dream home. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 011-501-610-2699.
*Ramon has recently written a book of his life. It is called "Nature and the Maya Boy." If you would like to purchase an autographed copy, you can contact Ramon.