Garifuna Settlement Day Celebrations

Dangriga Travel Blog

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Sat 16 Nov 2008

At noon, Tanya, Bethany and I set out for our 5day/4night trip – our longest trip away from San Ignacio. I was very excited to celebrate Garifuna Settlement Day, and had been looking forward to it since arriving in Belize.


I took it upon myself to organize the trip. We agreed to spend a day in Placencia, a day in Hopkins, and 2 days in Dangriga. Unfortunately, we all waited until the last minute to make reservations for Dangriga and the rooms for the holiday had all been booked well in advance. At one point, I was hoping to find beds for 6 volunteers and no one else was as concerned about the low likelihood of getting accommodations. Then, people started backing out on the trip to Dangriga, so I looked to my last resort. The first day in Belize, I had met Fabian and we had talked extensively about Garifuna Settlement Day. I decided to give him a call and he volunteered to have us stay at his place. I couldn’t have been more relieved.


With accommodations, buses, ferry and activities planned, we set out on the most random adventure we have had to date.


The ride to Belmopan went off without a hitch. On our ride south to Placencia, we looked forward to the Hummingbird Highway. We hadn’t expected the ride to be as jam packed as it was – so full we ended up sitting in the back on top of all the luggage and the spare tire. The back door kept opening and letting in more passengers and packages. One could have said that the bus was “packed with everything but the kitchen sink,” until one guy hopped aboard and crammed a metal sink between the three of us! Of course, that wasn’t so bad. The real annoyance was from a drunk passenger in the last row who wouldn’t stop preaching, dancing and rambling. We tried to ignore him. That didn’t work. A Belizean couple tried to shush him. That didn’t work. He was so persistent on getting his word out – talking about the most random stuff like wanting a German girl and trying to shake our hands. We thought the tormenting would never end.


We had ridden the bus that goes from Belmopan down to Independence ($15BZ). Tanya got directions to the ferry and we walked down the residential road to the water’s edge.  The 15min ($10BZ) ferry was refreshing and we arrived in Placencia after dark. Since Placencia is quite small, we asked a taxi driver for directions to our accommodation and he pointed down the road. We walked too far and ran into a local named Edmond, who said he’d show us the way. As we walked through unlighted backyards through the sand, I looked back at Bethany with the expression of “where the hell is this guy taking us?” and she just stretched out her jaw. Edmond staggered barefooted as the empty beer bottles in his plastic bag clinked together. At last he introduced us to a woman in a wheelchair sitting upstairs in a small wooden home. “Are you Lucille?” I asked. She said yes, and Edmond showed us to our small private room with 3 beds, a run-down chair and a private bathroom. He offered to give us a tour around town, but we opted for showers instead.


Our first stopping point! We were excited to set our stuff down. We prepped for the evening. Since most of my clothes were dirty I washed them in the bathroom sink. Tanya dried her hair with a fan. She and Bethany also shared a foot-long mirror – the only one in the room. They thought this was roughing it, but I was more than pleased.


We ate dinner at a tourist restaurant. The food and drinks were amazing! I had the red snapper and a couple specialty drinks. Afterwards, we set out to find the bars recommended in our travel guides.


My first impressions when arriving at Barefoot Beach Bar were not so appealing. Most of the people hanging out were older tourists (30-50s). The bar is outdoors and there is a huge dance floor (that was unoccupied) in front of a stage. For the first 15min of so that we were there, a live band was playing. I just didn’t think I’d enjoy talking to any of the people there and was too stuffed from dinner to drink. I walked down the beach and when I came back my roommates where talking to a 60-yr old man. What have they gotten themselves into, I wondered.

Robert, the older guy we were talking to, lives back and forth from Belize to the U.S. He has three daughters, one like 37y/o with a kid and the youngest still in her teens. His son-in-law owns Tipsy Tuna, the bar right next to Barefoot Beach Bar. So once we made friends with him, we had all our drinks covered for the rest of the night. Robert introduced us to his friend Vance, who Tanya had a "squish" for. In the Tipsy Tuna sports bar, sand covered the entire floor. There were boxing games playing along one wall and two pool tables to the left. We had a couple drinks, went back outside to dance, then sat on the beach.

Apparently there's a few families in Placencia who make up a good part of the town. Vance's 3rd or 4th cousin, Devon, came to the beach and we went for a walk. Meanwhile, Bethany was also talking to a guy she just met, also named Devon. It's so crazy how we randomly go for guys with the same name. Tim, Nick, Devon, wtf. Devon caught a baby frog for me and I held onto the little guy, but couldn't get a good look at him b/c he was so small and quick. So the Alfalfa in me stuck the frog in Devon's shirt. Later on, I spotted another baby frog and slipped him down Tanya's shirt. She freaked out and flashed everyone, trying to get him out.

Sun 16th Nov 2008
In the morning, we woke up and Bethany asked, "Are anyone else's legs itchy?" When she looked down at her legs, she saw the damage. Although she had put DEET on last night on her feet and ankles, the water washed it off and the sandflies got to her. She had so many sandfly bites on her legs that appeared to have leprosy. Tanya and I felt so bad for her. For the next week she'd be itching like crazy.

Although we had planned to go snorkeling, the weather changed that decision for us. Vance called up and took us out to breakfast instead. By that time, we had to order lunch. Then, Vance volunteered to drive us to Hopkins. We stopped at the narrowest street in the world (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) and hopped in Vance's jeep. It was so windy! I was glad to leave Placencia b/c there didn't seem like much to do there on land. It's very upscale touristy and there's not much to see.

As we drove into Hopkins, the view was quite different. Hopkins is a smaller town on the map, but also highlighted in travel guides. It's close to the southern cayes and Mayflower Bocawina National Park. The residential homes are very dilapidated and mostly made out of wood set high on stilts. There are plenty of tourist places to stay, including cheap accommodations, but no tour companies. There is a tourist information center on the corner across from the "Welcome to Hopkins" sign and the most popular restaurant for tourists. Since the place I had scouted out was a bit out of town, Bethany booked a couple rooms at Kismet Inn.

Kismet Inn has quite a lot of character. Trish, the owner of Kismet Inn is very kind, and unique in her own right. She has plenty of stories and could go on talking for minutes on end when you just intended to ask a simple question. Three black labs guard the property. Of course, I think they are so adorable! However, the father copulated with his daughter and they had puppies. Neways.....Trish reminded me so much of my Aunt Dolores.

Also staying the night were two siblings from the U.S., Susan and Eric. They were traveling through Central America and planning on diving in Honduras. It's a common thread among travelers.

Tanya, Bethany and I borrowed the three bikes from the inn to tour the area. These were pretty beat up bikes - Tanya's chain kept falling off every 2 minutes. My bike worked the best, but was equipped with 2 goofy baskets. The roads were all made of dirt with ditches and speed bumps every so often. (In Placencia it's dirt and sand.) Dogs roamed around (unlike in Placencia). A naked boy stood outside his home prepared for a bath. Like Caye Caulker, there are 3 main parallel roads in town. We biked quite a ways and momentarily stopped by the only school in town. It's relatively new, and set back off the road. On the corner there is a dilapidated latrine, but I'm unsure whether it's still used. Across the street is the garbage dump.

I think Hopkins is a sweet town of low-income families. The rustic way of living gives it character. Even though it aims to draw tourists, there aren't many during the low season. That caused us a problem when we tried figuring out how to get a tour for Mayflower Bocawina National Park and had trouble finding transportation.

Mon 17th Nov 2008
Since Kismet Inn is right on the beach, I woke up at 5:15am to watch sunrise. Yet again, it was cloudy. However, all was not lost. The labs entertained me while I took photographs. Then the smallest one accompanied me on a walk north along the beach. I love hearing the sound of water lapping onto the shore! After the morning walk, I went swimming in the sea. The water was warm and the sand was really mushy. It took a long walk to get out past the shallow water. I attempted snorkeling, but the water was too murky. Still, I enjoyed feeling the fish nibble on my legs. After the swim, I washed off in the outdoor shower. Not many people can say they caught a toad while taking a shower, and I'm glad I have the privilege. He was plump and slow to hop away. Yet once I took hold of him, he struggled to free himself. I gave the little guy quite a scare, and didn't mean too, but was so curious and excited to hold him! After some photos, I brought him to my roommates who were still in bed. Needless to say, they were not as fascinated by him as I was...I guess I haven't changed much from when I was younger and curiously chased after my dad's friend's cats. Animals probably think I'm the devil. But I but the toad back where I found him.

At that time, my roommates were still relaxing in bed, so I biked around with my camera. I was just in time to see all the kiddies on their way to school. The school is painted yellow and brown and those are the same colors as the girls uniforms. The boys wear pale yellow shirts and khakis. Of course, they're so adorable! Like in San Ignacio, handfuls of them stop to buy candy for breakfast.

Susan and Eric hitchhiked a ride into town with one of the locals. When we finally got ourselves organized, Tanya convinced the local to taxi us to the foot of the Mayflower entrance sign off the highway. It is 4 1/2 miles to the start of the waterfall hike, so we planned on walking there with our packs. We smothered ourselves in DEET, ready to take on the botfly, and hiked down the road with our packs. About 10 minutes in and a resort van drove up behind us. Tanya stuck up her thumb and the driver came to our rescue. In the sweet deal, we had the van to store our heavy packs for the day and a free tour guide! A well-off U.S. couple staying in Hopkins were dipping their toes in adventure. It was then that I realized tours are offered in Hopkins at the expensive resorts. The couple was very friendly and props to them for stepping outside their boundaries.

Even better, the hike our acquired guide took us on, was Antelope Trail, the one we had planned on walking. (There are several trails at Mayflower which lead to a few waterfalls.) At the end of this trail is the largest waterfall in the park. We hadn't known how rigorous the hike would be, but we realized that we would have never made it with our packs on. It is doable, but we weren't prepared for that. It definitely is a jungle out there, and so beautiful. We didn't see much wildlife because of the time of day, though there was a lot to concentrate on. Much of the hiking is uphill with scrambling up roots. After a good walk, we came to the bottom of the waterfall. Of course we were excited by the sight, but more was yet to come. The hiking became steeper and sometimes required the use of ropes to climb up. (They are already tied in place.) After the steep climb we came to a lookout. The view of the waterfall from here was even more beautiful. A bit more of a climb and we reached our destination. Here we came to the swimming pool. I could have stayed there for hours! The water was so refreshing, cold and clear! I swam around like I was in heaven.

Our next destination was Dangriga. Our guide began to drive us to the bus stop on the highway. A charter bus approached and our guide flagged him down. Before we knew it, we were aboard a Charter bus filled with school teachers! How random that we got yet another free ride to our intended destination! Not only that, but we were dropped off right in front of our hotel!

Dangriga Central Hotel is like a cheap U.S. motel. Bethany and Tanya felt they were roughing it, but for $55BZ we got our own room with a twin bed, full-size bed, private bathroom and TV with cable! It was upscale from the $40BZ Traveller's Inn in Placencia, yet not as cozy as the 2 bedrooms, 2 full-size beds and shared bath/outdoor shower for $60BZ in Hopkins.

Two doors down, we ate at a Chinese Restaurant and waited to meet with Fabian. We made arrangements to meet Fabian during his lunch hour at noon which perfectly worked out with our check-out time. The night was young, but we were pretty tired from our full day so we hit the sack early.

Tues Nov 18th 2008

We had been warned about Dangriga being dangerous during the holiday so we agreed to stick together at all times. I like to have my freedom of roaming around, but I can be safe when I need to be. Nothing compares to the dangers of Belize City, but we didn't want to take any chances in Dangriga. Together we ran around to do some errands. In the park designated for Garifuna holiday activities, children were gathered in front of a stage. However, things were winding down as I approached. Fabian had said that the 18th and 19th are the days with the most celebrations, so I had my eyes wide open.

Walking around Dangriga, I decided I really like the city. True, it was more active due to the holiday, but it just seemed like a nice place to live. The main street is very busy. The city is on the coast and has three channels of water running through it. Of course, there's plenty of cute kids roaming around. And it's not catered to tourists. The market is also very appealing. They sell johnny cakes, fresh meat and fish, fruit and veggies. Also, the clothing shops are permanently placed unlike in San Ignacio. Then, we walked down a pier where I young man was casting nets for crabs. When he flung one onto the pier, I tried to throw him into the bucket, disbelieving that it would clip my fingers. It nipped, but didn't hurt. "Your dad would not approve!" Tanya yelled. "Well, how do you get it in the bucket?" I asked the boy. Then he pushed it against the outside of the bucket with his sandal and scooped it in. Oh! I thought. But surely there's a better method.

We met Fabian at noon and a taxi drove us to his home. He's only a half a mile off the main street, so the location was quite convenient for the holiday. Fabian lives in a two-story house with some family members. His daughter, Jenny, is a very sweet lady and greeted us with open arms. Fabian's 3-year old grandson is a shy, sweet kid, but according to his aunts and uncles, like to create trouble. We played with him for a bit and met up with Alissa who came for the holiday festivities.

The Garifuna Museum is a must-see according to our travel guides. It's a bit out of the city, but since we figured it wasn't that far, we decided to walk. It was a long walk, but we got a better view of the city. The museum is only two rooms. The government provided funding for the museum and it was completed only 4 years ago. Garifuna Settlement Day has been a national holiday for 31 years. The museum has World, Belize and Garifuna History timelines, Garifuna information and photographs, artifacts and a video of Cassava bread making, maps of the Garinagua movement into Central America, and another historical documentary. Currently showcased is an Andy Palacio exhibit, the famous local musician who recently died. Near the exit are also some Garifuna texts. Lo and behold, Fabian's first edition book was under the glass!

For dinner, we decided to eat the local festival fare. I ordered the tuluk? served with fish in a coconut milk broth. The fish was tasty, but very boney. The tuluk was lightly seasoned, but not entirely appetizing to me. Tanya's dish was also a bit of a mystery to us. I took a couple bites for adventure, but couldn't chow down more. Well into the meal, Bethany pokes at her dish and asks me, "How much of the head did you eat?" Baffled, I looked at into her bowl. Soaking in her coconut milk was an entire fish head, eye included! "Um, I didn't get a head," I said, half-relieved, half-disgusted. Tanya and I both had gotten tails. Explains why the meat was a bit easier to rip off the bone for me.

Afterwards, we attended the soccer game: Belize City vs. Dangriga. I heard from someone that this is the biggest in-country game of the year. The stadium was packed with fans. Here we randomly ran into Bethany's Devon. The game was interesting. We cheered for Dangriga and they won! It was exciting to finally watch a full live game of soccer in Belize. I was surprised my roommates were even into it.

I had planned on staying up late for the night activities. However, at 10:30pm I was dead to the world. My roommates stayed out to midnight. I wished I could have stayed awake longer, but I wanted to be up bright and early for the organized events in the morning.

Wed 19th Nov 2008
At 6:45, Alissa, Bethany and I woke up ready to watch the Reinactment of the Garinagua coming land in Dangriga. Actors rowed 3 boats down the river while others played drums and performed cultural dances. We watched as ladies dressed in traditional Garinagua wear danced to the beat. The moves were simple; the costumes were anything but. The women wore patterned dresses with streamers attached. Also they had the traditional knee shakers on. Their masks had fencing with eyes painted on. On top is a headpiece contructed with sticks and more streamers. For comfort, they wore gym shoes. The audience formed a tight circle around the drummers and dancers. At some points, locals would enter the circle and dance to the beat.

The next event was the Mass spoken in Garifuna. I was excited to see the service. Since all the pews were filled and numerous people stood along the back, I took a seat on the floor in front of the first pew. A great view! Again, I was surprised that a white priest was conducting the service (just like at the mass I attended in San Ignacio). The church was filled mostly with Garinagua and people of African descent. The mass was filled with enthusiastic singing, drumming and swaying to the music. Although I couldn't understand the language, I sang lines from the songs that were repetitive and also tapped to the beat.

The official ceremony followed the mass. Alissa and Bethany opted to take naps, while I recruited Tanya (awake from her slumber) and we checked out the ceremony. It had barely begun by the time we had grabbed breakfast and had to meet back up with Alissa and Bethany. Back at the house, I fell asleep. The official ceremony lasted an hour or so longer - not much besides speeches and the parade followed.

I loved the parade! Children were everywhere! They were all so adorable in their yellow hand-made outfits. The ones in the parade danced, performed flips, drummed, rode on floats and more. The kids on the street ran after the floats that were throwing out candy. The community really went all out. After the parade went by, we at lunch. Since Dangriga just has the one large main street, the parade had to repeat itself going in the reverse direction! I chuckeld as it passed us for a second time.

Although the festivities ran through the night, there weren't anymore scheduled events, so we decided to head home. We thanked Fabian and his family for letting us stay at their place and purchased Fabian's book to donate to Cornerstone's library. From Dangriga to Belmopan we were fortunate to get seats. James Bus Line was requiring all passengers to be seated. However, almost the entire way to San Ignacio, the bus was packed to the brim. 7 of us were squashed in the back behind the last row of seats. There were probably 25-35 more people on the bus than the maximum capacity. A couple times the driver turned the lights off and it was so creepy we felt like we were on a roller coaster ride. Yet we survived.

5days, 4nights trip: $280BZ
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photo by: lrecht