Our first impressions of Belize were very favourable, there was a chill breeze in the otherwise muggy heat, gospel music and the sound of kids singing was coming from the school next door to our lodgings and there was the ever present sound of garifuna drumming in the air. Everyone seemed very friendly and who knew, but it was Garifuna Settlement weekend so parties aplenty planned - hooray.
On the friday we wandered round Punta Gorda and ate some nice rice and beans type staple food, and ordered our tea from Mr Gomier, the local tofu maker, in small towns such as this one has to order ones tea in advance rather than just show up. Then in the evening we went to the Battle of the Drums, held in Punta Gorda ( pop 4000) 's biggest venue, a kind of barn. 3 bands showed up much to the disgust of the organised who kept reminding the audience that 7 had registered but where were those rascals from livingston? The drumming was really cool, often accompanied by the Garifuna dancing which is hard to explain but involves a lot of arse jerking and stuff....
The next morning we set off early ish to the Maya village of Laguna on the local chicken bus. We were very keen to take part in an eco tourism scheme whereby several of the local villages have a guest house for tourists to stay in yet you have your meals and fun with the villagers. All the money you pay goes to the village and they take it in turns to dole our the responsibility for feeding and entertaining. The bus doesn't go direct to the village of course, so we walked the last 3 miles in baking heat and arrived in the village unannounced. Soon we were outside the guest house, a basic wood and thatch construction like all the other houses, waiting for our attendant to arrive.
Catalina soon emerged followed by 4 of her 5 children who were clearly excited at this break from the normal saturday routine of shinning up the Guava tree and looking after their younger siblings. We organised with Catalina that we'd like a village tour and a craft lesson and that sadly we'd only be staying one night, and she went off to rustle up lunch for us in one of the villagers houses.
We had lunch with Rosa whose grandfather had founded the village back in the 50s. I think she was also catalina's sister, in fact I think a lot of the village are part of this family. Her house was a similar dirt floor, thatch construction but as well as the fire and kemal for cooking on she also had a regular stove and a fridge freezer no less. I guess this is becasue of her 8 kids, only 3 remain so perhaps more money to buy such luxuries. We ate a very nice lunch of chicken stew whilst chatting to her daughter about general stuff, like the house roofs are massive but apparently if you get about 13- 20 men it only takes half a day to re thatch them! And other useful information like that.
After lunch, another lady Justina gave us a tour of the village. It is very small but we took the opportunity to ask Justina about lots of things, like we discussed the cost of education, she has 6 kids and it costs 2 belize dollars per term per kid, plus books and uniforms, so it's very expensive for them. But her father helped her buy a corn mill, so now she grinds corn and makes masa paste to make tortillas for her neighbours to help pay for it. Most people round her are farmers and typically grow corn, maybe rice and vegetables. There are pigs following us round, some of them are wild, and of course endless chickens and very thin cats and dogs!
AFter our tour we had a craft lesson which for me was a handy refresher on friendship bracelets. Unfortunately although not entirely unskilled in this area neither of us will be invited back to help out again I fancy. So we decied to support in other ways by buying a few of the crafts for ourselves to support the ladies of the village. Tea was at another house, chez Patricia, pedro and conceptiona... it was delicious, amazing plantains which I lwill learn to cook when we get home. They have a family with only 3 kids so as well as the regular thatched house they have a small concrete building which seemed to even have some christmas lights up in it! We chatted to Pedro about the queen and that sadly we didn't live near her but that evan has met her. and apparently sh'es been to punta gorda as well, belize being a kind of former colony and all, so that was nice.
The next morning we arose early, we'd gone to bed pretty early what with there being only an oil lamp to play yahtzee to, and had breakfast at catalina's house with her kids. their house was easily the most sparsly furnished. They didn't have any furniture and we as guests te our breakfast sititng on upturned buckets. her eldest made us fresh tortillas and we had the most delicous beans that had been in the fire all night cooking! and of course eggs, always eggs. We took some photos of them and promised to send them over to them so they can have a family portrait, and then sadly we had to say good bye... and start the trek back to the road to hitchhike or flag down a bus back to Punta Gorda for more Garifuna fun....
and my time it up so that will have to wait.