Land of Garifuna and Rasta

Trip Start Nov 10, 2007
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Trip End Nov 15, 2009


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Flag of Belize  ,
Wednesday, February 18, 2009

My next stop in Belize was Dangriga on the Caribbean Coast.  I took the bus from San Ignacio and with a fast and easy change in Belmopan got into Dangriga in 3 hours.  I found Val's Hostel and settled into the dorm.  Val has a laundry, hostel, ice cream, Internet and...massage!  Perfect!  The dorm room was spacious, the bathroom huge and the veranda had a view of the water.  Most evenings, there was a pick up soccer game in the park across the street.  Turns out many of the players are on the national team!  After being in a private room for a couple of weeks, it was nice to hang out with other travelers and I met some great people there. 

I had been reading about the Garifuna people ever since I'd been in Nicaragua, but I didn't really know anything about them.  Here in Dangriga is a museum dedicated to the Garifuna culture and it was really interesting. The roots of this culture are actually South America.  Arawak Indians began their migration into the Caribbean islands from the Orinoco River Delta in present day Venezuela in around 300 A.D.  The Carib Indians followed starting in 1200.  These were the ancestors of the Taino Indians that Columbus came in contact with.  In 1635, 2 slave ships wrecked off the island of St. Vincent and the West African slaves mixed with the Caribs to create the Garifuna. By 1763 the French had a presence on the island and traded with the Garifuna.  Then the British wanted to lay a claim to the island.  In this fight between the French and the British, the Garifuna sided with the French and had a peace pact with them.  In 1796, after more than 30 years of fighting, the French surrendered to the British. In 1797 the British exiled the surviving Garifuna to Roatan, Honduras which was controlled by the Spanish.  Half of them starved and died from disease on the trip.  Although the British had supplied the Garifuna with tools and seeds, their arrival on Roatan was during the rainy season so they could not cultivate food.  They asked the Spanish to take them to the mainland which they did.  Over the years, the Garifuna spread out from the mainland coast, north to Belize and south to Nicaragua.  Today there are 43 Garifuna settlements along the coasts of those countries.  Interestingly, the language has its roots in the South American Arawak family along with Carib and  many English, French and Spanish words.   But only 5 words have been traced to Africa and even that link is weak.  The museum had some videos that showed traditional crafts as well as drumming and dancing.  The culture is struggling to survive in modern times and I heard several people lament the fact that the youth are abandoning the traditions and would rather emigrate to the US than live the subsistence fishing life of their elders.  

And what about Rasta?  I've heard of Rastafaris and they are well known for the use of the sacred herb ganja...my kind if people.  And somewhere in the back of my mind was a factoid that Rasta has something to do with Haile Selassie, former King of Ethiopia.  Huh?  So I decided to do some research...the name Rastafari is actually Haile Selassie's real name: Ras Tafari.  Ras means "head" or duke and Selassie's pre-coronation name was Tafari Makonnen.   Rastas believe that Selassie is the reincarnation of Jesus.  In fact,  Haile Selassie was the 225th in an unbroken line of Ethiopian monarchs who descended from the Biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Who knows?  I did like what I read though: they are apolitical, regard the body as the temple and therefore do not (generally) build temples, follow a clean diet and don't drink alcohol.  They also believe that God is inside all of us and we are therefore all divine.  I don't adhere to any religion but human divinity and sacred cannabis certainly speak to me.

Rastas are known for the matted hairstyle called dreadlocks.  There are references in the  Bible which Rastas cite including the "seven locks" of Samson.  Rastafari associate dreadlocks with a spiritual journey that one takes in the process of locking their hair (growing dreadlocks). It is taught that patience is the key to growing dreadlocks, a journey of the mind, soul and spirituality. Its spiritual pattern is aligned with the Rastafari movement. The way to form natural dreadlocks is to allow hair to grow in its natural pattern, without cutting, combing or brushing, but simply to wash it with pure water.
 
The main tourist attraction here is actually off shore: Tobacco Caye.  After hearing about Caye Caulker I decided to skip it - too touristy - and go to Tobacco Caye instead.  Brian from Arkansas and Nana from Finland and I arranged to take a snorkel trip with Malcolm.  We left Dangriga at about 9 a.m.and headed out to the Caye.  From Val's I could see the silhouettes of palm trees on the watery horizon and it took about half an hour to get there.  The first thing we saw there was this Osprey nesting on the dock!                                                                                                    We snorkeled off the boat on the reef which is just yards from the caye.  Saw some beautiful fish and colorful coral.  My wish was to see rays and I saw two different types!  Amazing!  Also saw conch and Malcolm bagged a few to bring home.  No sharks though...still on my list!  After snorkeling we hung out on the caye a while.  There are two places to stay out there and it's a very relaxed place.  Met some nice folks - very friendly and outgoing!  And had a G&T that almost knocked me out for only $2.50!  I had a second because, well why not?  Fortunately he didn't make it as strong as the first or they would've had to carry me back to the boat! On our way back we swung by Bird Caye.  I had seen it in the distance on the way out - there was a thick cloud of birds circling the caye. Here I saw something else I've wanted to see for a while:  the male Magnificent Frigate  Bird has a red sac that he inflates when mating.  Gorgeous!  The island was populated predominately by frigate birds but there were also a few cormorants and boobys.

Back at at town we motored up the river a bit to look for iguanas and maybe crocodiles.  no crocs today but we saw several orange iguanas and some nice birds including a night heron and a kingfisher.  When we docked back in town we found ourselves in the middle of the daily fish market selling the days catch. Malcolm had dome some fishing while we were out but didn't have much luck so we decided to buy some fish and salad fixings and have a BBQ on the beach in front of Val's.  I bought a large mackerel and 2 red snappers for $7!  Malcolm offered to prepare the fish and cook it if we took care of the salad and wine.  Dangriga has a great fresh market so we had plenty to choose from and made a simple and delicious feast!






Speaking of wine...the day I arrived turned out to be Nana's 40th birthday so she, Brian, another traveler and I took her out to dinner at the local Chinese Restaurant.  Nana wanted to order a bottle of wine and we took a look at the menu which had photos of the bottles.  I was not feeling too enthusiastic about the choices when I saw that one of the 5 was Boone's Farm!  For $12.50US!  Brian and I had a good laugh about that.  Clearly that one was out and the only one that looked drinkable was Sunrise which is from Chile.  But, natch, they were out of that one.  So, back to the menu.  The waitress proudly said that the other 3 were Belizean wine and I'm sorry to say this did not instill confidence.  One was Cashew Wine...hmmm.  The waitress recommended the Blackberry so that's what Nana ordered.  It was pretty bad.  Nana gamely drank most of the bottle.  I confess to being afraid of a terrible hangover if I drank more than a glass so I held back.    The meal wasn't much better (sweet and sour conch) and when I was in bed later it felt like I had a lead ball in my stomach.  Oh well.  It was a fun evening with lots of laughs.
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Where I stayed
Vals Hostel

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