Friday, August 17, 2007


One of the most astonishing facts about Belize, is that it s hardly inhabited with about 350,000 people, of whom the most distinguishable are the Mayans, Garifunas, and plenty of Guatemala immigrants. Its a beautiful country full of forests, wildlife and beaches.

My first stop was Cayo where I went to meet up with a friend's cousin- Tim- who has been living there for 4 years. He's staying in a great house overlooking the beautiful forest around Cayo (San Ignacio). Lovely mornings on the porch with REAL coffee and lots of birds. One day we all went to the Pineridge Forest for swimming and exploring. Our rented Trooper broke down that same night and we ended up walking the last two blocks to his car-- Belizean style, I was told. BTW Tim's car is a story in itself bc it well represents life in Belize: He drove it into an unexpected river that flooded a bridge-- they had to drag it out of the river but the electronics have been shot since then. Someone threw a huge stone thru the window and he now uses this stone to set up the plastic needed to cover the window to keep the rain out. Then, just before I showed up, Tim banged on the dash to fix a rattle problem and punched a big hole in it.

Then I went to Dangriga for 3-4 nights. Now, this is considered the center of the Garifuna culture and Punta Rock. The Garifuna are an ethnic mix of Caribbean and African and are lovely people. They speak like they are reciting poetry-- a beautiful version of English that would be interpreted as highly descriptive street slang in the US. At first glance Dangriga's not the nicest looking town (the hotel owner was surprised to hear that we would be staying a second night). But the Garifuna are so charming and there were so many things going on, we just had to stay. Ahright mon! There was a cultural show with music and dancing one night. Great music! I LOVE the music! Imagine a town where you can walk down the streets in the evening and find that every house listens to good music-- Carribean, Latin, reggae, African, Garifuna beats. Que bonito! You should see these women dance. Their hips (read: ass) move as an altogether independent body and they risk some moves that border on vulgar-- a woman jumped up on stage to dance and stopped several times dramatically to flex her crotch muscles for the crowd. Throughout all of this, there was this multiple day dugu (spiritual healing) ceremony going on at a spiritual center (made of bamboo and thatch), which we attended intermittently. I joined in some of the dancing, which is accompanied by 3 big hand drums and lovely singing. The last day that we attended began with greeting the fisherman at the beach, who were bringing in seafood for the ceremony. It was a bit of a rough town (Lots of crackheads; we got robbed at gun point on the street one night, can you believe?) but it was completely exotic and interesting to me.

Spirit center in Dangriga.
Dangriga at sunset.

I headed to Placencia with the chief objective of staying out of trouble for the last few days of my trip. My first day there, I met a couple of girls (India and Italy) who invited me to share a room with them. They had a full out efficiency with a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, and big veranda on the second floor of a wooden building (30$/night for the whole place!). It was perfect! Beaches were lovely, place was chill, sun was hot, and the water was clear. A perfect ending to over 3 months of travel in Latin America.

Quechi Mayan boys selling crafts made by their families.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Itza Mayans

I am on the other side of the lake (close to Flores in Northern Guatemala) in a little pueblo called San Jose. It is a very old town of several hundred years-- fully Itza Mayan. I´m staying with a family who is very (very) basic. I have my own little room enclosed in plastic and concrete with a tin roof. I eat carbs and carbs and more carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our toilet is a couple of holes in the ground (but fairly clean). And the mother of the house cooks on a fire-- yesterday I made tortillas! She´s got two ducks and 1 pig and I spend some time everyday watching them roam around and eat stuff (I like the ducks). I live at the top of the hill-- almost next to the Spanish school. The school is outside in a big garden overlooking the lake and we look at the wildlife that come to the garden everyday during my class. I am the only student at the school, so everything is one-on-one. The teacher is so-so, I tell her what and how I want to learn. She´s great for conversational practice but terrible with explaining grammar. I get my own private guide everyday-- and he is a really fabulous guide and speaks like he is reading out of book! Today we are going to another Mayan ruin for my own archaelogical and ecological tour. Yesterday I had a tour around this town of 3000 people. Tomorrow we are going to a cave. Some of the houses are still traditional with mud walls and thatch roof (photo).

Here´s the two main reasons why I am here: 1. The lake is stunningly blue and clear and completely beautiful. I make a point of swimming and spending time there everyday. The weather is good almost everyday-- too hot actually. 2. There is alot of use of plants here. They make soap and shampoo, weave and dye cloth, make plant based jewelry, collect and eat local plants, and use medicinal plants. I am also one of only 4 foreigners in this whole town-- I have only talked the Japanese volunteer who can only speak Spanish. I am Spanish speaking all day and it gets pretty tiring (no hablo Ingles nunca). BUT, I´ve learned tons already in 2 days. I´ll spend about a week here and then move on to Belize.

My room.