Left Guatemala and headed for the Belizean border, and with it, felt I had left the Central America I was (somewhat) used to, and entered a much more Caribbean country. Was met by a familiar face when I exchanged my surplus quetzales (Guatemalan currency) in order to get a taxi to San Ignacio, a town 10 or so miles in. Due to the early start, it was only 11.30 by this point and knowing that I needed to be in Placencia (town in the south part of the East coast) I thought I’d plough on, get all of the travelling done in a day and stop off in a town called Dangriga, a couple of hours north. Ended up having an excellent couple of days there. Great. Decision.
Met a lovely American couple (Tom & Julia) who were also going to Dangriga and they showed me the system for how to use the buses (you don’t buy a ticket, just get on and wait for someone to come up and ask for money). One nice feature of them is that the driver pumps out music for all of the passengers, rather than everyone individually plugging in their iPods. On the way to Belmopan, we had some big tunes, but on the second leg it seemed to be a station dedicated to cataloguing all the recent deaths in the country with details of the funerals and surviving relatives. All a bit morbid really.
Earlier in the day I had been recommended ‘Val’s Backpacker Hostel’ in Dangriga, so once I got into town, headed straight there. Got shown to the dorm by Dana (who runs it, and named the business after her Mother), handed over my laundry (which the hostel doubles up as) and hopped into a hammock. First priority was to recharge batteries (iPod / camera / myself..) and by morning, this was complete.
Over breakfast of waffles and fruit, chatted with Dana about what to do in town. I’d heard earlier the week of the Garifuna culture (from a blend of mixed Carib and African ancestry particular to the Caribbean coast in Central America) and Dana proudly informed me of her friend Pen Cayetano, a revered artist who lived a few blocks away. Dangriga is the Belizean hub of the Garifunan culture (over half of the population still speak the language I’m told) and 3 weeks earlier it hosted the National annual ceremony – Settlement Day – a day of celebration in recognition of the first Garifunan people to arrive in Belize.
When I got to Pen’s house/ workshop/ gallery, I was met by another lovely American couple (Cathy & Steve) who were looking after the place, as he was out of town. Cathy and I toured the rooms with Garifunan music blasting out of the CD player that was lying around. As I took in the artwork, Cathy could see that I was enjoying the music, and in an incredibly generous act, offered up some of her collection for me to put on my iPod. With that, I had one last look of the place and headed back to the hostel (via a chat with the local drummaker to learn more about how the instrument is made, after it was suggested I should visit).
At Cathy & Steve’s, managed to avoid the hazardous territory of wiping all of the music off my iPod, and left not only with a densely packed Garifunan playlist, but also a host of others. As we worked through iTunes, the repeated interaction between Cathy and I was broadly: “but you’ve surely heard of […]?”, she would then reply to my vacant expression with one of disbelief/ sympathy. And then drag and drop.
With a pocketful of new music, I returned to Val’s/ Dana’s for dinner. Earlier in the day I had asked if Dana could make an extra portion of whatever she was making, so that instead of cooking something mundane myself, I could try some authentic Belizean food. The dish was delicious: stew chicken (jerk marinated wings in a thick, spicy gravy), rice and bean (boiled in half water, half coconut milk) and baked plantain (basically a big banana).
Over dinner, the two of us discussed many things including what I did back in England. In response to her politely blank nod when I said “private equity”, I explained that it was broadly about buying small businesses and making the better and bigger (I decided to pass on the details of mezzanine financing and LBOs). This led to the natural reply of how she could improve her business. To this I said she should offer to cook more in the evenings for guests if they like, and even get them to help in the actual preparation / cooking of the food. Almost immediately after, the two girls in the other dorm popped their head around the kitchen door and asked where in town they could get local, traditional food at this time of night. Floy Consultants had just won its first client.
The conversation then ran to other things, and I expressed my my own enjoyment in cooking, which Dana was pleased to hear. I started rattling off how I would make various dishes, and we discussed in depth different ingredients / compared techniques for how we would use them. My parting gift was a couple of recipes (albeit not the most scientific) on how to make macaroni cheese, and roast chicken. These can be found in the Guest Book.
Morning came, and after sorting a couple of things in town, I headed back to bus station for Placencia, my original reason for heading south. I’m not sure whether all future (random) resting stops will be as fun and interesting; they have a lot to do to beat Dangriga.