Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Punta Rock in Punta Gorda and Placencia

I'm still on cloud nine from my trip South. Not that it was a pretty one - the road was rough and the rain came down like buckets on the first morning. It cleared up enough for us to get a glimpse of one georgeous sunset on the road from Dangriga to Hopkins village, where I sat in the Ranger and watched some boys play basketball until the sun went down.

After sunset we gathered strength over fresh fish and rice steamed in coconut milk. Then we got on the road again, traveling back up the main highway for 9 miles and then on the rough road towards the peninsula of Placencia and the village of Seigne Bight. It was a ride that by boat would have taken half an hour, but because of the roads ended up taking us almost two.

My last time in Placencia only four years ago, I flew on a commuter jet from Belize City. Even in the dark (there are still no streetlights), the changes on the road were dramatic, and I was not prepared. Vacation villas dotted each side of the road, then, every odd mile, the awning of a new resort. The old resorts have names like Jaguar Paw and Hamanasi Inn, and even the entry grounds for the luxury ones blend somewhat with the dense tropical surroundings. But as we turned the curve on the road heading straight toward the seafront and Placencia we saw the beginnnings of a white concrete fence, with bright white lights at each post, stretching for hundreds of yards around a lot of several acres and a white mansion on a hill. In the dark, it was the brightest and most surreal (and obscene) vision I had seen in this part of the country. Later we found out that it is a new resort owned by Barry Bowing, an American real estate and hotel mogul. We continued down the road to Francis Ford Coppola's place, Turtle Bay Resort, a beachfront hotel much more tastefully done, with thatch roofed cabanas, wading pools and tropical lillies, Balinese wood carved furniture and stone turtle sculptures everywhere.

After a drink made from scotch and coffee at Turtle Bay we made it to our destination, a concrete school in Seign Bight where my friend James Lovell was scheduled to perform. We wished we had had a few more drinks, because the only people there were the folks selling barbeque (instead of the traditional plaintain and fish dish "hudut" that I was looking forward to) and rice and beans. A quirky twist - this town runs so late that the artists arrived before the audience did. We shot the shit with the artists and listened to the crowd complain about the R & B being played by the D.J., until the concert finally started, beginning my weekend's musical journey into the world of punta, punta rock and paranda. I can only attempt to explain through rhythm. The bass is hung low and the piano chords pound heavy on top, like a fast bluesy rag. The other piano hand (and sometimes the guitar) plays high and loud around the melody and reminds me of bachata. But what drives the music is the drums, drumset and fast played African drums, the tempo between a merengue and a soca. From paranda (slow, acoustic) to punta rock (faster, synthesized) I would be in punta heaven all weekend.

The next morning back in Hopkins, before we left for Punta Gorda I went a few paces from the cabana over to the primary school. It was the day before the holiday, Garifuna National Settlement Day, and there was excitement in the air despite the rain. The children were dressed in their yellow and brown uniforms, having brought their costumes for the parade only to find out that the parade would not happen because a generator had not been found in time. But the children were still in good spirits, a D.J. named Ras Spin was cheering them up with punta rock. I sat on the front step with my Ipod and soon some of them, curious, approached me. I played them some salsa and they showed me their moves. "Cumbia," one of the little girls told me. "It's like punta" said another. I did not want to leave so quickly, but the rain had started again, so we packed up and headed down the Southern Highway for the concert later that night in Punta Gorda. Hope the pics can tell a bit of what words cannot.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Crossing Ceda Creek

I've been on the road like a madwoman on this trip. From one end of Belize to another, even over the border into Guatemala to Tikal (finally, for the first time) and Antigua (with a friend, for a wedding).

Weeks one and two I spent navigating the potholes and mudslides from this hurricane season in a Geo Tracker (stick shift, with no power steering) that I borrowed from a friend. I was fortunate that the rain held out until the third week. I've rented a car for my last few days here - one that can take the terrain down south and go easy on the video equipment that I'm transporting. I'm going to the Toledo district of Belize, where the Southern Highway meets the old road that was built beneath it and for about 20 miles it is all red clay, packed down with rocks and silt. The major roads here have been mostly finished, but they don't always reach all the way to places like Punta Gorda or Monkey River or Barranco. These are places populated by Garifuna and Maya, far away in distance and in culture from the capital. Travel from here to Belize City further north (but still a few hours south from the Mexican border) can take as much as six hours in bad weather, even though the country is only about the size of New Hampshire.

They say a tropical storm is approaching from the Southwest, so for the next couple of days I will be either glued to the radio or just taking the storm reports that come by word of mouth for what they're worth. In the meantime, I've had a chance to really see the land, for the first time in years. Such beautiful landscapes, everywhere. The latest breathtaking ride was a short one, from San Ignacio, in the West of Belize, just outside of town, where my uncle and his partner run a mahogany plantation called Ceda' Creek. I crossed one of the many rivers I've crossed this trip. This time I left the car on its bank and went across by boat, instead of wading through (Natalie, my jeans are still ruined!) It's not possible to convey my sense of the beauty of this place; I hope you all get a chance to visit one day.