Today, we walk to Fronteras, the nearby town, for breakfast. The path goes from wooden planks and dirt roads through forest trails to asphalt streets.
We eat at Bruno’s before wandering around town. It’s Saturday, so people are out for market day.
In the afternoon, we ride a fast launcha to Livingston. Along the way, the driver slows so that we have a great view of Castillo de San Felipe del la Lara …
a small island with birds …
a small hot spring …
brief stops in a few small coves …
and a ride through the gorge of a limestone canyon on the way. The canyon’s beautiful white limestone walls are covered with rich … green … overgrowth. How disappointing. Well, the walls are quite tall.
Livingston is where the Rio Dulce empties into the Gulf of Honduras. It’s named after Edward Livingston, member of a prominent family that immigrated from Scotland. He was active in the Democratic-Republican political party organized by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1791-93 before it split into two parties. In 1801, he was U.S. Attorney for the district of New York while also serving as Mayor of New York. Edward wrote the Livingston Codes, the foundation upon which the United Provinces of Central America based their law in the early 1820s. The provinces later became Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Unfortunately, Livingston is not a very pretty town. There are restaurants and gifts shops up and down the main street, but the landscape slowly changes as we leave the area and head down to the shore to visit the Garifuna community. There are other communities of Afro-Caribbeans, Maya and Ladino peoples, but I will concentrate on the Garifunas.
In the mid-1600s, a ship or two, depending on which version you have, sank off the coast of St. Vincent. Many slaves survived and blended in with the Carib Indians. They intermarried and became the Black Carib, or Garinagu. They are better known as Garifunas, the name of their culture and language. In 1796, the Black Caribs joined the French to battle the Brits. The Brits won and their enemies were forced to leave. The Garinagu were allowed to go to Honduras. Eventually, many migrated to Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
An elderly gentleman greets us as we pass him. We stop and ask if we are going in the right direction. He says he is going there and can show us the way. We gladly fall in!
Julio is Garifuna and Spanish. He grew up in Livingston. Said he loved growing up there as a child, but the future wasn’t very bright. When the opportunity arose, he left for Los Angeles, then New York – two cities with the largest concentrations of Garifunas in the United States. He made a decent living and sent money home to the family. Thirty years later, Julio retired and moved back, to the memories of his childhood. When he was growing up, it was a beautiful little community with not many people. It has changed.
The air is quiet. Julio says there is a mass for dead relatives at church and many are there today. Waves gently roll over the sand. The peaceful shoreline belies the sad state of this community. It’s like the Guatemalan government forgot about the Garifunas and their needs.
There is no garbage service, so trash litters roadsides and where ever one wishes to drop food wrappers and containers.
A dilapidated nightclub, an abandoned, partially built apartment building and other uninhabited buildings are sad reminders of developers’ dashed hopes.
We arrive at Gamboa Place, an authentic Garifuna “restaurant” to taste a favorite local dish, Tapado. It’s a seafood soup, eaten with a whole fried fish. The woman who owns it is another of those who left to find work and send money home. She went to Belize, where there is a large Garifuna community, before coming home and opening her own business. She said Belize has been making more of an effort to save the Garifuna culture and language, but it’s a struggle. It is said that there are approximately 300,000 descendants around the world, with less than 100,000 in Central America and only 90,000 native speakers left.
Julio is comfortable eating at an outdoor restaurant where I notice that a man is washing dishes in well water. We are happy that the soup will be boiled and the fish fried. It takes a long while before we get our food. It finally arrives and is delicious!
A curious dog comes by to check out the food and is shooed away. One feline visitor is quite upset we didn’t share fish bones.
On the trip back to Rio Dulce, we are like the water taxi. People are dropped off and others are picked up. Brian made a new friend at one of the stops.