San Ignacio area and Dangriga, Belize part 2

During our stay in San Ignacio, we traveled to two nearby resorts which offer not only top-rated (and pricey accommodations) but stops that might be of interest to other visitors in the area.   DuPlooys Jungle Lodge is located off the Western Highway, not far from the Guatemalan border.  Once again, we were glad we were driving a 4X4 as we left the main road.  Located on the property of the resort, we found the reason for our visit, the Belize Botanical Gardens.  The gardens can be explored as a self-guided tour or with a guide, with a pricing differential depending on your choice.  We opted for the self-guided and wandered around the well-marked, beautiful grounds without another person in sight.  The property sports a large Native Orchid House, but perhaps due to the time of year, not a single bloom was in sight during our visit.  It is a nice property, though, and a pleasant way to spend a little time.

Located off the same turnoff, we visited the Lodge at Chaa Creek.  But the reason for our trip was to visit the Natural History Museum and the Blue Morpho Butterfly Farm which are located on the property.  We opted for the unguided tours.  The History Museum is only 2 rooms but provides a comprehensive look at the history and geography of Belize.  Next, we moved on to the Butterfly Exhibit.  Here hundreds of the gorgeous, iridescent Blue Morphos can be observed in every stage of their development.  There is also a Rainforest Medicine Trail on the property which we bypassed, deciding on lunch and a cocktail at the resort instead.

Our last day in Belize we decided to take the 2-hour drive along the beautiful Hummingbird Hwy. to
Dangriga in the Stann Creek district.  The town had been the departure area for our visit to Tobacco Caye, years ago, but we had never taken the time to explore the area.  Known as a Garifuna community, we were interested in learning more about the culture.  The long and complex history of the Garifuna people started in 1635 following the sinking of two Spanish ships delivering black slaves to their buyers.  In a brief oversimplification, the slaves adopted the customs and language of the native Arawak of the Lesser Antilles.  Garifunas live in Belize (first arriving in 1802), Nicaragua, and Honduras, and continue to follow the customs, music, dance, religion, and language of the past.

Even though I had prepared a list of things to do in town, it quickly became apparent that it was not going to be that easy.  With no map and no street names on most of the streets, it was going to be a challenge to find places.  Driving along the waterfront we spotted the Dangriga Library and decided that would be a good place to ask for directions.  While the woman working on this day was extremely helpful, she confirmed that it was difficult to get around town because of the lack of signage and she had no map to help direct us.  But she did give us a list of  suggestions and pointed the way to our first stop, Why Not Island.

Located behind the Dangriga Central Market, we found the palapa which is the workplace of drum
maker Austin Rodriguez.  Now 86, Mr. Rodriguez has been carving drums for decades from mahogany, cedar, and mayflower.  His drums are sold all over the world.  But locally, drums are an integral part of Garifuna music.  He was busy at work when we arrived, and seemed grateful to take a break to show us his creations.  His daughters, Naurilee and Daytha, also carve drums.  Quickly realizing that we wouldn't fit one of Austin's creations in our carry-on luggage we opted for a mortar and pestle created by Daytha instead.  As she put the finishing touches on the piece, we devoured our stewed chicken and rice and beans lunch from the neighboring market under the palapa enjoying the cool sea breezes.

The next place on our revised list was the Pen Cayetano-Studio Gallery.  With no idea how to get there we stopped at the Fire Station to ask for directions.  Luckily, one of the men on duty hopped into the back of our vehicle to show us the route.  The colorful gallery houses work by Pen and his wife, Ingrid, and daughter, Mali.  The self-taught artist and musician was busily preparing for the upcoming Garifuna Settlement Day celebration (Nov. 19) which was going to include cultural foods and punta rock music, first created by Cayetano in 1978, and followed with his formation of the Turtle Shell Band the next year.  His tour included showing us the wines fermenting from the starfruit growing on the property.  While impressed with his artistic talents, we left the gallery without a painting but did purchase a CD of the Cayetano family's Punta Rock music.  Though no photos of his work in the gallery are allowed, the exterior of the building was painted by Pen, and gives a peak at the talent waiting inside.

Preschool next to the museum.
Our next stop was the Gulisi Garifuna Museum.  Luckily, a teacher at the school located next door
was able to open up the museum which was closed on our arrival.  The museum provides an opportunity to learn more about the extensive history of the Garifuna people.  While the regular guide was not available, the woman who opened the museum for us was knowledgeable and ready to answer questions and share stories. 

Another great trip to Belize, but we'll be back!

Alan and I with Pen Cayetano behind the gallery
The surprising underside of the Blue Morpho.

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