Garifuna New Years, Hokpins, Belize
Throughout the day on New Years Eve friends from the Rally roll into town.
Tad and Gaila actually arrived last night and had left a note on the bus while we were away. Nate/Sarah rolled in early morning and Matt/Isabelle surprised us all just as we were heading out to dinner. We had gotten some local insider knowledge from someone at the bar and we made a "reservation" with Tad and Gaila for some local garifuna cuisine at Terese's place. Making reservations means walking up to Terese who sits outside of her house and asking if we can come over for dinner. She throws her head back and laughs, counts the hours left before dinnertime and says to arrive at 6.
As we walk past the unassuming house set back from the road we realize even that house isn't hers, but she's cooking out of the small wooden shanty out back. In front of it and under the only light on the block (a light bulb tied to the tree with rope) she has setup a table service for us and is awaiting our arrival. We sit and enjoy a beer wondering what we'll be eating. "I always cook up a surprise" was all she was willing to divulge earlier today. We had heard from the gentleman at the bar that her fridge was currently full of armadillo, gibnut and fish and we were all secretly crossing our fingers for our preference. She finally walks out of the house with a plate filled by 4 large balls of dough, tells us that it's plantain and as she walks away from the table shouts over her shoulder "don't touch it". Terese isn't a woman you disobey. In between fits of laughter which heaves her heavy body in motion her face returns to a deep silent stare as she looks off at the street and the ocean beyond. Her frame is large and she speaks not only with a heavy garifuna accent but also in short blunt segments only 3 or 4 words at a time.Next time we see her she is walking out with bowls of soup. Belizean Sere (a fish and vegetable dish with a coconut broth), which Jen and I had in our last trip to belize and were hoping to stumble upon again. After instructions to begin we all start pinches off portions of the dough and throwing them into our bowl of broth. The flavor is rich and delectable. Bites with a portion of the boiled fish sitting at the bottom, or with a portion of the habanero we all shared between bowls are special treats that keep you diving deeper into the bowl. A terrific meal. We talk with Terese about the town and the influx of visitors which she thinks (so far) is for the better. She's a happy woman but one of few words. As we all finish our plates she simply sits staring off. We finally realize that there is no second course and ask if we should leave her, she simply throws her arms and says "do as you will". We slowly thank her, grab our things and head off…wondering how good the other two meat options might have tasted.
Instead of turning home we choose to follow the sounds of local drumming from up the street. Our ears lead us to a small guesthouse where a crowd has gathered outback for garifuna drumming and dancing. We watch from outside the railing while the group puts on a show of local customs and traditions. Their rhythm is intoxicating and it's hard not to get in the spirit as they coax the crowd into joining them for a dance. Many of the dancers' movements simply display typical actions in daily life (cleaning the floor, picking the fruit or throwing out the fishing line). Jen and I can't help but think of our nights dancing with friends in the kitchen back home in similar style (crossing the street, filling the shopping cart and the sprinkler).
We all convene back at the bar where we are parked and things are moving quickly into party mode. Ollie, our host it turns out is very technical and he and Pam have fashioned a big screen from a projector and sheet and even has a laser show beaming across the porch onto a tarp stretched under the palapa. It all feels very NYE, but somehow out of place in the middle of this sleepy town we've come to know over the last few days. Our group splits time inside the party playing foosball or enjoying the smaller group around the tailgate bar we setup on the bed of Nate and Sarahs rig. Other than a few locals who decided to crash our party and overstay their welcome by an hour or two the evening went perfectly. An evening that would typically cost us over $100 out on the town back home cost us $10bze all in…not too shabby. After new years we all begin winding down but realize we're starving and head out on foot south of town for what we heard is the only chance of food at this late hour. We walk seemingly forever but stop to ask a passerby and are told to continue on and that indeed the chinese restaurant is still open. Still open yes, but prepared to see six fairly inebriated gringos walking in at almost 3am…not so much. We all agree on a simple order of 4 plates of fried rice and a short time later are on our way and devouring the heaping containers covered in hab sauce as we meander back to the vehicles.
We all miss our families and friends back home. Still, it certainly wasn't difficult to find things to toast at the midnight hour. The thing that we all share is that we are already among the small percentage who made the leap. We each are on the trip of a lifetime and are lucky enough to be seeing things from the other side. It all seems hard to top next year, but we are certainly going to give it a shot. Its hard to believe that its now 2013, that the world didn't end and that we are sitting in the middle of central america. We are truly blessed and honored to have this opportunity and are excited to see what the coming months bring us.