...real Garifuna territory
Livingston is like no other place that I have visited in Guatemala. It is a bit of a mission to get to, but if you are feeling adventurous and don't mind getting down to the nitty gritty, it's well worth the trek. You can only get there by boat from either Rio Dulce or Puerto Barrios. Gary from Kangaroo had organised for Felix, Ed & I to take a transfer boat from Rio Dulce which lasted about two hours and included a little tour of the River. Such a beautiful part of the world!
Livingston itself is basically a giant marsh. It is really sticky and the air is hot and thick. It is a raw experience and very far from the manufactured tourist experience that you sometimes get while you are travelling. Even though it is more hard going, it was certainly refreshing because it felt all the more real. The culture and heritage are rich, and if you don't mind getting back to basics, it is an authentic experience. The laid-back village is renown for its Garifuna people who settled here and are of West-African descent. The people originally came to the Caribbean Island of Saint Vincent but subsequently escaped and then mixed with the local (and now disappeared) Arawak people, and eventually settled in Livingston (they are essentially "shipwreck slaves"). Their culture and lifestyle is vastly different to the other parts of Guatemala, which makes it such a treat to see! Wait, am I still in Guatemala?!
First impressions of Livingston were interesting (I would be lying if I didn´t say that I was doubting as to why we decided to have an overnight and not just a day trip). I believe that by reiterating my initial comment upon arrival, "shit, I'm glad you guys are with me" to Ed and Felix, adequately captures the intense arrival process. When you arrive at the dock, you are greeted by packs of local Garifuna hustlers trying to offer you tours, hotels, drugs, anything else that you can think of. It had been a long time since I had been properly hustled and when you combine that with the thick hot air and trying to navigate disembarking a rickety old boat with a giant backpack and a small pack, it was overwhelming. To put it mildly, I felt a little out of practice. Fortunately, a representative from our hostel was waiting patiently for us at the back of the pack and we were off (and unscathed).
Aside from the intense arrival, the rest of Livingston was very low key (the arrival was a far cry from its true representation!). The people were very friendly, and we never faced an issue we could´t handle. In hindsight, the experience of the hustlers wasn't all that bad, but I guess just a huge contrast to the tranquil experiences I had been having to date. It was definitely a shock to the system. But hey, we all need to make a living, right?
Our hostel itself was nothing to write home about; it was located in a swamp and a short walk from town, but the atmosphere, the volunteers and other travellers were great. And to be honest, what I have now discovered, that is all that matters.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in hammocks and reading books in between spurts of socialising with other travellers. It was the ideal lazy day. In the late afternoon, Felix and I decided to go on a walk to discover what was on offer in Livingston. I would be lying if I said it definitely was a bit rough and very run down, but in the roughness there was a great deal of raw beauty. Now, this is what travelling is all about.
That evening, Felix and I ventured into the town for some traditional Garifuna cuisine (when in Rome, right?!). We were advised to try the Tapado which is rich coconut based soup that is made with whole fish and topped off with lime juice. We paid extra coin for the "especiale" Tapado which in addition to the fish, included a whole host of different seafoods, including octopus, sea snail, mussels, calamari, conch, and topped off with plantains. Once you add a little bit of hot sauce, you have quite a finger licking good meal in front of you! Following dinner, we made our way back to the hostel and chilled there for a while before I sent myself to bed.
The following morning post brekkie, Felix, Dylan (a friend of Felix´s from previous travels that we ran into in Livingston) & I ventured back into Livingston for our final look around before we boarded another short boat ride back towards Rio Dulce to a hostel called Roundhouse. During our venturing, we came across a local Garifunian bloke called Philip "Polo" Flores, who was a local musician that also moonlights as a tour guide through the Garifuna village and also hands out flyers for Roundhouse (fitting!). After a short discussion with Philip about where we had been in Livingston and what we had seen, Philip had advised us that we had failed to see the real local Garifunian village (as most tourists do because it's a bit complicated to get to!). It was definitely a very interesting experience and I was so happy to have met him (he's a local legend!).
Post our tour with Polo, we made our way back to the hostel and waited for our pick up for Roundhouse. We weren't sure how long we were going to stay, but were definitely keen for a couple of nights of relaxation before making the trek to Belize.
Hope this finds you well, wherever it is in the world that you are!
The shores of Livingston...definitely not a swimming beach (in my opinion, although the locals swim). I took a few creative liberties here and showed the nicer photos of the water.
Local boats at shore
Four little piggies on a trot and a falling down house...this is what I love! All the amazing things you spy when you travel the road less travelled...
The local laundromat...communal living!
All I can say is YUMMMMMMMMMMM! So rich, so decadent...maybe I should´t have split it??? We should have gotten our own...perils of being a lowly backpacker!
The streets of Livingston
More of the streets...
It is customary in Guatemalan culture to have a large procession of people when you mourn the death of a family member/friend. I didn´t know this at first and was wondering why there were so many sad people following a ute around the town.
Me and my best mate, Polo...what a legend!
Polo´s village...still facing the effects of a hurricane that tore their village apart a few years back. Very sad. As well as facing issues regarding their housing, they are also facing serious health issues regarding diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis, etc.
Look at those cheeks! Guatemalan kids are the cutest!!! This little cutie was all smiles for me as we were following her and her mother back to our hostel.