24/03/2012/10:54 pm, Placencia, Belize
We met a group of serious looking dreadlocked fellows as we walked along the sandy path from Wallen's grocery store. We said hello and passed each other until the last one in the group stuck out his hand with a slip of paper. It announced, "Emmeth Young and the Talla Walla Vibrations - Live Belizean and African Drumming at J. Bird's Bar tonight at 7."
My little brain cogs clicked and I exclaimed, "Oh! I read about Emmeth in the Lonely Planet Guide! He's supposed to be really good!" The whole group halted, smiles appeared, Emmeth himself walked back and shook our hands and we promised to show up.
Are we ever glad we did!
J Bird's is a distinctly unfancy bar; a pool table, a couple of dart boards, a bar and a small porch on the beach - next to the Shell Station. We got there about 7:30, heard a few practice drumbeats inside the empty bar, and hesitantly walked up on the porch to join a few laid back rasta guys. I don't know why I am still surprised about the welcome unlikely looking people give us, but it happened again. Chairs were hauled up along with (very laid back) greetings and we sat and conversed for a few minutes. Once again, we had taken a start time as a "real" start time, instead of a "sometime after that" start time so we chatted a few minutes before the beat started and we moved indoors.
Emmeth was in full regalia with colourful pants and sleeveless shirt and dreadlocks flying everywhere, the Talla Wallas wore green woven shirts and toque-type hats. Double ended drums and djembe drums filled the corner and these four guys made them sing. The rhythms were intricate and subtly varying. It was like jazz, where each takes a turn in the lead. The songs lasted 15 - 20 minutes and I cannot imagine how they had the strength and steadiness to keep the beat that long. Emmeth and one of his students riffed off each other, and when a white guy visitor (also a drummer) took a seat with them, there were 3 of them playing off each other while the other 2 kept that bass pulse. It was absolutely awesome and mesmerizing. The visitor said it was like being in a car going 90 miles an hour and knowing if you can just hang on it will be OK. His smile was ear to ear.
When they took a break 2 hours later, Emmeth explained that the higher toned drums are the sun and the moon, while the deep toned ones are the earth. Thunder and lightening each had its own sound, and I know that's what I was hearing when the hands flew and staccato notes came ripping forth. The music we were hearing combined Belizean and Creole (Kriol) traditions and there is a wealth of history and stories in the rhythms. These fellows started playing when they were 10 year old boys and are now 18 - 20; Emmeth teaches drumming and drum making, and as one of the bass drum guys said - "This is what we do. We make drums, we play drums, we learn and we practice." Emmeth seemed really tickled that we, gringos a few decades older than he, had read about him ("easily one of Belize's most respected Creole drummers") and recognized his name. Thanks again Lonely Planet Guide!
It was a great pity that the room never did fill up with people - a few visitors came and went, and a handful were there as we left, tired but with senses filled and knowing that we had spent a few hours with an artist.
24/03/2012/5:41 pm, Placencia, Belize
With the laundry delivered to Ther on Saturday morning, Jim and I headed off to explore this pretty town, and it is so nice to have a place to stretch our legs. As much as Cucumber Beach Marina in Old Belize filled our need for a safe place to tie up the boat while we fetched and delivered visitors and made land trips, it offered no walking opportunities and we've missed that. (With hindsight, we surely do wish we had arranged for visitors to fly in here!)
In contrast, Placencia boasts not only lots of crisscrossing sandy paths to roam, but also a mile-long concrete footpath running past gift shops and restaurants, tour companies and inns, bordered by brilliant flowering shrubs, raked sand yards and friendly artisans.
We got in a good walk and then headed for Above Grounds, the coffee shop that feels like a tree house. It's a sweet little place with stools and bars on different levels, a jungly view, good coffee and free wifi. How can you beat that?
We chatted with a Mayan woman who gets up at 4 am to catch a bus in Punta Gorda and bring her baskets and jewellery up here where there is more opportunity to reach the tourists. These folks work hard at both creating their wares and marketing them. Along the footpath we met a woman who asked if we might be interested in a tour to the Monkey River. She had one leaving on Sunday and told us her shop was just up the way if we wanted to stop by. (Good thinking on her part because we went back later and booked it.) Another encounter was with a group of dreadlocked guys who gave us a little piece of paper that set us up for the evening, and you'll hear about that in the next post. At the Paradise Resort next to Yoli's, we joined Carol and Roger (Androsian) as we set up computers, enjoyed frosty drinks and bought homemade cinnamon bread from a couple of passing boys.
And of course, before we headed back to our own sweet spot for a swim and a nap, we had to make one more stop at Tutti Fruitti's!
24/03/2012/5:31 pm, Placencia, Belize
After a perfectly glorious sail down from Colson Cays we eased through the deep but narrow channel into Placencia's big anchorage and were immediately hailed by a passing dinghy. "Hey Madcap! Good to see you. Want to join us for dinner?" Now that's a welcome - a dinner invitation even before the anchor is down!
The folks in the dinghy were Barb and Bob (Tif Blue) and it was a treat to put a face to the name of the fellow we chatted with by VHF as we sailed overnight from Puerto Morales to San Pedro a few weeks ago.
Speaking of sailing, we had the most wonderful 2 days from Cucumber Beach to Colson Cays for a quiet overnight, and then on down to Placencia. We might have burned a litre of fuel in the whole 2 days. The wind was steadily E and ranged from 10 to 20kt, allowing us to travel with various configurations of sail on gentle seas in the most perfect of sailing conditions. At Colson, we dinghied around a bit, had a good swim and checked out a couple of pretty little coral heads. A seriously large motor yacht (never did see the name) was anchored off the south cay while we were off the north one, giving us company as well as privacy.
With the anchor well set (we have switched to the Bruce anchor) here in Placencia among 18 other boats we dinghied ashore to Yoli's thatched hut on the beach. We've heard of Yoli's from other cruisers and from the guidebooks and it lived up to its reputation as a friendly gathering spot for cruisers and the folks who came for a visit and never left. The beer was cold, conversations were easy and the breeze welcome. We chatted with many folks including Doug (Serendipity) and the following:
In yet another of those "small world" experiences that we continue to find, it turns out that Barb and Bob's good friends are Sydney and Dave (Hannah Bay) and Heidi and Cabot (Chewink). Cabot and Heidi are also friends of Sandi and Steve (Yonder). So, S&S, if your ears were twitching last evening, it's because we were all sending good wishes to you and missing you!
The Tif Blues, Chewinks and Hannah Bays introduced the Madcaps to Placencia in fine style. We found our way from Yoli's up the little dirt path, over the gravel pile and up the road to Omar's only to find it closed. A short discussion later, Bob led the way into Tommy's - the local Chinese restaurant next door. I never thought I'd be eating Chinese in Belize, but the chicken, pork, shrimp dishes with vegetables and rice were very good, very reasonably priced and kind of a nice change from our recent diet of ... well ... Belizean fish, vegetables and rice!
It was nearing 9 o'clock by the time we finished up and Bob insisted that we pay a visit to Tutti Fruitti - the "must visit" ice cream shop around the corner. In fact he was so worried that we might miss it that he asked our server to call ahead and ask if it would stay open until 8 of us hot footed it up the street to fill our "dessert stomachs". Sure enough - the gentleman stood waiting for us with scoop in hand and dished up cones and cups of cappuccino, coconut, lime, papaya, pistachio. Oh - bliss! (The pic is from our next visit - a scant 14 hours later!)
They headed off north on Saturday morning and we were sorry to say goodbye to them so soon but we know we'll meet up again as we sail these waters next season. After a SSB radio check in on the North West Caribbean Cruisers Net, we loaded up bags and bags of laundry and toted it ashore to Ther's house. Unfortunately we woke her up, but she happily agreed to have it clean and dry for us later this afternoon, leaving us free to explore this pretty and friendly town.
Flowers, friends, clean laundry, turquoise water - we're loving this country. You'd better Belize it!