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The Caribbean

The Caribbean coast doesn’t feel like the same country at all, more like a part of Belize which got drunk one night, wandered off, passed out, and woke up in Guatemala wondering what the hell happened.

Puerto Barrios and Livingston are the main towns, of which Livingston is the smaller and a more popular place to stay. It’s not accessible by road, but you can get there by riverboat from Rio Dulce, or (more cheaply) by lancha from Puerto Barrios. There’s not a huge amount to “do” exactly, as the beach is dirty and few people swim, but it’s worth going to just to hang out with Guatemala’s Garifuna population, who are completely and utterly stark staring mad.

The end of town around where the boats come in is Ladino and fairly dull, packed with the sort of shops and restaurants where they take the local culture, knock it unconscious, put it in a box and sell it to you with a label on. The Garifuna end is much more fun. Here it turns into a quintessentially Caribbean town of ramshackle houses painted gaudy colours, where dreadlocked youths skid up to you on rusty bikes trying to sell you weed and heartily obese grandmothers in floral aprons beam at you from verandas made of old planks and bits of corrugated iron.

The Garifuna are loud and exuberant, and happiest when they’re at some form of party. When they’re not at one of the discos on the beach, “daggering” each other to ear-splitting raggaeton, they’re in a bar or street party, singing and bashing away at drums. They can make a musical instrument out of pretty much anything, and play African-style music accompanied by some very odd traditional dances. And there’s barely a moment when there’s not a joint being passed round. A fair few like to smoke crack as well, but that’s a bit better hidden.

Garifuna food is delicious, involving every possible combination of fish, coconut and plantains you can think of. They’re extroverted and are always happy to tell stories about their own history, a few of which might even be true. Or not; it’s hard to say. There is also a Garifuna religion, which is a completely incomprehensible blend of Catholicism, Rastafarianism, ancestor worship, and Fuck-Knows-What-But-It’s-A-Good-Excuse-For-A-Party.

Cat Rainsford