Orinoco is a Garifuna village only accessible by boat. There are no roads, just wide concrete paths which look of recent construction. The Garifuna are of African origin but were already living on the island of Santa Lucia when the British colonisers arrived. The details were unclear to us but the main message is that, although imprisoned in the past, they escaped being slaves by relocating to the Atlantic coast of Central America. Orinoco, founded in 1905, is the southernmost community – there are others as far north as Guatemala. The Garifuna have strong cultural links with the other parts of the Caribbean.
We booked into the Hostal Garifuna, set up and run by Ms Kensy, and ordered Rondon for our supper – it’s a local soup made of seafood and vegetables such as cassava and plantain. Hostal Garifuna is very simple but pleasant. Ms Kensy appears to be one of the community leaders and is proud to maintain the Garifuna heritage.
Kevin, a local guide, gave us a walking tour of the village. Kevin is also a traditional musician and teacher, dedicated to maintaining the Garifuna culture and lifestyle. Despite having performed in cities across Nicaragua he is determined to find a Garifuna bride and acknowledges that he may have to travel to achieve this. With 1800 Garifuna said to be resident in the area it occurs to us that the gene pool may need refreshing.
On Saturday afternoon Orinoco felt very relaxed. There was a lot of music, mostly reggae, but, sadly, none was live. A baseball match was in progress and the women’s basketball team were practising. People were sitting outside and most of them greeted us as we passed.
The annual Garifuna festival takes place during the week of 19 November. Some of the buildings are only used in the few weeks leading up to it, according to Kevin. This is where the women gather in the run up to the festival to make costumes, decorations and so on.
Again, the simple dwellings, mostly timber, were all in good condition. Kevin explained that, on the recommendation of the community leaders, residents unable to build their own home could be provided with a ‘government house’ – the ones we saw looked well designed and sturdily built.
There are two modern schools, elementary and secondary, after that high school students travel to Bluefields. The medical centre is staffed by Cuban trained medical staff. There is an electricity generating station providing power between and 6am and midnight and the inevitable Claro mobile telephone tower. On the edge of the village we saw the hurricane refuge shelter which would be use in an emergency by people from more remote villages as well as Orinocans.
And so to gifiti! We saw the still where it is made in someone’s garden, a complex arrangement involving a dugout canoe and various drums and pipes. Ms Kensy produced a large recycled rum bottle, already loaded with herbs and bark, which was sent out to be filled with the finished product. It cost 500 Cordobas, £18, quite expensive here!
Served neat it was too raw for us but diluted with Coke we managed a couple of glasses. Obviously an acquired taste, we are hauling the bottle back for Paulette to enjoy! The Rondon was a disappointment – a piece of fish and some vegetable chunks in a thin gravy. I think depends on what’s available.
Fortunately the music stopped when the power went off – we were early to bed for the 4.30 start to our journey away from the coast through cowboy country.