Author’s note: This post is part of my series on my recent trip to Honduras. To read past posts on Honduras, click here.
On my last day in Roatan, one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras, I took a half day private island tour. I decided to take the tour as opposed to lounging around on the beach because I truly wanted to learn more about the unique Garifuna culture and heritage that makes this island so fascinating. As much as my body and soul wanted to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the resort at Barefoot Cay, a stronger inherent urge within my mind was begging me to do something more cultural than laying in the sun. Thus, despite my longing to do absolutely nothing for a day, my active mind got the best of me and I booked a five hour private tour with one of the island’s best locals, Ray Anthony.
Roatan, along with the other two Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras, has a rather unique history compared with the mainland. While the mainland of Honduras was conquered by the Spanish, the Bay Islands were conquered by mostly British marines who cruelly dumped over 2,000 Black Caribs from St. Vincent on the island in 1797. This group of former slaves eventually formed their own unique culture around Punta Gorda and became known as Garifuna.
Today, you can find a distinct difference between the Spanish-speaking mainland Honduras in ethnicity, culture and language, and the Bay Islands whose primary language is English. In fact, the island of Roatan has four distinctive cultures: Islanders (who have a mixed heritage of African, Carib and European), “ladinos” (who are people of mixed Indian and European heritage), Foreign whites (mostly from the US and Europe) and of course, the Garifunas. This diversity of culture on such a small island make it quite a fascinating place.
Ray Anthony, my personal guide for the morning, picked me up promptly at nine o’clock and headed east towards Punta Gorda, the crème de la crème of Garifuna culture. Punta Gorda, or “Fat Point” is the oldest permanent settlement in Roatan and was founded on April 12, 1797 shortly after the British decided to “release” the couple thousand of captured slaves of the Caribbean island of San Vicente.
As we headed to Punta Gorda, the wind picked up, clouds rolled in and it started to rain. I remembered that we were still in the wet season of Honduras and tropical rains like this one could come and go in a flash. Unfortunately the rain persisted the entire time we were in Punta Gorda but that didn’t stop us from exploring the village.
Although it was only ten o’clock and I was no where near hungry, Ray Anthony insisted that we stop at a local restaurant to try a Garifuna must: “Machuca“. Machuca is a Garifuna specialty and tourists come specifically to Punta Gorda just to try it. Machuca is a fish soup made with coconut milk and includes all the locally caught fish such as lobster, conch, and snapper, along with bananas and of course plantains. The bananas and plantains are mixed together to form a heavy dough which is served inside the soup. According to Ray Anthony, ten years ago Machuca was considered a “poor man’s meal” but today it is an island specialty.
We pulled up to Ray Anthony’s favorite place and ran inside to beat the rain and try some of Roatan’s most delicious delicacies.
Since it was only 10 am, and not officially lunch time the Machuca had to be prepared and would take about a half an hour. Despite the rain, it meant a little bit of time for some pictures. Oh, how I wished it wasn’t raining though as I would have loved to see this village outside enjoying a beautiful Saturday morning.
The Garifunas are known for their homes on stilts as well as their handmade fishing piers. There is not much industry besides fishing and the fish are plentiful right off the beach. Their homes are also made the traditional way with thatched roofs. The stilts help for two reasons: The first obviously being that they are close to water and the second reason to keep the home off the ground away from the nasty, bitting sandflies.
I tried to take a few pictures of Punta Gorda but unfortunately the rain kept most locals inside. At least I got a few shots of their brightly colored homes.
Then it was time to go in and eat. Ray Anthony and I were the only customers.
It was indeed delicious and so incredibly fresh. There was no way I could possibly eat it all so early in the morning but the scrumptious meal did not go wasted. Ray Anthony happily finished the rest!
After our mid-morning snack, we took a short drive through Punta Gorda so I could snap a few more photos. Unfortunately the rain did not abate thus we didn’t get out of the car to walk around. I took the following shots before heading to another amazing Garifuna village on my tour.
This beautiful, smiling little girl in her Saturday best captured my heart. She saw me taking photos of her from inside the car and stopped to give me one beautiful shot.
Stay tuned….next stop to an even more dramatic Garifuna village where I went crazy capturing all the homes built over water on stilts.
Interesting Facts about the culture of Roatan:
- In 2001 UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance, and music of the Garifuna as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize.
- The island of Roatan has four distinctive ethnic groups.
- Garifunas speak their own unique language which is a combination from both Carib and a number of European languages, attesting to an extremely tumultuous past involving warfare, migration and colonization.