Last weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to the very south of Belize for one of the country’s biggest cultural events — the 7th annual Battle of the Drums in Punta Gorda.
The popular event is held on the Saturday just prior to the Garifuna Settlement Day holiday, which falls on November 19. Teams from all around Belize and parts of Central America come to share in their love and mastery of Garifuna drumming.
Admittedly, I am still very green when it comes to understanding Garifuna music, especially the types of drumming and songs that embody the local culture. I traveled to the mainland with a local friend who lives on Ambergris Caye, Walter Medina. Walter is from the Garifuna village of Barranco, and while he is not likely to admit it, he is quite spectacular on the drums himself. I’ve watched him participate in various Garifuna experiences on the Caye and commend him for all he has done to help promote his culture in Belize.
Upon arriving in Punta Gorda, known locally as “PG”, we met up with friend and fellow travel writer, Lily. She’s currently in Belize working on the newest edition of the Moon Guides Belize Guidebook due out in 2013. After catching up and enjoying a few drinks, we headed off to the evening’s big event that brings in a decent crowd from all around the country.
2012 Battle of the Drums in Punta Gorda, Belize
This year’s Battle of the Drums featured teams from Belize City, Seine Bight, Hopkins, Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Barranco, Honduras, and Guatemala. The crowd favorite was definitely the team from Hopkins, who were the 2011 winners. Of course, I had hopes for Walter’s hometown village of Barranco to take the win, but it went to the team from Baja Mar, Honduras, who definitely put on an impressive show.
One of the evening’s highlights was the performance from Galen University students who received an enthusiastic welcome from the audience as they showed off their dance moves on stage.
While I am glad I went, sadly, the event was a bit disorganized for my liking. I was there with the intention of covering the event for Ambergris Today and my Belize Travel Examiner column. Between bad acoustics, poor lighting conditions, and overzealous attendees with cell phone cameras, photography was a bit of a nightmare. We had paid for reserved seating at $25 BZ per ticket, and were given the very last row, despite letting them know we were there to cover the event. While it was easy to get in and out, Lily and I ended up spending quite a bit of time trying to get our seats back as people would snatch them as soon as we went up to take photos.
If you are interested in learning about Garifuna culture, I would still recommend checking out The Battle of the Drums if you are in Belize during the holiday. However, forego the floor reserved seats and get there early to snag seats on the top row of the side bleachers. These seats offer better vantage points and hopefully they will also help drown out some of the loud chatter from the floor.
Lodging In and Near Punta Gorda, Belize
Punta Gorda is quite small and therefore does not have nearly as many lodging options as other parts of Belize. If you are driving, I recommend staying about 30 minutes outside of town at The Lodge at Big Falls. This quaint family-owned resort is tucked away well off the main road and offers an escape from reality with it’s private thatched roof cabana style cabins, several of which are set on the banks of the Rio Grande River. The resort is worth a trip to Belize’s Toledo District alone, but an additional draw is the fact it’s located a short drive away from noted attractions like Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun.
Our stay at The Lodge at Big Falls was complimentary, but all views and opinions expressed are my own.