Belize City -- After doing absolutely nothing but wearing flip-flops and tattered collared shirts to the finest of Belizean restaurants (meaning local greasy spoons to resort dining halls) and through the sunniest of Belizean days (meaning sunny in the mornings and cloudy in the afternoons), and then after tubing down glass-like waters through dark caves and meandering through Jaguar preserves, river beds and jungle treks hearing the caws, coos, and weewos of birds you can't see, that's when the Belizean people and their arts and music come together.
Belize's burgeoning arts scene is dominated by internationally-known local artists who sell their work at local art galleries, in hotel lobbies and restaurants all over the country. The Image Factory Art Foundation (tel. 011 501/223 - 4093; www.imagefactory.bz) in Belize City exhibits work of artists born in Belize or those artists who choose Belize as a background for their artistic expression. Most of the art is folk art, or bears to the signs of "outsider art," but that's only because of the materials available to these Belizean artists young and old, and mostly bereft of resources. Recent shows at the Image Factory include "Detritus," featuring the work of Captain Magnus, a Canadian-born, African-American, 82-year old fireball of a man with boundless creative energy who has helped troubled Belizean youth through painting, sculpture and independent thought. His work is known worldwide for its simplicity and use of color and form. Michael Gordon, an artist who in his youth used cardboard extracts found on the side of the road of Belize City's meaner streets, shared the walls of the Detritus show. His work, heralded worldwide for its combination of surreal and abstract thought using real objects, are installations, sculpture and paintings all in one. Fidel Castro owns Gordon's work.
Belizean-born artist Nelson Young has a history of life versus the establishment. His work suggests strong undertones of the Belizean sun, moon and ancient religious connections. His blues swirl, his yellows burn, and his faces, nudes and body images have attracted the eyes of Bob Dylan and other celebrities who have visited Belize over the years. His work can be seen and purchased at Caribbean Colors Art Gallery (tel. 011 501/206-0206; www.cybercayecaulker.com/nelsonyoung.htm) on Caye Caulker and Belizean Arts (tel 011 501 /26-3019; www.belizeanarts.com) on Ambergris Caye.
Musically, Belizean music combines reggae with Caribbean rhythm and African beats. Local bands can be seen all over the country playing beachfront bars and small bars. In the evening, near towns, you can almost always hear music playing. In some ways, the music mimics the jungle symphonies of birds, crickets, and creeping wildlife. Due to the proximity to Texas and the short flight from Houston and Dallas to Belize City, country music and American rock and pop cover songs can dominate the live music scene. Once a year for two weeks in February, legendary troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker brings his fans down to Belize and plays six shows (three per week) under the stars on the end of a boat dock for about 150 fans each week. Fans of the country singer famous for penning Mr. Bojangles purchase before descending on the shores of Ambergris Caye where Mr. Walker owns a home. For the island and the country, the two weeks of music bring high spending Americans who bring needed tourist dollars to the Cayes and inlands. To purchase tickets to the Walker musical festival called Camp Belize, go to www.jerryjeff.com/camp_belize_.htm or call 512/477-0036.
Another fun fest is the Nineteenth of November, known as Garifuna Day (www.belizeans.com/garifuna.htm), where the Southern region of Dagriga comes alive with sounds and costumes celebrating the arrival from St. Vincent's of former slaves freed by the British in the 1830s. Integration wasn't easy for the African-born Garifuna, so the celebration is filled with food, dance, and revelry. The largest Belizean city south of Belize City, Dangriga is a town of 10,000 with clapboard houses. Known for bird-watching and wildlife preserves and beach resorts, Dangriga has resorts such as the Pelican Beach Resort (011 501/522-2044; www.pelicanbeachbelize.com) which houses a 400-gallon salt water aquarium. Similar to the Brazil's Salvador de Bahia during Carnival, Garifuna Day is a study in dance, movement and celebration. It's a helluva lot of fun, too.
For a bit of local folklore and folk music, Dennis Wolfe (www.sanpedrosun.net/old/99-494.html) is an American who moved to Belize over 16 years ago. His song titled "Not Just Another Gringo in Belize" is an autobiographical account of life as an American frolicking around the Belizean islands. Dennis plays on Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye and the mainland. If you sing, play the harmonica, or strum anything, Dennis might let you play a song or two with him on stage. His shows range from mellow to rollicking, and natives as well as tourists flock to hear him play.
Fortunately for you, the discount travel providers have put Belize on their map with well-priced all inclusive vacations combining air and hotel stays.
Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) has excellent deals to the country's most popular regions and a variety of hotels. To Placencia, the beach region down South known for scuba and a good home-base for jungle adventure, a seven-night air/land trip out of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston or Miami starts at $1,399 with travel good through March 31, 2006. If you go in June, when Belize is still warm and the waters still flush with big game and small fish, the cost drops to $1,099. Accommodations range from the super deluxe Robert's Grove to the tourist class but still beachfront Nautical Inn. While the purchase deadline is listed as February 9, Go-Today typically extends its buy-by dates until space is no longer available. Ambergris Caye deals start at $1,099 per week per person with accommodations at the comfortable and beachfront Mata Rocks Resort. Mata Rocks is on a short stretch of white sand, and has a small quaint swimming pool surrounded by palm trees.
For jungle forays, Belize Eco-Tours (tel. 011 501/824-4290; www.belize-ecotours.com) can give you a rundown of available tours for birding and adventure travel. While prices aren't listed on the site, detailed itineraries are listed for a variety of trips including honeymoon, birding and cultural tours that take you to Creole and Garifuna villages. Land-only prices for these tours can begin upwards of $500.
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