In most Central America travel books, Punta Gorda is written off as a simple stopover town on the way to Guatemala from Belize. Having lived in the town for six months, I thoroughly disagree. Though PG is small and underdeveloped from a tourism perspective, it has a rich density of interesting people and authentic culture to explore. Here are two things to do in Punta Gorda that I highly recommend. If you’re in PG for a day (or even better, overnight) check out these activities!
Gomier’s Cooking Class
Punta Gorda is a small town, and as with most small towns, it’s full of iconic characters. One such character is Gomier, the owner of one of PG’s few full-service restaurants. Unlike the other restaurants, though, he doesn’t serve the usual lineup of meat with a few sides. Gomier’s is a pescatarian restaurant: each dish features either local fish or Gomier’s homemade vegetarian proteins.
He makes his own tofu, soy milk, veggie patties, vegan sausage, whole wheat bread, and juice blends. His restaurant has a menu reminiscent of hip health food joints you’d find in Brooklyn, but at half the price and plopped in the most unlikely place in the world: the southern tip of Belize.
Knowing this, Gomier himself might come as a surprise. He is a reserved older man from St. Lucia with a demeanor that borders on standoffish. But don’t let that deter you: get him talking and you’ll be privy to the most incredible lessons and stories from his life.
He knows more about nutrition, healthy eating, organic farming, and herbal remedies than anybody I’ve met. In the past, he has even been flown to remote places in Africa and the Pacific to help establish organic soy bean farming.
Gomier originally came to Belize to practice natural medicine, but, and I quote: “somehow I ended up with a restaurant.” His food reflects his passion for natural wellness, though. Every ingredient has a nutritional benefit that he can talk about at length. In fact, he often delivers meals to people in the community with diabetes and other chronic diseases who have difficulty meeting their own nutritional needs.
Needless to say, he’s a fascinating human being. At times moody and distant and at times accommodating and generous, he can be a little hard to crack. The best way to get to know him and access some of his incredible density of knowledge is to take a cooking class with him.
For 25 USD Gomier will teach you to make soynuts, soymilk, tofu, veggie patties, tofu cheesecake, curry, and just about anything else you want to know. What’s more, when he steps into his kitchen his introversion fades away and his passion and mastery shines through.
There’s a loose outline to the class but it is very flexible. If you ask him any unrelated questions he’ll find a way to work the information into the night. Aside from what we knew we would make, we learned how to cook breadfruit, tasted his personal medicinal bitters, and sipped an alkalizing mixture of coconut water and cactus.
You will learn an incredible amount, eat an incredible amount, and take a whole extra portion home with you. Just be careful to leave a lot of time: our course started around 5 pm and I didn’t get home until 10!
I truly can’t recommend this experience enough: if you have time to kill in PG, get in touch with Gomier! It will be the most worthwhile and educational $25 you spend in Belize.
Warasa Garifuna Drum Lessons
Another fixture of life in Punta Gorda is Ronald Raymond McDonald, a renowned expert in Garifuna drumming and the owner of Warasa Garifuna Drum School. When Michael visited me I treated him to a taste of local music in the form of drum lessons.
Ronald’s house and school are slightly outside of town, on a dirt road that leads back to the hills. He holds his classes in a welcoming thatch-roof structure set amidst the trees. It features a groomed sand floor, cheerfully painted murals and dozens of hanging drums.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve actually seen Ronald before. He is the subject of my favorite picture that I took during my time in Belize. This is him leading the PG celebrations for Garifuna Settlement Day:
As you can see, Ronald has a contagious smile; that enthusiasm extends into his teaching. He started out by proudly telling us about Garifuna history and culture. He then sat us down and taught us the basic techniques of Garifuna drumming and a few different beats. Throughout, he let us “jam” with him as he sang traditional tunes. It was exhilarating.
Though one hour certainly isn’t enough to learn to play traditional drums, it was a fascinating insight into a culture that I have lived alongside for months. Ronald is an excellent teacher and host and will make you feel a genuine connection to his culture and music. If you’re curious about Garifuna history, culture, and music, Warasa is an awesome way to learn more about it.
Curious about what else Punta Gorda has to offer? Check out my other blog posts about the town!