With the ubiquity of pocket-sized mobile encyclopaedias, conversations are now settled by a quick google search giving the definitive answer and 'wiki-guides' permit us to copy a skill rather than learn it .Gradually, memory is devolving into something all too ephemeral.
A day spent at Rasta Mesa reminds you of the beauty of generations of human to human knowledge inheritance. Of days spent at a grandmother's feet watching how to prepare food or skin a fish, learning from a neighbour how to use a freshly fallen coconut in 12 different ways and understanding a people through all generations singing songs of struggle, hardship and hope.
A bastion of Garifuna culture in Guatemala, Rasta Mesa's owner – Rasmega – personifies centuries of a people living and learning alongside nature to preserve a community.
We joined him for a cooking and cultural afternoon in his eco-farm/restaurant/community centre. The co-op farm is currently in its germinal phase, with hopes for it to provide sustainable, organic produce by 2015.
A home-made drainage system brings laundry water to quench the thirst of banana trees. A compost heap makes use of food waste from the restaurant. Chickens potter about providing fresh eggs and the occasional meal.
Everything used, nothing wasted.
The local staple Topado was our cooking class dish, a stew of coconut and seafood.
For cooking we started with hacking at coconuts, enjoying some coconut water, then shredding the innards. The white 'meat' is placed in a pot of warm water to ferment into coconut milk/water, giving us the foundation for our rice and soup. Picking, splitting and shredding a coconut from tree to pot is a satisfyingly laborious exercise, making you earn that sweetness inside.
In the meantime, we scale and gut our fish and peel the shrimp. Salt is rubbed in for flavour and the fish is fried on both sides, giving a delicious crispy skin. It's laid to the side and only added to the soup at the end.
Green bananas, garlic, onion and peppers chopped; pots, pans and gas: the time has come to create.
The onions, garlic and pepper are fried off in home-made coconut oil before the coconut milk/water, shrimp and banana is added. Now, for the crucial part: patience. Rasmega reiterates that the pot can't be left unattended and you must never stir. Rather, ladle the mixture at the top and repeat to prevent the soup separating.
Coconut rice boils away.
It takes time. It takes attention. It takes care. The whole process lasts a few hours, with Rasmega providing a narrative on the how and whys and listing the various health benefits of the foods and plants used. You work up an appetite, for knowledge as well as food.
Bowls, plates, knife and fork. Think of a less spicy Thai green curry and you're close. It was delicious.
Following your lunch, some kids and musicians join Rasmega to perform local music.
The drum beat and call-response group singing is fast-paced; the children bring you up to hold hands and dance with them.
You won't be able to wipe the smile from your face.
This musical end to your afternoon is a fitting way to demonstrate the togetherness of Garifuna in Livingston and the importance of Master's work ensuring that 6-year olds continue to learn, dance and sing at their elder's feet.
Cost & Booking
100 quetzales per person. Unfortunately, no drinks are included. It is advisable to try and book directly, rather than via your hostel, as the rate may be better.
You will probably be required to give a tip for the singers/dancers, so make sure to bring some smaller bills.
Volunteering opportunities and drumming classes are also available.Link to
Contact and reserve via their Facebook page: Rasta Mesa