Nightlife In Cayo, Belize: Jazz Bands And Banana Bombs

A Night Out In Cayo

“Live Jazz!” read the A-board standing outside the Orange Gallery, on the Western Highway between the turnoff for Spanish Lookout and San Ignacio.

I was heading home from Belmopan, after an afternoon of working my way through the lugubrious Belizean immigration bureaucracy.

At first, I dismissed it because my husband and I had been invited to a quinceañera (a 15th birthday celebration). Quinceañeras are debutant affairs in Latino cultures, very much like sweet sixteen parties in the United States. However, upon arriving home and checking the invitation, I realized that the quinceañera was the following night.

It would have been so easy to have stayed at home. I had already driven past Orange Gallery, which at night on Belizean roads is a good 45-minute drive from my house. On top of that, my husband was tired from having helped a neighbor put siding on his house.

But we decided to make the effort. And we were rewarded…

Although a little late, we got changed and jumped back in the car. It turned 7 p.m. as we made our way there, but we consoled ourselves by thinking, “this is Belize, it won’t start on time. We won’t miss anything.”

Lo and behold, when we arrived, the parking lot was full and the lilting sounds of live jazz greeted us as we got out of the car.

“US$20—Live Jazz” read the sign as a hostess greeted us at the entry of the walkway to the café that was beyond the Orange Gallery. “Where are they from?” I asked the hostess, not expecting to find a jazz band in Belize.

“Belize!” she answered, with certainty.

Orange Gallery is one of my regular stops. They carry an assortment of books about Belize and an upscale, tasteful collection of Belizean crafts—from silver to wooden bowls, and furniture to a huge supply of original oil paintings. Although it’s also a restaurant and hotel, I have never partaken of either. I always go for the exquisite art, handicraft, and books they have to offer.

The open air restaurant to the back of Orange Gallery had a bar behind it and was equipped with ceiling fans, which weren’t needed thanks to the cool-by-Belizean-standards December air. Like most businesses in this laid-back country, the bar was decked out with fairy lights and plush red drape over the beams. The effect was clean, warm, and welcoming.

The crowd was a mix of young Belizean singles dressed to the nines in shiny gold stilettos and low-cut black dresses, young Belizean families, and the stereotypical expat old guys dressed in their usual Hawaiian shirts and shorts or jeans and sandals. As we walked in, most of the tables were already taken, except for a few at the very front.

The music up front was loud, exactly as Belizeans like it. So we retreated to the bar at the rear where we could watch and listen with more ease. The band was made up of bass, steel drums, keyboard, clarinet and saxophone, all working together in a team and throwing in the occasional solo.

As soon as we took the remaining barstools, a young man greeted us. “I’m Julian,” he said. “We have a special tonight, oregano chicken with cilantro rice,” he informed us. While the cilantro rice tempted me, I picked the chicken tostada that had already popped out at me from the menu. We gave him our drink orders—another Belikin beer for my husband, a Banana Bomb mixed drink for me. “I’ll have the waiter come over” he said.

“Aren’t you the waiter?” we asked.

“No, I’m the owner,” was the reply.

Jazz was playing as we entered, but after a few numbers, reggae came to join the party with a jazz version of “Jammin’”. There were jazzified-reggaefied versions of age-old favorites that have nothing to do with jazz or reggae.

The food was fresh and tasty—four tiny tortillas heaped with fresh vegetables, chicken, and grated cheese for me, and nachos big enough to be a whole meal, dripping with juice from equally fresh vegetables for my husband.

When the band took a break, we were treated to a soaring solo performance of clarinet and saxophone by a slight Belizean man with a shaved head. Our new friend Julian then took the stage and thanked everyone for coming, acknowledging the commitment that driving on Cayo roads at night requires. According to Julian, some folks came from as far as Belize City, a good 90 minutes away.

Then he introduced his father, who took his place at the drums and accompanied the band for the second half of the evening. Later Julian wandered by our table again, asking how we’d found out about the evening. We replied that a good old-fashioned sign had put us in the know. “There’s a flash sale, 15% off on Saturday, in case you need some Christmas gifts,” he informed us. “But you have to say you heard about it on Facebook!”

“There hasn’t been live music at the Orange Gallery for 10 years,” Julian went on to say but we have a sneaky suspicion there will be lots more coming in the future…

Kacie Crisp