Belize trip report


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I thought I'd write something about it as it turned out to become one of our favourite destinations this spring.

Under the Visa Waiver Program we were allowed to stay in the US for 90 days and as our trip was for four months, we booked a few weeks in the Caribbean. Unfortunately we learnt (thanks george) that the US doesn't count Canada, Mexico or the caribbean islands (including Cuba!) as leaving the US, so we needed to do something else, too. When returning from the Caribbean we were stamped in again at the immigration so the trip to Belize was unnecessary, but..

.. it would have been a great pity if we hadn't done it. We had great debate if we'd go for the jungle or the sea but luckily we ended up going to the jungle as the island place I was planning to book got full while we were undecided. On the 83th day inwe left the country for Belize.


We ended up flying to Punta Gorda in the Toledo district at the southern corner of Belize. It's known for their cacao and our stay overlapped with the annual chocolate festival.


Punta Gorda is about an hour from the Belize City airport. Somewhat similar to the caribbean flights it was a domestic flight with three stops en route on a small, single engine plane. Very different from your average security checked airport experience.



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Our accommodation for the short, one week stay was at the Belcampo Lodge. A small, 12-room hotel with a farm and rainforest preserve.


Eco-lodge and jungle didn't sound too appealing as it usually means that nature is very present in the rooms and everywhere, nothing works properly and in the worst case, they're all vegetarian. Not here. The rooms were clean and well netted, they didn't have plastic water bottles but guests were given aluminium bottles to keep and refill, and there was water in a jar in the room. "eco" meant that they tried to do everything right, organic or whatever without making a big show of it. We were about in the jungle but we didn't need to turn into apes ourselves.


The food was simply amazing. Everything was either from their own farm or other farmers nearby, and in season. Every other night it was family style (a lot of small portions), a'la carte every other night. I don't usually like eating every night at the same place but here it wasn't a problem at all.



And being the chocolate region, one of favourites was the dessert.


I think we had it almost every day, with a hint of chili and fresh chocolate, simply irresistible.

The hotel had a small rum bar and even the drinks were made with fresh ingredients from their own farm. We haven't had this good mojitos since Cuba.


And as it was a farm, one could go and see where all the food comes from. The eggs and chicken came from this "egg mobile" that they move around the field.


And pork and bacon came from these lovely animals.


One could really taste the well-being of the animals. This was a place that was worth the visit just for the food alone.

They are still building all the facilities at the farm and there will be a chocolate factory, coffee roastery and best of all, a rum distillery. I think we need to make another visit when they're done..

The CEO of the Belcampo, Anya Fernald, was also staying there with her daughter. A chef, a baker, a cheesemaker and a slow food advocate and I believe you can find her on the Food Network on TV. Belcampo has a shop and restaurant in Larkspur, CA, near SF and we made a trip there while in San Francisco. The Belcampo Meat Co there offers a 28-day dry-aged beef from their own farm, which seemed to be very popular with the customers (we had other piece of meat although we had originally gone there for the burger). The group has a farm in northern California and new properties in Uruguay and South Africa, worth keeping eye on.


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Being in the jungle we saw a few animals, too. The first sight was this clever climber, coatimundi.



The first we saw was climbing up in the tree but later we saw a bunch of them digging the grounds next to our cabin.

The other neighbours were the howler monkeys, high up in the trees. I had read about them and followed the recommendation to bring ear plugs. Why?


These monkeys, as their name indicates, "howl". They are considered to be the loudest land animal and the typically howl at dawn and dusk. The howls at dawn are fine, but when the sun rises around 5am, you better expect it to happen :)

Waking up to these sounds is one spooky experience. Interesting enough, I didn't use ear plugs after the first night and while I woke up every morning when it happened, I felt back asleep before the show finished. I recorded these sounds in pitch darkness on our small veranda before the dusk, I couldn't see anything and the monkeys were somewhere far in the trees.


We also experienced some territorial dispute among the monkeys. One day this fellow run through the hotel bar/reception and accordingly to the locals they hardly ever come down from the trees. This dispute also resulted a few hours of afternoon howling, which was fun for the first 15 minutes but..


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The rainy season was about to start and it practically started during the week we were there. In general we hate rain but here the rainy season was quite an interesting experience; there was reasonably little rain during the day, during the dinner we'd watch thunderstorms in the horizon (the place was on a hill), sun was always absent and it would start seriously pouring at some point during the night. A few nights we had thunderstorm right above us, ridiculous noise when it hit somewhere really nearby.


We did a snorkeling day trip to the islands (the lodge was next to a river that was connected to the sea). Usually it's called snorkeling with a chef, the chef will catch a fish and that will be your lunch.


Unfortunately it was a bit windy and there was nothing to see with snorkels. But no matter a nice day in the water. They stopped by an abandoned island resort.


And despite the lack of today's catch, they had a backup plan and the food was as good as ever.


Belize also gets some hurricanes, or someone hasn't really learnt how to sail properly. My bet is on the hurricanes.



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Time for some chocolate

If one is visiting a cocoa region, one must see how the chocolate is traditionally made. This guy runs a small cocoa farm with his family (15 kids!).



They actually sell the chocolate from a group of farmers, including him, as Moho Chocolate and it was sold at the Belize international airport.

Here are the chocolate beans being roasted.


After roasting, the beans will be broken with a stone. After breaking all the beans, they'll sift the shells out from them.


The beans are then turned into cocoa paste.


And eventually you have 100% cocoa.



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Belize is a very small country, just about 340.000 people. They have spanish and british colonial history, and big portion of the population are mixed Maya and Spanish descent. A quarter of the people are kriols, belizean creoles, descendants of the African slaves brought there by the british.

About 10% of the belizeans are mayan, typically ketchi or mopan mayas. Belcampo had plenty of locals working for them and we had some great fun learning some ketchi and mopan words and teaching them finnish greetings. In fact most mornings we were greeted in finnish at the breakfast :)

One of the highlights was a visit to a local Mayan village, San Antonio, with some 1000 mopan mayas and eating a lunch there at the guide's home with rest of his family.



Chicken in the backyard, pineapple, mango, papaya trees, one can only be jealous how fresh food they can eat.

The local school was just about to have their lunch break, and like always, the kids are best at showing their curiosity to these weird foreigners.




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Some culture as well, a visit to the ruined mayan city of Lubaantun. The city is from the Maya Classic era around 700-900 AD and it was first investigated by a Thomas Gann, an amateur archaeologist who did quite a bit of work on the Mayan sites. Unfortunately his methods included using explosives to figure out what's under all the rock, and the sites have later been rebuilt to show how things may have looked by american and european groups.



This site is also known for the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull, , a replica of human skull carved from white quartz. It's still uncertain if they are real mayan artifacts, or made in Europe in the 90's.


What's especially nice about Lubaantun is that it's a small site and there were no other tourists to "spoil the view", and our guide from the hotel was an mopan maya, an ancestor to the people who have lived in the area back in the days when the city was alive.

The rest


Fresh fruit and vegetables at the saturday market in Punta Gorda.


Black pepper trees. The region is also growing producer of spices and herbs.


Entering the Blue Creek Cave, or Hokeb Ha in Quiche Maya in mopan language, "where the waters come out". This is believed to be part of one of the largest underground cave systems in the world. For us the tourists, it's about 40 minutes trip upstream to the waterfalls inside the cave.