University of Guelph Study Tour of Belize - Trip Blog

Day 1 - Welcome to Miami….its not Belize yet.

Well… started out to be a good day. Mechanical problems with the airplane delayed our departure from Toronto by about 6 hours so we missed our connecting flight to Belize. The problem was first in a water system in a lavatory then the pilot later announced it was a control panel in the cockpit. Parts needed to be flown in from Chicago.

We arrived in Miami and were told it would take 30 minutes to 6 hours to retrieve our bags. So we decided to skip the luggage and go directly to the beautiful and tropical Holiday Inn adjacent to the airport. The hotel provided us with a little collection of toiletries.

It is close to a miracle that 8 seats were available on today’s flight to Belize so we are scheduled to arrive in Belize at 2:30. Les is making adjustments to the schedule after the group placed priorities on what we would see. I am confident we will get to see everything on the itinerary if we can have some early starts and longer days. It’s all part of the adventure.

American Airlines has paid for everything so far. There were people disadvantaged for more than we were. But everything seemed to take hours to sort out with lots of waiting. I must say that American Airlines personnel worked hard to get people to their destination. Some people trying to meet cruise ships were going to have to wait two days to meet up with the ship.

Thanks for reading and we will post again once we get to Belize. Happy Family Day.

Al and Students

Thank God we arrived and saw the tapir … day two

Greetings up there,

We all woke up after a well deserved and rested night after being delayed for more than six hours the previous day. We met for breakfast and caught the van to the Miami airport and luckily our flight was on time. We flew out of Miami at 1:15 pm and made it to Belize City around 2:30pm Belizean time.

When we landed in Belize we were greeted with warm and humid weather as well as a dozen Belizean airport officials. Since we were not able to claim our luggage in Miami, we were all overjoyed when we finally saw our luggage at the airport in Belize, it made it!!!!!!

Les then picked us up in our van and we headed to the Belize Z00. We had to drive quickly because the zoo closes at 5:00 pm. We were the last group to tour the zoo and we were able to stay as long as we needed. The zoo is very different because the set up is similar to a real jungle. All of the animals that are within the zoo were injured, rescued or orphaned and the animals are all native to Belize.

There were several types of animals found within the Belize Zoo. The two most fascinating animals were the Tapir and the Harpy Eagle. The Tapir is the national animal of Belize and is very unique. It looks similar to a cross of a rhino and a pig or a rhino and a horse. It is very docile, quite and enjoys eating various fruits. We had the pleasure to see a Tapir urinate right in front of us. It looked like a sideways sprinkler. The Harpy Eagle was very interesting and unique as well. They are very large and enjoy eating fresh meat. They have a grey head, a white belly with black wings and huge yellow legs with large talons. They are quite scary to look at and they enjoy staring at you.

We also saw other animals that included; the puma, jaguar, crocodiles, monkeys, snakes, white tailed deer and various birds such as parrots, owls and wild turkeys.

We then left the zoo and arrived at our hotel in San Ignacio. We checked into our rooms and settled in. For dinner the majority of us had a large steak with a few beverages of our choice.

We are all heading to bed early tonight to get some well deserved rest in order to complete the long day ahead of us tomorrow.

Good night!

Kelvin and Lindsey

Day 3- Bums Up!

We started our day at the Eden S.D.A. High School, where we greeted by the principal and some students studying agriculture. Currently, they are preparing for a 12 mile relay race between the male and female students, each student will run a 1/2 mile. We toured their field plots where they grow cabbage, plantain, tomatoes, and sweet pepper. They hope to sell produce to raise money, but unfortunately they are probably only able to harvest 30% of the crop as the other 70% will likely be stolen. In these plots the students do all of the work involved with production and all of the work is done by hand. A few key students have “PHD”s, which stands for Post Hole Diggers. Students not only learn about growing the crops, but they also learn about crop rotation and soil fertility. We also learned that many of the students at Eden would like to further their educations, but will probably be unlikely to do so because of funding.

We then headed to Jose Hernandez, who is a refugee from El Salvador. He farms on 15 acres, which he has cleared from the jungle. There are 5 farmers who SHARE supports within this area. They help each other on large projects. This 15 acres of land was purchased for $5000 US. Jose has cleared the fields by using slash and burn and he has been growing corn, beans, cabbage, pineapple, and squash for the past 6 years. He is now working towards having a dairy herd. He has received some funding from SHARE for fencing and digging of a larger pond. He does not use any fertilizer or pesticides and unfortunately had no way to prevent pest on his cabbage. He is currently starting to plant grass within the corn to be converted pasture land after the corn is harvested. At the end of the tour, Jose opened coconuts for us to try the milk.

We finished the day with cave tubing in the Caves Branch River. On busy day there can be up to 1500 people go through the caves tubing. We had a guide, Tomaso, who showed us native plants and interesting facts along the trail until we reached the entry point, which was a 45 minute walk. He pointed out the Gumbolimbo tree, which is used as fence post which start to grow and these fences are then live fences. The Gumbolimbo is also used for a rash caused by the Poisonwood tree. We then entered the water and spend 1hr 30min to float through the caves. The caves where amazing in side and at one point we turned off our lights and it was very dark. Some areas were very shallow because it is almost the dry season, which meant that water levels were very low. So ‘BUMS UP!’

Laura and Carolyn

First thing this morning we visited the Running W Ranch, owned by the Bedran brothers (who’s sister’s own the San Ignacio Hotel where we’re staying). We had a tour by Amir, the ranch supervisor, who explained how their operation was ran and managed. The area that we saw had 1000 head of cattle on 700 acres. Their main breeds are Brahma and they have been introducing the Angus and Hereford breeds to increase the quality of their beef, with specific focus on the marbling. They operate on a pasture system with 5 groups of cattle at 200 head per group. They rotate the groups every seven days to allow the Bombasa grass to regrow (grows about 1 inch per day). Two months prior to slaughtering on sight, molasses and urea is fed daily to increase average daily gain. They also had 400 ewes, mostly black bellied breeds, which are raised purely for slaughter on the ranch.

Next we ventured down the road to visit Spanish Lookout, a Mennonite settlement originally from Manitoba. We were greeted by Frank Friesen, whose parents initially immigrated to the area in 1958. He is considered one of Belize’s veterinarians although he does not have a doctorate. He acquired the knowledge from attending several training sessions in the United States as well as El Salvador. On top of this he is the nutritionist/supervisor for Reimer Feeds. This feed mill supplies the majority of livestock feed for all of Belize. We received a tour of the plant and recognized that the processes and machinery involved were very similar to those used in Ontario. One difference that we did notice was they could only store corn for not much longer than 1 year, as the constant humidity hinders storage capability. All feed is formulated and mixed on site, and therefore is also delivered in bulk or is bagged and shipped on skids. After lunch Frank took us to the farm of Paul Dueck. Here he milks 11 Holstein cows twice a day, has 3000 extra large broilers, and 1500 layer hens on 40 acres. It was interesting to compare this small operation here in Belize to those in Canada, and how vast differences in scale and scope of farms can still support their respective lifestyles. We learned a great deal from Frank as he enlightened us on agriculture in Belize, as well as the politics behind it which directly affects how the industry functions in this country. For example, since milk from Mexico is now subsidized, there has been in increase in milk imports. This has directly affected Western Dairy, the local dairy processor in Spanish Lookout, by decreasing their sales from 500,000 lbs per month to 300,000 lbs. This has created a very large surplus of milk in the community, increasing spoilage concerns.

After very refreshing ice cream cones from Western Dairy, we then quickly rushed to the ‘ferry’ to get to Xunantunich (pronounced Shoe-nan-two-nitch), an ancient Maya village. We were greeted by Junior who was our very passionate tour guide. The Maya civilization is a focal point of Belize history, dating back to 400 BC. The city was home to an estimated 10 000 civilians, roughly 80% being farmers that lived outside of the city ‘ruins,’ the other 20% comprised of dignitaries, royalty, and priests. We had the opportunity to climb to the top of El Castillo, which is the second highest Maya ruin in Belize at 140 feet. From the top we could see the border of Belize and Guatemala, as well as a beautiful view of the country side and ‘bread basket’ (where the farmers of the city lived and farmed). The tour also included the ball court where an ancient game was played, the royal palace, and ceremonial temple. FUN FACT! The so called ferry was actually a board raft/barge that was manually moved with a hand crank along a cable that transported people and vehicles across to 50 ft river (high tech stuff).

FINALLY, we have made it back to our hotel at this point, and still feeling energetic we embarked on our final journey of the day. At the hotel they are proud to have the ‘Iguana Project.’ The purpose of this is to repopulate the iguana species within Belize since they have been over hunted in the past. To do this, eggs are collected every year during the laying season and placed in their incubators. The iguanas are then raised until the age of 3 or 4 then released into the wild. Prior to this point we also learned about several medicinal plants and trees and sampled some termites (surprisingly they tasted like carrots with a hint of mint.) While in the iguana encloser we got the chance to get up close and personal with several of the iguanas, especially with Gomez, who is the oldest, largest, and tamest at the centre. Two of us volunteered ourselves to be covered with baby iguanas (about 12). Now one thing to note is that iguanas have very sharp claws, and as a result some of us got some scratches when we tried to pick them up!

Needless to say we had a very educative, yet quite tiring day of exploring and it is time for bed!

Until next time, keep fit and have fun We found water….

Today was our last day in San Ignacio … we ate breakfast and hit the road to go down south. Our first stop of the day was at the citrus farm in a valley near the Maya Mountains. We met Mr. Chanona who managed the citrus farm. He grew an array of agriculture produce such as beef, sheep, oranges, limes, beans, coco yams and plantain. He was well aware of the politics and the agriculture sector in Belize. He had several trials that he conducted himself in order to make his farm more sustainable. For example he used a cover crop (Wild Peanut) between the orange rows, which reduced the use of herbicides. He also does crop rotations between orange groves and pastures that are used for beef cattle. He grew fruits and vegetables that could be sold within the local markets. He plans to stay within the 250 acres that he owns remaining sustainable. He is well educated in regards to reducing inputs and creating less environmental damage. For example he uses beans to add organic matter, fix nitrogen and control weeds. He is very successful with his orange groves and is one of the top 20 farmers that produce 90% of the oranges grown in Belize. In Belize the average orange yield is around 150 boxes per acre, and one box is equal to 90 pounds of oranges. After we saw his entire farm we were able to see his special family spot near a fresh water stream that flowed down from the Maya Mountains.

We hit the road again and went to a bakery called Kropf Bakery where we had delicious cinnamon buns and ate our lunch. We then visited Mary Sharp’s hot sauce facility where we purchased a lot of hot sauces. We were able to test all of the hot sauce products.

Our last stop was at a banana plantation where we seen how banana’s were grown. We were able to see banana’s brought into the processing plant where the banana’s were washed and graded before they were packaged. All of the workers were from Honduras and spoke only Spanish.

We finally made it to our next hotel in Punta Gorda in southern Belize, right on the ocean shore. We ate supper at a Grace’s restaurant where most of us had chicken for dinner. We are heading to bed soon as we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.

Good night,

Rianne and Lindsey

Chillin’ with the Maya people

So we left Punta Gorda in the morning and drove to San Miguel, which is a Maya village in southern Belize. Here we went to explore the Maya lifestyle of today and how they conduct their agriculture. We were greeted by Vincente Ack, who is one of four families in the village that runs the guest program. We began by dividing up and having lunch at the four family’s houses. Tradition foods contain a lot of corn, beans, rice, and eggs. After lunch we went on a tour of the fields which was guided by Vincente. He had 30 acres of corn, beans, plantain, anato, and sugar cane. He harvests two crops per year for each crop, and rotates the production in his fields every year. With the main tool being a machete, he spends about 5 to 6 hours a day in his fields. What was very interesting about these fields was that they were on the sides of very steep hills (some as much as 45 degrees). He rents his land from the government of Belize for $60 Belize per 30 acres. ( $1 US/acre). His costs are quite low as he reuses his seeds to plant for the next crop, and the only chemical he uses is 2-4-D for weed control. After the tour we returned to the village where we watched some of the ladies make their crafts and Robert and Kelvin played soccer (“football”) with the local soccer team. Then some of the girls took corn tortilla making lessons with the women of the village and learned that it is a lot harder than it looks, and the hot plates used to cook the tortillas are indeed very hot. This followed with supper with the families as we did with lunch, where some foods were similar but bean soup or chicken was also added to the menu. We had a very interesting sleeping experience, having only a small bunk bed, thin blanket, and a mosquito net to sleep with. Also during the night, the sounds of the village such as dogs barking, roosters crowing, and buses honking their horn, and vehicles going across the very noisy steel bridge, resulted in a lot of us not having the best of sleeps. Overall this was a very good experience as we saw that they did have some things such as tvs and computers but also lacked in housing facilities which were mostly thatched roofs.

Yours truly,
Robert, Carolyn, Katie, and Rianne

Awesome Snorkellers and Fishers!!

We had the best weather so far since we came in Belize. The sun was bright, the sky blue and the water was excellent. We went on the snorkelling tour at around 10:00am and the whole ordeal lasted for about 3 hours. We were accompanied by two awesome Tour Guides Salvador and a companion. The reefs were great, colourful and amazing. We saw a great multitude of fish from Barracudas to Sting Rays. The most interesting thing was swimming with the sting rays. We swam in the water as the guides fed the 25 or so swimming around us. We weren’t in any danger because the snorkelling tours go there every day, so the sting rays have become used to people being around and touching them.

In the afternoon we had free lance tours. 3 of us went fishing and 2 others went for just a boat ride. The water was marvelous and the fishing interesting. The fishing is so different to the one we are used to in North America. I guess we will see the fish pictures on face book pretty soon.

Well time to pack up and catch the boat back to shore. See you all in the cold and snow soon!


Robert and Katie


Snorkeling and the Reef of Belize

For our last full day in Belize we were privileged to be able to go snorkeling just off of the shores of Caye Caulker. Caye Caulker is part of one of the Cayes off shore from mainland Belize. It was split into two by a hurricane in 1961. The weather as absolutely perfect as it was our first full day of sun and very warm temperatures which made being in and out of water very pleasant.

The reef of Belize is the second largest in the world stretching along the coast for 220km. The largest reef is in Australia called the Great Barrier Reef. The reef protects the shoreline from large waves and hurricanes. While snorkeling we went to three different areas and saw many beautiful fish including the blue-headed wrasse, the bonefish and even spotted a few barracudas! At one of the more shallow areas, we snorkeled with stingrays and were even able to touch them. They have a very slimy texture! Some of the coral that we saw included the orange monitpora, finger coral, and even some hydrocoral.

Also, while on the island we were able to observe mangroves. These mangroves are useful in providing nutrients as food for marine life and act as filters of any off shore pollution. The mangroves are important in protecting the island’s shoreline from large waves which can result from storms, control flood waters and also attract tourist attention.

The reef is one of Belize’s largest tourist attractions and is an important source of income to the country. There are around 300,000 tourists who visit Belize each year. The waters are great for snorkeling because of the clear visibility, warm temperatures and clam water.

Unfortunately, the reef is threatened mainly due to climate change, pollution, overfishing, and tourism. One of the things that were stressed while we were snorkeling by our tour guide Salvador, especially in the shallow areas, was that we had to be careful not to stand on or kick the coral with our flippers.

After snorkeling the group had some free time. With our free time some went boating or fishing while others just stayed on the island exploring and enjoying the hot sunny weather before having to return to the cold, snowy weather in Canada.

Laura and Kelvin

Most Memorable Moments from Belize

  • I have been fortunate enough to see agriculture practices all over Canada, but agriculture in Belize was something new for me that I would count as invaluable. I enjoyed the variety of practices we were able to see in our short time down there. Everything from medicinal plants to the livestock industry showed me innovation and hard work from the Belizean farmers. My favorite memory would have to be seeing the Running W ranch and the exceptional management that occurred there. Overall, a very good learning experience.
    - Andrew
  • The climb to the top of the temple at the Xunantunich Mayan Ruins and walking the pastures at Running W Brand Meats would be my most memorable moments in Belize. At the ruins the view was spectacular and learning the history of the ancient Mayans from Dino, our tour guide, was very interesting. It was neat to see the management of Running W Brand Meats ranches as they finished cattle on rotation pastures and are beginning to incorporate Angus in their breeding program to improve meat quality.
    - Laura
  • My most memorable moment of the trip was visiting a 15 acre farm carved from the jungle and supported by S.H.A.R.E. The farm grew crops and also raised dairy animals as an equity builder. It was eye opening to see how a small, well maintained farm was crucial for supporting both the family and the community.
    - Caitlin
  • I truly don’t have a most memorable moment because there are so many moments that I loved.  Instead I’d like to mention a few of my trip highlights.  One highlight was climbing to the top of Xunantunich, it was amazing to climb 135ft above the ground and marvel at a structure built without construction equipment or power tools.  Another highlight was climbing into the “mountains” with Marcos as he explained Mayan farming and showed us his crops and shared his knowledge.  I also enjoyed snorkeling on the barrier reef; taking in the coral, the colourful fish and swimming with the stingrays! Overall the trip was amazing!
    - Amanda
  • Visiting the Mayan ruins was an experience of a lifetime, and something I will never forget. I find it fascinating that we were standing on ruins built thousands of years ago, and thinking to myself “was there actually sacrifices to the gods on this spot I am standing.” It’s remarkable to witness firsthand how the world has changed so drastically since that period of time. 
    - Joe
  • My most memorable moment of the trip is hard to pinpoint with all of the new experiences we enjoyed. I would say that having the opportunity of staying in a Mayan village and seeing exactly how these people live and survive as a culture based on traditional beliefs was very eye opening. It allowed for me to develop a deep depreciation of where we come from and realize how much opportunity we have at our fingertips.
    - Zach
  • The trip was amazing and really pushed myself to do things I may not otherwise do such as snorkeling, cave tubing or eating ants since I personally travel within the borders of North America exploring our own backyard. I would recommend the trip to anyone that has not been to a tropical country since you and Les provided us with an excellent itinerary and accommodations that were safe and let us explore, like the Mayan village and Caye Caulker. I don’t think I would change anything since the schedule provided us with time to rest and relax and was busy enough with many sites to see. I enjoyed everything.
    - Brendan
  • I was able to capture more than one most memorable moment. I overcame a large fear and held a huge snake on the first day in Belize. I will never forget climbing to the top of the Mayan Ruins, spending a night in the Mayan village, snorkeling with the sting rays, cave tubing, the sunset in Caye Calker, or the Sunrise in Punta Gorda. But I know, I will never forget the agricultural practices we were able to see; The Running W Ranch, a farm supported by SHARE, Milpa farming and the Spanish lookout. I have learned to appreciate the technology we all take for granted here in Canada. The trip was amazing and very well organized by Les & Al. We can’t ever say we got bored!
    - Jessica
  • The thing I will remember the most about my trip to Belize is the overall diversity of the country.  We experienced a tropical island paradise, Mayan ruins, lush jungle settings with many edible plants, and orange groves and banana plantations that extend as far as the eye can see.  It was amazing to learn some fun facts about Belize that make it a very unique country such as using speed bumps to control the speed on the major highways and the fact that the television show Temptation Island was filmed entirely in the country – we even floated past one of the dinner locations while cave tubing.  Belize is also host to the second largest barrier reef in the world and the renowned Marie Sharpe’s hot sauce that is sold in throughout Europe, Asia, and North America.  Overall, the trip to Belize was one of a kind and I enjoyed the entire trip!
    - Heather