We are now wrapping up the portion of the project that I’m working on in village. The overall sustainable tourism project will continue as there are many other components that the Social Investment Fund need to complete. To complete my last objectives for this project, it was my responsibility to get the village trainees some practical real world experience to equip them with some basic skills to conduct various tours for visitors to Belize. Last week we completed setting up an initial nature trail tour around the village. This proved to be very challenging, especially because of weather conditions, but was ultimately successful.
I needed to identify locations for the trainees to visit to gain some practical experience about guiding in different areas from other tour guides as well. After examining tourism statistics for Belize, major terrestrial attractions that tourist visit includes the ancient Maya sites, caves (especially cave tubing), and the Belize Zoo. We decided to visit The Belize Zoo, Nohoch Che’en Cave (where the cave tubing occurs) and the ancient Maya city of Xunantunich.
Our first field experience was at the Belize Zoo. This is a wonderful zoo, recognized worldwide as a model for other zoos. Rehabilitation and conservation are very important to the Belize zoo. Majority of the animals are rescued, injured or orphaned animals which are taken to the zoo by residents or the forestry department. The enclosures are large and imitate the animals’ natural habitats as much as possible. You won’t see slabs of concrete with animals on display here. In reality, you may not see many of the animals without the assistance of a local guide or zoo staff because they blend in naturally in the environment they are in. The village trainees from Gracie Rock each had the opportunity to guide on a section of the tour at the zoo.
I explained and demonstrated the internationally acceptable methods for guiding tourists in this type of environment. They were very excited and receptive and did a wonderful job at the Belize Zoo.
The tour at the cave tubing site was a new experience for most of them. I had the assistance of another guide, since this was a wet cave tour and had a higher level of challenge and risk involved. The trainees had a blast. They learned about the natural flora and fauna of the environment and about cave geology.
The last trip we did was to the ancient Maya city of Xunantunich. This is all the way in the west of the country. Again, this was a first for majority of the trainees. We had to drive through several communities and cross the Mopan river on a hand-cranked ferry before getting to the site.
There was a troop of howler monkeys chilling in the trees. It was as if they were there to greet us when we arrived. The trainees got to tour the entire site and climb the tallest structure, El Castillo. From the summit, we could see clear into Guatemala and got a panoramic view of the country side.
The trainees from the village had a wonderful experience over the last week of this section of the project. Almost every person has met the requirements and passed the national assessments as administered by the Belize Tourism Board. Now, they need to go through the license application process and very shortly they will be licensed guides, conducting eco-tours in and around their community. The training they received allows them to also guide anywhere throughout the length and breadth of Belize. This part of the overall sustainable tourism project will allow these villagers to generate income for their families and, with further support, they can setup their own tour operations and run their own business.