Wrapping up in Belize

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.

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Group at Cave Tubing site

 

 

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.

 

 

Gracie RockVillagers

We are getting to the part of the project which requires more field work.  The villagers here have shown how dedicated they are to this training that they are receiving.  We need to start early in the day. I recently found out that some of the villagers participating in this project are traveling some far distances and even crossing the river en route to the training venue.  I had the opportunity to accompany some of them to the road leading to their houses.  I was amazed to know that several of them cross the river, paddling a canoe, twice daily everyday.  This is difficult enough seeing as how the river has been consistently flooded over the past few weeks, but one of them does this daily and she cannot swim. Her name is Sirley.  I saw her stand in the canoe and paddle her way across the flooded river. The pictures below were taken while she made her way across the river.

Another one of the trainees has a new born baby boy. Her name is Amalia and most days she has her son with her. He is a welcomed addition to the group.  Amalia doesn’t allow the fact that she has a young baby to keep for from benefiting from this project. She is shown below.  I even spend some time with the baby boy during the sessions to allow her time to complete her work.

This commitment to what they are doing only solidifies the importance of the work that I am doing down here.

Last week we had to set up a nature trail around the village.  All of the participants in the project came out. They came from far, across rivers, catching the bus, biking and even walking.  They endured through swarms of mosquitoes and doctor flies. It was muddy and raining. In the end we accomplished what we set out to do.  It was a great feeling knowing that we were getting closer to the end goal. The next activities will involve more field work.  Below are some pictures from the nature trail. We saw what I believe is a bare-throated tiger heron nesting in a nearby tree.

 

Carnival 2016

Doing my capstone project close to Belize City has turned out a lot better than I expected.  I’ve been able to go to the tourism expo and I made it to the carnival this year.  I used to watch it on TV before but never made the trip to experience it in person.
It worked out nicely because the portion of the training I’m doing with the villagers from Gracie Rock this week is about Belize’s culture.

Belize has many different cultures and everyone gets along.  All the culture’s have their own way of expressing themselves through music, language, dance, clothing, food, etc.  I got to experience the Mestizo culture the last time in Orange Walk.  This time I experienced the Belizean Creole in full swing at Carnival 2016 in Belize City.  As we are learning this week in my project at the village, the Belize Creole is a mix of African and European ancestry.  There are many aspects of our culture that can be traced to African or European origin. Carnival is very popular in the Caribbean and is becoming just as popular in Belize.  Showcasing and marketing this colorful and vivacious event is a great opportunity for the tourism industry.  The Belizean diaspora is a huge market and many return in the month of September to experience carnival and celebrate our Independence Day.

Carnival attracts people of all ages.  There were many different groups who participated in the carnival parade this year. Many private sector businesses support this annual event.  Its a time for people throughout the country to unite and celebrate.  There was even a steel band performing in the carnival parade this year.

In the end I got lots of pictures and videos which I used in the project I’m doing in the village.

Tourism Expo

Things have been going great with my capstone project in the village of Gracie Rock. It is a wonderful experience to be working on a project like this.  The work I’m doing is directly impacting those who need it.

Apart from the community project, I recently attended a Tourism Expo in one of the Northern towns of Orange Walk.  It was an exciting time as many of the local businesses came out and showcased what they offer to the public and visitors.  There were many booths which promoted local products and services for the tourism industry.  Some of the organizations present included the Belize Tourism Board, Belize Tourism Industry Association, Belize Trade and Investment Development Service, the local Tour Guide Associations and other business promoting their local products.  I have been to the Northern part of the country numerous times before but was unaware of all it had to offer. Some of these are shown in the pictures below.

The town council was actively promoting the local culture of the region.  They were Mestizo dances which were performed by the local culture, proudly displaying their traditional clothing and colors. Many visitors come to Belize to experience our diverse culture, tasting the delicious food, dancing to the rhythmic music, and hoping to get a holistic cultural experience.  During the Tourism Expo, the crowd was treated to some remarkable dances of the Mestizo Culture.  The Mestizo is a culture with a mix of Maya and Spanish ancestry.  As such, some aspects of both the Maya and the Spanish are present in this culture. The pictures below are from one of the dances performed that day.

This was an interesting and exciting experience. I learned a lot about this region.

 

Back in Belize

belize sign

After being gone for a year, I’m back home. My final capstone project is all that remains for me to complete my Master’s Degree.  I will be completing this project in my beautiful country, Belize.

The Belize Social Investment Fund (SIF) is implementing a sustainable tourism engagement project in Gracie Rock Village.  One of the overall objectives of the project is to engage the community in tourism and provide income generating opportunities for village residents.  The project is aimed at improving the socioeconomic development of the village.  This community engagement project involves several activities including capacity and skills training. I am working with the SIF and the Belize Tourism Board in developing and implementing a tour guide training program for the village residents.

I had the opportunity to visit the community and do a preliminary assessment.  I passed the junction to the entrance of the village numerous times before but didn’t go into the community until now.  The community is located a few miles from the George Price Highway and hidden behind a limestone ridge.

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Village is located behind these hills
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Road to Gracie Rock

I was taken on a tour of the village by a field officer from the SIF. This gave me an opportunity to see the village and identify any opportunities which  can be developed for sustainable tourism activities, especially guided tours by villagers.  The area is surrounded by lush broad-leaf forests.  I saw several birds on this trip and managed to get a few good photos.  The Sibun River passes through the village and there is a small suspension bridge for villagers to walk across. The photos of the birds and bridge are posted below.  See if you can identify the birds.

crimson tanager

oriole

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Suspension bridge at Gracie Rock

 

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View from across the river

These photos were taken before hurricane Earl passed through Belize earlier this month.  I understand that the river flooded and washed away the bridge.  I’ll revisit the village and see the damage caused by the hurricane.

I’m looking forward to working with the village of Gracie Rock, the SIF and the BTB.  I know that I will be able to contribute to this Sustainable Tourism Project and impact the lives of these residents.