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Travel - Belize 2009

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November 7 - 14, 2009

Southern Belize - Cotton Tree Lodge

Toledo, the southernmost district of Belize

We traveled to the Southern Belize pristine rainforest jungles to learn about Maya civilization and to explore sustainable organic cacao agriculture, fare trade,  and chocolate –  the history, tradition, making, and use as a health ingredients' delivery system.

Rio Blanco National Park
Organic Cacao Farm
Tiger Cave
Nim Li Punit
Snake Caye Snorkeling
Blue Creek Cave
Nature Photography
Medicinal Plants

Rio Blanco National ParkLocated in the western part of the Toledo District, the Rio Blanco National Park is in the Mayan Mountain Forest Reserve. Residents of two surrounding communities, Santa Cruz and Santa Elena, established it in 1994.  A spectacular 20 feet waterfall is surrounded by sub-tropical wet forest with vast biodiversity of flora and fauna.

Organic Cacao FarmThe Maya archaeological site at Colha in northern Belize, Central America, has yielded several spouted ceramic vessels that contain residues from the preparation of food and beverages. Jeffrey et al. (2002)analyzed dry residue samples by using high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to atmospheric-pressure chemical-ionization mass spectrometry, and show that chocolate (Theobroma cacao) was consumed by the Preclassic Maya as early as 600 BC, pushing back the earliest chemical evidence of cacao use by some 1,000 years. An organic cacao farm near San Felipe village provides an example of the sustainable organic agricultural practices in a tropical area. Farmer’s family provided a delicious lunch and demonstrated the traditional Maya technique of cacao processing and chocolate drink recipes. Photos.

Tiger Cave The name of the cave is attributed by the story of a local dog who chased a jaguar into the mouth of this magnificent natural cavern many years ago. It is located in Southern Belize and often is referred to as San Miguel Cave by the name of closest Maya village. Exploring the Cave is physically challenging, however, your efforts are awarded by magnificent halls of numerous stalactites forming a drapery with a curtain-like appearance. In several places, light enters the cave from the ceiling created by earthquakes. You may encounter fantastic creatures with long antenna and legs, which represents of a very specific cave arthropod fauna. Photos.

Nim Li PunitNamed by the one of the best-known Maya stele's carving depicting a ruler with a large head-dress or "Big Hat", Nim Li Punit is a mid sized site from the Maya Classic Period (5th Century AD through the 8th Century AD). Structures located around three plazas include several step-pyramids. The site is mostly known for carved stelae illustrating the ancient city's rulers. The large number of stelae along with the presence of the East Group assemblage and a ball court suggest that the site had some prominence in the social and religious life of the ancient Maya of Southern Belize. Photos.

Snake Caye SnorkelingDown the Moho River sail toward the sea provides an opportunity to explore wildlife along the banks and explain the delicate mangrove ecosystems that line the river.  At the mouth of the river, the boat heads north toward the Snake Cayes, a set of four small islands in the Port of Honduras Marine Reserve. Situated just north of Punta Gorda, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve was declared a protected area in January 2000. The community based Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) manages the reserve.  The Port Honduras Marine Reserve encompassing 160 square miles of coastal Caribbean Sea and includes 135 small mangrove islands with only 10% of them having any kind of dry land. Islands are home to many seabird species including a colony of magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens). Blue Creek CaveSurrounded by karst limestone hills, Blue Creek Village is a Mopan and Kekchi village with population of about 300. Clusters of thatch huts are located on both sides of Blue Creek, a beautiful, clear stream flowing from the surrounding jungle. Maya women beat their laundry on the smooth stones in an emerald green pool upstream of the concrete bridge. The Mayan name for Blue Creek Cave is Hokeb Ha, or where the water enters the earth. A well-defined trail along the creek leads to the Hokeb Ha Cave. After crossing the dry riverbed of the feeder, continue upstream along the base of increasingly steep limestone cliffs. The river breaks into a cascade of small pictures waterfalls.  After climbing over roots and rocks for the last 300 feet of the journey and a sharp right turn, you will see a magnificent cave opening. Emerald green tropical vegetation and crystal blue water surrounds the enourmous black opening in the mountain.  You will need waterproof headlamp and life jacket to navigate your way upstream of the river in the cave. After the struggle of getting upstream along the hanging slippery walls of the cave, just follow the water flow and enjoy slow swim back to the mouth of the cave, an experience definitely worth the effort.

BirdingAvifauna of Belize comprise of more than 600 species.  See Wikipedia for a list of the bird species recorded in Belize. Nature PhotographyBelize provides ample opportunities for nature photography.  From jungle landscapes, fantastic sea shore, rivers and waterfalls, caves and the insides of tropical forest to spiders, ants, butterflies, reptiles, birds and mammals. Photos.

Medicinal PlantsIn Belize medicinal plants continue to be the most economically and culturally suitable treatment for a variety of health conditions. Deeply rooted in Maya traditional medicine these plants have not been systematically studied by modern methods. Enjoy Mayan Medicinal Plant work with local guides. ChocolateAn analysis of dry residue samples extracted from ceramic vessels found at the Maya archaeological site at Colha in Northern Belize, Central America unveiled that cacao drinking has its roots in the Preclassics Maya as early as  600 BC (Hurst et al. Cacao usage by the earliest Maya civilization.  Nature (2002),  418 (6895),  289-290). Cocoa drink played an important cultural and medicinal role in Central America. The Mayas and Aztecs used a comprehensive technique in frothing  their liquid chocolates. Cacao beans are the source of biologically active compounds and cacao products may be a useful delivery system for functional ingredients.
Traditional Maya Cocoa drink making.

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