Travelling with a camera rather than with a laptop I was obviously on holiday. Kate and I had been invited by Yashin Dujon one of the MSc students from two years ago to visit Belize.
Belize is a wonderful place to holiday, not only does is offer easy access to the the Barrier Reef, this small country has a wide diversity of landscapes and of peoples. Belize, formally British Honduras, is peopled by Mestizos, Creole, Maya and Garifuna. The culture of the Mayans lives on in a country with a rich heritage of Mayan sites, some fully excavated and presented for tourism, many more emerging from the jungle – we particularly enjoyed El Pilar on the border with Guatemala. The Garifuna have maintained their cultural identity through their language and continues to live in villages along the southern coast of Belize, their music is distinctive, rich and attractive – listen to some. Drinking Rum Bitters and listening to local Garifuna drummers at King Cassava’s in Hopkins Bat was one of the highlights of the trip.
Belize is a tiny country with ~300,000 people at the crossroads of Central America and the Caribbean. With 40% of the population 14 years or younger, the median age is 20. Belize is ravished by hurricanes and threatened by sea level rise, it has much to lose from global warming. But like many poor countries in the tropics it is heavily reliant upon tourism.
Belize gets 3 million cruise ship day visitors per year and 300,000 tourists – with a new government in office the country needs all the tourists it can attract. The new government has inherited unsustainable levels of debt and an economy composed of tourism and plantation crops – oranges, bananas and sugar. Black and Green chocolate purchases cacao in the south and we were shown how to make chocolate by a village woman who has developed an agri-tourism business which prospers in the south – far away from the cruise tourists whose experience is limited to what is offered by the cruise lines through their vertically integrated partners.
Belize needs more tourists – if you travel off the beaten track and spend money in the local economy you can make a real difference in Belize and it has a wealth of cultural and biodiversity. We shall be going back.