Toledo is Belize’s best kept secret Print E-mail
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Written by Alfonso Noble   
Thursday, 23 July 2009 14:20

Cacao preparation is a family affairIn an effort to shine a spotlight on the Toledo district as a tourism destination, the Belize Tourism Board organized a two day familiarization tour of some of the attractions the district has to offer.

The two day event started off on Saturday July 18 as media personnel boarded a mini bus from Belize City and headed south. It was a pleasant ride lasting nearly five hours but with interesting sights and cheerful conversation and at times dozing off inside the bus. Time flew and we arrived at our first stop. The Lodge at Big Falls is located about 16 miles outside of Punta Gorda Town in the village after which it received its name.

Immediately on our arrival we were met by the man who was to take care of us for our two day stay, Brunno Kuppinger. The media team was then divided into two groups, with one being accommodated at the Lodge at Big Falls while the other, which included yours truly, being hosted by Kuppinger and his wife Melissa. The husband and wife team own and operate Sun Creek lodge at the entrance of San Marcos Village.
Sun Creek lodge, explains Kuppinger, started operations in 2004. After sustaining severe damage during Hurricane Iris, the resort was finally opened a couple of months after the disaster. It offers a culturally alluring atmosphere with all manner of floral plants including lobster tails, birds of paradise and the like, elegantly decorating the entire lodge’s compound. All of six cabanas are thatched with bay leaves and are encircled with screens to prevent insects from entering the rooms. There is indoor plumbing, electricity and even internet available, making it a comfortable stay. But comfort aside there is the rustic appeal with the showers being no more than water pipes installed inside an encircling of rocks. The sky is exposed and the shower head is a one gallon metal bucket perforated with multiple holes making it a therapeutic experience when it’s used. 

The facility tour aside, we unload and after relaxing for a few minutes, we are left in the hands of Kuppinger, a German man and former Mercedez Benz salesman. Kuppinger revs up a small bus and makes no apologies in explaining that the comfort of air conditioning is no more. The team takes it in stride and being Belizeans, there is no strangeness to the ride; it is an ordinary bus experience, bumps in the road and all.

Our first destination is a cacao farm tour in the village of San Pedro Colombia. We are met by an energetic and charismatic Eladio Pop who prides himself in showing off his 32 acre swath of land that is covered with all manner of fruit and spice trees. The 50-year-old briskly tours the group, offering us mangoes and pears and the food of the gods itself - Cacao. Coc says he’s a natural man and dug up cohune cabbage and shared it with the group. It’s rather much like regular cabbage except that it is the shoots of a palm tree that grows abundantly in Pop’s farm and in the Toledo district. In speaking with him, Pop says he feels that he is now part of the tourism industry. Since April of this year, he’s had about 13 groups that have visited him through Kuppinger and while he says he will not stop his farming operations, that additional revenue is welcomed by himself and his family. After our Cacao trail, we head back out to lunch for a fire-hearth rice and beans meal topped off with a cacao drink prepared by Pop’s wife and children.

Then we’re off again into the bus and onto unpaved roads and bumpy rides to the nearby Maya site of Lubaantun. We’re guided by the site’s ranger who explains that Lubaantun is the location where a crystal skull was supposedly found by Peter Hedges in the 1920’s on his daughter’s 17th birthday. There are now other theories about the skull which surmise that it is quite likely that the skull does not belong to the site. He went on explaining that other than two ball court markers which were found at the site, there is no evidence to suggest that there was writing at the site. He also points to the architecture of the site where no 'morter’ was used to hold together the stones that composed the site. Then there is the circular edge of some of the structures which is a feature that is unique to Lubaantun.  After some more quick facts during our tour, we leave and head for our third destination of our first day.

About a half an hour’s ride away from Lubaantun in Blue Creek Village is the Hokeb Ha cave.  After a 25 minute hike through the jungle, skipping on rocks across streams, we arrive at the cave’s entrance. The flowing water of the cave is most tempting to ease the heat brought on by the forest and the hike. The cave is a three layered one that, when explored in its fullest, takes spelunkers all the way from the Toledo district to the Cayo district. It’s a wet cave system where at times those venturing inside have to swim in eight foot waters. Today however, there was none of that and we sufficed ourselves with admiring the beauty of mother nature’s creation with some opting for a refreshing dip in the clear flowing waters of Hokeb Ha (from where water flows).

After hiking back, it’s off to refresh ourselves at our rooms and then dinner at Coleman’s place for a buffet style meal of mashed potatoes, pork, chicken and vegetables. After dinner some of us opt for a night in town after which it is rest for Sunday morning when we travel out to sea.
We leave from Punta Gorda Town in a boat captained by Dennis Garbutt who is the manager of Garbutt’s Marine and fishing lodge. Garbutt’s operation is well known for the fly-fishing operations which it conducts where tourists are taken out to catch rare fish like the permit. Garbutt a former environmentalist now turned tour operator explains that our next visit is to be Snake Caye West. Along our journey he explains that the caye is located in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve which is managed by TIDE. It’s a 160 square mile reserve that was declared in 2000. The area says Garbutt was greatly under pressure from ‘fisherfolk’ who set up gill nets at the mouth of five rivers that empty into the sea. Since the declaration however, stricter surveillance has minimized the activity; however, there are still those who attempt to wrongfully exploit the resources available in the area. During his explanation, rain poured on us and we had to take shelter at the Port Honduras observation post, and soon enough the rains stopped and we were off again to Snake Caye.
The Caye is approximately two acres in size and features white sandy beaches with a bounty of wildlife, birds and we are told constrictors. A thatched roof provides shelter, the bar-b-que pit is lit and the swimming and snorkeling begin shortly thereafter. After a couple of hours it’s back to Punta Gorda, everyone with smiles on their faces content with the experience not just on the last day but on the previous day.

The Belize Tourism Board holds Familiarization tours with the local media to raise awareness of destinations in the country to encourage Belizeans to vacation at home. The Guardian Newspaper expresses its gratitude to the BTB and its staffers Lorraine Herrera and Kenish Stephen. Much thanks is also given to Brunno Kuppinger and his wife Melissa.