Monday, November 29, 2010

A Short Stay in Belize City, Central America

As you can see from the picture above, it was warm in Belize City, Belize, Central America, less than a couple of weeks ago. We stopped for a snack of local meat pies and a bottle of the famous local beer, Belikin, for me, and a glass of watermelon juice for my husband. In addition to Belize, we also visited several other places. We returned home before Thanksgiving. We had a great Thanksgiving meal with the family of our daughter’s husband. I hope that all my blogging friends also had a great Thanksgiving celebration.

Vintage Thanksgiving postcard -
A Thanksgiving Token: Everyone has cause for Thanksgiving but the turkey…”

It was in the mid 80s when we visited Belize City. Belize is a tiny country bordered by Mexico’s Yucatan to the north and Guatemala to the south and west. It is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey. It has the lowest population density in Central America – one of the lowest in the world. The population of Belize is predominantly Kriol Black – the descendants of African slaves who mixed with other races in the region. It is a unique culture where English is the official language but Spanish is also spoken.

Map of Central America

Here is a bit of history: the Maya Indians settled Belize as early as 1500 BC. Then it was claimed by Spain in the late 1500s and in 1638 Scottish and English buccaneers known as “Baymen” settled on the coast to attack Spanish ships. Spain agreed to let the British buccaneers occupy the area (but not to own it) and cut log-wood and mahogany in exchange for their end to piracy. African slaves were brought from Jamaica in the early 1700s to harvest timber. More British settlers came to Belize and in 1864 it became a British Crown Colony under the name “British Honduras.” It became independent from the United Kingdom in 1981; it had already been officially renamed “Belize.” (It was the UK’s last continental possession in the Americas.)

Flag of Belize

Belize is now a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is the only English speaking country in Central and South America.

Example of Belize currency

We arrived at Belize City on a small powered boat like the one below.

It was warm and sunny and I quickly took a picture from the moving boat.

Belize City (population around 70,000) is a busy town with diverse ethnic groups: Creole, Maya, Indians, Garifuna, Mestizo, Chinese and Hindu. The city has been battered several times by powerful hurricanes. It was hit by Hurricane Hattie (category 5) in 1961. Many people lost their lives and thousands were left homeless, so the government relocated the capital from Belize City to Belmopan in the interior of the country. About 3 weeks before we visited Belize City, on October 25, 2010, Hurricane Richard made landfall about 20 miles from the city. Many of the older homes were blown off their stilts and thousands of trees were knocked down. We could still see much debris on the roads as in the picture below, behind the lady in national costume, as well as damages to old houses and roofs.

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture

The scenery around Belize City is as diverse as its people. It is divided into north and south – beautiful colonial houses on one side and poor housing and slums on the other. A manual operated swing bridge divides the city. Twice a day it turns open – it is the last manually operated swing bridge left in the world. We drove on it and I could not take a good picture but below is a vintage postcard showing this bridge.

Vintage postcard of Belize City manual swing bridge.

There are still a dozen Mayan sites with temples and pyramids around the country, but we did not have time to visit them. We drove by several historical sites in Belize City though, like St John’s Cathedral, the oldest Anglican Cathedral Church in Central America. It was built by slave in 1812 from bricks brought as ballast on European sailing chips. The interior is fitted with mahogany, but we did not go inside.

We also drove by the Superior Court House with its lovely ironworks. It was built in 1923 by the same construction company that built the swing bridge, a New Orleans company, and it shows.

A school, Wesley College, which had opened its door in 1882 as a secondary college in Belize is now a music education center since 2006. Close by was another school, for the Muslim community. We also saw little grocery stores in the poor area of Belize City.

We came back to the harbor area to have a snack, as pictured in the heading. It was quite warm by then.

In the distance we had seen the slim lighthouse. It is called the Baron Bliss Lighthouse Monument. The story is told that Baron Bliss, Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, 1829-1926, an English paraplegic sailor, visited Belize in 1926 in his yacht, the Sea King. Baron Bliss had traveled all over the world but fell in love with Belize’s clear blue waters, the climate and the people. Two months after his arrival he died in his yacht – he had not set foot in Belize City yet as he was paralyzed after being struck with polio. He left Belize a $2 million legacy. The interest from this sum has been used to fund many projects in Belize, like roads, schools and many others.

With such a short stay we could not see what Belize is known for, and that is its wonderland of Caribbean reefs. When he visited it with his ship the Calypso, French explorer scientist Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1910-1997) made the Great Blue Hole famous, declaring it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world. Lying about 60 miles off Belize mainland the Blue Hole is a circular underwater limestone sinkhole more than 300 ft across and 412 feet deep. The Hole is located in the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest Barrier Reef in the World. There are over 500 species of fish, 300 species of mollusk, stony corals, sponges, etc. in this reef. It was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. I found a picture of it on the Web.

Eco-tourism is growing in Belize because of its crystal-clear water, coral atolls, its 185 miles long Barrier Reef System, its rain forest with more than 570 species of birds, its national parks, marine reserves and wildlife sanctuaries (more than 40% of the country’s area is protected.) I heard and saw some of the birds, but am not good at catching them with my camera. I am good at buying postcards though… here are several.

Birds of Belize: from top left Roseate Spoonbill, then Green Heron. In center Reddish Egret. Lower left Yellow Crowned Night Heron then Brown Booby.

Mealy Blue Crown Parrot

One animal I would have like to see but did not was the coati.

Postcard of three baby coati – found in many districts of Belize.

Evening came too quickly. It was time to say goodbye to Belize City. Maybe we’ll come back some day. Belize is still relatively undiscovered by tourists but they will come more and more to enjoy its beauty. One early tourist was the English writer Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) who wrote in Beyond the Mexique Bay in 1934 “If the world had any ends British Honduras [Belize] would be one of them. It is not on the way from anywhere, to anywhere else. It is all but uninhabited.” But it has changed – a little


Anonymous said...

Ahh, so beautiful! This place is now added to my list of places to visit. Thanks for the tour! Glad that you had a good holiday.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Your posts and photos are amazing... and when you do not have a photo you manage a vintage postcard, just lovely!

From the US it is not too difficult to reach. I looked into it about a year ago for a trip and visit to the blue hole. Thanks for all the history!

I head to Paris in just one more day. I should take you as my tour guide - hah!


blee said...

great the sunset!

Kay Dennison said...

As always, your photos are breath-taking!!!!!!

Vicki Lane said...

It sounds charming! Wonderful pictures (and postcards!)

""°o.O Nancy O.o°"" said...

*** Merci Vagabonde pour ce voyage à Belize ! :o) J'aime beaucoup ces photos ! Bises à toi et à bientôt ! :o) ***

Margaret said...

Wonderful and beautiful. I like to think of this place staying quiet and untouched. And your sunset photo at the end has the most gorgeous orange! Truly a place to be cherished.

lunarossa said...

What an interesting entry! I didn't know anything about Belize and now I've got a full picture of it. It must have been amazing visiting a place like this. Mille grazie. Ciao. A.

Ruth said...

So fascinating! I just learned more about Belize than I knew in my whole life, but sadly I knew very little.

Baron Bliss's story is extraordinary. And that blue hole, my goodness. I am not good at capturing birds on the camera's sensor either, but I am also good at buying postcards. :)

After I showed my husband the photo of the blue hole, he looked it up and found that it used to be a sinkhole on the surface of the land, then it shifted and sank, starting about 150,000 years ago. It shifted up and down quite a bit over time.

I did not know that Belize had the world's second largest barrier reef.

Thank you so much for all this excellent information.

Happy belated Thanksgiving to you!

Ginnie said...

I had wondered where you might be, Vagabonde, and now I know. I have been to Guatemala City and to Panama City but not to anywhere in Belize. It would seem different to have it be mainly English-speaking in that neck of the woods. My personal opinion is one day in a city is better than none at what we experienced on all our cruises over the years. If anything, you get a taste for what you want to go back to for a longer period. In the meantime, when it's you who does the traveling for us, we all get our appetites whetted! Thank you. :)

I missed celebrating Thanksgivng this year. It was maybe my first time ever....but I told Astrid I wouldn't trade being with her for anything. Too bad we can't sometimes have our cake and eat it too!

DJan said...

I am so glad to have such a talented tour guide as you are. Whenever you visit anywhere, I am enlightened about a place I never knew much about. I have a scuba diving friend who showed me pictures of her trip to Belize, but they were all underwater! I never knew any of this, so thank you again!

claude said...

Ben dis moi, tu es allée te dépayser comme nous l'avons fait à la Martinique. Il a fallu que les Britanniques laissent qq chose d'eux partout.
C'est super sympa de nous faire connaître ce petit Pays. Je connaissais la composition de l'Amérique Centrale, mais j'avais compmlètement oublié ce pays.
Nous là-bas, fin octobre on a fait connaissance de Thomas, un cyclone.
Pas trop fort dans le sud de l'ile mais ravageur à Sainte Lucie où il y a eu 14 morts.
Il y a trois, nous sommes passés après Dean qui avait été très ravageur pour la Martinique.
Très joli et très intéressant post, Vagabonde, comme toujours d'ailleurs.
Tu as reçu ma carte postale ou pas ?
Ce matin, j'ai sorti mes petits torchons de Noël pour être dans l'ambiance.

Anonymous said...

We were there in 2001 and in 2003 and I loved it. We were backpacking through Central and South America and we both enjoyed Belize City and Caye Calker. It was such a relaxing place... and really cheap at the time too. We slept in a cheap cabana by the beach and lived like two hippies for a little while.

Belize City hasn't changed much it seems, from your pictures.

marciamayo said...

Another gorgeous travelogue. Thanks!

Pondside said...

Friends go to Belize every year - it sounds like a gorgeous place. Thanks for the lovely tour!

Friko said...

Another very interesting trip and post, Vagabonde.

The places you visit, I am amazed!

Elaine said...

I enjoyed the tour of Belize very much! It definitely looks like a good place to visit. I love your sunset shot at the end.

Deborah said...

Vagabonde, what an interesting travelogue! You go to some fairly off-the-beaten-track places and we are the richer for your travels and wonderful descriptions. I had no idea about the Great ble Hole, nor anything delse about Belize, i confess. The daughter of a good friend is there at the moment and this puts her trip in much better perspective for me.
i do appreciate the research you do to provide historical information and political context - throughly enjoyable for me to read this on a snowy day in Canada! Amitié, Vagabonde

mermaid gallery said...

really enjoyed your journey...the blue hole fascinates me!

claude said...

Hello Vagabonde !
Au début de notre séjour en Martinique nous pouvions l'île de Sainte Lucie (nous y sommes allés une année en catamaran).
Après il y a eu le cyclone Thomas qui a fait beaucoup de dommages dans cette île ainsi que 14 morts. C'est d'un triste.

Anonymous said...

Wow. You really did have an amazing trip. So many nice photos too.

Unknown said...

Google translator from english to portuguese, in fact, is brasilian, not the "real" portuguese. So, I'm sorry, translation from portuguese to english must be terrible!
I looked in the Google Images for a winter picture; I don't know where it is, but it could be in Portugal, because upon North is very snowy!
Thanks for visiting my Blog!
I always love to read your posts and I learn a lot about your travels.
Kisses and hugs, my dear friend!

rauf said...

Same story everywhere Vagabonde, invasion occupation, plundering of natural resources, imposition of ideas and religion, things that the invaders think are right for the natives, getting rid of those who protest. They often wipe out the native language culture and traditions. The invaders make themselves comfortable ignoring the problems and the needs of the natives who remain poor for ever. Those native who help and support the invaders get rich. India is one such country. Thank you Vagabonde for the history and pictures. i knew nothing of the country.

DianeCA said...

Belize looks like a very interesting and beautiful place and it was wonderful to see it through your eyes. The photos are excellent as alway, and I too love the postcard.

Vagabonde said...

Dear friends – thank you for reading my post on Belize. I read all your comments and appreciate that you took the time to write them. I have been reading some of your blogs but I am quite behind, I’ll come to yours soon. Merci beaucoup – thank you very much.

CrazyCris said...

Well that definitely warms one up on a winter's evening!

Very interesting! I lived in Mexico 9 years growing up, but never managed to make it south of the border *grumble, grumble*

SLight correction, there is another Anglo Latin-American country: Guyana! I have a friend from there, and another from Belize, we all met during a summer marine conservation course at Duke several years ago.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

I'm adding you to my reading list, I've been curious about how other people write about their travels since I started up my new travel blog... wish I had more time for it though! You wrote a very thorough piece here! :)

Jeanie said...

Those birds simply dazzle. And the coati -- I'd never seen even a photo, so at least you are ahead of me on that one! This looks like a splendid spot to holiday -- and as always you provide such history and atmosphere with the vintage cards as well as your own good work!

Jeruen said...

Why is everyone on vacation? I just read the comment you left in my posts, and you joined the bandwagon too! All of my blogger folks are on vacation. Now I can't wait to take my own break...

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I have heard about Belize for years and years--It is a place I wish I had visited....There is so much there that interests me---The Barrier Reef being the place I have heard about most. But to see all those exotic Birds...WOW! Now that would be a real treat....And to walk the Beach and go Shelling....Sheer Heaven! Thanks for this Birds-Eye View, my dear....!

Unknown said...


So I am obviously catching up backwards to your posts. The city is a hub for cruise ships and is often a jumping-off spot for excursions to other parts of Belize. Thanks...

Belize City

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