For Andy Palacio, one of Belize’s most loved and famous musicians, music was “the soundtrack of life”.
Perhaps the most beautiful demonstration of this statement can be found in the music of his people, the Garinagu, one of the many cultures that make up the melting pot that is Belize. Product of the indigenous Arawaks of South America and shipwreck prisoners destined for slavery, the Garinagu claim St. Vincent as their homeland. Forceful exodus from the Caribbean lead to Central American settlements in Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.. Throughout migratory pathways, the Garinagu have continued to use music in daily life and work to retell their story from elder to younger generation, to diminish the boredom of everyday chores, to accompany sacred rituals that maintain intergenerational bonds and to recreate a sense of shared identity despite borders.
The main instrument used in Garifuna music that requires musical accompaniment is the drum. Traditionally these drums were made from a hollowed out trunk of hardwood, covered with animal skin usually a deer, peccary or sheep which was stretched over the trunk and tightened with rope and wooden pegs and they were always played solely with the hands. Today the design is very much the same, although the hollowing out is normally done with a machine rather than by hand. In the majority of everyday secular music, two drums are involved. The main and largest drum provides the bass and is known as the Segundo. Its namesake drummer provides the regular beat. The Primero drum is usually smaller and its player uses a more complicated pattern of beats and is considered the more skilled musician. In Garifuna rituals a third larger drum is used with the central instrument, the Lanigi Garawoun (the heart drum) providing the lead for the other two drummers.
For social occasions, one of the most popular music genres and dances of the Garifuna is the Punta. This was traditionally a dance performed by men and women representing a dialogue between the two sexes performed at social gatherings and wakes. The drums and rattles accompanied the narrative text written mostly by women provides comment on the many challenges of life. Traditionally families socialized together and young people would be under strict supervision. The Punta was a way through which couples communicated interest in each other without alarming the audience or creating suspicion. Today couples doing the Punta try to outdo each other with complicated movements of the feet that sway the rest of the body, producing an impression of moving hips and bottoms. Other dances such as the Chumba, Gunjei, Wanaragua, Paranda and Hüngü Hüngü are often played in social settings.
This traditional Punta music has evolved into one of the most popular and ubiquitous style of music in Belize: Punta Rock. The artist Pen Cayetano is largely regarded as the originator of this genre of music during the 1980s. It is a faster version of traditional Punta with the addition of electric instruments such as drum, bass guitar and synthesizer and the dance accompanying it is every bit as provocative as the original. Today one of the most popular Punta artists is Supa G.
Paranda is another example of how the music has evolved over the years as the Garifuna have assimilated other musical influences from their surroundings. A gentler genre of music and dance traditionally performed by the Garifuna men, Paranda songs were used as serenades in which a group of guitar-toting performers would to from house to house in their communities performing their compositions. The singing providing the narrative accompaniment is very much the call and response, leader and chorus arrangement that is typical of some music of the Garifuna and talks about what is happening in the singers’ lives. Though the musical form is known to have been around since the early 1900s, it wasn’t until 2007 when Andy Palacio elevated Paranda to international fame with his acclaimed CD, “Watina”. After his unexpected death, the Garifuna collective, the group with which Andy had toured to promote Watina, continued to build on his legacy, creating a reputation for this more soulful exploration of Garifuna music.
The Wanaragua provides yet another “soundtrack to life”. Otherwise known as the Jonkonnu or John Canoe, the traditional dance is thought to have been created or adopted on the island of St. Vincent. Similar dances created by the slaves were performed on special occasions around Christmas; however, oral history refers to Wanaragua dancers using a guise lo lure European colonizers into Garifuna communities during the wars they fought on the island of St. Vincent in the 17th century. Today the dance is usually performed between Christmas Day and Día Rey, January 6th or the feast of the epiphany. Accompanied by drumming, performers dress up in pink masks as a mocking representative of Europeans and dance from house to house for a small monetary token.
Whilst the majority of Garinagu are located in the Stann Creek district around Dangriga and Hopkins and in Barranco in the Toledo district, any visitor to Belize is sure to encounter one of the above genres of music and dance particularly around November as they celebrate the uniqueness of their culture and soundtrack of their life.
Want to experience the sounds and sights of the Garifuna culture? Then book your flight with Tropic Air and take a trip this November 19th to beautiful Dangriga.
It’s called the “Lechero” (español for Milk Run) but could just as easily be known as “The Supply Run” or “The Grocery Run.” If you’re looking out the window of one of our Cessna Caravans, you might call it the “Victoria Peak” or “Barrier Reef Run” or if you are visiting Belize, maybe just “part of my vacation”.
How the Lechero earned its name
In aviation, the term milk run refers to a scheduled flight with many stops. In shipping or logistics, a milk run refers to a round trip that facilitates both distribution and collection, similar to the way a milkman used to deliver and pick up around the neighborhoods of old. It also refers to the dairy industry practice of picking up from different suppliers – when one truck collects milk from several farmers for delivery to a central location. For our flights, all these definitions seem to fit, and so the nickname has stuck.
Our lecheros are the multiple daily circuits of Tropic Air flights that hop between the towns in Southern Belize, often serving as a lifeline for the communities that we serve. In some ways, the lechero flights reflect our airline’s heritage of pioneering pilots who transported our mail, medicine, food and the adventurous tourists to all kinds of places throughout Belize. “This is the original Tropic Air,” said John Greif, President of the company and one of our original pilots. “Its real old school – it’s like when we were small … These are the flights that built Belize. Not only is the scenery beautiful and the people we carry, wonderful, but I wouldn’t want to fly anywhere else.”
Flights the become part of the adventure
One of the lechero routes, Flight 351, starts at Belize City and stops (maybe) at the Belize International Airport, then Dangriga, and finally Placencia before landing in Punta Gorda. This flight is repeated many times each day, every day, always with passengers, and always with a wide assortment of cargo down below and perhaps even on the back seat. It is not uncommon to see birthday cakes, flowers heading to a wedding, TVs, or even a turtle headed to a rehabilition facility. One time there was even a baby manatee.
Tips for the Milk Run
While flying south, if you want views of the mountains, rivers and historic towns that dot the coast, be sure to sit, camera in hand, on the right side of the aircraft. The left side will get views of the Caribbean Sea and islands that string the inside of the Barrier Reef. On a clear day you can even get a view of the mountains of Honduras. “If you get a day that’s clear, it’s spectacular,” says Captain Alberto Ancona.
Passengers are required to stay on the aircraft during the brief stops at each airport. Only those scheduled to get off/on at that stop are permitted to do so, but if you’d like to spend more time checking out each town, a reservations agent can help you book a flight with layovers in each stop along the way. Call (+501) 226-2380 or email us at email@example.com and we can help.
During a recent stop in Placencia, Captain Misrae Montalvo spoke of his longtime affection for the Milk Run – and all of the interesting experiences they’ve encountered along the way.
“What’s the strangest thing you’ve had on board?” we asked.
“Nothing is strange to me anymore,” he said. “I just know I am headed home”. You see, Captain Misrae is also from Punta Gorda, at the far end of this lechero. For him, it is the way he sees his family every night, it is also his commute home.
Belize is fortunate to possess some spectacular and diverse wonders of nature. From the world famous Blue Hole, to hundreds of coral rimmed Cayes, to Maya sites scattered across large swaths of rainforest.
Amongst all this beauty is ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave, a must see on your Belize bucket list. Actun Tunichil Muknal, which means Cave of the Stone Sepulcre, was discovered in the late 80s and first opened to the public in the late 90s. Located deep within the Cayo rainforest, it’s a 7 mile journey down a dirt track from the main highway near Teakettle village. Then, it’s a 45 minute hike through the rainforest, crossing the Roaring River several times, before arriving at the hourglass shaped entrance to the cave. The cave is reached with a brief swim.
Ancient Maya belief held that entering a cave was to enter Xibalba, the Maya Under-world. As you wade, walk and swim through the dark underground river using only the light from your headlamp, one can begin to imagine why the Maya used caves as sacred places. As you reach “The Cathedral”, named because of its scale, magnificence and sacredness, you can see giant stalactites hanging from the ceiling, and ancient Maya artifacts including pottery and human bones littering the cave floor. Venturing still deeper into the Maya underworld, the trail ends high in the rock face (only accessible by ladder) where the calcified skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden, but now assumed to be a young male, is located. It is thought that he was a sacrifice to the Gods in a time of need.
Tropic Air offer is thrilled to offer a day tour of ATM for those staying on the Northern Cayes. An early morning flight from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye will take you to Belmopan where your tour will begin and end. All visits to the cave will be undertaken with a licensed cave guide, and all of whom are passionate and knowledgeable about their heritage, and who enjoy sharing it with visitors.
The warm cave water is refreshing even on cooler days. Its depth will vary at different places within the cave, and is dependent on the amount of rainfall there has been. There are times when the river is in flood and tours are suspended. Closed toed shoes with socks are essential, and in certain parts of the cave you will need to remove shoes in order to avoid damaging the the many ancient artifacts scattered on the ground. Helmets and head torches are provided by the guide.
Do you every wonder how that succulent juicy lobster tail arrived on your plate? Catching lobster is a little bit more complicated that catching a fish and involves a few more steps. We asked some local lobster fishermen to give us the low down on how to catch a lobster.
So, the million dollar question.. how do you catch a lobster?
There are two ways to catch a lobster: using a trap or using a hook. The trap method is used in shallower water in areas such as Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The second method is normally used further afield. Lighters (a 30ft sailing sloop) sets sail for 10 to 15 days at a time with 6 to 7 fishermen and a boat load of ice. These fishermen skin dive the outer reef and atolls and catch lobster with a hook stick or gaff.
What do the traps look like and how do they work?
The lobster trap is made from strips of wood from the palmetto palm. They are un baited and have a funnel on the top. They are set in the open seagrass. The Caribbean or spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) which is nocturnal leaves the safety of the coral reef to find food and graze on these seagrass beds. As soon as the sun comes up they are looking for a hiding space. They aren’t the brightest of creatures and if they see any chance of shade such as a trap they will scurry down the funnel and then won’t be able to get out.
The shade trap is made of palmetto and corrugated roofing. The lobsters hide under these shades. Tin Drums are also used as traps.
Who makes the traps?
The traps are made by the fishermen themselves. This skill has been handed down from generation to generation.
When do you start to lay traps and how do you know where to put them?
At the beginning of June the traps, old and new are put in the sea to soak. This makes it easier for them to sink. About a week before the beginning of lobster season the traps are situated. Each lobster fisherman has a fixed territory which is usually inherited from previous generations and on the whole other fishermen respect this. The secret to location and pattern of laying the traps is known only to the individual.
How big should the lobster be?
A whole lobster, must measure three inches or more from the eye to the start of the tail; the lobster tail should weigh at least 4 ounces. There are big fines for being caught with undersized, spotted (which means the lobster will soon lay eggs ) or those with eggs .
How early do you get up on the first day of lobster season and how long do you catch lobster for?
At the break of day until about 10 am or until you have a good catch
Do you go out every day during lobster season?
Normally its every few days to check on the traps. With a fast powerboat checking your traps doesn’t take that long.
Where do you sell your catch?
In times gone by the catch would be sold at the Fishermen’s Co-operatives which existed in the major towns of San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia and others. In the past lobster was a big export and here in San Pedro a cargo plane full of ice would fly in to take the catch. Today the tourism industry has changed all that. The co-operatives don’t really exist as before and fishermen tend to have an agreement with a hotel or restaurant, who will buy all their catch.
DATES FOR THIS YEAR’S (2017) CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL ARE MAY 19TH, 20TH, 21ST.
This month is a very special one for the Toledo district of Belize because it marks the 10th Anniversary of the Chocolate Festival of Belize.
Back in 2007 the first festival was founded originally as the Toledo Cacao Festival, with the idea of promoting this very unique district of Belize and the amazing cacao that grows here. The then British company Green and Black who were buying the majority of the cacao for their “Maya Gold” bar, were one of the main sponsors of the event, along with the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA). The event opened with the signature “Wine and Chocolate” evening. All the cuisine was chocolate related and guests were treated to bars of “Maya Gold” as a welcome gift. The following day a street fair was held in the town of Punta Gorda, the town clock was painted especially for the event. There were stalls of all kinds selling every kind of cacao related product you could think of, wine, vinegar, soaps, earrings and of course chocolate. Local musicians played marimba and the Maya ceremonial deer dance was re-enacted. There were activities for children to learn all about cacao and even trips to local cacao farms could be arranged. The event culminated on the Sunday with fireworks and the music of The Three Kings.
The Maya of the Toledo district have of course been making chocolate for thousands of years. They discovered that if the seeds grown in the pods of the Theobrama Cacao tree were roasted and ground, mixed with local spices and water, that they provided a refreshing drink. This drink originally drunk in dried gourds is still very much a part of the Maya culture although today it is more likely to be drunk from brightly colored plastic cups. This first ever cacao event was not only a showcase of the traditional Maya culture but also an inspiration for a handful of people to start making their own “bean to bar” chocolate within Belize using Belizean cacao. By the following year there were already four new chocolate makers in Belize, showcasing their products at the 2nd Cacao Festival. These included Belize Chocolate Company, Cotton Tree Chocolate, Goss Chocolate and Ixcacao (originally Cyrila’s)
The Toledo Cacao Growers Association which was established in 1984 was the original source for buying beans. Until very recently the cacao farmer would harvest the pods, extract the beans and then ferment them in wooden boxes covered with banana leaves. This process would take approximately 7 days. Once the beans were fermented they were laid out to dry. The TCGA would buy these dried and fermented beans from the farmer. In 2010, Maya Mountain Cacao started purchasing wet beans from the farmers in an effort to provide a more consistent quality to the buyer. The TCGA quickly followed suit and today both companies centralise the fermenting and drying of the cacao. It is at this stage that the various chocolate makers buy the beans to transform it into chocolate.
The Cacao festival changed its name in 2013 to The Chocolate Festival of Belize. As with years gone by, this year the event will be held on the Commonwealth weekend 20th – 22nd May and will follow the same format as the original with Wine and Chocolate evening on Friday, Taste of Toledo street fair held on the Saturday and Grand Finale on Sunday. Come and check out what promises to be a fabulous, informative weekend filled with chocolate, culture, music and fun and of course make sure you fly there on Tropic Air.
Tropic Air has a strong tradition of charitable giving and fundraising, dating back to our founder who was a passionate philanthropist. Through a mixture of donations and fundraising activities, we continue to support charities and local community projects.
Tropic believes it has a corporate responsibility to providing excellent service both on the air and on the ground. As a responsible corporate citizen, we work with a variety of nonprofit partners to make a difference in the communities we serve. This commitment to inspire our community is how we conduct business every day. We work hand-in-hand with local organizations, connecting communities within our areas of commitment: youth and education; health; drug prevention; community and the environment.
Usually, we give through flight donations and other assistance programs, but this year, we decided to take it one step further, with the launch of the #TropicGivesBack. For every ticket bought by our customers at the month’s selected station, $1 is donated to an organization chosen by our staff stationed in that community.
In January, our team in Dangriga raised $500 for the Dangriga Red Cross. In February, Caye Caulker raised $400 for the Cancer Support Group, Arms of Love. March saw Belmopan raise $400 for King’s Childrens home. Currently, it is San Ignacio’s turn, with Punta Gorda scheduled for May.
“Our love of people and community is our most powerful fuel, which is why we have a long history of helping through nonprofit support. We are committed to giving back not just nationally, but in the communities where our customers and employees live and work” said John Greif III, Tropic Air’s President. “Through the #TropicGivesBack Donation program, we hope to spark social, economic, and environmental initiatives in communities across the country. We sincerely appreciate being part of these communities” said Steve Schulte, our CEO.
With this success of this program, we would like to thank our customers´ dedication to making Belize a better place, and we look forward to making this program an annual event.
So as you travel around Belize, look for the banner with our program’s mascot, Lucas, on it. Buy a ticket, and help us to give back.
March 9th is a National Holiday in Belize. Formerly Baron Bliss Day, it is now known as National Heroes and Benefactors Day to honor all those who have contributed to the greatness that is Belize. So, who was Baron Bliss and what makes him so special?
Baron Bliss is widely considered to be Belize’s biggest benefactor. Born Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss in England in 1869, he inherited the title 4th Baron Bliss of the Kingdom of Portugal. Bliss was an avid traveller and sailor with a significant fortune. At the age of 42 he is thought to have contracted polio which led to his paralysis. This didn’t restrict him from sailing his yacht Sea King II to the Bahamas in 1920 where he lived for 5 years. From here he sailed to Trinidad before arriving in Belize or British Honduras as it was known then, in 1926. At this time Baron Bliss was in a poor state of health, having contracted food poisoning in Trinidad. He spent the next few weeks aboard his yacht fishing the tranquil and abundant waters of Belize and his health seemed to improve. Nevertheless, a few days before his 57th birthday he was informed by physicians that he was in fact dying. Although he hadn’t actually set foot on mainland Belize, so impressed had he been with the country and its people who he had met whilst fishing the waters and visiting the Cayes, that he summoned Sir John Burdon the then, Governor of Belize to board his yacht, to inform him of his wishes to leave the majority of his estate to Belize. In his will he asked that a trust be formed and the money invested for the benefit of the country and its citizens.
The estate was estimated at 1.8million Belize dollars. Baron Bliss died 9th March 1926 and was subsequently buried as per his wishes near the sea in a granite tomb with a lighthouse erected nearby. This lighthouse still stands and a restored Sea King II is resident in the grounds of Government House. The Bliss Trust has over the ensuing years used this money for various projects across Belize including The Bliss Institute, The Bliss School of Nursing ,a library in Santa Elena and a leisure centre in Punta Gorda.
Sailing was such an integral part of Baron Bliss’s life that he also specified a sum of 100 pounds be used annually to set up regattas in towns within Belize. Countrywide this holiday which this year is held on Monday 7th is celebrated with regattas and other events to honor Baron Bliss and other heroes of Belize. The 88th Baron Bliss Regatta takes place in Belize City harbor on March 6th this year.
In San Ignacio, on March 4th, La Ruta Maya River Challenge is an annual 180 mile long ,4 day canoe race finishing in Belize City. Where ever you decide to honor Belize’s biggest benefactor, this year, let Tropic Air take you there.
Ever dreamt of being a pilot? Well with Tropic Air’s Redbird CRV flight simulator, your dreams can come true.
In October 2013 Tropic Air, the airline of Belize introduced The Redbird CRV flight simulator to Belize upstairs in its San Pedro terminal. This Advanced Aircraft Training Device (AATD) is the first of its kind in the region and is a complete replica of the Cessna Grand caravan. The computer generated 220 degree screens are a true likeness to the landscape of Belize both on the ground and in the air and the simulator offers a fully lifelike range of motion.
The main aim of the flight simulator is to aid in the ongoing training of all Tropic Air pilots. Every Tropic Air pilot takes part in a mandatory 3 hour training session every 6 months as part of Tropic Air’s Safety Management Program. The simulator enables all pilots to get practical experience in emergency procedures, system failures, unfavorable weather conditions and familiarization with the airports to which Tropic Air flies. The session culminates in a one hour flight test on the simulator.
Tropic Air’s Pilot Training Program, a turbine hour building program now available for student pilots also takes full advantage of the opportunities offered by the Redbird. Each hour of simulator time counts as actual flying time.
We are very pleased to be able to offer the simulator to the general public to try their hand at flying the skies of Belize. For the real flight enthusiast or those seriously considering a flying career the cost is $295Bz per hour. The session is given by one of our experienced training officers. If you are a licensed pilot on holiday in Belize an hour simulator session will build your flying time. For those who just want to get an idea of what it’s like to fly a plane a 15 minute session is normally sufficient. A 15 minute flying session is available for $75Bz (37.50US). During your “flight” you will be taught how to switch on the aircraft, going through a checklist before embarking, how to taxi on the runway, how to take off (normally from the International airport) how to fly midair, bank, turn around and finally how to land. It’s a really fun and informative experience for young and old. We look forward to welcoming you aboard. Come fly with Tropic Air, the airline of Belize.
Belize is a veritable melting pot of different races and cultures. At no time of the year is this more visible than at Christmas. Whilst the decorating of Christmas trees, lights and giving of presents is a countrywide occurrence, other traditions handed down from one culture and generation to another have been adopted, diluted and adapted over the years.
Amongst all Belizeans, Christmas is a time to clean house. In preparation for expected or unexpected family and friends, the house is tidied, new curtains hung and often new flooring laid. Albert Street in Belize City was traditionally the place to shop for new material, decorations and tiles. Today most towns stock these products.
In most major towns of each area the season kicks off with the lighting of the town Christmas tree in the town square, an event often accompanied by carol singing and other celebrations. Already by this stage most shops have already put up their Christmas decorations and Christmas music in both Spanish,English and reggae versions can be heard belting merrily through the streets.
On Ambergris Caye, one of the highlights of Christmas is The lighted boat parade which usually takes place on the first Saturday of December. This is a beautiful sight to behold as the local community pull together and an array of fishing boats, catamarans, tour boats, water taxis and barges take to the water lit up with Christmas lights and parade from north to south of the island. It’s a great opportunity to grab a beachside seat in one of the many restaurants and bars and enjoy this festive seaside tradition.
In Dangriga in Southern Belize there is a strong Garifuna community and on Christmas afternoon it is traditional to watch or indeed take part in the Joncunu a colorful masquerade dance. The performance is an imitation of the European slave masters as seen by the pink painted masks that the dancers wear and the white shirts and often skirts which parody Scottish kilts that the British used to wear. The dance is often accompanied by garifuna drumming.
Another grand tradition of Dangriga is The Grand Ball, an occasion which dates back to 1914 where dancers performed traditional ballroom dance steps such as the Fox Trot, Quadrille and the Waltz. This event continues today every Christmas and New Year’s Eve, largely attended by an older crowd.
Las Posadas is a mestizo tradition which occurs throughout communities in Belize but is strongly observed in Benque Viejo del Carmen. The 9 day custom starts on 16th December with the statues of Mary and Joseph being taken from Church to someones home which is locked. This procession is usually accompanied by marimba music, candles and firecrackers. Eventually after prayers and a reenactment of the nativity the doors are opened and the statues remain at the house for the evening. The following few nights the statues are taken to other families.
In the Toledo district where the Maya influence is strong, the ancient ceremony known as Deer Dance is often performed traditionally at Christmas and other special occasions. The Dance is performed by 24 dancers in masks including a jaguar, deer, a hunter among other characters.
Belizeans love their turkey and ham for Christmas dinner and this is usually served with trimmings including stuffing and of course the Belizean favorite of rice and beans. In certain cultures, tamales or relleno are served instead or in concert with the traditional Christmas dinner. Black fruit cake is a favorite Belizean dessert at this time.
Christmas is a really wonderful time to visit Belize. The weather is warm , the welcome is warm and you will feel like family. And don’t forget to try the Rumpope!
Belize is a country of celebrations or jump ups as we call them and Belizeans love to party. Most months of the year have at least one holiday or anniversary commemorating or celebrating something of national significance. In November, all of Belize celebrates Garifuna Settlement Day on the 19th of the month. This holiday commenced in 1943 in the Stann Creek and Toledo districts of the country and in 1977 it became a national Holiday throughout Belize.
The Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) or Black Caribs first arrived in Belize, then British Honduras on November 19, 1802. They were the descendants of Carib Indians and Black Africans from St Vincent. According to history, they arrived in dug out canoes or dories and the re- enactment, called Yurumei, has become part of the Garifuna cultural ritual that occurs every morning on November 19th.
Belize has Garifuna communities living throughout Belize with approximately 15,000 people making up 7% of the population. The highest concentration can be found in the Stann Creek district and in particular Dangriga. The word Dangriga is from the Garifuna language meaning “sweet water”. Here the celebration lasts all week with parades, drumming, live music, dancing and much fun. The women and men dress in their traditional and colorful clothes and a Miss Garifuna pageant is held where young ladies showcase their knowledge of traditional dancing and language. In nearby Hopkins, traditionally a small fishing village, the children still learn and speak the Garifuna language .
The Garifuna culture is a strong and proud one. They have their own yellow, white and black flag symbolizing the sun, peace and the people. The food is also different from the ubiquitous rice and beans with Hudut, bundiga and cassava bread being just some of the delicacies to be found.
Let Tropic Air fly you to experience the Garifuna culture.