Throwback to 2012. Tropic Air is no stranger to the majestic and unusual looking Jabiru stork. Back then, this normally rare bird stationed itself at The Admirals bar during the renovation of the Belize City municipal runway, and was using this for his daily early morning exercise!
You can follow the photo story of its rescue and relocation here.
The Jabiru (latin name jabiru Mycteria) is one of two storks found in Belize, belonging to the Ciconiidae family of birds, the other being the wood stork. It became a protected species in Belize in 1973 , which meant it was illegal to hunt it, and as a result it maintains one of the healthiest breeding populations in Central America. It is one of the largest birds in the western hemisphere at roughly five feet high. As it soars through the air with its eight-foot wingspan it almost looks like a prehistoric pterodactyl.
The jabiru possesses a huge black beak which is approximate a foot long. This beak is expertly designed to catch food which consists primarily of fish and reptiles and there is a pouch in their throat that allows them to filter the fish they catch from the water. This beak incidentally is straighter in the male of the species. The black featherless neck is topped with a white tuft on the head that looks much like a mohawk, and a bright red necklace at the base of the neck, adorns the rest of the otherwise white plumage. The legs which are extremely long are also black.
The Jabiru like other storks is mute because it doesn’t possess a syrinx which is the voice organ, instead it communicates by clattering its beak , hissing and grunting.
Jabirus are normally found in pairs or small groups and breed this way. They build their stick nests high in trees normally laying two to four whitish eggs.
The number of these birds range depending on the time of year in Belize. June’s count of this year showed 45, so as you can see it is still relatively rare here but if you want to be sure to see one or several on your vacation, be sure to visit The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary between November and June. The marshes and wetlands here are favored by these birds and they fly here from Mexico around November, migrating north at the first sign of the rainy season. You can also see them and other interesting animals native to Belize, at The Belize Zoo www.belizezoo.org. Tropic Air offers a tour combined with cave tubing. Check it out here.
Throughout the world, Blue Holes have always been surrounded in mystery and superstition. Tales of bottomless pits, sea monsters and ship wrecks abound. The Great Blue Hole of Belize is no exception. In fact, a recent movie Posiedon Rex even has dinosaurs erupting from its depths.
Located in the lighthouse reef atoll approximately 62 miles from Belize City, Belize’s Blue Hole is legendary around the world and is on many a scuba divers bucket list. An almost perfect circular chasm of deep blue in an azure sea, 1000 feet in diameter and more than 400 feet deep, it is the only Blue Hole on earth that is visible from space. It is also spectacular from the air.
It was originally made famous in the 1970s when the French explorer and diver, Jacques Cousteau and his team of divers, undertook its exploration in his famous boat The Calypso. In his documentary, he embarks on the treacherous 7mile trip from Lighthouse, through uncharted territory of shallow waters resplendent with dangerous coral heads, and eventually arrives unscathed at the Blue Hole. From here he and his team undertake its exploration. See the video below:
Cousteau and his team realized the importance of the Blue Hole in providing knowledge of Earth’s history. Discovery of stalactites deep within the sinkhole provided the evidence that it was in fact a land based cavern as stalactites only form on land. One such stalactite was removed for further scientific investigation. Over many thousands of years as sea levels rose this cave was flooded at a least four stages as demonstrated by the formation of ledges. There is also evidence of earths shift as some of the stalactites are at a slight angle. Cousteau declared this one of the top diving sites in the world and he is attributed with making it popular as a tourist destination following his discoveries.
In 1990, The Blue Hole was given the name The Great Blue Hole by British diver Ned Middleton. It forms a part of the Belize barrier Reef reserve system and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Some 35 years after her grandfather’s exploration of the Blue Hole, Alexandra Cousteau , who works closely with Oceana as a senior advisor, visited Belize for the first time and was thrilled to observe that in those years, this national living monument seemed to have changed very little from what she had seen in “The Sunken Caves” documentary. Alexandra’s love affair with Belize was sparked and has continued to blossom over the years. She taught her husband to dive in our waters and her daughter got her first taste of the ocean here at age 2 months. Last year she visited Belize again as a speaker for Oceana for The Energy of Nature vs. the Nature of Energy conference and it was then that she saw The Blue Hole from the air for the very first time.
You too can experience The Blue Hole from the air with Tropic Air’s stunning Blue Hole aerial tour. Don’t forget to bring your cameras as this is a photo opportunity you don’t want to miss.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
There are many reason couples choose Belize as their destination to get engaged or tie the knot. Belize is simply romantic and our destinations, especially our islands, offer not only the perfect setting, but an array of places to stay and dine.
Whether you prefer a high end experience with your loved one or prefer, seclusion and the basics, Belize has many options to choose from. From our largest and most northern destination, Ambergris Caye, to the small secluded beaches of the Silk Cayes, you can find just the right location to propose or simply fall in love all over again.
The best part is that getting to your island getaway is easy and simple with Tropic Air. We fly to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker as well as numerous destinations on the mainland, where getting to your romantic island is then a short boat ride away. Need some options? Then check out the following article on Belize’s Most Romantic Islands and let Tropic Air take you and your loved one on a romantic escape.