May and June see the start most Belizeans favorite season, mango season. After eight months of deprivation, these sweet beauties suddenly grace every market stall and roadside vendor in Belize. The countryside and city yards overflow with mangoes of every shape and size, with colors ranging from green to red, to yellow and even blue.
In Belize, there are well over 20 varieties of mango with names just as colorful as their skin. There are Hairy mangoes, Blue mangoes, Garlic, Daddyfoot, Common, Number 11, Slippers, Julie and even Turpentine.
There are four different stages of the mango, each with a very different taste. When it is green, the mango is hard and tart, delicious with salt and local habanero pepper, and is often used to make chutney. When its full or ‘turn’, the mango is just about ripe with a firm, slightly less sweet flesh, which is easy to eat and great in salads. Ripe mangoes are juicy and ready to eat with a delectable slightly perfumey aroma and taste. Overripe fruit is extremely messy and is best used to make mango juice. Add some lime, ice and a little bit of mint to it and you have a refreshingly delicious drink. The mango is paid homage to at an annual Mango Festival, in Hopkins in the Stann Creek District, usually at the beginning of June.
Belizeans love to celebrate the bounty of nature and the cashew is another fruit feted with its own festival. The Cashew Festival is held annually in Crooked Tree Village in late April or early May. Wait! It’s a fruit? Yes, the cashew is actually a very fragrant fruit with the more familiar nut hanging below. It grows wild in North Central Belize and flourishes despite the poor sandy soil in that region. It doesn’t need much water or fertilizer so it is indeed seen as miraculous. Harvest is generally between March and June where the trees are resplendent with red, orange and yellow that is the cashew fruit. Birds love the fruit as well, much to the chegrin of the farmers. It also makes a great wine.
Here is a great video that tells you all about this fruit and nut!
Cashew SeasonStraight outa Crooked Tree and in time for cashew fest 2017.
Did you know that chocolate was a fruit as well? Strictly speaking cacao (where chocolate comes from) is the actual fruit of the Theobrama tree. These colorful pods grow straight from the trunk or branch of the tree. Inside these pods are about 20 to 30 seeds covered in a thick sweet pulp that tastes nothing like chocolate, but is delicious all the same. It’s the beans themselves that are taken from the pod, fermented in a box covered with banana leaves, dried and roasted. Once roasted they are ground in a machine to release the oil (cocoa butter) which is put back into the cocoa mass to produce a liquor which will become chocolate as we know it. The Cacao Festival a celebration of chocolate occurs annually in May in the Toledo District of Belize.
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize Monday, May 8, 2017
Tropic Air has launched a new mobile iOS app, offering travellers greater convenience from booking to boarding. Designed to be fast and intuitive, the mobile app aims to provide users with a functional and seamless user experience.
Key features of the mobile app include flight booking, exclusive deals, tour and travel information, as well as itinerary management.
“Tropic Air is constantly improving and enhancing our various digital touch points to keep up with the changing landscape of the travel industry. With our mobile app, customers can expect greater control and convenience when it comes to planning their travel itineraries,” said Tropic Air’s President, John Greif III.
Built in conjunction with a leading developer of digital solutions, the new Tropic Air mobile app is now available for download at the Apple App Store, and is compatible with iOS 9 and 10. Users can look forward to more features that will progressively be added in future updates, in addition to an Android version that is now planned.
About Tropic Air
Founded in 1979, by John Greif III, with just a single airplane and two employees, Tropic has steadily grown to become the largest and most experienced airline in Belize. It now employs over 345 staff, and offers over 200 daily scheduled flights with 18 aircraft to 19 destinations in Belize, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Chetumal, Mexico became destination number 19 on January 16th. Tropic Air joined IATA’s ISSA Registry in 2015.
Belize’s abundant cultural interaction makes for an incredible diversity of foods. As tourism has increased, so has the availability of international cuisine countrywide and whilst the mainstay of Belizean fare is undoubtedly stewed chicken,rice and beans served with plantain, potato salad or coleslaw, every region has at least one or two specialties based on its cultural heritage.
Corozal maintains a strong Mexican influence. Corn is a staple here and used in the making of tamale, a corn based dough called masa surrounding chicken, wrapped in a banana or plantain leaf served with a juicy tomato based sauce. Traditionally the tamale was prepared by the ancient Maya for feasts. Today they are eaten by everyone. Dukunu another delicacy is made from the ground and roasted corn kernels steamed in corn husks.
Most street corners in Belize towns, have their own taco stands and local favorites but Orange Walk arguably has the best. Tacos, a rolled corn tortilla with meat filling can be spicy or not, and make for a delicious breakfast. Orange Walk tacos are shipped countrywide by Tropic Air via our cargo department, so wherever it is likely that will be able to enjoy them or you can get them flown in specially.
The cuisine of Ambergris Caye one of the main tourist destinations of the country has absorbed influences from around the country and here you will find every kind of Belizean delicacy, as well as international cuisine, with an emphasis on seafood. With dishes ranging from Japanese sushi, to Italian pizza, to Salvadoran pupusas, your taste buds won’t be disappointed. Lobster and Conch are seasonal and the local specialty of ceviche, is usually made with either of these raw and then “cooked” with lime juice, cucumber and habanero pepper.
In the South, in Placencia and the Cayo district, similar international cuisine is abundant whilst in Hopkins, and Dangriga (Stann Creek district), the traditional flavors reflect the strong Garifuna culture. Coconut milk, banana and plantain, fish and cassava root are all popular ingredients used to make the specialities of this region, which include Sere, a coconut based fish soup, and Hudut, consisting of mashed plantain.
As well as the staple, chicken with rice and beans,in Belize City, a diversity of fried chicken restaurants, offer a variation on a theme, creole and spicy, others oriental and crispy, all served with orange Fanta infused ketchup. With nicknames such as “kick down fence”, “Nice and Nasty”, “Freetown Kentucky” and “Greasy Bag”, who can resist this artery clogging indulgence!
Healthier fare is on offer in the Toledo district, where the indigenous Maya have a mainstay diet of corn and beans and whatever else is grown on their farm. The Midday meal is often caldo a clear soup eaten with tortillas and accompanied by the Maya cacao drink Kukuh which is a mixture of ground cocoa beans, pepper, corn and water. Along with the Maya there is a strong East Indian influence here and the local spices are added to make delicious curry.
Throughout Belize you will find three countrywide staples. The “Johnny Cake” a heavy bread eaten plain or with ham/cheese or chicken, traditionally cooked over an open flame, “Fry Jacks” deep fried flour tortillas, or “Pepper”. No Belizean meal would be complete without a bottle of hot sauce made with habanero chile peppers. This stuff is addictive and once you’ve tried it you will have it on everything, just like the locals do and be sure to take a bottle home for your friends.
Earlier this month, Tropic Air maintenance staff completed installation of a 24,000BTU air conditioning system on its final Cessna Caravan. All eleven (11) caravans in the fleet are now fully climate-controlled for passenger comfort. In addition, each new caravan delivered will have this climate-controlled system pre-installed.
“Not only does this represent an investment of $110,000 per aircraft, but it also fulfills a commitment to our customers to provide passengers greater comfort even on the hottest of Belizean days”, said John Greif III, President of Tropic Air. “This feature is unique among local airlines, and represents our commitment to constant improvement and investment in our product.”
Work was completed at Tropic’s new $11 million certified maintenance facility in San Pedro.
About Tropic Air Founded in 1979, by John Greif III, with just a single airplane and two employees, Tropic has steadily grown to become the largest and most experienced airline in Belize. It now employs over 350 staff, and offers over 200 daily scheduled flights with 16 aircraft to 19 destinations in Belize, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. In 2016 it carried almost 300,000 passengers and moved over 400,000 pieces of freight system wide.
Tropic Air joined IATA’s ISSA Registry in 2015. ISSA is a voluntary evaluation program, produced at the request of the aviation industry, to extend the benefits of operational safety and efficiency that emanated from the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) Program, to the operators of smaller aircraft.
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 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.
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.