By Felisha Brown, PTC Staff
On Saturday July 18th and July 19th the Belize Tourism Board organized a two days familiarization tour and made the Toledo District their spotlight. This tour was organized to let everyone know that the Toledo District is a prime tourism destination and there is a lot to see, do and discover in that area.
Early Saturday morning I was picked up in front of Independence MnM Hardware Service Station by a white mini bus loaded with all of Belize’s local media personnel and two representative from the Belize Tourism Board, Ms. Lorraine Herrera & Ms. Kenisha Stephen. The journey from Independence to Punta Gorda took about an hour but it was the most pleasant and beautiful ride I had ever been on.
The first place we stopped and visited was the Lodge at Big Falls which is about 16 miles out of Punta Gorda. Upon our arrival we were greeted by one of the owners of the lodge Mr. Rob Hirons, who escorted us onto his property where we meet his wife Mrs. Marta Hirons. She welcomed us with a cold and refreshing drink. A few of us just sat around in the dining area while others start taking pictures and video taping the magnificent view of the Lodge at Big Falls. At the lodge we also meet Mr. Brunno Kuppinger, the owner of Sun Creek Lodge which was recognized by the Belize Tourism Board as Small Hotel of the Year 2008. There the media team was divided into two groups, with one group being accommodated at the Lodge at Big Falls and the remaining set at the Sun Creek Lodge.
Yours truly got the privilege to stay at one of Mother’s Nature Best Kept Secret Sun Creek Lodge where we were greeted by Mr. Brunno Kuppinger wife Melissa. She welcomed us and also gave us a refreshing glass of lime juice - the Belizean lemonade. While taking a few minutes to recuperate after our journey Mr. Brunno gave us a brief history of his establishment. He started operation in 2004. After sustaining severe damage during Hurricane Iris the lodge was finally opened a couple of months after the disaster.
The Sun Creek lodge offers a vast variety of flora and fauna. It consists of six cabanas with thatched roof encircled with screens to prevent insect from entering the room. The most intriguing and amazing part of our stay at the Sun Creek Lodge was the design of the bathroom - it was absolutely breath taking! The bathroom was situated not inside but outside in its own little jungle establishment. Every shower I took felt like I was at one with nature - it was amazing!
I then headed back to meet my other fellow media friends to continue our tour of the Sun Creek Lodge. After our tour was over Mr. Brunno revved up his small mini bus with all media passengers aboard and we headed to our first destination which was a cacao farm tour in the village of San Pedro Colombia.
We then met the most energetic and charming 50 year old Mr. Eladio Pop who prides himself in showing off his 32 acres of land that is covered with all manner fruits and spice trees. Mr. Pop briskly toured the group, offering us mangoes and pears and the even the main food of his land - Cacao. Mr. Eladio states that he’s a natural man and whatever he planted on his farm could be eaten and is good for your health. He also believed that he is apart of the tourism industry, he had about 13 groups that have visited him through Mr. Bruno.
Mr. Eladio stated that he have no intention to stop his farming operation, the additional revenue is welcomed by him and his family. After our Cacao trail, we head back to Mr. Eladio home for a fire-hearth rice and beans meal along with a refreshing lime drink prepared by his wonderful wife and children.
Then we are off again now heading to a nearby Maya site of Lubaantun. We were guided by the site’s ranger who explained that Lubaantun is the location where a crystal skull was supposedly found by Peter Hedges in the 1920’s on his daughter 17th birthday. There are many other theories about the skull which surmise that it is quite likely that the skull does belong to the site.
He went on explaining that other than two ball court makers which were found at the site, there is no evidence to suggest that there was writing at the site. He also points to the architecture of the site where no ‘mortar’ was used to hold together the stones that composed the site. Then there is a circular edge of some of the structure which is a feature that is unique to Lubaantun. After some more quick facts during our tour, we left and headed for our third destination of our first day.
About a half an hour’s ride away from Lubaantun in Blue Creek Village is the Hokeb Ha Cave. After 25 minutes hike through the jungle skipping on rocks across streams, we arrived at the cave’s entrance. The flowing water of the cave is most tempting to ease the heat brought on by the forest and the hike. The cave is a three layered one that, when explored in its fullest, takes you all the way from the Toledo District to the Cayo District.
It’s a wet cave system where at times those venturing inside have to swim in up to eight feet of water. Today however, there was none of that and we sufficed ourselves with admiring the beauty of Mother Nature’s creation with some anxiously waiting to take a refreshing dip in the clear flowing waters of Hobek Ha which means “from where water flows”.
After hiking back, it was off to refresh ourselves at our rooms and then dinner at Coleman’s Café. There we indulged in a buffet style meal of yellow rice, mashed potato, pork, fish, chicken, and vegetable with a slice of key lime pie as our dessert. I enjoyed every portion of the meal prepared. A few of us headed back to our place of stay while a few party animals headed for a night in town. As for me I went to take a good night rest because I was excited to go to the caye the following day.
Sunday came and it was time for us to get ready to head to Punta Gorda Town where we met Mr. Dennis Garbutt the manager of Garbutt’s Marine and Fishing Lodge and our Captain. Garbutt’s operation is well known for the excellent fly fishing they offer. They are known for guiding their tourists out to catch and release rare fish like the permit, bonefish and tarpon. Garbutt, an environmentalist now turned tour operator, explained that our next visit will be Snake Caye West.
Along our journey he explained that the caye is located in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve which is managed by TIDE. It’s a 160 square mile reserve that was declared in 2000. The area, says Garbutt, was greatly under pressure from fishermen who set up gill nets at the mouth of five rivers that empty into the sea. Since the declaration however, there are still those who attempt to wrongfully exploit the resources available in the area. During the explanation, it rained so we sought shelter at Avalon Headquarters at the Port Honduras observation post, but as the rain stopped we got back into the boat and we were off to Snake Caye.
The ride to snake caye was rough and very exciting but it was worth all the drama because upon reaching to the caye we were treated to the most beautiful and breath-taking scenery. The white sandy beaches, the glistening green water and a vast variety of animal and bird species was all amazing.
As soon as we docked on the beach we unloaded the vessel, changed off into out swimming gear and went to soak into the tempting green glistening water. After swimming for a few minutes we then began to snorkel. We snorkeled in front of the caye but we were unable to see anything so Mr. Garbutt suggested to a few of us if we should go to the other side of the caye where there was much more to see. The few who were interested geared up and headed to the other side.
We were a bit disappointed because there wasn’t much to see due to the weather. The wind had made the water murky but nonetheless we enjoyed the few minutes we had to snorkel. After a couple of hours it was back to Punta Gorda with everyone well pleased with our day at the caye.
Then it was time for our site visits to a few hotels in the Toledo District, the first one was Beya Suites, the second was Hickatee Cottage and lastly Coral House. Afterwards we headed back to our hotels where we got all dressed up for the last time. We had dinner at Marina’s Bay - buffet style again. Everyone ate and reminisced about our advertures while spending the last night in the beautiful Punta Gorda. We took several group pictures which were full of many happy smiling faces. It was surely an experience of a lifetime for me. I have a wonderful and many breath-taking memories that will last me for a life time.
I am truly grateful and thankful to my place of work The Placencia Tourism Center and my boss Ms. Elysia Dial for believing in me and my ability to represent the PTC on this trip. I knew I had a reputation to uphold and was following in the footsteps of James Westby who used to do all of our FAM tours.
I am also thankful to the Belize Tourism Board for giving me the opportunity to familiarize myself with everything that the wonderful jewel Punta Gorda has to offer. Thanks to Mr. Brunno Kuppinger and his wife Melissa and my newly found media friends such as Monica Bodden- Love FM, Kainie Manuel-The San Pedro Sun, Olivia Noralez- Love FM, Alfonso Noble- Guardian, Frank Magnaleno- Wave Radio, Keith Swift- Channel 7, Kenisha Stephen- BTB and Lorraine Herrera- BTB…..THANKS!!
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