Great place for a holiday
By Kay Brown
This is a little piece of paradise, with something for everyone, rainforests, ancient Maya ruins, tropical islands and the second longest barrier reef in the world.
Belize is small, only 174 miles long and 68 miles wide, bordered by Mexico in the north, Guatemala in the west and south, and the Caribbean to the east.
Belize became a colony of Britain in 1862 when the name was changed to British Honduras, they achieve self government in 1964.
In 1971 their name was changed back to Belize, and in 1981 they achieved full independence.
People, language and government
The population is less than 400,000 with only 64,000 in Belize City. Although the official language is English many of the locals speak a real “pigeon mix” known as Kriol which was the language first spoken by the slaves.
They have also maintained that cute custom of addressing you as Mr Simon and Miss Kay etc. This did make it difficult for us when we first arrived as we could not work out which were people’s surnames and which Christian names!
Belize is in the hurricane belt, and after a devastating hurricane in 1931 followed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 (which almost destroyed Belize City) the government decided it would be prudent to build a new capital at Belmopan 52 miles inland.
The government is democratic but the locals will tell you that there is a lot of corruption. They still have imperial measures, it is a trip backwards to find yourselves dealing with miles, gallons and pounds (weight) however, their currency is Belize dollars – pegged two to the US$.
Friendly people in the tropics
We think NZ is a friendly country but Belize has got us beaten for warmth and friendliness, nobody would pass you even going the opposite way on a bike without calling out a greeting.
The climate is two seasons – hot, and hot and a bit wet!
This sure encourages you to move slowly. When you head out for a walk the locals will call out “slow down”
In recent years many immigrants from Europe, Asia and North America have made Belize home, which has lead to the sad fact of virtually all the supermarkets and many of the bigger stores now being operated by Chinese, with the locals just running the street stalls.
Magic coral reef and off-shore islands
But the real magic of Belize is the coral reef and all the hundreds of off shore islands set in the translucent turquoise waters of the Caribbean, home to 500 fish species and 100 different corals. A snorkeller’s dream – as long as you keep an eye out for boats driven by careless fisherman!! (Kay’s husband, Simon, was hit by a speeding boat and suffered broken ribs.)
Some of the islands are mangroves and some coral. It is amazing to be sailing along and pass a small island with only a few mangroves, or maybe one house and a few palm trees.
The coral reef, which in 1996, was listed as a World Heritage site is home to the famed Blue Hole as explored by Jacque Cousteau.
The nature is great from dolphins playing around when you are sailing to squirrels, gecko, iguana and land crabs in the gardens when you are on shore. The birds are varied with pelicans being a very common sight.
It is fun shopping at the local fruit stalls – mangoes, papaya, melons, bananas, avocados etc ridiculously cheap. Local rum and coconut water is great medicine and although circumstances have slowed us up a bit, but there is still a lot to be positive about.
The industrious Mennonites
Another interesting group that has had an impact on the economy of Belize are The Mennonites, a group of devout pacifists similar to the Amish, who do not believe in paying taxes as they run their own communities and education. Originally from the Netherlands this group has moved through Russia, Canada and Mexico to Belize where a group of 3500 settled in 1958.
Belize was happy to have their industriousness and farming expertise. The settlements have expanded with Mennonite farms now supplying most of the countries dairy products, eggs and poultry.