Approximately 20 boxes of school textbooks were exported to village schools, and 550 lbs of cacao and 5 lbs of turmeric were imported using a small shipping container that was purchased in 2018 for this purpose. Roughly 750 cacao seedlings were trucked and carried by boat to the Jungle Cat Cacao farm on the Moho River. These are the principle highlights of my Belize trip this December 2021.
This is the Jungle Cat Cacao shipping container, an ex-military aluminum crate which holds 50 cubic feet. It can be partially disassembled which means one guy can move it around with a little work. Altogether it weighs 350 lbs empty which is a chore to shove around. In this picture I have loaded the first twenty or so boxes of used textbooks which I have donated to village schools in the Toledo District of Belize. You might notice I have the container (approximate weight full 900lbs) sitting on a gravel driveway right in front of Jungle Cat Cacao. Funny thing happened when the freight carrier tried to pick it up with his pallet jack. The two furniture movers I had under it got stuck, one of them was destroyed in the process of shoving the thing around trying to get it over to the paved part of the driveway. The driver actually got his pallet jack stuck under the container, and then he left to go make some other deliveries or something. So…I unloaded the entire thing, flipped it over and pried the busted furniture mover out from under it, and freed the pallet jack. I then relocated the empty container 15 feet away to the paved area, and reloaded it.
I shipped the container to Florida and from there via ocean freight to Belize City. I flew to Belize City on Nov 30th. I landed on Monday and hopped on the James Bus to Punta Gorda (also known as PG). The James Bus is a real Belizean way to travel in Belize. You really can’t beat it unless you want to rent a car or fly. And if you rent a car, it’ll still take you all day. So – I recommend the James Bus Express.
Mr Jose Bo, who manages the Jungle Cat Cacao farm in Belize, told me that he had heard from a friend that the road to Boom Creek was improved. Based on this information we decided to try to reach there in the company truck. We left at about 5:30 AM Saturday. We had intended to launch our boat (a fifteen foot dugout – made the traditional Mayan way – with some help from a chainsaw) from Boom Creek and paddle down the river a short way to the farm. What happened instead was I drove the truck into some deep mud on Ex-Service Men’s Rd and got it stuck. It was pointed out to me several times that if I had just stayed to the left a little everything would have been fine. Jokingly of course because, as it turns out, the road to Boom Creek is still impassable to any 4wd or other type of truck. Some of the mud lagoons further down the road are over 5 feet deep. I was informed that in Belize one does not drive like a maniac down mud lagoon roads. One stops and someone goes out and checks the lagoon for depth. Calm and slow. Luckily, we got towed out by a family member of my work crew. Samual Bo drove the truck back to Punta Gorda and I rode on the flatbed with the younger guys in the back.
After the mud adventure the truck went into the shop where I began a process of spending a lot of money. The first of two new calipers, pads, and a new rotor for the front brakes. Caribbean Tire did an excellent job. I also ordered a replacement for the steering stabilizer I snapped.
Next up I planned a trip to the lovely Placencia where I would meet with the owners of the cacao farm where I source my cacao. Mr David and Mr Wayne. We had a nice lunch and discussed our times in Belize. We also talked a little business. In the course of this it was agreed that I could acquire for a very reasonable price cacao seedlings that were otherwise going to the compost heap. Upon returning from Placencia – which is a very beautiful place – though quite tourist oriented (beach front bars, etc) – I learned that the shipping container had arrived and cleared customs in Belize. Plans were then set in motion to collect the shipping container. The next day I picked up Samuel Bo by Santa Ana road at 6 AM and we were away.
Operating the flatbed truck is expensive because it only gets about ten miles to the gallon, and gas in Belize is currently over $6 USD/gallon. New pads on the front brakes felt good, and knowing there was a new caliper and rotor was a positive as well. However the one new caliper must have felt lonely because outside of Belmopan, about three hours into the trip Samuel noticed a burning smell. I did as well and I said I thought it was the truck in front of us. We pulled over and there was smoke coming off the passenger side front wheel. The caliper had locked shut and had heated up to the point that it almost caught fire. But, luckily, we were only a short drive down a dirt road to the nearest repair shop. Seriously good luck because a trip back to Belmopan would possibly have been a disaster. The shop, Scorpion Auto Service, did a great job. The owner’s son drove me to Spanish Lookout to pick up a second new brake caliper. This was installed and we were back on the road in about three hours. I let my customs agent in Belize City know of our trouble with the truck, and she informed me that we had missed our scheduled pickup time but that she would have the container stored in a holding lot for us for a small fee. That worked for me and soon we were in Belize City where we collected the container.
Back on the highway again, we were soon heading south. I learned the hard way that any and all fuel stations close for the night at 6:59 PM. We had about a quarter tank left and were hoping to refuel in Mango Creek. The place we had in mind was closed so we backtracked to Independence. Lucky for us the one Puma gas station in Independence still had its lights on – though it had closed and locked the chain over the entrance. So we pulled up and I got out and made a plea for enough gas to make it to Punta Gorda. The guys talked it over. Eventually the guy I had been talking to unlocked the chain and we pulled up to refill our badly mismatched aftermarket 15 gallon tank. I had promised a tip and the change on the $100 Belize went to the guy pumping the gas. Soon we were back in Punta Gorda.
Next thing to do was go to Santa Ana Village and to deliver the schoolbooks. We did this the following afternoon on a nice sunny day. Rain had been a constant on this trip, and would continue to be present until I flew back to NC. The books were unloaded with Mr Bo and other’s help. Mr Ligorio Coy assured me that the books would get into the right hands, including some off-the-grid villages further out off the main roads. This was terrific news. I had been storing these books for nearly two years and had some anxiety as to if they would even be wanted when I delivered them. I was glad to know that they were indeed wanted and would be used
After delivering the books the next job was picking up and delivering cacao seedling to my farm on the Moho River. I arranged a time with the owner of Finca Cacao and his farm manager when we could collect the seedlings. Samuel had left Santa Ana to go to Boom Creek to pick up an outboard motor we were renting for a few days. I arrived with the truck at 6:30 we went to Finca to load the flatbed with about 375 plants. We drove these back Santa Ana where Samuel backed the truck up to the small bridge to unload the plants. From there we carried them in wheel barrows the remaining 100 yards and down the bank to the river. The ground was too soft to take the truck over the bridge without the possibility of getting it stuck in a really difficult spot to remove it from. Samuel and his son Edwin then took the first load of plants down to the property, and Jeff Bo and I then went to pick up the next load of 375 plants. This done, Jeff and I went back to Santa Ana to wait for Samuel. By the time of Samuel’s return it was late in the day so we unloaded the truck at Mr Bo’s house and decided to start again in the morning
The next morning I arrived by 6 and we loaded the plants onto the boat using the same wheel barrow method as before, and soon we were on the river heading to the farm.
I truly love the natural beauty of Belize and seeing it from the Moho River is a wonderful experience. This was a rainy boat ride, but still quite enjoyable. After about three hours of motoring downriver we arrived at the land. We tied the boat to some trees on the riverbank, and quickly unloaded the plants to the nearby shelter. I walked beside the unfinished boardwalk, and past the freshwater well to the caretaker’s house. There is a 16ft by 16ft thatch roof house with a wood floor, a high ceiling and cooking hearth. It is perfect for hanging hammocks up on visits to the farm. There is also a newly created composting latrine constructed by Mr Bo, which helps keep things sanitary. There is a walkway going past the house to the cacao field still under construction as well.
After arriving Samuel and I walked the property line and “Mr. Do”, Edwin, and Jeff began carrying the plants back to the field. As Samuel and I walked the survey line we came across a very exciting discovery. We saw that we were very close behind a jaguar. We saw tracks where we had startled him. Deep tracks where the muddy water had even yet to settle. Samuel saw where the cat had turned one way and backtracked, probably after we had startled it on its hunt. Samuel estimated seven foot from head to tail and three feet high from the size of the print. Pretty great to be right behind a jaguar, the predator cat with the most powerful jaws and bite of all the great cats. We also saw prints for wild deer, wild pigs and tapir. I saw a wild pig running back and forth along the property line, but not in time for Samuel to shoot it. We also saw a beautiful blue-plumed big bird up in a tree. Much of the property is low-lying and we waded through some deep swampy water. The deepest was well over our knees. Despite the rain the mosquitoes were not as bad as they had been in the past. Which is to say that they are pretty severe but short of torture. After returning to the farm Samuel left to go find food for dinner and I helped the guys move the plants to the cacao field so the crabs by the river wouldn’t eat them.
We had to hand carry the seedlings, which weighed about 3 or 4 lbs each I guess. The most you could carry at once is six by holding the trunks together bundled in your hands. The mud was very severe and you had to wade through about 40 feet of foot deep water to get to the cacao field, about 150 yards away through the jungle. It was important to watch your step and not trip. There was also the danger of snakes appearing as the evening approached. In an attempt to motivate the guys carrying the seedlings I told them all we had to do was carry 120 plants each. I counted mine off as I went along.
Samuel didn’t see any game to shoot for dinner but he did dig up some delicious ‘soup-yams”. The soup yams were washed and peeled with a machete. Then cut and boiled. They are really delicious especially with the natural smoke flavor from the fire.
Next morning we finished up carrying the plants to the field, and headed back to Santa Ana. We were lucky to have a boat with an outboard because the rain had swelled the river and the current was strong against us as we returned. Many branches, tree trunks and wildlife were evident as we motored upriver. I saw a snake in a tree, iguanas swimming, and many different species of birds. Soon we were back in Santa Ana and the job was done except for hauling Mr Bo’s big boat up the hill and to the truck.
The next step in the trip was collecting the items with accompanying paperwork for the exportation process. So I got those cats all herded up. I collected the cacao from Finca Chocolat and the turmeric from Del Socorro Fine Foods – a yellow ginger farm located near the Jungle Cat Cacao farm on the Moho.
At this point my 18 day trip to Belize was drawing to a close. I picked up Samuel outside of Punta Gorda at 4:30 AM and we got on our way to Belize City. We arrived without incident and had dropped off the shipping container at the port before 12:30 PM. Samuel dropped me off in Ladyville, at the hotel I stay at near the airport, and headed back to PG with plenty of daylight left. The truck needs new headlights. When cars get behind you at night my truck literally casts a black shadow in front of you while you are driving. A new light-bar is forthcoming.
I got my required covid test and passed and flew back to the US without issue.
Next up after clearing US Customs, the container was shipped back to Wilmington, NC, from Florida. I unloaded the container into Jungle Cat Cacao at 4803 Wrightsville Ave. I immediately roasted a batch to enjoy the fine flavor of Belizean cacao.