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Jaguar Preserve, Monkey River and Che’il Chocolate

July 25, 2016

A pot of boiling water on the stove, instant coffee, evaporated milk and sugar (with a side of ants) greeted us early on our first morning in the Jaguar Preserve. Coffee in hand we embraced the feeling of being field biologists as we embarked on our first morning walk since arriving in Cockscomb. A female boat billed heron nesting with two chicks, a crimson collared tanager, and the opportunity to cast a fresh tapir track were a few of the highlights from our walk. After yet another satisfying Belizean breakfast of eggs, fry jacks, and the fresh fruit we had bought at the Belmopan Market, we set off on our drive to Monkey River village on the southern coast of the country.


We were all excited to catch our first glimpse of the brilliant, blue Caribbean Sea. A short boat ride took us across the Monkey River to the village where we anxiously awaited the arrival of children. It wasn’t long before we saw bare feet and smiling faces coming around the corner of Saint Stephen’s Anglican School. We quickly fell back into our roles as teachers and, despite how hot it was, the children’s laughter, hugs and excitement helped us all to recharge our batteries. The experience helped us to realize that even with so many differences between life in the village and our own lives back home: children are children; we all saw our students reflected in the Monkey River students and it was an experience that will continue to impact us long after our time in Belize is over.


After a very hot bus ride back to Cockscomb we arrived at Maya Center for the second part of our day. We were greeted by Julio, owner of Che’il (which means “wild Mayan”) Chocolate, and a local cacao farmer. Our chocolate experience began with a tour of a local cacao farm. As with so many others in Belize, the farmer shared with us his passion. We learned of the challenges facing cacao farmers, the hard-work involved in maintaining an organic cacao farm, and the process of turning the fruit of the tree into the chocolate we all know and love. Following the farm tour we had the opportunity to make (and eat!) chocolate from bean to bar using ancient Mayan tools and techniques. Julio’s passion for the art of chocolate making was evident, but even more so was his love and commitment to the Mayan people.


After dinner, Julio was gracious enough to share the perspective from the Mayan people of the development of the Jaguar Preserve. Many of us have read the book Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, so having the other side helped to complete the story. It is hard to believe the tribulations the Mayan people faced and overcame, not through violence but through dialogue. They have continued to protect the land of their forefathers and are also showcasing their craftwork at the Women’s Center.


It was a day filled with wonder, love, teamwork, reflection, passion, new friends, and a healthy dose of Anti-Monkey Butt Powder.Lynn making chocolate

Lynn making chocolate

Kayla making chocolate

Kayla making chocolate

Group at Monkey River

Group at Monkey River School

Freddy at farm

Freddy at Che’il Organic Mayan Chocolate Farm

Pam and Child

Pam and child at Monkey River Village

Boat Billed Heron

Boat Billed Heron on nest


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda and Vance permalink
    July 26, 2016 5:19 am

    Who knew that making chocolate was such hard work?

  2. Jodie Hott permalink
    July 26, 2016 9:41 am

    If there is chocolate involved, count Freddy in!!!

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