“The shit we do for birds”. Jess is not quite yet a bird nerd (I’m working on it) and all the bird watching places tend to be pretty remote and hard to get to, and Red Bank was no exception.
We jumped on a brightly coloured bus from San Ignacio to Belmopan, changed buses to Dangriga to the intersection at Red Bank. In Dangriga we bought some mini home made pies off this guy which Jess has since gotten a bit obsessed with and at least it made all the bus changes worth it! bus to the intersection to Red Bank.
We had previously organised a pick up from the intersection to avoid hitchhiking, but our phone wouldn’t work so we couldn’t text or call to confirm the time. Luckily the bus conductor was really nice and let us borrow his the bus phone (he turned out to be from a nearby village, and turned into a guide for us by telling us about all the villages we were driving through). We thought we had confirmed our pick up but after standing in the rain for a while, we were relieved to see a bus turning down the road.
We had not been able to find a single mode of public transport into Red Bank so we were pretty chuffed, until we read the “workers only, no rides” sign in the window.
Never the less, the bus pulled over and offered us a lift in. All the Mayan workers on the bus were laughing about the conductor and driver letting us on. As we got chatting them on out short 6 mile journey we found out they all worked at a nearby banana farm.
We got dropped off right out the front of our accomodation and we soon discovered that our ride had left to pick us up around five minutes before, whoops.
Soon forgotten, we were checked in by Florentino’s son and nephew. Florentino had started the conservation back in 2008 and had built accomodation, education and tours from the ground up with some financial help from the EU. When Florentino first started, the little village of Red Bank were still hunting, selling and eating the scarlet Macaws. Apparently the Scarlet Macaws nests are often hunted by Guatemalans and sold to Americans for $1000US. It wasn’t just Guatemalans obviously but Belizeans seem to blame Guatemalans for everything. Florentino wanted to educate the local people and create a business that the whole village could benefit from.
Unfortunately for us, Florentino had been called up to Belmopan for a meeting regarding the conservation project (it turned out to be a “how to manage your business” conference) so we were left in the capable hands of his wife Ecestasia, his nephew Diego (ages 19, a very quiet bird guide in training) and Stephen a.k.a the 17 year old accountant. Ecestqsia and Florentino had seven children, all boys aged between 11 and 24. All bar the eldest (who lived on Caye Caulker and was a teacher) lived with them in Red Bank.
To say big family would be an understatement, unless you were talking to Ecestasia, who was one of 15, one of her sisters lived next door (Diego’s mum). We also met Diego’s dad, Pedro.
Florentino’s family are all of Mayan decent. Ecestasia wore a beautiful traditional Mayan dress that her sister had sewn, cooked us amazing traditional meals, made chocolate from the 100+ cocoa trees that Florentino farmed, looked after 7 boys, 100 chickens, 4 cats and a dog called Sparky.
It was a busy and amazing family to be apart of for two days, we loved every second of it. Florentino had started a brilliant worthwhile business that with the help of his wonderful family is going giving them a much better quality of life.
We were staying in one of six little rustic rooms under a huge traditional Mayan thatched roof. It had a large area with tables and chairs and what looked like soon to be a kitchen. The roof took 35 people and a couple of weeks to make in the traditional way.
We took a walk around the village, which was one dirt road. There was a fairly big Mennonite community living in a close by village, so we saw horse and buggy’s go past a few times. I’ve gotten pretty obsessed with the Menonites and am really keen to visit a village and learn more. We ask everyone about them. It’s always interesting to see what the other locals think of them as well as wanting to hear their side.
A Mennonite riding his horse and buggy back to his village @ Red Bank
This village was so beautiful and it was just great walking around taking photos in the breaks between downpours. A lot of the buildings had traditional thatched roofs and their were chickens and baby chicks everywhere! We watched the local kids cycling around, playing football barefooted or babies and very young children were being bathed in their front gardens, it was very rural. We were the only tourists there and all the kids ran out to the street to say hello. There are about 1000 people that call Res Bank home with seven Christian based churches. The Mopan Maya community of Red Bank were a really friendly and welcoming community.
That night Ecestasia made us dinner. Home made fry jacks (deep fried tortillas) with eggs and beans. Everything was fresh, the beans straight from the garden and the eggs from her hens cooked cooked up to perfection. It was so simple, but felt as nice and homely as tucking into a roast dinner.
Diego, Stephen and Ecestasia sat and chatted with us for hours. They told us about the Scarlet Macaw project, about their ambitions their families, their history and the village.
It was truely a family business and we heard all of the boys future plans whether they be to study Electrical Engineering at University in Belmopan or to become an amazing bird guide lily their Dad. It was so nice to learn so much about the Mopan Maya and the village life.
The next morning, Diego had organised us a charter (lift) to the farm where we were going to bird watch. It was hard to tell what was actually wrong with the ute that picked us up. What with the oil light, engine light, ABS light, hand brake light all on when the hand brake was off as well as the “seatbelts off” alarm bleeping away. Luckily it was all covered up with the sound of pumping garafuno vibes, and the freshly poured petrol from a soda bottle.
Once we reached the edge of the farm we walked for a short while to a thatched roof where we sat, and watched and waited.
Here is a few of what we saw as again, I bet you’re all really interested… ;
Rufous Tailed hummingbird
Keel Billed Toucan
Collared Aracari Eating @ Red Bank
Keel-Billed Toucan @ Red Bank
Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird @ Red Bank
We came to Red Bank to see the endangered Scarlet Macaw but unfortunately we’re not lucky enough. After over two hours of bird watching we had gave up and started the long walk home that would take us about an hour in the rain. About 15 minutes in, the skies cleared for just a moment and two Scarlet Macaws flew over head. They flew over the path we were walking on and landed in a tree about 1km back. We were so excited, we ran back and admired from
about 500m. I got some very far away photos of two very soggy birds but we were so happy!!
Two Soggy Scarlet Macaws @ Red Bank
There are only around 200 of these Scarlet Macaws left in Belize. The day before we had arrived Jess had read that a pair of Guatemalans had been captured and arrested for poaching the birds. Poachers track the birds back to their nests and steal the eggs to sell or eat.
This practice is illegal, but unfortunately hasn’t stopped even the local villages from still hunting these beautiful birds.
This is the whole point of Florentino’s (along with the 17 other members of the group) and the conservation work. Educating the village has proven difficult which to be honest is understandable. When you live in such poor and remote areas, believing that tourism of a bird could improve yours and your family’s quality of life would probably be quite a tough sell. Nevertheless Florentino keeps going.
Florentino and Rogelio (Florentino’s son who went to the conference with him, age 23) met us back at the lodge. Florentino was full of amazing stories and information. We were grateful to get a chance to chat with him before we said our farewells, grabbed a family snap and headed off down the road in another charter ute but this time with fewer concerning noises and lights. This time we were heading back north roughly 20km down the road to Cockscomb wildlife basin!
Stephen, Rogelio, Ecestasia and Florentino outside the Scarlet Macaw B&B @ Red Bank
If you get a chance to visit Belize, get yourself to Red Bank, it’s amazing and a chance to help some very local tourism and some rather handsome parrots!