Belize it or not: Living in harmony with M&Ms (monkeys and mosquitoes)

You can’t visit Central America and not make at least some effort to see the monkeys. That’s just wrong. Monkeys are way too cute to be missed.

Like Costa Rica, and other countries in this region, Belize is also trying to brand itself as an ecotourism destination.

The Community Baboon Sanctuary, a conservation project in which over 200 private landowners in Belize have voluntarily pledged to conserve their land for the protection of the Black Howler Monkey (called ‘baboon’ in the local Creole dialect) habitat, is well-worth the trip inland. It’s only about an hour drive from Belize City.

But, there is a but.

Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes. Mosquitoes.
Before I begin talking about how cute the monkeys are, I am going to say this: I had never, ever before, seen so many mosquitoes before visiting the Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS). Anywhere.

The closest I had ever come to this kind of mosquito infestation was in Venice. (Camping outside a city built on a swamp is not a good idea, note to self.)

I was covered in insect-proof gear from head to toe. Still, I had mosquito bites on my face and hands: the only two areas not protected, even though they were sprayed with high-percentage DEET repellent.

The thing is, these mosquitoes are not only tough, but completely DEET-resistant. My watch, on the other hand, wasn’t. DEET killed it (or its surface and band) right away.

What I particularly dislike about mosquitoes is how selective and discriminating they are in the people they attack. Our guide, Shane (see the first picture), was barefoot, wearing shorts and a T-shirt and did not get a single mosquito bite. How is that possible? Are the locals immune?

Clearly, it’s jealousy speaking. I am always the person with the record-breaking number of bites, no matter how much Vitamin B and gin’n’tonic I consume.

What? Gin and tonic doesn’t work, you say? Sure it does. It makes you more at peace with the unfair world of mosquitoes and their poor victims. In extreme conditions such as this, that’s all you can ask for.

I go on about mosquitoes, but don’t let me discourage you from visiting the CBS. But be prepared. Wear long pants (and stuff them into your socks), long-sleeve high-thread shirt and boots. A head-cover of some sort wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Chances are the mosquitoes might not be as bad when you go. We went during the rainy season, which generally means more mosquitoes in the jungle. The guides will give you a mosquito whip-type-thing, made from a certain type of palm tree, that you can use “as a tail” to repel insects (see picture). It works pretty well. At the very least, you’ll get an idea what it’s like to be a horse.

Enough about mosquitoes.

Baboons aka Black Howler Monkeys
CBS is truly a special place. The goal is to sustain the habitat of the Black Howler Monkey, which–hence the name–is the second loudest animal in the world, after the lion. The result has been an innovative project which offers promotes the economic development of the participating communities and provides a unique opportunity for visitors to experience the rainforest and witness baboons in the wild.

The landowners, all 200+ of them, benefit directly from the Sanctuary thanks to ecotourism, aka you. Many more benefit indirectly through the educational programs. The population of the Black Howler Monkey in the Sanctuary has risen to over 2,000 monkeys. And, you’ll get to see them up close, and — if you are lucky like us — feed them a banana.

The Sanctuary was founded by Dr. Robert Horwich, an American primatologist and Fallet Young, a landowner in the village of Bermudian Landing, in 1985 with the initial participation of 12 landowners. In 1998, the Women’s Conservation Group was formed, which currently manages the CBS.

The entrance fee is $7US. It includes a walk with a guide and lots of quality time with the M&Ms.