By Guest Lecturer Sandy Cares
Tucked away in the foothills of Maya country in the beautiful little Central American nation of Belize, a spice farm has grown to become a national treasure and travel attraction under the watchful attention and caring direction of proprietors, Dr. Tom and Tessy Mathews.
The Mathews, U.S. citizens originally from India, purchased some 500 acres of land in southern Belize in about 1990 to establish their spice plantation, Belize Spice Farm and Botanical Garden. With support from the Belizean government, they imported spice seeds and cuttings from their native Kerala, India, known for its exotic spices and a place that shares a topography and climate similar to southern Belize.
If you visit Harvest Caye with Oceania Cruises, you’ll have an irresistible opportunity to tour the property on the Culinary Discovery Tour “Spice Farm, Botanical Garden & Onboard Cooking Class” or an excursion that includes both Nim-Li-Punit Mayan Ruin and the spice farm.
The Mathews personally welcome visitors in Cinnamon Hall, a glorious and airy pavilion appointed with contrasting woods combined in artful patterns and mosaics in the floor, walls, and ceiling, showcasing the wood of local trees, including mahogany, the national tree of Belize. Cinnamon Hall has become the worthy setting for many a local wedding.
After boarding comfortable tour mobiles, covered wooden carts with bench seating pulled by new, bright green John Deere tractors, guests enjoy a narrated tour of the lavish gardens. The tour rolls past water lilies and lily pads so enormous and healthy they could come straight out of a primeval setting. And that’s only the beginning.
A team of 50 shift their attention seasonally from one spice or fruit to another to capture the optimal planting and harvesting opportunities of the various plants, each posing special challenges. Vanilla, for example, must be hand-pollinated and the exact time for pollination is an extremely narrow window: only when the flower blooms, which happens only for a few hours in the morning of a single day. After that moment, the opportunity is lost. No wonder vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, following saffron.
Other spices grown here include cardamom, black pepper, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg and even cashews. You’ll appreciate the groomed acres of coconuts palms, wild bamboos of many varieties, colorful bougainvillea flowers, radiant hibiscus and shrimp plants. The occasional visiting parrot or macaw further reminds you that you are deep in the tropics.
As the tour mobile weaves along the carefully manicured pathways, you get up close and personal with exotic fruits like rambutan, bismarckia nobilis, wax apple, canistel, ackee, soursop, and jackfruit. The engaging and knowledgeable guide might jump off at any time to cut fresh and fragrant lemongrass, allspice leaves, coffee beans, and even crack open a cacao pod while explaining something of the history and health benefits of each.
For the tropical plant lover, this is truly an experience not to miss. Hope to see you in the Caribbean this winter!