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Aug 31, 2004

“Old Belize” is newest tourist attraction

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Not very long ago the drive out of Belize City along the Western Highway featured little more than a parade of eyesores stretching from the garbage dump to the Burdon Canal Bridge. And while today the low lying area can hardly be called scenic, there is a renaissance of sorts featuring new houses, new businesses, a new marina and a new tourist attraction…called Old Belize. Patrick Jones has a tour.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

?From the outside, apart from the name on the marquee, this looks like just another warehouse. But step inside, and you get transported to another time, and another place. Come, let?s experience Old Belize.?

The journey through time starts in the rainforest and takes the visitor through eight important periods in the history of the nation. Operations Manager Francis Woods says careful planning went into each of the displays.

Francis Woods, Operations Manager

?What we tried to do is reproduce what Belize has to offer for the visitor in one building, so they can come and see exactly what a jungle would look like if they were to go out to Cayo and go into the jungle or what it?s like to be at a Maya site, and also in addition to that would give them an idea of some of our old industries that really did build Belize.?

These include the logwood trade…timber extraction…the chicle …and sugar industries.

(Human side of the exhibition)

John Masson

?We now go into a typical Garifuna village–fishing dory, house, which we have all seen that kind of house constriction.?

But there is also a cultural side to the project that includes the Mestizos, Mayas and Garifuna contributions to the country?s history.

(Old Belize City)

John Masson

?We are in old Belize proper; somewhere on North Front street. And we are looking down back to what later was Paslow Building and Swing Bridge and up that way would have been toward the Fort.?

This is what North Front Street looked like in the 1920?s, complete with exact replicas of many historic buildings including Biddle?s Store and the government building, or what we came to know as the Paslow Building. But what was the motivation for doing all this?

Francis Woods

?Basically we saw the need for a facility like this and actually there is still need for more facilities like this, because of the rise in the cruise tourism industry. These people have a limited time in the day and they would like to se as much as they possible could without having to work too hard at it or being hassled.?

The eighteen thousand square feet of floor space is carefully mapped out to not only grab the visitor?s attention, but keep them focused. John Masson has been one of the project coordinators.

John Masson

?It?s open to the public, but we think of it as an ideal place for the ship tourists or any tourist coming here. A ship tourist comes ashore for one day, for four or five hours really and if we whet his appetite on three or four or five different things, when he goes on a two-week holiday he will then come back to a place called Belize and do his bit he will be able to go inland and see the Maya ruins, he will be able to go into the forest, he can go to the Caye and go scuba dive. So this is a sort of sampling of Belize for him, or her.?

The museum is built on a fourteen and a half-acre plot of land, at the old Cucumber Beach Port, a place where farmers in the 60?s use to load their harvest of cucumbers headed for Florida. But when that export venture collapsed, the owners decided to sell, and the Woods family decided to buy. Now they are hoping to reap a different kind of crop: tourism.

Francis Woods

?Well we hope that, it?s a lot more than just money. I would hope that for Belizeans they would appreciate their history more. Certainly reading about it in a book is far different from actually looking at a real look and see. So, that would be very satisfying for me if Belizeans could come through and see it and appreciate more their history and culture. But yes, definitely we?d want a return on it. We certainly spent a good amount on this place. And we would hope to see a return. We don?t expect it right away but in the long term I think we should be able to make a return on it.?

While the family would not put an exact dollar amount to their investment, woods says it has already cleared the million dollars mark. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

Construction of the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Centre started in August of last year. Most of the historical pieces are owned by the Woods family, but there have been donations from other people to compliment the work of the curators. The Centre currently provides full time employment for twenty Belizeans. The first full tour is expected on Thursday, with a booking by eighty Carnival cruise ship passengers. Entrance fee is fifteen US dollars for adults, children between the ages of six and twelve pay seven dollars and fifty cents while those under six enter for free. Belizeans pay those prices in local currency and there are special packages available for students and teachers.

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