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A family in Sinanche, a community in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatan, has turned to apitourism, or bee tourism, as part of an effort to protect the industrious little insects.
Visitors are welcomed into the world of bees, learning about the insects’ work, honey production and the important role they play in the planet’s life.
The family’s goal is for Mexican and foreign visitors to interact with Apis Mellifera bees and the Meliponas of the Xunan kab species “so that they can have a unique experience but also preserve the species,” Miriam Espinosa Pinzon, who created the Apiturismo Sinanche project with her late husband Benigno Ramirez Palma, told EFE.
At the site, located about 300 meters (some 330 yards) from the town cemetery and on a path that leads to the fields, visitors find four themed cabins run by the Ramirez Espinosa family.
In the first cabin, visitors learn a little about the history of Sinanche, through which the Spanish conquistadors passed.
Visitors get to see a majestic church that is the pride of the region, enjoy the kindness of the people of the port of San Crisanto and encounter the tree that gave the town its name.
In the other cabins, guests learn about beekeepers’ tools and the way honey, bee venom, pollen and propolis (bee glue) are collected, as well as their healing properties.
The exhibits also explain the differences between an Apis Miellifera bee and a Xunan kab (“royal lady bee” in Mayan), which “fascinates children because they do not imagine bees without stingers,” Espinosa said.
But the best always comes last, especially for those who visit Apiturismo Sinanche, since they get to enjoy a honey tasting, a one-on-one experience with the bees and the chance to create candles with beeswax, “so that they keep a nice memory,” Espinosa said.
The interactions with bees have been so successful that tourists from Ireland, Spain, the United States and other parts of Mexico arrive regularly and “many have had the luck to see the queen bee fly near them,” Espinosa said.
Espinosa does not try to hide the devotion she feels toward the Melipona bee and the European, or honey bee, a kind of Aphrodite Hymenoptera of the Apidae family, “because thanks to beekeeping, I’m able to support my children,” she said.
Learning how to maintain and care for a beehive, and that the best production comes from the flowers of the Dzidzilche, Jabin, Catzin, Chuukpu, Bohon and Tahonal trees “was not easy,” Espinosa said.
“Now we know that the bees also feed on the flowers of medicinal plants and giant trees, making honey that is unique to the region and much appreciated in Germany,” the owner of the four apiaries said.
Espinosa explained that the Apiturismo Sinanche project came about as a way to look at the work in a different way and promote the care of the insects.
“We are beekeepers by descent and we only took honey and sold it to collectors,” she said.
“One day, we decided to do something different and pack our own honey, so we learned to make syrups, multivitamins, soaps and candles,” she said, adding that her family organized a cooperative in 2011 and started visiting cities across Mexico.
The Sinanche Apiculture project “landed” in 2013, thanks to the interest of several people who bought honey from us, Espinosa said. “They wanted to come to our community to see the way we practice beekeeping.”
In the family business, Espinosa’s son, Benigno, comes up with the ideas, while her uncles, children and nephews participate as tour guides on walks, which are available every day of the week from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
At the site, visitors can purchase three different packages of 60, 80 and 200 pesos ($3, $4 and $10), giving them the right to a honey tasting, candle-making class and even a meal of traditional Yucatecan dishes.
To interact with the bees, a visitor must put on a complete protective suit - head covering, gloves and boots - before entering the apiary.
Once inside, family members remove a box from the hive and take one of the containers out to demonstrate how the worker bees, drones and queen perform their daily tasks.
Visitors enjoy seeing how bees store honey, pollen, propolis and jelly, “because they learn the differences in size and postures of the drone, workers and the queen, and understand that humanity could not survive without bees, because they are in charge of pollinating the trees and without their labor there would be no food production,” Espinosa said.