The 2014 Tropical Ecology Institute participants are getting ready to travel in July.They are reading, shopping, packing and looking forward to getting to Belize (which is currently cooler than Raleigh!).
Here’s one last group shot from the airport in Miami. Amazingly, the same gentleman who took our photo in Raleigh-Durham Airport the morning we left was on the same flight back with us and could take our return picture as well!
It all unfolded in April of the current year, when twelve lucky educators would travel with gear.
Liz would lead us on our adventure there and Jason would provide his expertise, what a pair!
So June turned into July and the 23rd day, we’re going to Belize for a nine-day stay!
At the airport in Durham Steve was the first to arrive.
He definitely couldn’t sustain on onions to survive.
Wendy arrived, whom several had not yet met.
She was an all-around nice person who enjoyed the jet.
Laura was happy and her dad quite scared.
She reassured him by the comments straight from Liz Baird.
Kate was excited and ready to go.
You could tell by the way her face would glow.
Robin was soon to celebrate a memorable birthday.
It would be one she’d remember for a long time I’d say.
Carol was eager and ready to begin an adventure of a lifetime,
not a mortal sin.
Adrienne left her school in the hands above.
Her eagerness would be considered an act of love.
Bridget had come from the coast and quite glad.
She would miss her family but a birthday she’d have.
Meghan was sharp and prepared for the trip.
Her memory of species would make me flip.
Les-lee had an allegiance to her school.
Her bright orange colors were ever so cool!
Samantha was excited and had no regrets.
Surely in the tropics she’d see egrets.
And of course myself, shaking with fear,
I was so excited as I had prepared over a year.
The jet landed in Miami, then headed for Belize.
When we arrived we didn’t sail through customs with ease.
Mr. Nathan Forbes met us with the bus and shook our hands.
He and his driver loaded our bags to explore the lands.
Ms. Yolanda Eck joined our group, Assistant Principal and teacher.
What a beautiful lady and a lovely creature.
“Bad Ass Bruce” drove the bus like a madman at times,
but he managed to get us everywhere without any whines.
We drove down the Western Highway with bliss.
There were birds, animals, and plants we would not miss.
We stopped to pick up our 14th guest,
Ms. Consuelo Smith was up for a real-life test.
Our next stop was Howler Monkey Sanctuary Preserve,
Geraldine gave us a tour that a king or queen would deserve.
Lunch was great and quite tasty too.
Nathan prepared it all, there’s nothing he won’t do!
We headed to Duplooy’s Jungle Lodge where the food was magnific.
On our first night there we had shrimp on a stick.
The next morning we traveled on the Mountain Pine Ridge, how nice.
The bus got stuck not once but can you believe it, twice!
We then saw Domingo Ruiz Cave, a great place to hang.
We sat in darkness and a song we sang.
After lunch we went for a swim at Rio on the pools
the water was chilly, or should I say cool.
Dinner was memorable as our night walk;
it would have made most Americans squawk.
Day three was started early for our morning walk
and toured Duplooy’s Gardens, listening as Nathan talked.
We rode the highway by bus and came to a bridge;
it was hand-cranked by passengers headed to the ridge.
Up the mountain we walked and what an upward slope,
it would be well worth it or so we would hope.
Xunantunich was spectacular, what a sight.
When I climbed it I shook in fear and fright.
After lunch we paddled canoes down the Macal River.
The water was cool and made us shiver.
Night comes quickly on this part of the earth,
even with how wasps give birth.
The next morning we say goodbye to our Duplooy’s friends.
We toured the Belize Zoo with Sharon Mattola as she grins.
Her efforts are commendable and deserve great merit.
Perhaps a plaque with a diamond that’s 50-carat.
Next is a swim in Blue Hole for a refreshing dip.
Then it’s time to drive to the Jaguar Preserve on day four of our trip.
Our night walk was great with the red-eyed tree frogs.
It was so much worth walking through the swampy bog.
Before we head to rest our tired soles,
we noticed scorpions are fond of decks and holes.
Day five began quickly yes, at 5 AM.
Coffee was served by Nathan, what a man!
We see margay tracks and make a cast.
This way, Liz assured us, the moment would last.
After breakfast we board to bus to Monkey River School,
upon arrival we go to classrooms with our hearts and teaching tools.
The children are excited and smiled as they work.
Once we were finished we eat at Clive’s, what a perk!
That evening we visited the Maya Center guided by Julio Saqui,
we even practiced our dancing skills, oh me!
Day six began early with a walk through the preserve
and breakfast by Natalie and Laverne gave us energy to reserve.
Next we drive to Dangriga to Pelican Beach.
We have a lunch and hear from our followers who are trying to reach.
Our boat leaves the dock to South Water Caye.
What a beautiful resort, we were all filled with glee.
We met, we planned, and we took a snorkel or two.
By the days end we were all tired, well, perhaps a few.
Day seven began with an island tour just after dawn.
Nathan gave us a demo of coconuts cracking on the beach lawn.
First we go to the Whale shoals for snorkeling and more.
It was very interesting, far from a bore!
Then we head to the mangroves for snorkeling fun.
Small creatures we see, yes, one by one.
To finish our day to a fascinating sight
we all go snorkeling, you guessed it, at night!
A storm overnight woke us as nature called.
The rains soaked some clothing
but we were not appalled.
The next morning we relaxed and got to sleep in,
then at nine we were off to the Smithsonian.
After our tour of Carrie Bow Caye
another snorkel adventure, enough to satisfy me.
What an adventure this has been, so much to see,
from the depths of the ocean to the tops of the trees.
We will take our experience we gained in Belize
and integrate into our curriculum with finesse and ease.
To our friends we made here in God’s country of paradise,
it’s a location of beauty to be precise.
Thank you Liz for giving us this once in a lifetime trip,
we shall share our adventure through photos and our lips.
Our last morning in Belize arrived with a beautiful rosy sunrise. Several of the team members took the brief time between sunrise and breakfast and paddled out to a small island off our beach. They arrived with trash bags and a desire to clean up any debris that had washed ashore.
They returned with five full lawn and leaf bags of trash — mostly plastic water bottles but also 57 single shoes — primarily flip flops and crocs. Those shoes are made of plastic and can float long distances. This prompted a discussion of how our decisions can impact the environment, even a LONG way from home.
After a final delicious breakfast at Pelican Pouch we loaded up to head home. Engine trouble delayed our start, but another boat was found and we made it to Dangriga in plenty of time to get on the bus to the airport.
There were lots of tears at the airport as we said goodbye to all of our Belizean friends — particularly Consuelo, Yolanda, and Nathan. We will carry them in our hearts and share stories of our adventures with all our friends and family.
After a restful night listening to the sound of the palms gently swaying and water brushing against the shore, we watched an early morning sunrise. The group headed off to a morning tour of the island led by Nathan. We learned about pumice, mangroves, and coconuts. Fresh green coconuts have a different taste from the hard brown ones. A delicious breakfast was eaten on an open-air deck. After eating, we were treated to an hour of free time spent kayaking, walking, or hanging in the hammocks.
Then we set off for the pier to board the boat to take us snorkeling at Whale Shoal. After a quick boat ride we plopped into the water, fish and coral cards in hand in hopes of finding as many different species as possible. Alton, a guide with Pelican Beach Resort, was key in helping some of us that were just getting started with snorkeling. We saw a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes among the corals and fish — it was all so very new to most of us! We need to give kudos to Jason, our co-leader, for locating and retrieving a lost camera from the ocean floor. We worked up an appetite while out, and enjoyed a lunch of Island Paradise Pizza on the outdoor deck surrounded by palm trees and the sounds of the ocean.
Given some down time, many of us took advantage of relaxing in the hammocks and the warm ocean breeze.
After our break, we headed back to the dock, boarded the boat, and traveled to the Twin Caye Mangroves for more snorkeling. In murky water, we uncovered cushion sea stars, baby barracudas, Sergeant Majors, sea fans, and Arrow Crabs. One group saw a seahorse!
After a quick trip back, many folks took a break to catch up on their journal writing, go kayaking, drawing, and/or simply visiting with new found friends.
Another lovely dinner was had in this beautiful paradise. Curried shrimp was enjoyed by all.
We headed back to the water for a night-time snorkeling adventure. With flashlights in hand and wearing fluorescent bracelets, we explored ocean life after dark.
We saw squid, sea cucumbers, conchs walking across the ocean floor, and one group even saw, yes, a Nurse Shark!!!
The day concluded with a team wrap-up on the deck surrounded by the ocean breeze.
5:45am comes early in the jungle. Bug spray applied, binoculars donned, we headed out to see what feathery friends we might find. Highlights included Crested Guan with wattle perching in a tree, Black & Red Swallowtail Butterflies fluttering past, thorn bugs hopping trees, and Boat-billed Herons waiting in the pond, all ready to make our list.
As it was our last night in the Preserve, we needed to eat all of the fruit previously purchased our market visit, we ‘pango sweated fruit.’ We learned from our Belizean teachers that this was Creole for ‘eating everything on your plate, in this case in the fruit bowl. Delicious fry-jacks slathered with Marie Sharpe’s fruit jam, eggs with Happy Cow cheese and fried beans.
After breakfast we began our hike to Ben’s Bluff waterfall. The hike was uphill and hot. After a strenuous hike, we could hear the water promising a cool respite from the jungle. As we rounded the corner, exclamations ensued and we jumped in. Cool water was a surprise after the tepid water of the rainforest rivers. We each took turns swimming to the falls for another wet group shot. Refreshing!
We said goodbye to the falls and goodbye to our friends at Coxcomb Jaguar Preserve as we loaded up and headed for the island. As we were leaving we stopped by the Mayan Center for one last time to gorge on local chocolate bars made by the Mayans. It was a sight to see each of the educators, candy-bar in hand … just like Christmas!
So far we’d experienced the savannahs, local villages, rainforest, and mountains… what would the Belizean beaches be like? We donned life-jackets and boarded a luggage-laden boat. Anticipation grew with each bump of the waves and each glimpse of the blue-green water. Ooooohs! and Ahhhhhhs! were what we heard as we stepped from the boat onto white sand and into the sea breeze.
For some of us, snorkeling would be a new experience. Pairing up with more experienced snorkelers, the newbies carefully learned the technique of breathing only through our mouths. But so worth it! Purple fans, yellow-orange coral trees, green-swaying sea grass, teeming with schools of fish swimming with one motion… blue, green, spots, & stripes … so much life … so much movement. We had to be dragged from the sea with a promise of a shower and dinner.
At our group meeting, remarks began with how much we had missed the wind. In contrast to the sweltering heat, trickling sweat, and jungle funk, we are now experiencing Caribbean heat, warm breeze, and salty smells. We are thrilled to have arrived at our last stop — South Water Caye, where we eagerly anticipate learning the island fauna and flora.
(Photos coming soon.)
On our morning walk in the Jaguar Preserve, we saw tracks for a Baird’s Tapir and either an ocelot or Margay Cat. Some other sights were a Violet Sabrewing Hummingbird (which is very rare), a Banana Owl Butterfly and an agouti.
After a breakfast of johnny cakes (biscuit made from same ingredients as tortillas) and fresh fruits from the market, we went to the Monkey River Village and School. We interacted with Belizean children from ages 1 to 20 and taught lessons focusing on flight, light, animal behavior and perception. Seeing the smiles on these children’s faces was an amazing experience for all of us! We then had a delicious lunch of rice and beans with chicken or fish.
After leaving Monkey River, we traveled back to the Jaguar Preserve where we relished in an amazing dip in South Stann Creek River. We enjoyed the spa-like effect of water rushing over the rocks against our backs. We got an invertebrate lesson in the river from Wendy.
In the evening, we traveled to Mayan Center for a cultural lesson on the Mayan history. We learned a traditional dance and got to make corn tortillas! Afterwards, we enjoyed a traditional Mayan meal with fresh tortillas and decadent Mayan chocolate with fruit and crunchy tortillas. The chocolate was served in a fondue fountain and doubled as Robin’s birthday “cake.”* After some fun, fellowship and dancing, we headed back to get ready for the Southwater Caye tomorrow.
* This morning Robin realized her birthday was actually the day before! :-)