After a fabulous day of snorkeling on the reef and on the mangroves, and a delicious final dinner, we begin our journey home.
final blog coming soon
Today we learned that eels get very upset when you wake them up at 10:00 pm. Actually, we learned a lot of things. The day, once again, was full of new adventures and unexpected activities: an island walk about, a visit with the researchers at the Carrie Bow Smithsonian Research Lab, snorkeling around a patch coral reef, a whopping 3 hours of free time, snorkeling again off our island home in the late afternoon and then again after dark! Whoa! How do you fit that in to 16 hours? Very carefully, friends.
Even though we are on a little piece of paradise, we are not on vacation. Well. That’s a half truth. Waking up for a 6:00 morning walk kicked off our first full day on the tropical island. Everyone was surprised to learn that our local Belizean friend, Ryan, could crack coconuts on a coconut post. Trust us, it’s harder than it looks. Of the 300 coconuts that a tree produces each year, Ryan effortlessly cracked one for us. It is kind of unsettling to see signs that warn us to “watch for falling coconuts.” We also learned that the pumice under our feet is in fact from a volcano in Guatemala. All of this before 8:00 a.m.
Our first boat ride landed us on Carrie Bow, the home of the Smithsonian Research Institute here in South Caye. Zach, the site manager, met us and introduced us to the latest research going on, focusing on the CO2 impacts on salinity and urchin menu preferences. Who knew sea urchins were picky eaters?! We were expecting extensive research tools when we found the research was being done with a plastic slotted spoon and a spatula. It just goes to show that scientists don’t need fancy items to conduct research. In fact, the research tools at the Smithsonian lab could actually be found in many regular 5th grade classrooms! What an epiphany! Also, did you know that the color on the coral is called photosynthetic zooxanthellae? Put that in your spell checker! Many of us were shocked to learn the brilliant coloration found on the coral is actually an algae that forms on the coral and creates a symbiotic relationship. If the algae dies, the coral becomes bleached (white), and thus loses its ability to thrive. It all made sense when we realized why the research on CO2 levels was so important: it directly impacts the life of the coral. Crazy, right? High fives to all of those using alternative energy: you’re helping the oceans maintain life! Also, thanks to our friends at Carrie Bow — keep up the great work.
Shortly after our Smithsonian research center tour, we hopped back on our boat (a 25-foot fiberglass v-hull with twin 200 hp engines) to scoot over to a patch reef. Belize it or not, we really are getting the hang of snorkeling! Those of us who never snorkeled before were diving down to get a closer look at the brain coral. Amy was stoked to see the stoplight parrotfish (which she insisted was a spotlight parrot fish). She was also excited to see the yellowtail damselfish. We put our waterproof field guides to use when we explored these unknown reefs, all before lunch.
Everyone can likely agree that the most unexpected aspect of our day was when Liz revealed that we would have 3 hours of discretionary time to explore the island as we pleased. Lauren said, “WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!” as she realized she would have time to paddle board, kayak, lie out in hammocks (reflecting on our research, of course), journal, and try some yoga. Freddy got an up-close and personal look at a piece of conch in his foot — what a trooper. In fact, we notice a theme with this trip: stretching ourselves while traveling helps us experience new things. During reflection, Sheret made a great point: if we never do things outside our comfort zone, we’ll never have new experiences. Try things that scare you, be vulnerable, snorkel after dark, find that moray eel — and follow him to see where he swims! (Yes, this actually happened).
We are officially in the final lap of our trip, and it continues to be filled with unexpected surprises and experiences. Every minute of this adventure is intentionally planned by our wonderful leaders. They have made us feel so safe and comfortable that we are all quite confident to try at least one new thing each day.
Once we get home we will flip through our journals and there will be no way to capture the excitement, laughter, and pure joy that has prevailed throughout our journey. The inside jokes (fart fart, kill the baby!), the developed trust, and the act of falling in love with the surrounding ecology has been the product of our daily adventures.
We are thoroughly enjoying your comments, questions, and jokes, so please continue to send us more for us to answer as we wrap up our adventure. Mom: the water temperature is perfect (88 degrees) and I can’t wait to show it to you. Although we are really excited to come home, leaving this tropical paradise is going to be a bigger challenge than dodging scorpions in the Cockscomb Basin. However the friendships we have made will be with us forever, and the experiences we have shared will strengthen our relationships with ourselves, our family, and our students.
(photos coming soon)
We have literally gone from the jungle to paradise today in 45 minutes! Before we left the Jaguar Preserve, we did a 5:45 am bird walk, had a delicious Belizean breakfast, and hiked a steep, strenuous and rocky trail through the rainforest to a waterfall. Along the strenuous rocky trail we observed the beautiful trees, birds, and rocks.
After the long, hot walk, we anxiously jumped in for a refreshing swim and received a massage in the waterfall. We also had a nice photo shoot as water was splashing in our face.
Before heading to Pelican Beach Resort, we stopped by the local Maya Women’s Center to do a little shopping and buy some chocolate, then we were off to Dangriga to hop on a boat to South Water Caye. This was absolutely refreshing, “dangrigalicious,” and breathtaking!
Before we arrived at our destination, we had to take an hour-long roller coaster boat ride, which we have been prepared for by “Badass” Bruce. Then, things slowed down. We had a whole HOUR and a HALF to prepare for the next activity. We were definitely not used to this. We used this time to relax in a hammock, practice snorkeling, kayak, explore the island, and more. Then we were able to see another world, the underwater world, all that the Caribbean Sea has to offer. This was the first time many of us have snorkeled. We saw lionfish, sea cucumbers, barracudas, brain coral, nurse sharks, rainbow parrotfish, sting rays, and more. What a spectacular day!
Group after snorkeling
Group in waterfall
A pot of boiling water on the stove, instant coffee, evaporated milk and sugar (with a side of ants) greeted us early on our first morning in the Jaguar Preserve. Coffee in hand we embraced the feeling of being field biologists as we embarked on our first morning walk since arriving in Cockscomb. A female boat billed heron nesting with two chicks, a crimson collared tanager, and the opportunity to cast a fresh tapir track were a few of the highlights from our walk. After yet another satisfying Belizean breakfast of eggs, fry jacks, and the fresh fruit we had bought at the Belmopan Market, we set off on our drive to Monkey River village on the southern coast of the country.
We were all excited to catch our first glimpse of the brilliant, blue Caribbean Sea. A short boat ride took us across the Monkey River to the village where we anxiously awaited the arrival of children. It wasn’t long before we saw bare feet and smiling faces coming around the corner of Saint Stephen’s Anglican School. We quickly fell back into our roles as teachers and, despite how hot it was, the children’s laughter, hugs and excitement helped us all to recharge our batteries. The experience helped us to realize that even with so many differences between life in the village and our own lives back home: children are children; we all saw our students reflected in the Monkey River students and it was an experience that will continue to impact us long after our time in Belize is over.
After a very hot bus ride back to Cockscomb we arrived at Maya Center for the second part of our day. We were greeted by Julio, owner of Che’il (which means “wild Mayan”) Chocolate, and a local cacao farmer. Our chocolate experience began with a tour of a local cacao farm. As with so many others in Belize, the farmer shared with us his passion. We learned of the challenges facing cacao farmers, the hard-work involved in maintaining an organic cacao farm, and the process of turning the fruit of the tree into the chocolate we all know and love. Following the farm tour we had the opportunity to make (and eat!) chocolate from bean to bar using ancient Mayan tools and techniques. Julio’s passion for the art of chocolate making was evident, but even more so was his love and commitment to the Mayan people.
After dinner, Julio was gracious enough to share the perspective from the Mayan people of the development of the Jaguar Preserve. Many of us have read the book Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, so having the other side helped to complete the story. It is hard to believe the tribulations the Mayan people faced and overcame, not through violence but through dialogue. They have continued to protect the land of their forefathers and are also showcasing their craftwork at the Women’s Center.
It was a day filled with wonder, love, teamwork, reflection, passion, new friends, and a healthy dose of Anti-Monkey Butt Powder.
Lynn making chocolate
Kayla making chocolate
Group at Monkey River School
Freddy at Che’il Organic Mayan Chocolate Farm
Pam and child at Monkey River Village
Boat Billed Heron on nest
Leslie, Amy and Becca in the Blue Hole in the rain
Kim petting Barn Owl “Happy”
Jeff petting “Rose” the crocodile
Group in the Blue Hole
What am I passionate about? As teachers we reflect on this question often, and we facilitate learning opportunities that will allow our students to start to explore and discover their own passions.
On Friday, our group had the privilege of visiting the Belize Zoo and meeting the founder, Sharon Matola. It took no time at all for us to be inspired by Sharon’s passion for animals. We had read “Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw” in preparation for the trip. We were so privileged to walk through the zoo with Sharon and her assistant Jamal, and to learn more about the animals at the zoo. From jaguars to toucans to scarlet macaws and spider monkeys, we were mesmerized. We had many many special experiences, including getting to pet Happy the barn owl, and meet Rose the crocodile. If you would like to learn more about Sharon Matola and the Belize Zoo we’d recommend “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw“ by Bruce Barcott, available at various booksellers or at the zoo’s website: http://www.belizezoo.org.
We left the zoo with full hearts and enlivened minds on our way to the Blue Hole, a beautiful natural swimming hole off the side of the road. Our quick dip in the water was made even more refreshing by a downpour that occurred shortly after jumped in the water. We were already wet so we laughed as we raced for the bus.
Then, we were officially on our way to the elusive Jaguar Preserve. By this time we were all used to the long, rough roads, but there was something different about this drive – a quietness and a sense of wonder permeating the bus. Once we made it to our site and carried our packs to our cabins, it was time for our long-awaited night hike. What would we see? Hear? Feel?
After the initial moments of nervous chatter on the trail, we were able to take the guidance of our leaders and “lean into the experience.” Then, we heard our beloved guide’s gentle, “Shhh…here they are!” We heard sound that was foreign to most of our ears . . . the call of the red-eyed tree frog! We listened intently, found thousands of eggs and even caught a few to examine more closely. To finish out the night we turned off our flashlights and listened as the calls of the frogs became synchronous. Before turning our lights back on, we talked for a few minutes about the experience. Our eyes had become accustomed to the dark night, and we discovered that the forest floor was covered with leaves covered with a bioluminescent fungus. It was as if the stars of the night had spilled across the floor.