What did you do today? How old were the stairs you climbed? Odds are the stairs you climbed did not exist 100 years ago, let alone 1,000. We climbed stairs that kings and queens climbed over 1,000 years ago (wearing 30 lbs of feathers and jewelry!).
Our day today consisted of one never-before-experienced excursion after another. We toured the immaculate botanical gardens here on the grounds at duPlooys at 6:00 a.m. This tour included a guided bird watch by our friend/tour guide extraordinaire, Nathan. He showed us countless features of the local ecology, including the exciting wood stork casually trawling for an early morning bite to eat in the pond. Liz, our fearless leader, was giddy to see this fellow! Nathan also introduced us to a jackass. This plant got its name because its taste was so bitter, the natives claimed you’d “have to be a jackass to eat it”. Nathan pulled off a leaf and let some of us partake- sure enough, we were kicking ourselves hours later as we still tasted the strikingly bitter aftertaste. Oddly enough, the plant was used as an indicator of diabetes- if you didn’t taste the bitter, your body likely had issues processing sugar. Also, this plant was used to suppress malaria symptoms. This reminds us, once again, of the multitude of natural remedies found in abundance throughout this country. We have noticed that locals reference natural herbs as remedies to health issues, omitting the chemical treatments or pharmaceutical options.
After a blog-picture-worthy-breakfast, we piled into our bus with our stunt driver, “Badass” Bruce. His name is indicative of his driving skills, y’all. He handles the rugged terrain like James Bond. We traveled through San Ignacio and crossed the Mopan River on a ferry that used a hand crank. The Ocracoke Ferry to Hatteras takes an hour and is powered by large diesel engines; but this ferry takes less than 5 minutes and powered by a man who stands at a well-oiled hand crank. Nathan was even able to assist with the ferry crossing.
Visiting the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, we were all struck by the ancient culture that still felt present. In fact, “Badass” Bruce was able to connect us with Dr. Jaime Awe, a San Ignacio native and professor at Northern Arizona University. He provided us with a generous crash course on the Mayan culture and the latest research on the excavations of the ruin cite. How cool is that!? We will be watching for him on the History Channel.
After a brief stop at a local market, we headed back to duPlooys for another amazing meal before we boarded our canoes for the Macal River. This excursion featured new wildlife including river otters, snakes, (huge!) iguanas, a myriad of birds, and a friendly competition of fig-catching.
As the days continue, our group frequently reflects on the complexity of the culture, history, and ecology. Our experience with the Mayan ruins today were extremely striking as we compare and contrast this ancient way-of-life to our own culture. With a culture lasting for 2,000 years, it is hard to imagine the structure and systematic intricacies that are required to coexist for such a duration. Learning about the importance of embracing diversity and appreciating various perspectives are just the beginning of what we are dipping our toes in to. As our journey continues, we anticipate to dive further in to exploring a different way of life for all creatures on this very small marble we call home.
Trying our hand at playing the traditional Mayan Ball Court game – go Amy!
Climbing the temple.
With Dr. Awe from Northern Arizona State University
Dr. Awe showing us a newly discovered stone – there is an amazing story about this new find.
In the Waterfall at the Rio On
Pam casting a track
the road was quite muddy – with every step the mud layered onto our shoes – it was as if we were wearing weights on our feet!
Amy and Ashley in the Waterfall – happy to be in the cool water!
Our journey began with observing birds, turtles, and plants at a pond just a short distance from duPlooys. We journeyed southwest to the MountainPine Ridge Reserve where our adventure continued with walking to a remote cave, creating casts of an Oscillated Turkey track and two cat tracks; and viewing a stink-horned fungus. We observed bats, a huge spider, an assortment of pottery; the formation of stalactites and stalagmites; and sat in complete darkness. Onward, we traveled to another cave where we saw limestone and a river cutting through the cave. After our rainforest and cave adventure, we had a refreshing swim in the Rio On waterfall. We concluded our day with a night walk along the Macal River, viewing a diversity of insects, and completing over 23,000 steps. What an amazing day exploring the beauty and wonder of Belize!
Jaw-dropping. Inspiring. Beautiful. Exhausting. All in the best way possible. Listen with us as we describe our first day’s journey on the Tropical Ecology Institute as a symphony of sounds.
Early morning alarms, excited chatter, and discussion about what everyone packed started our day from Raleigh through Miami to Belize City!
The sounds of laughter and Belizean accents greeted us after we made our way through customs to hugs from our new friends, tour guide Nathan, driver Bruce, and two amazing Belizean teachers, Ryan and Sherret.
With no time to waste we loaded onto the bus to begin exploring. Our first stop: the Community Baboon Sanctuary (interesting fact: howler monkeys are locally called baboons). The brief sound of silence accompanied the sounds of the forest as we devoured stewed chicken, rice and beans (not to be confused with beans and rice), potato salad, fried plantains and fresh pineapple and watermelon. Geraldine, one of the women who helps lead the community effort to conserve land for the howler monkeys, led us on our first hike. As we listened for the sounds of howler monkeys, we discovered cohune palms, aracari toucans, cashew trees, strangler figs, and many unique uses for local flora. The crowd favorite of the day was the surprisingly haunting, guttural howling once we finally spotted a family of monkeys in the top of a large mango tree.
Our other most memorable sound (and smell) of the day came as we started our trek across the country on the Western Highway. A quick stop on the side of the road confirmed our suspicion: a flat tire! We limped down the highway into Belmopan (the capital city) and enjoyed a break at a local grocery store (and our first taste of Belikin) while the pros changed the tire. The sounds of Ryan’s hearty laughter as we played I Spy Bingo carried us through San Ignacio to our home for the next three days at duPlooys Jungle Lodge. Before dinner a few teammates had the opportunity to feed a wild kinkajou small pieces of banana as it hung from its tail in a nearby tree.
As the day came to a close we appreciated the sounds of frogs, cicadas, and rain on the roof as we fell into bed to prepare for another day of adventures.
We are here! Safe and sound and heading to bed at beautiful duPlooys Lodge. In less than 12 hours we have seen black howler monkeys, a rainbow, aracari toucans and replaced one flat tire! With a slightly delayed arrival in Belize and the unexpected stop for a tire, the team writing today’s blog needs a little more time. Stay tuned!
Beautiful flight to Miami! About ready to take off for Belize!
Everyone is here ready to go! Nothing like being at the airport at 4:15am! Tropical Ecology Educators of Excellence Institute 2016 begins!