We arrived home safe and sound after a LONG day of traveling. Bags were packed and ready by 6 a.m. at Southwater Caye. There were many tears shed as we said goodbye to our island home, and thank you to our friends Nathan, Bernadette and Ron. After a beautiful boat ride to the mainland, we quickly boarded the bus for the drive to the airport. Although we had given away our school supplies and gifts for the zoo, our bags were laden with hot sauce, slate carvings, and crafts from Maya Center.
When we got near the airport we were joined by Miss Lydia Wade of Crooked Tree. She used to work at Warrie Head Lodge which was the base for this experience for many years. Now she makes her livelihood by selling cashews from her farm. We had learned of the arduous process of cleaning and roasting cashews on our first day in Belize. Each nut has to be roasted in a fire to get off the outside husk which contains oil similar to poison ivy. And then it is shelled, roasted and slated before going to market. We were saddened to learn that someone had broken in and stolen 9 bags of her cashews, a significant portion of her income. And yet she still had bags of cashews for each of us to take home.
Her generosity brought many of us to tears. She exemplifies the warm generous nature of Belize, and reminds us that our friends and families are what is important in life.
Emma- your mom Erin says “Happy Seventh Birthday!”
She’ll be thinking of you all day!
July 28, 2014
The breaking of dawn brought thunder, rain, and a scramble for ocean-washed clothes. Upon reaching the island, most participants had washed their jungle-funky clothes in the Caribbean. After the rain and wind, we retrieved our belongings and rinsed them out again.
Nathan led us on a walk around the island. Southwater Caye is a small place, only 15 acres. We had an expert topic presentation on mangroves. The mangroves are specifically important: they play a role in reducing the amount of erosion that islands experience. They also serve as important wildlife habitats. While walking the island, Nathan picked a Noni fruit that was particularly aromatic. We saw Brown Pelicans flying and perching in trees. The frigate birds continued to soar around us. Along with the Pelican Beach resort, there are two other facilities on this small island. As Nathan led us on our tour, Liz found an old pal, Nelson. Nelson is caretaker for a small part of the island. He was extremely happy to see Liz and Nathan. Nelson and Nathan gave a great demonstration on processing coconut. Their demonstration, along with Cindy’s coconut palm expert topic made the morning.
Our morning snorkel was postponed due to weather. The teams had an opportunity to work on projects and journals. We also had an art lesson from Suzy, with time to practice our drawing skills. The time was well utilized and enjoyed by all.
After lunch, the weather cleared a bit and we began our afternoon snorkeling excursion to one of the reefs. The skies were purple and threatening, but we decided to push on. After finding a good spot to explore, we hit the water. The ocean was choppy and the skies continued to darken. After a few minutes, we got back in the boat and headed back to the caye to try again later. In the time we had, some of us looked for shells or took a bit of much needed R&R.
We gathered at 3:30 for snorkeling off the beach where we saw reef squid, lionfish, parrot fish, Yellow Stingrays and a Porcupine Pufferfish. Some folks opted for kayaks or journaling during this time. We reconvened at 5:30 for the daily run-down of what we saw and experienced – what an awesome day we had however, it was not over.
After dinner (ginger shrimp, mashed potatoes, marinated salad, and cassava pudding AKA plastic cake) we got to night snorkel where we saw Tiger Paw Sea Cucumber, needle-nosed fish, reef squid, lobsters, crabs, King Lionfish, Long-spined Sea Urchin, octopus, and bat fish. After our invigorating night snorkel we had some down time to work on our group activities, star gaze, and network.
Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from travel’s immediate rewards, the inevitable, myriad new sights, smells, and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand how others do differently what we believed to be the right and only way.” – Ralph Crawshaw
The above quote was shared with us as we bid a bittersweet farewell to DuPlooy’s to continue on to our next adventure. It resonated with us because we knew the experiences we’ve had so far, and that were still to come, would help to change our view of the world around us.
We traveled east along the Western Highway to the Belize Zoo for our much-anticipated visit. “Balboa” the boa warmly greeted us with “big hugs” as we entered the zoo. Prior to our trip we were introduced to Sharon Matola, “the zoo-lady”, through Bruce Barcott’s, The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw. If you didn’t know Sharon’s story, her humble and unassuming presence might lead you to believe she’s just another zoo-keeper. But to many Belizeans she is a local hero for saving abandoned animals and creating a zoo filled with animal ambassadors. Sharon casually approached our group with a bucket-full of carrots and genuine smile. The zoo is a must-see destination for locals and tourists alike to learn about the native animals of Belize.
Our zoo visit was filled with many personal up-close encounters. Sharon immediately put us to work, allowing us to feed the endangered tapirs, locally known as “mountain cows”. Next, we unexpectedly found ourselves feeding a Scarlet Macaw, an animal close to Sharon’s heart. This amazing opportunity paired with having read about her efforts to save this beautiful bird brought Barcott’s book to life for us.
The highlight of the zoo tour was meeting “Junior Buddy”, a seven-year old rescued jaguar. Sharon’s previous circus training became obvious as she expertly coached him through various commands by using her positive reinforcement and motherly voice. Next, we found ourselves within a cage reversing roles with Junior Buddy. In our cage we were able to pet, feed, and get jaguar kisses from this magnificent cat.
In addition to those experiences we saw a King Vulture, Spider Monkeys, Harpy Eagles, Brown Pelicans, three types of parrots, and much more. For many of us it was a powerful experience to see Sharon in her element, interacting with her adopted family. Her humble and genuine presence has captured our hearts forever.
Leaving a piece of our hearts at the zoo, we took a quick dip in The Blue Hole National Park. There we kept up with Institute tradition and performed a synchronized water ballet.
We ended our day by travelling along the most scenic highway in Belize, the Hummingbird Highway to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. There we were welcomed to our rustic living quarters by tarantulas, scorpions, and a coral snake. We found Red-eyed Tree Frogs during our walk along the road at night.
While many of us were nervous about the critters we’d meet in the jungle, it was clear from today that Belize truly values every animal native to its land. Today’s events can be summed up by a quote posted throughout the zoo:
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Mahatma Ghandi
*We have had a fabulous time in the Jaguar Preserve and have just arrived at Southwater Caye. Many posts and photos coming soon!
June 26, 2014
Who knew that a small school in Belize could show us the true meaning of what it is to be an educator? Monkey River is a community that few people have heard of in a remote part of the country. It can be found along the convergence of the Monkey River and the Caribbean Sea and is the home to an amazing group of students and teachers.
Since our initial orientation meeting, we have been preparing and planning for our time with the kids of St. Stephen’s School. Leaving from the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary, we began our adventure to the coastal community. Through bumpy dirt roads, potholes, and citrus orchards, we made our way to meet an unknown audience in a new environment. Upon arriving, we immediately knew that this was where we were supposed to be. Smiling faces and excited squeals echoed throughout the building as we split into our groups and began our activities. The participants ranged in age from 14 months to 14 years, thus proving to be one of the greatest challenges of many of our teaching careers.
Though it was summer vacation, students came in to take part in activities like Rainforest Animal Yoga, Flying Machine Construction, Marshmallow Challenge, and Colorful Butterflies. The activities were as unique as the teachers who presented them and offered a variety of opportunities for their various talents to shine. Our afternoon at the community concluded with an incredible meal and a boat ride back to shore.
Once we made our way back to our jungle home, swimming in the South Stann Creek was next on our agenda. The creek runs through the middle of the preserve and gave us a much needed energy boost. Early morning showers had quickened the flow, and provided a relief from the stifling tropical heat. As we made our way back to the bank, the Duck Flower, the largest bloom in Belize, reminded us yet again just how fortunate we are to be in such an amazing paradise.
A trip to Che’il Chocolate Center and the Mayan Community delighted our senses but made us aware of the many challenges that face the indigenous population and the way of life that they are fighting to protect. The struggle to balance progress, wildlife conservation, and a traditional way of life is an issue to which we can all relate. Our conversations reminded us that we truly are all a connected global community.
As our day comes to a close the same thought that we have had at the end of every night seems to resonate in all of our minds … BEST DAY EVER!
July 24 2014
Our early nature walk at 5:45 was highlighted by an agouti, and a Speckled Racer ( a snake) wrangled by Nathan and Ron. We visited the Orchid House and saw the national flower of Belize — the Black Orchid. As we were awaiting breakfast, we saw a group of Collared Aracari Toucans feeding on some fruit left on the patio. What a great highlight seeing such beautiful birds so close! We had amazing breakfast burritos and cinnamon raisin scones.
We certainly had an action-packed day! We left DuPlooy’s around 8:30 to head to Xunantunich, the Mayan Ruins near the border of Belize and Guatemala. A few of us have a slight fear of heights, but we all overcame those fears, made the trek to the top and were we ever rewarded! It was breathtaking seeing two countries at once from the top of the Castillo, which was 130 feet tall. We learned about the game Pok-ta-pok, a game where the winner is sacrificed. We also learned about rituals like virgin sacrifices (in this case “virgin” means without children) and blood-letting ceremonies of the king or queen from our tour guide Nathan, who has been nicknamed “Belize-opedia,” and even had a few other tourists (Denise from California and her family) tag along in our group to learn from him. After climbing the ruins, we spent some time in the local market buying keepsakes like Mayan calendars, tapestries, clothing, and jewelry.
We returned to DuPlooy’s and changed into our bathing suits, and then took a quick half-hour van ride upstream on the Macal River. We canoed downstream, and along the way we were tasked with catching figs that had fallen into the river. We also saw some great natural features, like limestone caverns and cliffs, and encountered some iguanas, kingfishers, and blue herons. We returned to the beach at DuPlooy’s and swam in the Macal before heading back up to the patio.
We learned how to make tamales from Melanie, one of the chefs at DuPlooy’s, and she taught us about the different spices, including coolantro, which is similar to cilantro and in the same family. The tamales were wrapped in plantain leaves and steamed for an hour (and we’re awaiting our dinner as we type! ) (Editor’s note – they were DELICIOUS!)
We spent the remainder of the afternoon dissecting the figs we collected from the Macal. We learned about the very complex and interesting habitat inside, and the fig wasps that inhabit and pollinate it. We modeled this process in an interactive activity, and we learned how to incorporate it into our classrooms.
Tomorrow morning we leave DuPlooy’s and head to the Jaguar Preserve. As we look back on our time here we can’t help feeling extremely grateful and blessed to have spent three days and nights in such a beautiful and picturesque place.
Tomorrow morning we will leave the beautiful duPlooy’s Lodge and head to the Jaguar Preserve where there is no electricity, much less internet! We will try to get a post up in the morning, and see if we can get online when we visit Monkey River Village on Saturday. If you don’t hear from us – don’t worry! We will reconnect when we get to the Caye and fill in all the missing details!