Mayan Macal Magic
Our amazing day started touring the Belize Botanical Garden and meeting students who attend and are learning about horticulture here at Duplooy’s Lodge. Several of us held a Cane Toad, whose defense is releasing a hallucinogenic compound in the mouth of a predator. The botanical highlight from our morning walk was the Black Orchid, the national flower of Belize. Collared Aracaris, a Bat Falcon and colorful Social Flycatchers kept our binoculars glued to our faces.
After crossing the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry, we hiked up a long hill to the Xunantunich archeological site, which means “maiden of the rock.” This ruin is the longest established archeological site in Belize, presenting the accomplishments of the ancient Mayan culture. From the top of the ruin we could see the border between Guatemala and Belize.
We learned how the word “Mayan” came to be: when Columbus arrived and communicated with the indigenous people in Belize, they said “ we don’t understand” which sounded to the Europeans like ‘mayan’. There are three different types of Mayans in Belize: Mopan, Yucatan, and Ketchi.
We visited a local craft market with authentic handmade slate carvings, jewelry, colorful textiles and painted drums, before preparing for our afternoon canoe adventure.
We paddled in canoes down the Macal River for nearly 7 miles from Duplooy’s Lodge to the town of San Ignacio. Each canoe harvested floating green figs from the river. We saw a variety of birds: Neotropic Cormorants, Collared Aracari, and the most rare heron in the world: the Agami Heron. Even our native Belizean naturalist guide was speechless when he first saw it!
Some of the figs, which look like bright tennis balls, when cut open had tiny fig wasps inside. We learned that these wasps pollinate the fig flowers from the inside — very different from most flowers. The figs must be pollinated by the wasps, and in turn the wasps depend on the developing fig for a safe place to mature into an adult wasp. This complex interaction was acted out in a fun play for better understanding — with some of us acting as fig wasps, and some of us as flower parts. Such a fun way to learn!!