Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kissed by a Jaguar!

Tom and I feel like we’ve spent the whole week being tourists, which is ironic considering we went for our permanent residency interviews on Wednesday. Our interviews went well, after a rocky start. Tom had an 8:30 appointment, and mine was for 9:00. Everything is done manually at the Immigration office, so all the appointments are handwritten in a book. Seems they didn’t get the book out the night before, so after they opened the doors at exactly 8:30, they spent a half hour searching for the book. They then spent another few minutes comparing our documentation to what was in the book, and then called Tom in for his interview at a few minutes past nine. He was in there FOREVER, or at least 45 minutes. I couldn’t imagine what the Immigration officer was asking him, but he finally came out of the office smiling and said it was my turn. When I went in, the Immigration office greeted me with a big smile, and then told me that she likes to ask the husbands all the official questions so she can just chat and gossip with the wives, which is just about what we did. We did cover the major points on the interview questionnaire, but then we just talked about things such as people we both know in Belize and places we like to eat, and we laughed a lot. She said the only thing we have to do now is talk with the police when they visit us at home, and then wait for the paperwork to go back through the system. When we were done, I came out of the office smiling too, and Tom and I spent a little bit of time running around Belmopan getting an up to date copy of our passport stamps and a tax document in my given name, Margaret, instead of “Marge.”

We dropped those things off at Immigration, and then went to the US Embassy. The Immigration officer said it will probably take another month to get our residency, and instead of the cards they’ve traditionally used, they’re now stamping passports with a Permanent Residency stamp. Our passports are almost full, they expire in a little over a year, and, on top of that, they’re moldy, so the Immigration officer urged us to get new passports before the residency paperwork is complete. We were a little worried about getting the new ones in time, but we found that when they’re ordered through a US Embassy, it only takes seven to ten business days. So, it looks like everything should fall into place, and we should have our passports in a couple of weeks, and our residency a couple of weeks after that.

We left Belmopan and headed for the Belize Zoo. Sharon is leaving on a fundraising trip to the US next week, and we’d all agreed we wanted to get together before she left. Since Belmopan is more than halfway to the Zoo, we’d made arrangements to meet Sharon for lunch. Sharon outdid herself in providing us with a very special afternoon. Just walking through the Zoo with Sharon or any of the zookeepers is an experience. The animals know who feeds and cares for them, so as any of the caretakers get to their enclosures, the animals are right there to meet them. Animals that you may usually see napping in the shade in the afternoon are at the edge of their enclosures begging for a treat or a scratch, which they get, so it’s a much more “up close and personal” experience than just walking through the Zoo yourself. We saw the tapir enclosure built with the cage material from here, along with the pond they’ve built inside the enclosure. It’s nice to know we’re helping the tapirs have a new and better home.

Then “up close and personal” became an entirely different experience when we got to meet Junior, the fourteen month old jaguar who was born at the Zoo. Because he was born in captivity, and because the Zoo wants to use him to teach the public about jaguars, he is in an “enrichment program” where they make sure he has positive contact with humans every day. Sharon has been teaching him tricks; when she says “alley up” he jumps on a log catwalk and marches along before returning to the ground for his treat, and he’ll turn somersaults on command just with Sharon standing outside his enclosure and giving him the commands. Because he’s a big, affectionate jaguar who doesn’t know his own strength, his enrichment training happens from a people cage inside Junior’s enclosure, and to our delight Sharon invited us into the people cage. One of the zookeepers calls Junior to his shelter and locks him in while the people get in the cage, and then releases him. Junior knows he’s about to get treats and attention, so as soon as he’s released from his shelter he trots to the cage and asks to be rubbed and patted. The people cage is made of 2” welded wire on the sides and the top, and there are some 6” or 8” holes cut through so people can get their hands out to pet him, but he can’t get in and the cage is big enough that the people can get out of his reach. Fortunately we didn’t have any of those problems, and Junior rubbed his way around the cage with us sticking our fingers through the wires and scratching him. He’d give us all of his parts to rub, and then Sharon had him jump on top of the cage so we could rub his stomach. Junior is a stunningly beautiful animal, and the hair on his belly – which is white with black spots – is incredibly soft. He was happy to lie down so we could rub him, and then Sharon put her face up to the bars so he could give her a kiss. I asked if I could do that too, and then proceeded to have my face thoroughly cleaned by his scratchy 2-inch wide cat tongue. He’s very unlike Wild Boy, one of the Zoo’s rehab jaguars who was captured because he was killing cattle. We met Wild Boy when we were at the Zoo in January, and where Wild Boy hissed, spit, and snarled, Junior purrs, and his breath is waaay better. Needless to say, I was thrilled, and I’m now in love with Junior. Handsome, affectionate, and just a little bit wild…what more could a girl want?

We then went on a mid-day tubing expedition down the Sibun River. Blad dropped us off about 45 minutes upstream from the Zoo’s River Camp, and we tubed down to the Camp looking at the birds and wildlife, limestone formations, and the bats nesting in the limestone. Sharon swam the whole way, and Tom swam about half since we found some garbage that had washed to the edge of the river, so Tom turned his tube into a garbage barge and contained the Styrofoam containers and bottles in his tube to get the garbage to where we could dispose of it. When we got to the Camp, Sharon had a lunch already set up for us, so we cracked a few Belikins and ate delicious Belizean food.

Blad brought our truck to the River Camp, so we dropped Sharon back at the Zoo and made a mad dash back to the US Embassy in Belmopan. We had to get pictures taken for our passports, and we didn’t have them in time to go back to the Embassy before lunch. We knew we could get into the Embassy until four, so we didn’t think we’d have any problems – but that was before we knew that we were going to have such a fun time at the Zoo. We drove the fastest we’ve ever driven down the Western Highway, and got back to Belmopan about five minutes after four. Fortunately for us, the US Embassy is staffed by very accommodating Belizeans, and they bent the clock for us and allowed us in so we could submit our passport applications. Phew! Now we just wait a few weeks, and hope all the paperwork falls into place.

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