Monday, July 26, 2010

Rayne, Leslie, & Steve on their 20th wedding anniversary trip

Another family coming from Texas, Rayne, Leslie, & Steve, arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Coming in after 2pm makes it difficult to do any activities during the drive to the Pine Ridge; however, if all goes well getting through immigration and customs, and everyone is still full from lunch we can get to the zoo in time for a Tour. So we left the airport, got to the zoo at 3:30pm and got to see all the animals by closing time at 5:00pm. Rayne was especially keen to find the kinkajous since she had done a project on them in school the year before. We did find them but they are not active in the day, they are nocturnal; we do get them around our farm but only around January and February when certain trees are bearing fruits that they like so Rayne will have to return sometime in the winter months in the future.

The next day they all went to Actun Tunichil Muknal to venture up river in a cave and view the ceremonial areas used by the Maya. They following day they went to Caracol and as luck was with them, they did not get any rain while they toured the ruins, visited Rio Frio Cave, and took a refreshing dip at Rio On Pools before returning here. On Saturday they wanted to take a break and rest up a bit so they slept in, had a leisurely breakfast and then drove to the Butterfly Ranch for a morning tour.
When they returned here, we all went into San Ignacio to see the Saturday morning market.

Every Saturday is market day here and most people go to see friends, get some shopping done, eat a meal in town, and get a change of scenery from their own town. On the other hand, Marge and I rarely go to market on Saturday since we like to do our shopping when there are fewer people in town and we can talk casually with the vendors, without all the hustle and bustle. Rayne and Leslie looked at some skirts but Rayne wasn’t interested in getting anything dressy.
Marge and I did find our favorite vendor, Gloria, where we bought some bananas, mangoes, cilantro, and sesame seeds.

We then wandered over to Erva’s for a completely Belizean meal.
Germo, our waiter (and good friend) served up a chicken burrito for Leslie, shrimp fried rice for Rayne, and fried fish sandwiches for Steve, Marge and I. Before leaving, we all visited the “Funky Bano”, the best decorated restroom we have found so far in Belize.

Our next stop was Indita Maya’s Gift Shop where we all found something to buy. We then headed out of town and drove back over the Cristo Rey/San Antonio Road.

We stopped at Sak Tunich, another gift shop, along the way. Not only is Sak Tunich a gift shop where they make everything there onsite –
carvings in wood, slate, and limestone, and paintings of the Maya gods and symbols –
but they also give a tour of how they do the carvings, show some of the large pieces that they have made, take you into a cave they are building to display some of their works, and
let you carve into slate and limestone to get the feel for how the work is done. After the tour, Rayne said she wants to get some slate when she gets home to see what she can create.

The following day Marge went with me to do the transfer to the water taxi but we stopped at Jaguar Paw to zip line and cave tube.

We all got suited up for the zip lining and had fun flying through the trees like a troop of monkeys.

After that we had a picnic lunch, then headed into the Caves Branch River to do some tubing to cool off.
At the end of the tubing Rayne and I had to jump off of a large rock into the river, and Steve got some great pics.

We packed up the back of the truck and tarped everything since it was starting to drizzle, then we set off for Belize City to meet the water taxi and arrived 10 minutes before the 4:30pm boat. Great timing since they didn’t have to wait and the thieves at the terminal did not have time to try to get into their luggage which we zip tied shut to prevent any of the employees from searching for small things to steal. (These are the guys that stole our camera a few months ago when we were traveling with Marge’s uncle.)

Our recommendation to everyone who needs to use the water taxi is to zip tie ALL your bags shut so that they cannot be opened when they are not in your sight. If the zip ties are broken when you get off the boat and you collect your bags, confront the workers immediately, get their full names, and report them to the police.

On our way home, we were coming up the Georgeville Road and saw “rivers” flowing down the road. Apparently, an hour before we returned home, there was a big rain storm and the horse buckets had over 2” of rain in about ½ hour. Sure glad we had good weather for all our activities elsewhere in the country!

Janell & Doug on their 25th wedding anniversary trip

Janell and Doug came from Texas on a trip planned for their 25th anniversary. Bernel, a young friend of ours, and I met them at the airport when they arrived around noon. We immediately went to Cheers for lunch since everyone was hungry for a good meal. We then headed back 2 miles on the Western Highway to the zoo to get a good view of the animals that they may see here in the jungle.

In the morning they were off to Actun Tunichil Muknal to experience the river, cave, and Maya ceremonial site within the cave. They came back that evening energized, they did not find the walk up through the jungle and scrambling over the boulders in the cave as strenuous as many tourists. Luckily they had energy since a local student, Eric, in our area needed to interview someone for a school project. Doug happily agreed to help Eric so during and after dinner they discussed what a financial planner does daily in their job.

The next day Jenell and Doug departed for Tikal. I took them to the border to meet with our contact, Hugo. Hugo and his family do transfers from the border to Tikal and the town of Flores. When Janell and Doug were planning their trip with us over email, we had recommended they go to the border mid morning, around 10, take the transfer to just outside the park that Tikal is in, do the zip line, get a bite to eat, drive into the park and get tickets for the next day which you can use for that day after 3pm, and overnight in the park. Then the next morning get up early for the sunrise tour of the park, eat lunch, get a cab from Tikal to Flores and then stay the night in Flores for the night and enjoy the shops and eating places in Flores. They followed our advice and had a great time and took a bus directly from Flores, Guatemala, to Belize City the following day to transfer out to the cayes for a bit of snorkeling.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Flycatcher Rescue

For a month or so, Tom and I have been watching a couple of little gray flycatchers set up housekeeping in a tree right outside our house. They built this nest, made mostly of hair from the tails of the horses, on a dead branch about 20 feet up in the tree. We watched when they first started weaving the nest, and lately we’ve been watching the adult birds fly in and out of the nest.

Yesterday I went shopping, and Tom and I marched back and forth under the nest unloading the truck. Then we had a torrential downpour. About a half hour later we went out to make sure the truck was empty and were dismayed to see the branch with the nest on the ground.

Tom picked it up and we could hear a faint peeping from inside the nest, so we decided to tie the branch to the tree and see if the parents would come back. The nest isn’t as high in the tree as it was, but it’s in approximately the same position. To our surprise, we saw one of the parent birds fly into the next within an hour of the rescue. As we ate breakfast this morning, we watched them flying in and out, and when we walk under the nest we can hear peeping which seems to us to be stronger than it was last night. We’re now about 24 hours out from the rescue, and everything seems to be fine – although every time I hear a branch crack, I run to the window to make sure the dead twig holding the nest hasn’t broken, since that twig is much smaller than the branch that broke yesterday. We’re just hoping it holds until the babies can fly away.

Monday, July 19, 2010


One of the tours Tom and I have been meaning to do ever since we visited Belize for the first time is the Lamanai Archeological Site and River Tour.

Lamanai is in northern Belize, near Orange Walk, and the archeological site is best accessed by boat via the New River Lagoon, which makes for a very interesting tour since it combines archeology and natural history. A few months ago, Tom was chatting with our friend Becky, an archeologist who spends a few months a year working in Belize, and found that she also wanted to see Lamanai and had never been there. So, we picked a date and decided that we would definitely go to Lamanai while Becky was working in Belize this summer.

Saturday was the day, so Tom and I left here at 5:30AM to meet Becky, Gonzo, and Iasa, another archeologist, in San Ignacio. We were out of San Ignacio by 6:15AM, and on our way down the Western Highway. We made a stop at Westar in Roaring Creek for caffeine and snacks, and then drove the rest of the way to Orange Walk, arriving at the Lamanai Riverside Retreat about 8:30AM.

Gonzo arranged for a boat to pick us up at the Riverside Retreat’s dock, so we were on our way down the New River Lagoon towards Lamanai in a motorboat with nine other people by about 9:15 after a quick stop to pick up lunch at a nearby dock. It was raining off and on all day, and while it would have been a little more pleasant not to have the rain stinging our faces as we made our way up the New River Lagoon, the tour company provided us with yellow rain slickers so we managed to stay mostly dry for the day.
The riverboat tour is fun. The New River Lagoon isn’t very wide, and it twists and turns through mostly uninhabited swampy land. Our tour guide/captain Melvis and his assistant Gregory kept it interesting, alternating zooming along and sliding around the turns with slowly putting along looking at the flora and fauna on the banks. We saw lots of ahingas and other birds, a few iguanas, termite nests,
and a variety of trees loaded with orchids, bromeliads, and snake cactus (known around here as devil’s guts).

We also saw fishermen in small dugout canoes,
who were delighted to show us their catch.

The highlight of the riverboat tour was probably the visit by the spider monkeys. While we don’t condone people training wild animals to interact with them for the sake of amusing the tourists, we had to admit that there is something almost magical about pulling up to a bank of trees and having a spider monkey board the boat to collect her banana from the captain.
Melvis warned us not to touch her, but she had no hesitation about touching us as she jumped on the bow of the boat,
made her way down the center aisle using our knees as support with her hands, collected her banana,
and then proceeded to sit on the stern of the boat next to Melvis to eat it, obviously hoping that when she finished that one a second banana would follow – which it did. Melvis also allowed the boat passengers to hand bananas to the less-bold monkeys in the trees who declined to board the boat, and we all thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to interact with the monkeys.

The New River Lagoon also winds past the cane mills, which were able to identify because we could smell the molasses.
In fact, on the way back, we had to pass a tandem molasses barge being towed by a tug, taking the molasses from the cane processing plant up the New River Lagoon to Corozol, where the tug would tow the barges into the Caribbean and head south towards the sugar refineries in Belize City. We also saw the distillery where Old Master Rum is made, as well as the backside of the Shipstern Mennonite Community.

After about two and a half hours, we arrived at the Lamanai Archeological Site. We docked and proceeded to the pavilion where we enjoyed a traditional Belizean lunch of chicken, rice and beans with green salad, potato salad, and fried plantains. After lunch we visited the Lamanai museum, which is quite interesting with many artifacts, stelaes, and information material. We then toured the site. The site isn’t large, but it is interesting and Melvis provided a very informative and interesting tour. We saw all the major temples, and enjoyed the stunning view from the top of the High Temple, which is visible above the tree tops from the water.

After touring the site, we made our way back to the pavilion area and had a chance to poke around in the gift shops. We then reconvened in the boat and zoomed back to the Riverside Retreat. We arrived just before 4PM, with the return trip taking only an hour, but it seemed like even less time as we enjoyed whipping along the river with the banks close on either side, and sliding around the turns, sometimes thinking we were going to drift sideways into the banks, but never really coming close with Melvis’s excellent driving.

When we returned to the Riverside Retreat, Bob the crocodile was waiting for us, just as Raul had promised in the morning. Bob is an ancient river crocodile, estimated to be 80 years old, blind in one eye and toothless. He comes to the Riverside Retreat dock so Raul can feed him chicken, and he was happy to eat while we were there. I asked Melvis if Bob would be able to survive if Raul wasn’t feeding him, and Melvis said he thought so since there are many small animals along the riverbank (including dogs, unfortunately) which Bob is able to grab, drown, and eat.

We had a couple of beers and a snack of excellent shrimp ceviche before getting back in the truck and heading back to San Ignacio. We were back in San Ignacio around 8PM, still early enough for dinner.

We would highly recommend this tour to visitors. It’s a great combination of archeology and natural history, and it’s fun and interesting. However, we don’t think we’d recommend that our guests do it as we did and try to do it in a day, for a few different reasons. First, it’s a really long day. We left home at 5:30AM, and didn’t get back home until after 11PM. Of course an hour and a half break drinking beer, eating ceviche, and watching an ancient crocodile eat chicken doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the tour, nor does a relaxed dinner in San Ignacio, but still, you have to take the time to eat, and there’s no shortening the five or so hours of driving time. Second (and we wouldn’t have known this if we didn’t go with a tour guide friend), we didn’t really see the whole archeological site. In addition to the Maya site, there’s an old sugar mill and some old Spanish churches which can be toured, although we didn’t see them except as diagrams on the site map. If we were to go and stay overnight, we could take a longer tour, and see more of both the Lamanai site and the nature in the area. As it is…I guess we’ll just have to go back some time and see more of the area!