Belize: The Jungle
January 2019

In January, myself and four other family members celebrated the Holidays and New Year by going to Central America, primarily Belize. We’d had talked about this idea for several years and this year, my sister made it happen. My blog posts will be divided into three parts: Belize: The Jungle, Guatemala: Tikal National Park, Belize: the Ocean.

Our first stop was to travel west to near San Ignacio. After driving directly from the airport and getting a little lost, we finally made it to our rental house, called “The Treehouse,” in Bullet Tree Falls. It was an extraordinary place. Three round peaked rooms were connected by rectangular rooms up on stilts. The expansive upper outside deck was built around a large bullet tree which towered over the house. The lower deck had a swimming pool complete with fountain and lounge chairs. The sloping manicured lawn reached all the way to the banks of the Mopan River.

The warm humid fragrant air was filled with birdsong and frog trills. Evenings were surprisingly cool. Crowing roosters and barking dogs added to the ambiance. From the main paved road through Bullet Tree Falls our house was down two miles on a rugged potholed dirt road. This became the first of a series of very bumpy rides.

The first full day we went into San Ignacio for a good breakfast at Pop’s Restaurant. Then we headed to an iguana rehabilitation center. Our guide, Nigel, was devoted to and passionate about his iguanas, just as his mother had been before him. Injured iguanas are brought here, then nursed back to health, allowed to breed and then some, especially the offspring, are release back into the wild. Iguanas are declining in population primarily because people eat them, or more precisely, their eggs. It is actually outlawed but no one enforces the ban. (It is the same iguana species that is invading and overpopulating Florida. Maybe an exchange can be made!)

It was mating season and there was activity between the sexes in the screened-in enclosures where they are cared for and protected. At least on of the females was already pregnant with eggs. A large wild male iguana sat on the top of the enclosure, wistfully looking at all the females inside beyond his reach. These rehabilitated lizards are acclimated to humans and don’t mind being touched or held. I enjoyed getting close-up reptile portraits.

We followed that with a trip to the open air market to stock up on fruit and vegetables, purchasing, among other things, the sweetest, most delicious pineapple I have had in years. (Actually pineapple is off my diet but I had to make an exception here.) Absolutely heavenly. Markets like his look similar whether you are in Central America or Southeast Asia.

English is the official language in Belize (it was formerly British Honduras), but out here, knowing a little Spanish was helpful. There are something like 12 languages spoken in this small country. The money is in Belizean dollars which is valued at half US dollars, making it easy to calculate the exchange rate. Most places will take either Belizean and US Dollars.

I am also including in his post our trip to the Belize Zoo. This zoo has only rescued native animals. So it is a good opportunity to see some of the more exotic species that are hard to locate in the wild. It was set in the jungle with winding maze-like paths leading to the various animal enclosures. Some of the birds were in what I would call cages, but most of the residents had large natural environments in which they could roam, at least a little. They had big cats including jaguars, mountain lions, ocelots, and jaguarundis. I don’t have many good photos of these animals since the conditions were difficult and dark for photography. It was often hard to shoot through the mesh enclosure walls. It poured much of the time adding to the challenge. Some of the animals we saw were not actually residents of the zoo but were visitors like us. Agoutis (rabbit-like with longer legs and small ears) ran around, several bird species came and went, and I saw a large spiny-tailed iguana sprawled on a fence.

Back at The Treehouse I went for several walks on the dirt road, looking for birds, butterflies, flowers and enjoying the abundance of biomass and jungly sounds. I’d hoped to swim the Mopan River or, with a little preparation, go on a kayak or tubing trip. This never happened so I will have to return some day! Sitting by the river at sunset one evening I saw as many as 75 cattle egrets fly down the river, interspersed with small groups of cormorants.

One aborted adventure was an attempt to get to the minimally developed Mayan ruin called El Pilar, not far as the crow (or groovebilled ani) flies. We were in an Indiana Jones mood so we started down the seven mile dirt road to the archeological site. But after two miles of slow bumpy progress, we realized the road was in too bad a condition to proceed and we turned around. Either hiking or horseback would be a better way to go. The extent of the ancient Mayan empire in that area is truly mind boggling. So much of it has barely been discovered or unearthed.

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