Belize Part II: visiting the cousins

We are continuing the saga as promised and are restarting in January, January 3rd to be precise, our second day in Belize. Today, March 31, we are in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras in an air conditioned hotel room (Hotel Humuya Inn. We earlier spent a week in Triumfo de la Cruz just east of Tela on the Honduras Caribbean coast at the Caribbean Coral Inn (excellent food). Before that, we were in Copan checking out the Mayan ruins, having arrived in Honduras. I just finished a report, it being March 31, the last day of Canadian governments’ fiscal years for those who don’t know.

Back to January in Belize. The cousins are of course, the howler monkeys. After another excellent breakfast at the Birds Eye View Lodge in the Crooked Tree Sanctuary, we decided to head for the “Baboon” Sanctuary and the Belize Zoo, baboons being the local name for howler monkeys. When we got to the village and turned into somebody’s driveway instead of the WWF facility, we heard this ungodly sound. Marilyn thought it was a big cat, while it sounded to me like some machinery that needed serious lubrication. Guess what?

Anyway, we went to the World Wildlife Fund Baboon Sanctuary building. While it had interesting exhibits and explanations of practically all the flora and fauna of the sanctuary, the exhibits obviously showed their age. While the WWF paid for building the project, they obviously do not contribute to its maintenance, and the small amount provided by the 40% of the guiding fees they get and the souvenir sales is clearly not enough to maintain the place, let alone improve or keep it up. It barely pays for a part-time person to work there.

Sensitive plant: the leaves curl up when touched.

This is typical of most government and NGO project: they love to get the credit for building something, but rarely contribute the funds needed to maintain it. There are no photo ops in maintenance money: no politician or NGO official gets credit for paying the janitor’s salary or buying paint, it’s just a budget item they have to defend every year. Building new things is sexy, keeping up old things is not.

Robert with monkey

Anyway, Robert the guide eventually shows up and takes us to see the howler monkeys near the river. He brings them down to feed them bananas and gets them to utter their ungodly howls. They are apparently the second loudest animal in the world after lions, but I can think of another that has managed to make even more noise, but not through its vocal cords. We also see other interesting flora such as sensitive plants, biting ants that are used instead of sutures to close wounds and quite large iguanas.

We then go across the road, where we see other monkeys, including a mother and belly-clinging infant (didn’t get a good picture) as well as monstera plants growing on trees as epiphytes. I know monstera as I hate the damn thing (or maybe have a love-hate relationship with one. Marilyn bought one at a grocery store in Whitehorse in 1990 (at the Food Fair in Horwoods Mall for all you sourdough wannabes and YOOP members out there). The damn thing just grew and grew under her ministrations. It is right next to my chair in the dining room and has been attacking me for years. Every couple of years, Marilyn hacks out four feet or so from it and usually gives it to friends or institutions that manage to kill it. But not ours!!!.

Checking things out

Monstera in its natural habitat

Marilyn and Louise Hardy protecting Luigi from attack Monstera. (Xmas 2008)

Robert also took us to a totally impressive mahogany tree, Belize’s national tree. Mahogany is widely considered to be the best furniture wood in the world, and the Honduras mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) was widely exploited after the original supplies of the even better Cuban Mahogany (Swietenia mahogani) were logged out in the mid 19th century. Honduras Mahogany is still available, but most of it is probably illegally logged.

Robert has an amazing knowledge of the local flora and fauna, but he told us he had to take some pretty heavy government-sponsored courses and pass exams before he could be licensed as a guide. And he was honest with no bullshit if he didn’t know something: when I asked him some questions about the geology of the area, he did tell me he didn’t know much about it. But on birds and other fauna as well as the flora, he seemed to know pretty much everything.

Swietenia macrophylla (Honduras mahogany)

Belize seems to have taken the right direction in terms of eco-tourism and protected areas. Forty per cent of Belize’s territory is protected! The rest is almost all agricultural. And this was done by involving the local populations, and funding from international organizations. Even their coral reefs seem to be doing OK: one NASA scientist we met at Crooked Tree told us he was hopeful about Belize’s reefs as he was starting to see some minor signs of recovery unlike the rest of the world where they are in total decline. There is still illegal logging going on in Belize, but most is done by people from neighbouring countries. One sure sign of relative prosperity is that Belize is importing workers from its neighbours: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Some people say it’s because the Belizeans are lazy, but when people can afford to be lazy, it means they are making enough money to have some leisure. We also did not see any ugly shacks like in Mexico or Guatemala. Although modest by North American standards, the housing seemed to be in good shape.

Lunch was at the Black Orchid resort. A wonderful conch & prawn ceviche on the shores of a meandering river in a beautiful veranda in a magnificent garden, initially marred by a loud lawnmower. What was interesting about the Belizean ceviche was that they used carrots instead of tomatoes, but it was superb. Let’s not forget the Belikin used o wash it down. Marilyn spent a lot of money buying carvings and wooden bowl turnings. If I go back to Belize, I think I would definitely stay there for a day or two, not that there was anything wrong with the Birds Eye View Inn at Crooked Tree.

We then went to the Belize zoo: all native animals in mostly their native habitat. All animals were either born in the zoo or the object of rescue where it is impossible to return them to the wild. Very much like the Yukon Wildlife Preserve where I am on the board of directors. But unlike the Wildlife Preserve, it receives no assistance from the government. I tried to talk to the zoo’s director and founder, Sharon Matola, but she was not available. I did buy a membership. There were some cool things there I think the Yukon Preserve could learn from. The claim that it is the best little zoo in the world is clearly well founded.

Back to Crooked Tree for supper, another excellent one with chicken this time. We met a couple from California: he was a diving specialist working for NASA and in Belize to study the effects of climate change on the reefs. He was hesitant at first to tell us what he was doing, but we told him we were from the Yukon and were seeing at first hand some of the pretty clear effects of global warming.

The next day, we headed for Guatemala. We stopped for lunch in , a pretty rough border town. As we walked down the street, a guy interpellated us. He told us he was originally from the Yukon, but left Canada 20 years ago. He claimed to have bested Revenue Canada legally, but got tired of it all and moved to Belize and Guatemala. He was a citizen of both countries, and told us some pretty harrowing tales of the violence in Guatemala, including the fact that his young wife’s uncle had been assassinated while having a beer in a bar. Everybody “packed” in Guatemala, he claimed, and the roads were really bad. So we had lunch there and went on our way to the border and then to Flores, Peten in Guatemala on the Lago de Itza.


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3 Responses to “Belize Part II: visiting the cousins”

  1. Rick Says:

    Resisting the impulse to say something dry and pedantic about punctuation, I opt instead for a cheeky remark about biting ants used to close quite large iguanas.

    Keep up the posts…the travelogue is great.


  2. Mary-El Says:

    HI Marilyn & Luigi!
    Thanks for the great travel stories.
    The food descriptions are not in-depth enough for me.
    They leave me mouth-watering, what else was in the cardamom flavoured steak sauce? I hope all is well.
    Must tell you how great your two tiny turnips from your garden were. They went into my Yukon raised lamb stew on March 20th. That makes the turnips 8 months old. They were still perfect! Little fronds growing on top and tiny hairy roots. Been in my fridge since Christmas when Marilyn gave them to me. Reading Marilyn’s shopping stores with envy!!
    Ciao Bella e Bello…. Mary-Ello

  3. Alberta & Kjell Says:

    Hi you two,

    We have been thinking about you and wondering where in the world you are and what have you been up to. Haven’t seen anything new on your web page for about a month, so we’d appreciate knowing how you are doing.

    Marilyn was your expected return around the beginning of May? I’m picking up some of your folks and all seems OK.

    You are missing a great spring of late. I am even motivated to be out side with yard work!

    Look forward to hearing from you two.

    Alberta & Kjell

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