Archive for the ‘Belize’ Category

Belize Part II: visiting the cousins

31 March 2010

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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Where the hell are we?????

9 January 2010

As I have been somewhat remiss in keeping this blog up to date, I will give you a quick rundown of what we have been doing. We are now in Antigua, the old beautifully-restored colonial capital of Guatemala.

Marilyn went to Puerto Aventuras, south of Playa del Carmen on December 6th. I joined her 4 days later on the following Thursday. We mainly hung out on the Mayan Riviera waiting for my bank card, including some snorkelling on the reefs in Puerto Morelos,

visiting the Mayan ruins in Tulum,

Chichen Itzaand Coban,  replacing the toilet seals in Sophie’s apartment, etc.

We left for Belize on January 2nd. Stayed in Corozal and then headed to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. (Described in the Belize Part I posting).  The next day, we went to the baboon sanctuary to see (and hear) howler monkeys, and to the wonderful Belize Zoo. After that, we drove to Flores in Peten department in Guatemala and visited the magnificent Tikal Mayan ruins. The day before yesterday, we went to Finca Paraiso (a working farm and tourist resort) on Lake Izabal in  southeastern Guatemala. We had a wonderful experience swimming in a hot spring waterfall in the middle of the jungle.

Last night we got to Antigua.

I intend to write up a few more blogs in the next little while. A second on Belize about meeting our monkey cousins, one on our tourist adventures on the Mayan Riviera, a major one on Maya culture once I get out of the Maya country, and one on impressions of Guatemala.

That’s all for now folks. Stay tuned.

Belize: Part I

5 January 2010

We finally got on the road to Belize on Saturday, January 2nd despite our best intentions. It is hard to leave a idyllic spot like Puerto Aventuras. I received my new bank card on Monday which the Bank of Montreal branch in Whitehorse couriered to me. So, in theory we could have left on Tuesday, but Marilyn was sick, so we couldn’t leave. Wednesday was a day of recuperation for Marilyn. Thursday, New Year’s Eve, Sophie had asked me the day before to try to get the flat fixed on her car, but it turned out she needed new tires according to a local tire repair place. I believed them since they don’t sell tires. So I went and bought a couple of tires in Playa del Carmen and installed them on the car. By then it was too late to leave, so we stayed in Puerto Aventuras for that night, but we did go to bed early. Actually, we were just planning for a short nap, but we woke up in the New Year. In the morning, we talked to Helena about the keys and giving her the money to get the apartment cleaned, and we started shooting the shit. But that turned into lunch, and late in the afternoon, we decided to stay for supper. Helena’s eyes lit up when I mentioned spaghetti aglio e olio, so that’s what we had for supper.

Luigi with raw borrego in front of the restaurant

Finally we left on Saturday morning for Chetumal and Belize after tanking up at the Pemex station in Puerto Aventuras. I found out the gas jockeys only make 70 pesos a day and depend on their tips. According to the president of Mexico, that is enough money to live on, one of the gas station attendants told me. I would like to see these right wing politicians live on the amount of money they think is enough for others. I’m sure Calderón lives on much more than 70 pesos a day, and I don’t think he ever had to. One other point Helena brought up is that the policemen are also grossly underpaid, so it is not surprising they try to get bribes: they do want to feed their families. We stopped for lunch in Felipe Carillo Puerto, between Tulum and Chetumal. Absolutely excellent barbequed lamb (barbacoa de borrego)!

We got to the border around 3:30, but by the time all the formalities (surrendering the Mexican tourist license, getting the vehicle sprayed with disinfectant, getting the Belizean tourist permit, then going through customs and finally buying insurance) were done, it was 4:30. Since it gets dark before 6:00 PM, we figured we better not go too far. So we went to Corozal, the first town after the border.

We stayed at Tony’s Inn and Beach Resort (slogan: “For those who like the best”) on the south side of town. We walked into Corozal looking for what the tourist guide claimed was the best restaurant. On the way, a couple of teenagers playing basketball asked us how we liked Belize and welcomed us to their country. I think I can warm up easily to that kind of people. It was just a pleasant, warm experience, and put Belizeans in very good light. But Belizeans create Christmas light decorations that rival anything in the Yukon for their fantastic kitsch.

We finally found out that the restaurant had been closed for a few years, but recommended another two. We met a young English couple who were also going to eat. The first one, Patty’s, was closed, but Vamps’ Chill and Grill was up. So we went there and had a couple of Belikin beer. I drank my first one to Tony DeLorenzo’s health: may his arm and wrist heal perfectly. Tony and Sierra went to Belize for their honeymoon, and asked me to drink one for him. So I drank four. It’s actually a pretty good beer for a commercial product, much better than the Belizean Lighthouse lager and the run-of-the-mill Mexican beers. The guys had rice and beans and chicken while the girls had fajitas. The couple both worked in operations research (i.e. heavily mathematical applied economics), and Marilyn said she felt out-numbered.

Sunday January 2, 2010

We had a good breakfast (eggs for Marilyn, fruit plate for me with “jacks”). “Jacks”, a specialty of the hotel, were absolutely wonderful wheat tortillas folded over and deep fried, which puffed up when fried. With papaya jam, they were absolutely great. Reminds me very much of the gnocco fritto of Modena, and equally good.

On the road again I was happy to see there were no more topes. Instead, there were f…ing speed bumps all over the place! Can’t these countries find ways of reducing speeding in towns other than those damned suspension-destroying bumps????!!!! Also, Belize still operates in gallons (real Imperial ones, not the wimpy US ones) and miles per hour. When I first tanked up, I was taken aback by a pump price of eight dollars something for gas. But then I realized it was Belize dollars per gallon.  The Belize dollar is worth $US0.50, so that translates to about a dollar a litre, about the same as in Canada.

We then decided to head for the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. We had lunch there in the camper, and walked along one of the bird trails. We came across the Birds Eye View Lodge right on the lagoon. As the rooms are air-conditioned and it’s a really nice and relatively inexpensive hotel, we decided to stay here. Excellent supper of conch and chicken, accompanied by the rice and beans the Belizeans are incapable of surviving without. And more Belikin to keep me from drying out.

Great Egret and Wood Stork