Belize Trip Interterm 2011
January 12th – Background Information on Belize
- Area 22,963 sq km (8,866 sq. miles), Capital, Belmopan
- Borders the Caribbean Sea as the eastern coast of Central America, just south of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
- Contains the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere
- Tropical climate
- Home to ancient Mayan Civilizations, Mopan, Kekchi, Yucatec Mayans, Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole (Kriol), Mennonite & others
January 13th – Travel to Belize City
Pictured downtown Belize City is one of only a handful of stoplights in Belize. There are four main highways that are paved, Northern, Western, Hummingbird and Southern. Traffic accidents in Belize are listed as there number one cause of death. Drivers are often seen passing other vehicles on Pedestrian walks. High speeds as well as the numerous individuals walking on the sides of the road, made us all a little nervous.
A drive through cemetery in Belize City showed the above ground tombs, necessary with the high rain amounts in the area.
January 14th – Crystal Paradise Bird Watching and Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
Crystal Paradise (cabana shown), run by the Tut family, is well known among bird watchers. Dr. Sensenig’s bird list topped 92 species while in Belize. Eric Tut was our guide through the Cayo district showing us different bird species and discussing the history of the region.
Early morning risers at Crystal Paradise were able to view the Aracari feeding on papaya with an Ant Tanager and a Clay Colored Robin.
We traveled through the town of San Ignacio on the way to visit the Mayan archaeological site of Xunantunich (Stone Lady) only accessible by a ferry (ferry photo-Jessica Dixon) across the Mopan river. Armed guardsmen (seen on the Ferry) were present due to our close proximity to Guatemala.
The name of the archaeological site, Xunantunich, is a modern name provided due to the legend that a local man saw a ghostly woman ascending the top of El Castillo disappearing from view, the Stone Lady.
Our Crystal Paradise guide, Eric Tut, introduced us to numerous plants and trees important to Mayan culture including the ‘gum’ sap from the Manilkara chicle tree (demonstrated between his fingers) that was the basis of Chiclets gum (by Wrigley). The tapping of this gum is apparent by the zigzag slashes up and down the trunk of the tree. Eric also taught us about Mondo Maya (World of the Maya) giving us important insights to this ancient civilization.
El Castillo was constructed from the 7th century through the 9th century. Stucco carvings (Friezes) on the East and West sides of El Castillo depict relevant symbols of the Maya as well as relevance to the rising and setting sun. The stairs were made by the Maya to force the people to bow as they climbed.
Stelae, rock carvings, with important recordings of relevant dates of the Maya, were placed around the main plaza, along with a ball court.
Termite colonies were numerous in the tropical climate. The group spent time researching them at several stops on the trip. Corissa Bartel photographs the termite tunnels on the tree bark, while Jake Riley looks on. Termites forage in the ground, but nest in the live trees. The mud/spit tunnels provide protection from the sun and predators as termite workers carry dead wood pulp to the nest.
January 15th – Blue Creek Mayan Village in Toledo District – Ethnobotany, Cave Hike
We finally got to the village of Blue Creek about 6:30 in the evening, where we were greeted by several villagers (including several children) offering to be porters to the research station. This opportunity was a great time to meet and converse with them socially. Blue creek IZE Research Station is run by Ignancio Coc. The Station is about a 10 minute hike along Blue Creek, where the lodge and pier look over a crystal blue pool for swimming. The Creek’s coloration is due to the limestone bottom and caves in which the water originates on the mountain top. The Hokeb Ha underground caving system is one of the largest in the world. Students were able to explore both a dry and wet cave.
Our Guide William shows us the difference between a ‘Give and Take’ Palm (Chrysophila argentea) and a Waree Palm (Astrocayum mexicanum). Both have spikes along their trunks, but the Give and Take Palm has rounded spikes and a fishtail leaf, whereas the Waree Palm has flattened daggers. An ethonobotany walk yielded many tasteful delights including eating the heart of white ginger, jippi joppa, termites and the bird pepper.
Trying termites – tastes like carrots.
Trying the infamous bird pepper (discriminating tastes proclaim it spicy!). Real men do cry.
January 16th – Blue Creek – Jungle (Mountain) Hike, Cave Dive and Night Hike
A red rumped tarantula was hunting near the lodges.
January 17th – Blue Creek – Iguana Hunt and Cultural Visits
Elizabeth shows us the cocoa beans after roasting.
Heraldo and his children entertain on the marimba. Note the Mayan dialect letters on the instrument.
January 18th – Lubaantun Mayan Ruins, Travel to South Water Caye, Snorkeling Introduction
The Lubaantun ruins are a ceremonial Mayan archeological site dating from 700-900BC. The construction is of tight fitting mortarless limestone that began to tumble with land subsidence, providing the current name of ‘place of the fallen stones’.
A ball court and 11 structures surround the five plazas at the site. The controversial crystal skull was found at the site in 1926. Santiago Coc is the curator of Lubaantun ruins in the Toledo District. He is a wealth of knowledge of the area and also makes clay whistles to resemble artifacts found at Lubaantun.
Coconut milk was served on the bus ride to ‘Why Not’ Dock in Dangriga
(photos by Jessica Dixon)
It was a sunny day for boat travel to South Water Caye, but some were prepared for any weather. Our boat captain Juni (Wilfred) stopped the boat as the Tabor group was greeted by a pod of dolphins on our way to South Water Caye.
Our luggage travels beside us on a separate 60 hp boat, commanded by Frank.
The IZE dock was a spot of viewing sea urchins, sea anemones, octopus and glowing worms in the evening. The Tabor group visits the coconut pile for a snack. There were special tools for husking and then extracting the flesh.
The lodge was the site of dormitories, a classroom and the dinner hall. It was also the site of drying snorkel gear, swimsuits and towels. Meals consisted of fresh fish, shrimp, conch, rice & beans, fresh bread, fruit and juice. The student’s cabana (dormitory) faced the east side of the island with mangroves. Electricity was generated from a mixture of wind, solar and gas generators. All showers and taps were supplied with rainwater. Freshwater captured in the limestone under the island was utilized for grey water. (photos – Jessica Dixon)
Free time on the island was spent exploring, snorkeling, kayaking, and playing pool or volleyball. The Tabor group accepted a volleyball challenge from another school on the island and was victorious.
January 19th – South Water Caye Snorkeling the Grassbeds and Patch Reef Project
Students worked on their snorkeling skill in the grassbeds. Once comfortable they moved to the patchreef on the south side of the island to expand their understanding of the importance of the coral reef ecosystem. Jake Riley found several interesting creatures for closer study in the classroom including; a shortnosed batfish (Ogcocephalus nasutus), sea horse (Hippocampus sp.), yellow stingray (Urobatis jamaicensis), cushion sea star (Oreaster reticulatus), brittle star (class Ophiouroidea) and donkey dung sea cucumber (Holothuria Mexicana).
Students (Scott Latimer Shown) studied a patch of reef to determine foundational species of coral and algae, along with resident and transient fish species. It was their goal to recognize the common resident species by sight. The ecology of the reef patch was also studied recognizing specific animal behaviors such as cleaning stations and damsel fish territoriality. A French angelfish(Pomacanthus paru) is cleaned by several gobies. (pictures by Jessica Dixon)
January 20th – South Water Caye – Patch Reef Project, Night Snorkel & Bioluminescent Ostracods
Full moon. This was a good time to visit the island because of the displays of bioluminescence by some species to attract mates based on the cycle of the moon. We did a night dive to view luminescent ostracods just after the full moon. We had to go out right before dark and then once it was dark, we only had until the moon was up to see the display. It was like diving in star dust (the best snorkel of the trip). We also viewed luminescent worms displaying at the dock.
January 21st – South Water Caye – Snorkeling the Fore Reef at SWC barrier and Rear Reef at Tobacco Caye cut, Frigate Birds at Man-o-War Caye Bird Sanctuary
Our boat approaches Man-O-War Caye, which is a bird sanctuary. The magnificant frigate bird (Fregata magnifica) nests on this small wooded mangrove caye, safe from terrestrial predators. The males display red throat pouches, trying to obtain the best nesting sites. Hurricane Richard in October (2010) decimated the canopy, increasing the competition for nesting sites. The birds are highly maneuverable in the air, with only 5% of the body weight in their bones. They are thus able to harass other seabirds until the victim drops or regurgitates their fish catch. The Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) was also nesting at the Caye.
January 22nd – South Water Caye – Island Plant Ethnobotany & ID, Mangrove Snorkel
January 23rd – Whale Shoals Snorkel, Final Exam, Patch Reef Presentations and Coconut Carving Contest
Students took a final exam on the zoology, ecology and species recognition of several algae, coral, other notable invertebrates and fish species. The majority of the student’s grade comes from a journal kept by the student on the culture, geology, ecology and species of each region visited in Belize. Students often utilized the evenings for this time of reflection and species identification.