June 30, 2017
It’s day three of being home, and I still feel strange. Honestly, even being in Belize for a while felt a bit odd. Guatemala took a part of me that I’ll never get back. But Belize brought its own pleasures too. In fact, in the 7 days we spent there, I had an array of incredible experiences paralleling those I spent nearly a month accumulating in Guatemala 🙂
If you know me, you know I LOVE animals. Discovering nature in a new environment is fun and exciting to me. That’s why visiting the Belize Zoo and snorkeling in the Caribbean were two of the highlights of my trip, and are definitely on my list of must-dos in Belize!
Before we visited the zoo, I was skeptical. I’ve seen some pretty sad situations at zoos in other countries (and even at home!) before. However, I’m pleased to say that I had a very positive experience! All of the animals at the zoo have been rehabilitated or taken from unsuitable owners, and all are native to Belize. They are provided the most natural environment I have ever seen at a zoo (the habitats are literally carved out of the jungle), and it is clear that all the animals are accustomed to humans and seem happily adjusted. This is really a fantastic way to get up close and personal with the animals while supporting a good cause.
I was especially excited when I saw some of the animals they housed. I am from the Rio Grande Valley, the south most part of Texas bordering Mexico. Due to its proximity to the border, the RGV is known for its semi-tropical wildlife (it’s a popular birding destination). I grew up learning about the animals in my region, and two species of wild cat always particularly interested me due to their rarity: the ocelot and the jaguarundi.
These endangered cats are extremely scarce in the RGV (there are only estimated to be 50 ocelots living in South Texas) and I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing one. I was elated, then, to find myself face-to-face with two jaguarundi kittens when I was least expecting it (a worker was transporting them in a wheelbarrow to their enclosure). I also got quite close to an adult, along with great views of the resident ocelot! I was over the moon!
These cats, along with a gorgeous jaguar, tapirs, an assortment of tropical birds (especially one very amicable and showy toucan), a fox, deer, coatimundis (including an assortment of feisty babies), monkeys, and more, are just part of what makes up this wonderful sanctuary (a more fitting term than zoo, I think).
Snorkeling in the Caribbean (off of Caye Caulker) was also an incredible experience. I’m a little obsessed with ocean documentaries because I LOVE the beautiful colors and delicate intricacies of creatures under the sea. I was fortunate enough to see a moray eel, an enormous lobster, and fishes of all colors! We even got to swim with nurse sharks and rays! It was a bit scary at first, but they were gentle creatures that were all but oblivious to our presence. Or well, they were a bit occupied with the fish our guide was throwing from the boat. I have to say that is my only regret. There were many snorkeling companies on the island that advertised they did not feed marine life (a more natural, ethical approach). I had assumed our chosen tour company followed these same practices but it did not. I should have done my research. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable experience! Also, live and learn ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Other noteworthy experiences:
After we visited Tikal, I doubted any other Maya site on our list could leave a significant impression on me. I was dead wrong! The temples at Lamanai left me speechless, and wondering why they hadn’t been covered in more detail in previous classes. The architecture is absolutely astounding, unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It looked almost as if they were modern constructions, which was strange but impressive. The views of the New River and tropical forest from the tops of the temples were stunning as well. Equally thrilling was the fact that there were pieces of history everywhere; we couldn’t go far without finding bits of ancient pottery and obsidian fragments! I would highly suggest visiting this epic site!
It was really interesting to see the traces of Mayan influence throughout different countries and regions; from Honduras (which I visited shortly prior to this program) to Guatemala and from Guatemala to Belize, Maya traditions, architecture, and identity took a variety of forms and molded themselves to fit evolving sociopolitical climates in each environment.
This program was an invaluable opportunity to familiarize ourselves with an array of aspects that contribute to an overarching Maya experience, even in places where it seemed like there was none. It taught me to think more critically about the often not-so-distant past of many of the places we visited and brought to light the beautiful resiliency of Mayan culture still alive today. I am privileged to have been a part of this adventure and both Guatemala and Belize own a piece of my heart now. This was truly an unforgettable summer <3
I hope you enjoy my photo album of these experiences posted below!