Sunday, September 4, 2011

Belize & Costa Rica 2005 - (Part 1: Belize)

Grandma Jean, Me, & Zayde
Belize 2005
The posts about this trip were originally handwritten in a journal while on the trip in 2005.  These posts were originally intended only for myself, since I did not have a blog in 2005.  Anything written in italic letters has been added in 2011 to edit my 2005 writing.


August 3, 2005
Tropical Plant Path

Belize
National tree: Mahogany
National flower: Black Orchid
Won independence in 1981.  Previously called British Honduras.

Today we flew from O'hare to Dallas Ft. Worth, and from there to Belize City, Belize.  We are staying in a resort/hotel in a hut.  There is a path with tropical plants on both sides to get to the hut.  Some leaves are huge, and others are tiny.  Some are red, and others are multicolored.  I drew a diagram of the different leaves in the journal.  There are palm trees!

There are also Indian Almond trees, and the leaves on their branches grow horizontally.  Drew another diagram of the branches and leaves, showing how they were parallel to the ground and perpendicular to the trunk.  So far, I took 2 or 3 pictures and used lots of bug spray/lotion.  No malaria/dengue fever!
Houses in Belize
On the drive to the hotel, we saw many brightly colored houses made of wood.  Many of the houses were on stilts because the ground is swampy and it would ruin the floor.  Clothes are hung on clothes lines under or on the side of the house to dry.  I sprayed my clothes with bug spray to reduce the Malaria/Dengue Fever risk.

On the front porch of our hut, we have a hammock.  It is striped with red, blue, yellow, green, and cream.  The whole thing is crocheted, and it's really comfy.

Tonight for dinner we had fried corn chips and salsa, bean soup, red snapper fish, potatoes, green beans, noodle salad, and cheese cake with cherries.  We couldn't eat the salsa because of the raw vegetables and water base.  We realized that after we ate some.  We just found an air conditioner in the hut/cabin.  Now we can close the windows and keep out the mosquitoes!

August 4, 2005

Today, 3 hours ago, I was bitten by a mosquito.  I freaked out because of malaria and dengue fever risks, and put on more bug spray and lotion.  I also just squished my first mosquito ever - nothing motivates you like malaria!  So I put on bug repelent to sleep and on my clothes for tomorrow.

Canoeing in Barton Creek Cave
First today, we went to the Barton Creek Cave.  We drove there on a very bumpy dirt road for like 40 minutes down a mountain.  At the base, we got into two canoes and canoed down the river into the cave entrance.  It was totally black in the cave.  Without the lights they gave us, I couldn't even see my hand waving in front of my face.  There was only the sound of dripping water.  The cave is 5 miles long, and we canoed 3000 feet of it.  Some parts of the cave were so low that we had to put our heads by our knees and push off the rock walls with our hands to move forwards.  Other times, the cave ceiling was 125 feet high.  It was really fun!  In the cave, I found a huge spider with like 5 inch long legs! Yuck!
White things hanging from the cave rocks.  Worms?
This one looked like cauliflower.
The cave also had these worms which were like really thin, white threads that hung about 3 inches long from the bottom of rocks.  Most of the cave was made of limestone.  There were dark brown/black bands in the limestone, and our guide, Daren, told us that they were oil deposits that had dripped inside the cave.






In the cave, there were many beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites.  They looked like cauliflower, a face, a snow drift, a curtain, an elephant, etc.  There were some natural bridges between the two sides of the cave, which were not eroded away by water when the water had carved the cave our because the bridges were made of harder limestone than the rest of the cave.  The guide told us that the Mayans believed the cave was sacred.



Also in the cave was a bright green, tiny spider with a red dot on its head.   We also saw bats!  I think they were fruit bats.  They didn't like the lights we were holding, because every time we got them in the spotlight, they flew away.  I saw one hanging upside down while sleeping, but as soon as I put the light on his/her spot, he/she woke up and flew away.  

After leaving the caves, we went to the butterfly garden.  Stages of a butterfly's life are: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis/pupa, and butterfly.  The guide at the butterfly garden told us some types of butterflies spend two weeks as a pupa and three to six months as a butterfly, depending on the species.  We saw one butterfly which was almost transparent, and its wings were almost invisible when it flew.  One butterfly we saw was called the Blue Morpho, and it was a large, blue butterfly.  Another had an extra "eye" for protection and camouflage.  An orange butterfly landed on the shoulder of my orange U of I shirt.  I was wearing jeans from Francesca's - the Duchess brand, and Mom's water shoes.  We also saw different sized butterfly eggs on leaves.  Diagram of small and large butterfly egg sizes in journal.  The eggs were miniscule, white spheres, and are collected by scraping them off the leaves by hand.  Caterpillars are kept in little clear containers at the butterfly garden while they grow.  The containers are like the small size of a to-go side container from Boston Market.  Each day, a new leaf (food) is put into the containers.  They also get water, and the containers are opened several times to refresh the air supply.  As the caterpillars grow, they shed their skin and head five times, and eventually become too large to be in a container together.  Apparently female butterflies turn out to be stronger and larger than male butterflies.  As a butterfly ages, their color fades, and their wings get tattered at the edges. If a young bufferfly has tattered wings, it is likely because he/she has been partially eaten.  Sometimes, the extra "eye" design is at the edge of the wings.  The extra eye supposed to mislead predators so that the predator will eat the extra eye, which is on the edge of the wing, instead of eating the butterfly's real head.  This way, the butterfly has a better chance of survival in an attack. 

Later, we went to the San Ignacio town and changed money.   1 USD = 2 Belizian Dollars.  There was a shirt in a store there with a picture of a mosquito that said, "bite me."  It was funny, but not really my style.  Mosquito in Hebrew is Yatoosh. 

For lunch at the cave (earlier) we had PB&J, a lemon-ish square, bottled water, a banana, and jalapeño chips.  Dinner was cabbage and cilantro, sweet and sour chicken, chicken lime soup, fruit, a stuffed tomato, mashed potatoes with a sauce, and coconut pie with merengue.  Smiley faces are drawn by the foods I apparently liked best.  We had hot water with it all.  It was boiled so it would be safe for us to drink. 
Most of the stores in San Ignacio had no doors or AC.  It's so humid here.  We saw some iguanas while driving through the Amish part of town to the caves.  

August 5, 2005

Xunantunitch
Today we went to Xunantunitch (pronounced Zu-non too-nitch), and saw ancient Mayan Ruins.  There was a large building, way above the trees, called el castillo.  It's where the Mayan Priest and his family lived, according to our guide.  El castillo had huge stairs at the front.  The guide explained that there were big stairs so that you would have to bow your head (thus bowing to the royalty) as you climbed.  We took the "priest's special staircase" up instead.

Later the same day, we toured a medicinal rain forest trail.  The guide told us that the snake plant can be used for sprains if you warm the leaves and tie them around the sprain.  I think I need to start growing snake plants - I should have a private stock to sell to dance studios for injured dancers.  The wild pineapple plant can apparently help heal snake bites.  Lots of food grows here: bananas, oranges, pineapples, velvet apples, avocados, beans, grapefruits, corn, etc.  We saw a snake run (slither?) across the road in front of our car today.

Heliconia
I'm really trying to eat the fish they keep serving us at dinner.  I had Red Snapper for dinner today.  Usually, the taste is fine, I just can't seem to get over the idea of eating a fish.  There's a cool plant here called a lobster claw/heliconia.  Diagram drawn showing how the heliconia leaves grow on alternate sides of the stem in red with some yellow and brown. 

The first mosquito bite isn't going away.  Now it's more red.  Hmm...problem?  Guess I'll wait and see.  Not really the best plan, but how else will I know if I get sick with malaria?  How could I possibly wear more bug spray?  I spray all my clothes the night before wearing them, my skin before I get dressed, after breakfast, at and before lunch, and upon arriving back at the lodge, before dinner, before I go to sleep, and after I shower.  When else is there?!  Bear has no mosquito bites.  I got another bite on the back of my left hand at dinner while I sat beside a citronella candle.  Good thing they haven't gotten my face yet because then I'd look weird.

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Today we left the Maya Mountain Lodge and went to the Lamani Lodge.  We took a 45 minute boat ride to get to Lamani.  When we got off the boat, they gave us hot towels and a drink.  Lamani = submerged crocodile in Maya, according to the boat’s driver. 

Just got back from a spotlight safari!  It was pitch black outside, and we went out onto the river in a boat.  The guide had a spotlight and found animals to show us.  The animals’ eyes shine in the spotlight, making them easier for the guide to find.  We saw a crocodile, many mosquito-eating bats, and many birds, including the Green King Fisher, the Ring King Fisher, and the Pigme King Fisher, which was the smallest of the King Fishers.  We also saw a bird which had a yellow beak and slept standing up on one red leg.  Two of them woke up, and we saw their heads, which they hide between their wings while sleeping.  

The resort where we're staying has canoes we can borrow so we can go canoeing around the beach.  However, I'm a little nervous about canoeing around after seeing crocodiles on the spotlight safari last night.  You know, in case the canoe flips and I fall in.

Zayde made a song to help us remember which preventative medications to take each day:
Monday,
Monday,
Monday malaria pill,
Tuesday typhoid pill, etc.

Monday, August 8, 2005

I'm at the top of the stairs.
Photo by Zayde.
I'm really sick.  It's gross.  Must have eaten something bad last night at dinner.  Oh well.  Nonetheless, we saw the fantastic Lamani Maya Ruins today.  There was this really tall building with tons of stairs, and it had a rope connected to the top to help you climb up without falling.  I climbed up and waved to Zayde at the bottom, and he took a picture (right).  The stairs were really steep and exhausting.  Very easy to fall, luckily I didn't.

After 4 pm - Just got back from an airboat tour!  The boat has a propeller and engine all above the water so that the bottom of the boat is totally flat.  With a flat boat bottom, you can go in shallower water - like 3 inches, and not get stuck.  The boat could even go through the marshes and grasses.  In the middle of one of the marshes, the two guides made a table, which attached to the boat, and served us chips, salsa, and drinks. I got Coke in a glass bottle.  Of course, I am going to save the bottle to bring home with me.
Chips, Salsa, & Drinks on the Airboat
At night, we went on a "croc encounter."  We found a little crocodile, and the guide picked him up out of the water.  I got to hold the crocodile while they measured, microchipped, and studied him for a research collaboration with the the University of Florida.  To weigh the crocodile, they put a rubber band around his head and past his arms, and hung the band from a scale that looked like a Newton meter.  They also rubber banded the crocodile's mouth closed so it wouldn't bite us.  After measuring, we un-rubber banded the crocodile, and returned him to the water.  Later, we saw a bigger crocodile that was about 1.3 meters long.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Just got back from breakfast on a pontoon, after which we went canoeing.  Steering a canoe is not that easy.  I crashed into some plants, but we got out okay.  We're packing now because we have a 5:20 pm flight from Belize City to San Jose, Costa Rica.  I think we might have a connecting flight through El Salvador.  Lots of passport stamps!  :-)

Surprise - We actually had 3 plane rides today! (Only thought we had 2.)  First, we took a mini-plane, una avionetta, to Belize City Airport, then we continued on with our anticipated journey.  The first plane ride, on the avionetta, was so cool!  We had a plane land next to the Lamani Outpost Lodge just for us!  There were 7 seats - 3 for us, 3 for our suitcases, and 1 for the pilot.  In the air, we only flew below the clouds because it was an 18 minute flight.  We flew from our hotel to the Belize City Airport, which surprised us, because we had taken a 45 minute boat ride to Lamani the first time, and we thought we would be returning on a boat also.  The tiny plane wasn't very air-tight...there was a very strong breeze blowing on me.  We took off from a short, dirt run way in the middle of the jungle.  It was awesome!!

Note: I did not take all the pictures in this post.  I think some are Zayde's, and others might be scanned postcards.  I can't remember, but I don't want to take credit for photos that aren't mine.

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