Postcard from abroad: you just have to see it to Belize it
Clara Bicher and Morgan Monz at the jungle ruins of Lubaantun, a fallen city of the ancient Mayan civilization in southern Belize
You have to laugh when you check the Waterville weather from a hammock on an 80 degrees and sunny white sand beach and see that it is -11, and the biggest problems on your mind are sand in your bathing suit and not being able to crack your coconut open.
JanPlan was un-Belize-able, to say the least. After flying into Belize City, we made our way through Mennonite country into the heart of the rainforest. Unlike the solitude of the conifer forests in Maine, walking into the rainforest there generates an overwhelming feeling of life. Even though you can be physically isolated, you never feel alone. The ground beneath you is alive with leaf-cutter ants, and the canopy above, connected by a system of vines, moves as a unit with the wind. The melodious blackbird sings, and the howler monkeys screech to let you know they’re there. Make sure you don’t get hit by a log thrown by the sugar-high spider monkeys! Don’t stand in one place too long or your legs may start to tingle from the bites of the fire ants. And while you may look around you and see only the green of the plant life, you can feel the eyes of the elusive jungle cats watching your every move. Out there, you can truly appreciate how small you are.
After spending time in the Rio Bravo Conservation Reserve, we took a bus down to Blue Creek, the “true” rainforest of southern Belize. What makes a true tropical rainforest is the amount of rainfall. Although the northern part of the country had already entered its dry season, the southern portion was still experiencing the wet season. As rain pounded on us, our blue creek quickly turned brown, and we found ourselves separating our wet clothes from our really wet clothes. However, the weather did not stop us from climbing through caves and playing with machetes. We even got to put tarantulas on our heads, and if you were lucky it climbed down onto your face.
Along with our jungle adventures, we had the opportunity to do a one-night homestay with a local family and immerse ourselves in the Mayan culture. Having never been to a developing country before, it was extremely eye opening to sleep in hammocks under a thatched roof house about the size of a Colby common room. There were nine children packed into a few beds, and the parents slept in hammocks in the kitchen. The floors were concrete, they did not have running water and they ate corn tortillas at every meal. While we would consider this poverty, these families possessed a happiness unreachable by the rushed lives of Americans. They had strong ties to their ancestors and continued traditional dances to the sounds of the marimba.
From the rainforest, we made our way to the coast, where a boat was waiting to take us out to South Water Caye, a tropical island paradise next to Belize’s barrier reef. As the second largest barrier reef in the world, it plays host to a diverse assortment of sea life. We swam with spotted eagle rays, barracuda, moray eels and octopi. From spear-hunting lionfish to listening to the crunch of parrotfish eating coral, the reef was just as busy as the rainforest. We even befriended a sea turtle named Nubby, after one of his fins was chewed off by a shark. Island life included cracking coconuts which grew in surplus and hunting for the biggest hermit crab.
We spent our last night at the Belize Zoo, where we fed tapirs (national animal of Belize), pet jaguars and played with boa constrictors. It was hard coming back to the ice and snow, but in the words of the Belizean Creoles, it was “gooda dan good!”
-Clara Bicher ’14 and Morgan Monz ’14