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2006 Daily Journal

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2006 Itinerary
2006 Meet the Team
2006 Q & A

group at RDU airportOur group, filled with anticipation, gathered at Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 4:30 a.m. Without hesitation we whisked through the hurdles of international travel — passport checks, security inspections, long lines, time changes and airport cuisine. Within a few short hours after our departure, the tarmac of the Belize International Airport was under our feet and we spotted our Belizean team members, Rhonda Bowman and Fernanda Pulido. Under cloudy skies we greeted our long-time guide and friend Nathan Forbes. We loaded the bus quickly and within minutes were completely immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of Belize!

children singingAt our first stop, The Community Baboon Sanctuary, we were entertained by the antics of a howler monkey troop as they enjoyed morsels of ripe bananas taken directly from our hands. The dominant male kept his distance, but his booming voice let us know he was truly the man in charge. During our hike through the Sanctuary we had a great look at a pair of rufous-tailed jacamars. After hiking the trails and absorbing all we could about the local plants with their daunting array of medical and practical uses, we toured the Sanctuary headquarters. Just then, the skies opened in a tropical downpour, trapping our group and the Sanctuary’s 40 summer camp participants in the small museum area. The camp leaders took advantage of the situation and asked the students to sing a song about the sanctuary. The song named all of the villages that work together to protect the howler monkeys. We responded with a rousing version of “If you are happy and you know it clap your hands.” When the worst of the storm passed we returned to the bus and set off again.

Traveling westward, we drove through flooded savannahs (Belize has had weeks of summer rain) and took note of how changes in soil and elevation influence vegetation. As we passed small villages and towns, we saw architectural designs and transportation patterns very different from what we are used to seeing. Yet we also begin to see sites that reminded us of home: mountain vistas similar to the western part of North Carolina and stores and internet cafés with familiar logos and trademarks. We made a quick stop to visit with Miss Lydia at Warrie Head Lodge, which has hosted nearly two decades of Tropical Ecology Institute participants.

As the afternoon slipped toward evening, we arrived at our home for the next three nights, Crystal Paradise Resort. The resort is nestled in the foothills of the Mountain Pine ridge at the edge of the Macal River. The resort’s hammocks, which hang on the front porch, beckoned to our weary bodies and we relaxed for the first time in over 14 hours! BUT more wonders awaited…Elsa Ochoa, a Belizean teacher who participated in last year’s Institute, arrived with her family and brought us fresh tamales wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. As we enjoyed her gastronomical and cultural treat, Elsa described the day-long process of making this traditional dish.

We finished our first evening in Belize with a night hike during which we saw leaf-cutter ants, sleeping social flycatchers and a Mexican mushroom-tongue salamander. After the hike we were lulled to sleep by the gentle patter of rain on the thatch roof above our heads and the call of unseen amphibians in the forest. Our dreams were filled with thoughts of the adventures we will have tomorrow at the Maya ruins of Characol.

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