Dearest Reader:
During the “big” trips I keep a diary for the entire group – what we did, what we saw, the jokes, the things that went wrong, the things that went right. I refuse to pretend that everything always goes smoothly on all of my trips, but we always learn and we always have a good time. Skim through this synopsis – blemishes and all – it isn’t sanitized but I think it will give you a flavor of my trips and the wonderful people who go on them.
Michael Ellis

ONCE IN A BLUE MOON

REEFS, RUINS AND RAINFORESTS

Belize and Tikal, 1999

January 27, 1999: Most of us fly in today from various places and
overnight at the Airport Marriot. Most convenient and we get to
take a little train. I meet Lee and feel certain we are gonna get
along great.

January 28, 1999: We begin gathering at the TACA counter between 11
and by 12 everyone is checked except for Shenny and Al who are
already in Belize. We begin to meet each other. Fun group. Plane is
only 25% full. Bob B. and Earle upgrade to first class. The rest of
us peons only have 6 seats to ourselves. Some turbulence in our 2
1/2 hr flight. Into the world of humidity. Fly over Crooked Tree
and Altun Ha. After very smooth trip through customs (the easiest
Lee has ever had) we are met by Roberto and the Batty Bro bus with
Poncho driving. Mennonites on the plane with us. Could be Amish.
Came from Pennsylvania, Canada and Mexico in the late 50’s. Amish
specialize in Mahogany furniture making. 1 US dollar = 2 Belizian
dollars and according to Roberto one US minute = 2 Belizian
minutes. Changed name from British Honduras to Belize in 1973,
independence in 81. Now only 150-200 British soldiers. Somewhat
more peaceful with Guat right now so border dispute is relaxed. all
volunteer Army. 250 k in entire country. 75K in B.City. five major
ethnic groups- Creole (black slave + English), Mestizos (Spanish +
Mayan), Garifuna (Male black slaves + Carib female indians),
Chichi? Maya and mopan Maya. There may have been 1-3 million Maya
living in Belize one thousand yrs ago! VTA is Killa. Value Added
TAx of 15%. Current government promised to repeal the VTA but
instead they have so far just changed the name. Belize River on
right, comes from Guat and is formed by 2 other rivers. Belize
means muddy water in Mayan, maybe or it is a corruption of an early
British buccaneer, Wallace. Belikan, the land beyond the sea. No
one knows for sure.
2 species of Croc- American and Morrelet. Houses are sinking.
Agouti Paca fed to the Queen now called the Royal Rat. Mahogany is
the National Tree. Swinging bridge in downtown is being repaired.
We get to the Radisson Ft. George. Nice place. Check into our room.
We meet at 6:30 in the dining room for intros and our first
orientation. Shenny and Al join us and we hear them complain about
their not-to-successful dive trip and flights (TACA aka Take A
Chance Airline). Lee tells us about tomorrows activities and what
we will need. Crooked Tree is 33 miles on Northern Highway, 2nd
National Park (1984). Altun Ha, a Maya city lasted later than most.
It had a large man-made reservoir of water nearby. There were over
40 Mayan cities each with a population of over 20K. logwood. Lee
takes some folks up on the roof for a view of B. City and it is
very easy to see the lighthouse. Great-tailed grackle, magnificent
frigatebird, laughing gulls, great egret, snail kite, rufous tailed
hummingbird. Pretty good start. Tomorrow we leave at 7:45.

January 29, 1999: We thank you for being on time. We are off at
7:45!!! We have 33 miles north to Crooked Tree National Park, 2nd
National Park founded in 1984. Clear sunny great day. Woodcarvings
that we will see from Zericote (Cordia in Boraginacea). Sweet
fruit, flowers good for cough. We begin with a city tour. 1838
slavery abolished throughout Brit Empire. Charles Lindberg landed
the Spirit of St Louis here in 1927. 6 million dollar National
Stadium, Roberto wants to know what happened to the rest of the
money?? British buccaneers started the lumber trade- logwood,
mahogany, chicle. Lebanese and Hindus run the businesses. Mangoes
in fruit in town. Houses on stilt for termite protection, coolness,
laundry under it, and newly married son’s apartment. Belizian
flag- saw and paddle under the Mahogany tree we will flourish.. 50-
60″ rain in the north, 80-90 in Western and 180-190 in southern.

The Barley Circus from Mexico has come to town. Coconuts are
suffering from a beetle infestation throughout the Carib that is
killing the trees and turning their leaves yellow – the Yellow-leaf
disease. Ladyville, to be near the horny British troops. Cashew
fruit is made into wine- poor mans wine it gets you twice once at
night and then again in the morn. We are driving on the northern
highway we flew over yesterday. The soil is poor, alluvium from the
sea. Sandy and the water table is very close to the surface.
Characterized by saw palmettos (treatment for prostate cancer),
Caribbean pine, sandpaper plant, live oak. Sleeping policemen in
our way.

Stopped for tree with chicle scars- Saponilla. Wrigley. Our first
looks at the northern jacana or lily trotter. The females mate with
5-6 males sequentially and let them take care of the eggs and young
– a new age bird. Little blue heron. We see the bay leaf palm- fan
shaped as the palmetto but larger. It must be cut at the full moon
and will last much longer as roofing material. A fellow from the
Yale School of Forestry is actually investigating what makes this
apparently true. The Mayans knew it. Gumbo-limba is the tourist
tree, red and peeling. Crossing the ever so slightly elevated
causeway to Crooked Tree we view our first snail kite, an immature.
They only eat apple snails which they pierce with their very sharp
hooked beak the nerves and cause the muscles to relax so they can
easily extract the snail without breaking the shell. Limpkins on
the other hand also eat snails but must crush the shell. We see the
white and purple masses of snail eggs stuck onto the emergent
vegetation (Mimosa). On the other side into the village of 600, we
meet Glenn and Hobart our guides. But first a very slow pee stop.
Osprey, savannah and black vultures.

Into 2 boats we are off…. Spiny tailed (wish-willy) iguana in
bullet tree. Omnivores. Very fringed tail. Then we see a male green
iguana in his bright orange breeding plumage. Told also by the
banded tail from the spiny tailed. White sulphur butterfly. Brown
jays, ringed and belted k-fisher. Termite crap is called frasse and
used to construct the large colonies.
fish are tarpon, catfish and snook. Mangrove warbler, vireo and
swallow. Central American slider turtle. Females are larger, both
taste good. We enter Spanish Creek. Caspian tern, lotsa neotropical
cormorants, roadside hawk, Amer. redstart, tody flycatcher,
limpkin. Glenn finds a long-nosed bat on a tree, amazing that he
saw it. I shine reflected sunlight on it. Social flycatcher, weird
orchid fruit, parakeet mistletoe. Then we have a brief oriole show-
yellow tailed and black-cowled – singing males. Fork tailed
flycatcher, Turn toward lunch at noon. But first a young basilisk
(aka Jesus CHrist) lizard. By 12:30 we are sitting down to
rice/beans with a main course of winged gibnuts. Recipe requested.
On our long hike to the bus we see great birds- vermillion
flycatcher, solitary and least sandpiper, killdeer, pied billed
grebes, cattle egrets, tropical kingbirds, social flycatcher, semi-
palmated plover. Cecropia tree properly identified by Letty.
Crooked Tree name either from shape of trees or 3 logging buddies
who always cheated. your choice. Ruddy ground dove, cashew in
flower.
Back on bus and back to main road. nap time for some but Beth is
managing to draw the birds, flowers and lizards as we bump along
and they look good. Then head east toward Altun Ha. The soil gets
richer, calcareous and the Cahune palms show up. Our guide helped
excavate AH beginning 30 yrs. In fact Richard Wallace, we all
called him Mr. Wallace, told us that he was older than the ruins.
Rocks quarried for the road and some jade found was the first
indication of the existence of the ruin. Delightful fellow with
great sense of humor but hard to understand. 4 sq mile ruin, 8-10
K pop. 200 BC to 1400 AD. Plaza A – sun, rain, wind, moon temples.
64-72 excavation done. Largest jade head found 6″ high. Ball game
winner were sacrificed. It took a long time to score but you went
straight to heaven with no more earthly labors. His theory is that
the peons overthrew the ruling class and killed all the intelligent
ones and the culture disintegrated. Climbed the second sun temple,
the one in Plaza B that was built because the other sun temple
failed to prevent El Nino. Some red pigment could still be seen on
the temple walls. Very very quiet in the bird department. I found
a rainforest toad (maybe) identified in Jeff’s field guide. We left
at 4:40 for our 30 mile one hour more or less trip to BC. Bat
falcon and lineated woodpecker. Devils Gut Cactus wrapped around
live oak at Mahogany sawmill.
Just before 6 we arrived for a little grocery shopping at Brodies.
rum rum rum. Dinner on your own tonight. Ft George. steel drums
outside our rooms, party time! Our very own Carol dances and holds
her own with the best of Belize! Great day, great beginning. Most
of the crew eats at the Fort Restaurant and raves about the food.
Jeff and Dale head out for armadillo stew but don’t get it. I eat
at the hotel, it is quiet and OK.

January 30, 1999: Whatta great group, bills paid, we are on the bus
and ready to roll at 8. Off to the Community Baboon Sanctuary. A
one hour drive 30 miles on more or less good roads. Go on the
Northern Hiway until Burrell’s Landing where we turn left and the
road is paved until the former Minister of Tourism’s House. We find
a roadkill tropical coral snake. Neurotoxin. Stop on bridge over
the Belize River for a great photo stop of male green iguana.
Looking down on it. And then low and behold Roberto spots the
howlers 5 adults and one baby. Our first, how cute. Little do we
know in 1 hour we will be nose to nose with them. We see another
with an ID wrist bracelet. At Bermuda Landing we meet the very
delightful Fallet Young, who helped Dr. Horwich begin the program
in 1984. 12 landowners began, World Wildlife Fund helped fund it
and now they have 20 sq miles of protected area. 95% of farmers are
adhering to the agreement, creating a skeleton forest that enables
the monkeys to thrive near humans. Check out the website at
www.ecocomm.org. From 6-700 monkeys there are now 2K. And we are
off behind Fallet, Sensitive plant. Cassia is pregnancy test, by
peeing on it. Billy web tree, the contraceptive that he failed to
procure for his wife, hence the new baby. Hot lips and blue morpho
butterfly. Earthstar fungus, leaf cutter ants. Bull horn acacia
with Azteca ants guarding. Lee wants everyone to get bit and have
the full jungle experience. We hear the howlers with boom boxes
playing music nearby. We find the friendly troop of howlers with
one dominant male, a juv male and female, a female with a one month
old baby. WOW. Fallet howls and he howls back. I felt a little
weird about that but the monkeys are doing well and I know the
tourists love it and it probably doesn’t really hurt too much.
photos photos photos. This is the best I have ever seen howlers.
bl-gry tanager, Yellow and parula warbler. Hey we gotta go the zoo
and get some lunch. Back at the VC for one more bathroom break and
we decide to boost the local economy slightly by buying some
tamales from the local ladies. A fun bit of local color and they
taste good too. Helped that we didn’t ask for change.
Off at 12 for a 45′ minute ride. White ibis, eastern Meadowlark.
Earle stops to look for his favorite fountain pen at the bridge to
no avail. Take a cut across road to the Western Hiway, hitting it
at Hattieville, named after the camp Belizian folks were settled in
after the big Hurricane of 61. We can finally see some elevation,
the foothills of the Mayan Mts and just beyond them is the Southern
Lagoon where we will be tomorrow am. Limestone quarry there. Part
of Mosquito Coast with Harrison Ford was filmed here. See a
community of Hong Kong escapees. At the zoo we have our picnic
lunch – ham sandwiches. This zoo only has Belizean animals. Tapir
(National animal aka mountain cow), king vulture, spider monkey,
howlers, white-lipped peccaries, humming bird mistletoe, agouti,
paca, tayra, coati, jaguar, jairubu stork (largest flying bird in
western hemisphere), roseate spoonbill, whistling duck, and more.
Acorn woodpecker, black and white warbler, red-capped and white
collared mannakin are side by side. Mating pumas, the male brought
from Florida. Black jaguar. Olive backed sparrow, hepatic tanager.
Clay colored robin. Quick visit to the gift shop and then we
leave, a bit late. To the wharf and unload our luggage, meet Scott
the massive dive master. And just before sunset we board our
vessel, the Mondriaan. Yvonne is the burser and pretty cute too.
She gives us a brief overview of the boat and then shows us to our
rooms. Roberto the barman, and pretty cute too. Captain Bram Wolff,
Hank the second mate, Bob the engineer, Sherif the cook, Rueben the
assistant cook. Bad news the air conditioner is not functioning and
they are trying to fix it. Meanwhile fans are being installed in
each room- plan B. It is very very hot down there. On deck is nice
temp. Our welcome cocktail is welcome. Captain Bram welcomes us.
Mondriaan built originally in 1910. Engine in the WW II. Much added
in the early 90’s including 30 feet in the stern and the masts.
Bram was a criminal lawyer, Hank was a chemical engineer. Crew is
rushing around installing fans, moving luggage, analyzing
compressor and dinner is a bit late. We respond to our first dinner
bell. Fans have cooled the dining room and this great group is
taking this hotness in stride. Being tested already. We have a 3
hour motor to Manatee River. Be prepared for the anchor to be
weighed. The crew is occupied with more com-pressing concerns. It
doesn’t look good.

January 31, 1999: Most of us have a fitful sleep; it is pretty hot
down there. Anchor weighed at 2ish and we travel through very
tranquil seas for 3 hours to the Manatee River. We wake at 5:30
breakfast at 6 and we all in the river by 7. Crossing the bar was
a piece of cake. We meet Raymond Gentle from the village of Gales
Point. He has been studying, teaching about and now protecting
manatees for the past 15 yrs. Perhaps he used to eat them but no
longer. He makes a whole lot of money doing this. Sandwich terns
with a bit of yellow at the end of their dark bills. Our 2 Zodiacs
+ Raymonds skiff. Some land on the beach and get bit. We all stop
just outside the Southern Lagoon to listen to Raymond’s story. He
has an amusing gentle way of talking, totally charming with a great
smile. He has some stories. Off of Grassy Piece, named by the last
village chief who they got rid of. Started fishing regs this year
and he is in charge of enforcing. 2 of the manatees have radio
transmitters often with Sat navigate couple with VHF for
localization. White ibis, lineated woodpecker. We see the foothills
that we saw yesterday. Just like Lee said we are on the other
side. The foothills are limestone and the Maya Mts are uplifted
granite with the limestone cap eroded off. The light is beautiful,
overcast. Snook are popping up everywhere. #500 folks at Gales Pt.
Road in 91, electricity last year brought by politicians looking
for votes. There are about 30 manatees in this lagoon. We sit at
Manatee Hole, where a fresh water spring bubbles up through the
limestone and they are able to drink. Quietly sitting the boats –
linked – we waiting for the mermaids to come up and breathe. Many
nostril looks, Bob B. taking some photos. Manatee farts around us.
We leave at 8:50 and go to the mouth of the Manatee River. Some of
us walk on the beach and find some Jaguar tracks. Beach morning
glory, sea grape, much plastic garbage. Bugs are biting someone but
not me. We are back on the boat and under way by 10. I take a much
needed nap. 6 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (i.e. Flipper) come and
visit and bowride for a while. We are between Middle Long Cay and
Blufield Range. Lunch and then our boat safety talk by Hank.
Continuous bell ringing means abandon ship. Next we get our
snorkeling gear together. All of us travel in our 2 skiffs to
Rendezvous Caye, not named on our chart and just inside the Barrier
Reef, 180 miles long which we can see. There is a small rain squall
we move through. 13 Palm Tree Island. We do our first snorkeling –
good work Kindergarten Terri. Hard to get Jeff and Dale out of the
water. Yellow tail snapper, sergeant major, Creole Wrasse (eat fish
eggs), trunk fish, grouper, horse eye jack, stoplight parrotfish,
blue tang, trumpetfish, great barracuda, yellow headed wrasse, gray
angelfish, four eyed butterfly fish, Grunts, banded butterfly fish,
french grunt, brittlestars, anemones, Penicillin green algae
looking like little parasols. Shenny almost gets a hickey from a
Remora who had fallen in love with her. Ruddy turnstones. Fantastic
displays of coral (fire!), the diversity was astounding. You could
see some storm damage, alot of sand thrown around. Water
temperature is 81 but Evan still gets cold. So we take the long
ride back to the boat. Pull up anchor and head toward Half Moon
Caye. Ride is smooth water, tres calm. Brown booby flies by. Today
is once in a blue moon, so do it today. But you have another chance
in March. Beautiful sunset and full moon rises. Benign temperature.
Spare ribs, mashed potatoes. A very long and good day. We will
anchor about 11 tonight. Tomorrow Half Moon Caye- 45 acres, 3 sp
lizard, 97 sp of birds. Magnificent frigatebirds and 4K red footed
boobies in breeding colony. Dropping off the edge of the
continental shelf – 1000′ to 4000′. Everyone is tired and off to
bed they go.

February 1, 1999: Peaceful night and some actually manage to get a
good nights sleep, Is it cooler or are we getting tougher? We are
50 miles southeast of BC, just at the edge of the reef. Half Moon
Caye (Belizes first national park, part of the Lighthouse Reef
complex). Breakfast at a civilized 8 AM. A couple of dive boats
around us- the Belize Aggressor and the Wave Dancer. We have a
brief overview of the coral reef ecosystem and Lee encourages us to
get a “feeling” for boobies. One group of 4 go with Scott to do the
Resort Dive Class- me, Evan, Jill and Jean. The rest of you go to
explore the island, snorkel, etc. Then 4 more go for the Dive
School- Bob, Bob, Letty, and Beth. Beth tells me that she did very
well, she wasn’t the worst student…therefore who was? Bob and Bob
holding hands. Red footed booby colony with many fuzz ball chicks,
Mag Frigatebirds displaying and with some young. Cordia (Zircote)
trees in full flower. Smell of ammonia wafting over the island.
Very hot on the Tower but wondrous views of the nesting colony.
Back for lunch and then some of us are ready and want to go back
snorkeling. I told Lee he couldn’t keep this group out of the
water!

Evan, Jill, Letty and Bob get a personal dive with Scott. Then Bob
F., Lee, Dale, Jean (the fish), and me with Hank and Scott. Spotted
eagle rays are seen and many giant sponges on the wall. Snorkelers
see a 5′ sting rag and more sharks. Did everyone study their fishy
today?? Barbara is getting sunburned, the first time in her life.
Should have listened to teacher.

We meet on the foredeck at 6:30ish for our fish stories. Jill
starts and is very thorough in her observations. She goes on a
little more than forever, But good job, Senora Jill. Letty on the
other hand saw a dog dung sea cucumber. Beth’s was a Nassau Grouper
that she saw change color. We later had it for dinner. Very good
too. Squirrel fish was a very popular fish. Shenny (long nose) who
witnessed the shy little fish in his little house. Big eyes
indicate night feeder. Pat’s squirrel fish did nothing, just hang
out waiting out of harms way. Bob B. veojo azule Wrasse – that
little sleazy hermaphrodite is nothing more than a worthless egg
sucker. And it fell in love with his flipper to boot. Jean with the
trumpet fish changing color and the spotted drum… way cool. Bob
F. very docently observed a four-eyed butterfly fish. one dot =
mature, 2 dots = juv. Professor Lee is still talking about the
promised grouper sex, three days after the first full moon of the
new year. Evan with a banded butterfly fish. Dale’s queen trigger
fish and finally a crab ate Kurts homework. And onto dinner,
Sheriff is outdoing himself again. Each of our dinner tables seem
to be having a very good time. Roberto the Aromatic continues to be
a whiz at clearing the table under adverse conditions. There are
only a few knives, food, and plates flying around. Lighthouse
keeper is making coconut oil in his daytime hours. Earle estimated
that he has $2500 worth of oil sitting in that drum, with no
overhead. Tomorrow to Glovers Reef and we get to sail, maybe.
Questions abound about top sailing speed relationship with length
of the ship. Slumber party on upper deck led by Shenny.

February 2, 1999: We depart Half Moon Caye at 5:30. Fantastic
sunrise seen but not by all. Good news and bad news. Good news- it
is a great day, clear visibility, no white caps, smooth seas and no
wind. Bad news- no wind. We cannot unfurl the sails, they would
just flap in the little breeze. Flocks of flying fish, one Prt. Man
o’ War, Royal Tern. Breakfast at 8. And then we meet in the tiny
shadows of the foredeck to compile our fish and bird lists. There
is a little interest. 17 degrees north, 87 longitude. The bad news
of not sailing is compensated by increased speed and sooner we get
to snorkeling. We are east of Glovers Reef, the farthest south of
the Atolls. If the seas had been rougher we would have been on the
inside of it. We first stop around 9:30 at Northeast Cay but the
buoy there is only held in my one pin. The Skipper decides it is an
unsafe mooring because of the current and the nearby reef. We
concur with his decision and continue south to Southwest Caye, the
home of the Manta Ray Resort. It was hit hard by Mitch the Bitch
and is closed for repair. They let us come ashore but no shopping.
We arrived at 11 and snorkeled off the beach for an hour or so. We
thought it wasn’t going to be good because of the piled up coral
everywhere, including the spit to the west which was completely
new according to Poppy. One of the workers on the Island said the
water washed over it 10′ deep! But the diversity of the fish and
coral was surprisingly good and the visibility was better than the
previous day. Meanwhile Lee is back at the boat taking the deepest
dive of his life to 160′ and being an example of nitrogen narcosis
for a lesson being taught by Scott to Hank and the Captain. Back to
the boat for lunch, and then back out for more snorkeling this time
from the dingy. After we discovered the wall with wondrous gardens
of coral and sponges – flounder, many comb jellies floating, sting
ray, queen angel, trunkfish, and the rest of the butterflies of the
sea. We return to the boat around 3 in time for our 3:30 dive but
little Scotty throws a temper tantrum and cancels the afternoon
dive. Second group of snorklers led by Bob B. head toward the wall.
They have fun. Hank takes Beth up the mast (our first mast
crawler); I soon follow. If Beth and I can’t go down, at least we
can go up. The view of the ship’s deck is superb but we still can’t
see the mainland. Lee and a small group go over to explore the
island. We are 35 miles offshore, tomorrow we head inside the reef
to Laughing Bird Caye. Before dinner, after sunset but before
moonrise we gather on the foredeck and the crew turns off the
lights and we have a little star talk. Venus, Jupiter, Canopus,
Aldebaran, Sirius, Andromeda Galaxy, pleiades, pointer sisters. As
Roberto is clearing the plates this time, Kurt is hit in the lap
with an errant flying potato. Roberto keeps his table-clearing
record intact with a fine shot. We would be disappointed if it went
smoothly.
Lee reviews tomorrow. Depart 5 AM, slumber party shouldn’t be
disturbed though Al claimed a crew member stepped on his face.
Captain Bram brings the chart so we can see the dangerous threading
that we have to do through Gladdens Spit. He has never done it
before, we are his first time. Lucky us. Should be OK. Large group
of yellow-tailed somethings off the starboard side that I shine my
bright flashlight on. Don’t know what they are. Everyone is pooped.
Off to bed. Not a partying group.

February 3, 1999: Another hot night in the inferno. Just when I
think I am getting used to it. We leave Manta Ray Resort Cay (rumor
has it paid for with money from bales of cocaine that drift up) at
5 AM as promised, by 7 we are carefully motoring through Gladden
Spit, looking for the wreckage of the previous boat- The Rembrandt.
Hank is way up in the mast, swaying in the swell. Glad I am not
there. Now we have some wind, we could sail but it is our last
snorkel. We moor off Laughing Bird Cay and there are (GASP!) other
people here. We now see the advantage of our big boat able to go
way offshore. We arrive an hour earlier than the captain predicted
– 10. Over to the beach and into the water as soon as we can.
Diving is superb, warm clear water except at the point. yellow
tail snapper, sergeant major, stoplight parrotfish, blue tang,
trumpetfish, great barracuda, trunkfish, yellow headed wrasse, gray
angelfish, four eyed butterfly fish, banded butterfly fish,
porkfish, french grunt, brittlestars, 2 sp of anemone, sea urchins,
sea cucumbers, brown pelicans feeding on the thousands of little
fry that are everywhere, royal terns, mangrove warbler singing,
laughing gulls (the island is named after), coconut palms.
Fantastic displays of coral. Mitch did not affect the area too
much. Back on boat by 12:15, some swim to big boat. Barbara
actually almost beat the Zodiac back. Immediately after lunch, 5
divers- Beth, Jean, Bob F., Dale and me go for a shallow dive. More
like a deep water snorkel, actually not even deep water but we had
fun. Everyone else is back at the beach for our last swim/snorkel
experience. It really is a fine place. Scott and Hank went diving
and found extensive Mitch damage and poor visibility. By three we
are done and back on the ship. The sails are ready and we put them
up. The wind has slightly died but it is enough to satisfy the
clients. The Jib and the Foresail and the Topsail are out flopping
in the breeze. Pat, Al, Lee know alot about sailing. The rest of us
are appreciating the aesthetics. There are many jokes about
naturalists’ hot air, electric fans, etc being used to push us
along. But the wind does increase and we actually make 4-5 knots,
maybe up to 6 by the end of the day. Jeanne and the Skipper climb
to the very very top of the mast and solve all of the worlds
problems. They are up there about an hour- mast hogs!! I think it
is great that the Captain lets us go up the mast. We almost get hit
by a large banana boat. That was close! Sunset with the few lights
of Monkey River Village due west, great clouds, Venus shining
brightly. It has been another perfect day, except for that damn air
conditioning. Lee and Poppy take the Zodiac in the darkness and
danger, trying to avoid the bar and searching for Percival. They
succeed. Another great dinner from Sheriff, slaving away in that
hot kitchen. He and Rueben make simple and good food. Lee gives us
the plan for tomorrow- early breakfast and up the Monkey River.
Could be some spray. Gross Botfly story. Wrapup of our snorkeling
and the natural history of Coral Reefs.
February 4, 1999: Up early for breakfast. Bouncy transfer at 6:30
to Monkey River Village (200 folks + kids) to pick up our guide-
Percival. Personable 30 year old with excellent English and guide
skills. We enjoy him. So up the Monkey River we go searching for
Howlers, birds and especially the Keel-billed Toucan which Lee
promised for sure we would see. The provision tree is in full
flower with giant pink flowers. Same family as Ceiba and Baobab
trees. They provide much appreciated stimulating beverage that
Percy swears by. We find some more long-nose bats disguised as
bark. Great Kiskadees, mangrove swallows, little blue heron, yellow
crowned night heron, bare throated tiger heron, Montezumas
oropendula, green backed heron, anhinga (aka snakebird), tropical
parula, yellow warbler, spot breasted wren singing, collaredseedeater, black headed saltador, black headed trogon, heard a
motmot, black hawk, pygmy (er green) kingfisher, ringed kingfisher,
catbird. We had several looks at Mexican black howler monkeys.
Green iguanas that were actually green. Basilisk (jesus christ)
lizards. Cecropia is good for high blood pressure, Cassia is good
for a purgative and Black Bay Cedar can cause constipation hence
the local name- cork bottom wood. We stop and the young fisherman
shows us his catch- tuba looks like a Chiclid. A field by the river
is being cleared for maize. We return to the village and get a
tour. Shenny immediately becomes a favorite grandmother. UDP
(United Democratic Party) and PUP (Peoples United Party) = Republ
and Democrats. A good look at a captive agouti, the infamous Royal
Rat. The village did have 1000 people when the banana plantation
was here but a disease struck and the main plantation moved to the
north. Rainbow lizard. Back to boat, gee we are hungry and it is
pizza time. Good. We head north a bit and by 1 we are sitting on
the fine sleepy town of Placencia. Into town we go to make phone
calls, buy t-shirts and just check out the local scene. Quiet
afternoon eating those way-too-good Fritos and tortilla chips that
Roberto puts out. We have an early dinner in anticipation of Dora
Williams and her Garifuna dancers. Tomorrow morning the Z Bus Line
will supposedly pick us up. Named that because it is the last name
in bus lines. Tomorrow the land of high heat, humidity, black
flies, mosquitoes, botflies….gee Lee really knows how to sell a
trip doesn’t he?? We start to watch the National Geographic Video
planning on the dancers being late but we are surprised, they are
on time. After a bit of rearranging they set up on the upper deck
for a challenging stage. The women and girls kinda have that Aunt
Jemina look. Paranda dance, the story of survival. And then there
was the Dead Body on the Beach dance. That was a real upbeat
number. Next we had the boys with Carmen Miranda headdresses
shaking their shell booties. The white people (guests) attempt to
dance. The rotating radar didn’t quite keep the rthyum of the
drums. Bob B. was doing the limbo and just plain rocking out. Party
pooper Letty was standing quietly by, just looking. The party
breaks up, the kids get some food. That was fun. Now Lee tells me
if only the bus would show up tomorrow on time!

February 5, 1999: Double rainbow this morning at sunrise. And lo
and behold the bus is waiting for us with Eric from PG (Punta
Gorda) at the wheel. Nice, competent guy. So we get a driving time
estimate from him to the Cockscomb Jag Preserve of one hour and
some change. We leave at 8:05 heading north along the narrow spit
passing many developments and resorts. Through Seine Bight, the
home of the Garifuna dancers, where a little boy flashes his little
wanger in a traditional village greeting. Then a dog is pooping on
the street, they are really rolling out the welcome wagon for us.
And on we go to Lot #99 where we all get out and pee. A coatamundi
passed in front of us. Miniature golf course. But the best birding
of the entire trip is at the fermenting banana/garbage dump –
Summer tanager, fork tailed and scissor tailed flycatcher, social
flycatcher, yellow rumped warbler, northern yellowthroat, collared
seedeater, tropical mockingbird, blue-grayed tanager. Tricolored
heron. We finally get to the Southern Hiway and head north to
entrance station to the Preserve by 10. Maya Village women do slate
carvings and they are for sale. Pent up shopping energy is released
and we finally get out of there at 10:30 for the 7 mile smooth road
in to the Visitor Center. We pick up a few kids who got lost from
their field trip buddies. They are happy. By 11 we are out and
looking at a male and female (please note this Jill) violaceous
trogon and then a crested guan in a Guanacaste tree. Wondrous start
to the trip. We get a intro by the park ranger- 100K hectares, 300
sp of birds, 5 cats, one male jaguar requires 15 sq miles and the
females half of that. 40-50 in entire preserve. Reintroduced
howlers here.
We begin our short hike. diversity and rarity are linked. 6 weeks
to totally recycle a leaf in the RF, 24 months in Lee’s backyard.
The rain begins. Deppes squirrel, manakin snapping. Sound of
pounding rain and we aren’t even getting wet. Uh, strike that last
statement. But it is not hot and there are few insects, so we are
happy campers and why not get rain in a rain forest?? The rain
stops for a moment and one tree comes alive with birds – chacalaca,
scarlet rumped tanager, crimson-collared tanager, Yellow billed
cacique, Black cheeked woodpecker, wood creeper sp., buff throated
and black head saltador, squirrel cuckoo and a few other birds we
didn’t id. Smell of peccaries, wine cup fungus, puma tracks. Back
to Lunch and run into the Cal. Academy of Science Mayan trip….
small world. It seems like we have this whole country to ourselves.
After lunch we take the Gibnut Trail. Roadside hawk, clay colored
robin, melodious blackbird, rufous mourner, rufous tailed hummer,
little hermit hummer. Ginger, cahune palms, hot lips, heliconias,
many legumes, mahogany, cecropia. Barbara soaked to the bone and
happy as a frog in water. Great hike and back to the road for one
last pee stop. And back we go Placencia a bit faster this time. The
dust in down but it is slow going on that bumpy road. Say goodbye
to Eric and Poppy comes to get us all and we are back to the boat.
Time to remove mud and shower. that was fun.

Our Captains dinner, he dresses for dinner, no tee shirt. Lee
announces that the Oceanwide owners in Holland have agreed to
refund you all $200. Margaret Betchart facilitated that one.
Lobster and mashed taters. For dessert we get Dale’s birthday cake
and ice cream. Happy Birthday to you, 39 again! Even presents! I
present our tips for the crew to the Captain. They did a great job,
all of them. We heartily appreciated all their work. They made our
trip comfortable and safe. A great big thanks.

And finally we have our closing circle. A few of our comments about
the trip.
Didn’t like the water too much, but liked the crew, the boat and
especially all of you. Life is like a reef with fish, all different
fishes, the milieu is the ocean or the boat. Comraderie, nice
moments, underwater assignments, 100 blue tangs, rotten bananas
full of birds, Lee is great and we worked well together, expertise,
superior people on the trip, not a birder but had a great time,
wonderful snorkeling, great crew on the boat, ship was a thrill.
Trepidation about first guided trip. Gotta stop and smell the
peccaries. Any table was great company. Nobody here that I can’t
stand. Look at the reef fish in different way, making connections.
Vignettes of beauty. Underwater at 10-15 for an hour doing several
assignments, it isn’t over yet Tikal here we come, highpoint was
diving. Beth keeping her journal. Feelings of gratitude for the
life paths crossed, chance to become enriched. High point was the
water, floating. More little fish than big fish and they all get
along well. The best people on Michaels trips. The two river trips-
Manatee and Monkey. assignment of watching fish, much more to see
and learn. Sailing ship. Meeting the Belizean guides who shared
their knowledge, friendship, grace. Thanks Belize. Roberto was
good. Spectacular little country with enormous diversity. Tying to
gain more understanding. Good to pause and look at things. Lee and
I make a good couple.

We leave our mooring after 10 and begin our 7 hour transit to
Belize City. Gibbous moon rising in the east in Virgo. Might be
fortuitous or it might not.

February 6, 1999: Up early again to pay our bills. Cute dimples of
Yvonne, we will miss her smile. Dolphins in the bay. We moor right
at the deep port and have a big blob of concrete on the port side
scrawled with graffiti… welcome back to the real world. Group
photos on the foredeck. We say goodbye to Earle, Terri, Al, Shenny,
Dale, Jeff and Lee. They all made it safe and sound back to their
respective worlds. The rest of us waited until 8:35 when Ramon
Valentine (Garifuna) of Windy Hill Resort came to pick us up.
Goodbye to the crew and Mondriaan. Off on the Western Highway
heading to San Ignacio. The kids of Belize are out on the highway
doing litter pickup, very inspiring and they look like they are
having fun too. We stop at the Guanacaste National Park for a pee
break and then onto Santa Elena/San Ignacio- the twin cities over
the Mocal River, flowing from Guat. Horse balls tree used for glue.
Up into the highlands, very prosperous with large farms, esp.
citrus. Many Mennonites in this region and we pass some Amish in a
horse drawn wagon. We stay an hour in San Ignacio because it is
the special Saturday market. An hour about does it. Then a short
mile trip to Windy Hill aka Graceland. After check in we eat a
delicious lunch, amazing Belizean tortillas. Best lunch of the
trip! At 2 we are leaving for the X ruin with Ramon and 2 other
guests who are amazingly enough from Lee’s hometown of Messana,
NY!! THey don’t know him. They say it is a very good place to leave
in the winter. We pass the Rose Toilet Paper CEO’s large house.
Raoul meets us at the handcranked ferry crossing. After crossing
the river some get a ride for one mile up to the ruin, the rest
walk. Many butterflies, green jay heard. Raoul is great and he is
glad to see us. The tourist season has been way off this year with
little work for him. We all meet at the VC and he gives a succinct
and clear overview of the Mundo de Maya. Lowland and highland
Mayans depended on each other. Granite, basalt, jade. 1) Isolated
mounds on tops of mts or forks of rivers 2) Residential cities 3)
Ceremonial centers. X was a ceremonial center. It didn’t decline
until 100 yrs after the others. Breadnut like acorns in CA.
Stellae- image of king. POLITICAL PROPAGANDA, impress/intimidate.
10% ruling class only. Bloodletting ceremony, stingray spine in
finger, penis or tongue, 13 layers into the upper world to talk
with ancestors in the mouth of a serpent. It took a powerful dose
of mushrooms, white water lily, and smoked leaf of cecropia to do
that without feeling pain. We are surrounded by Mennonites on a
field trip. 13 stories in the main temple. We climb up in a rain
downpour, all is perfect. Great view from the top, Obnoxious, loud,
drunk, stoned Canadians who we secretly hope fall off the ruin. At
900 AD there are 300 Mayan cities and one million people in Belize!
Changed the weather pattern, kings couldn’t predict weather, had to
sacrifice humans, civil war, royals attacked each other (Venus War
games). erosion of the soil and the whole bloody thing collapsed.
Really we don’t know why.

Whoops the site is closing and we head back down the ferry. Raoul
tells us that the word Maya actually means mysterious or elusive.
Back to the hotel for clean up, Dinner at 7, Mayan movie to follow
in the bar. Or so I thought. We are destined not to see that video
on this trip. George Carlin is swearing instead and most of us
can’t stand that and we head off to read about the Mayans in the
comfort of our rooms. Karoke goes on late into the night. Most of
us are missing the comforting rythum of the boats motion and don’t
sleep quite as well.

February 7, 1999: Well what do you know, the wake up knocks came on
time and the coffee is ready at 6:15. Breakfast is very very slow
but we manage to leave by 7:25. We have Hugo Estrada as our guide
for the day and Ramon as our driver. To the border in 15 minutes.
$4 US or $7.50 Belize conservation tax. Save your receipt!! Then a
walk across no-mans-land and officially enter Guatemala. Onto the
bus and we are off. Gallo is number #1 beer. It is foggy and very
pleasantly cool. Peace accord signed 3 yrs ago between the rebels
and the govt. Things seem to be getting better overall throughout
the country. 48K of bumpy and dusty road, 52 K paved and by next
year it all will be paved. That will bring many changes to the
region and not all of the good. 12 million in Guat, 21 ethnic
groups, 2nd largest land in CA (after Nicar.). We pick up our armed
soldier escorts. Only Windy Hill provides this service. There
hasn’t been an “incident” in over one year. Bullet hole in
windshield. NOT! Through the Peten. This region occupies 1/3 of
Guatemala with only 100 K pavement and little government interest.
75% of population subsistence farmers. Region opened with new road
in 1970, pop went from 15,000 to 50,000 in 8 years. 60 Spanish
descent families now rule Guat. Tourism now main industry.
Evangelical in rural, still Catholic in cities. Drove through
Caoba, a village that was wiped out by the military in the early
70’s, murdered most of the people. In 1420 AD Yucatac mayan came
into area to live. Last group of Mayans to be subdued by Spanish.
Onto the pavement and on toward Tikal. After entrance it is still
17K. Coati crosses the road. Hugo says that insects love tender
white skin and foreign blood. We begin at the model and Hugo gives
us an overview. The following are some of my general notes about
Tikal. It was a ceremonial site, far from the productive easy land
was built on a hill along trade routes. 1 sq mile of ceremonial
part. Mixed limestone powder with water and sap from Gumbo limbo
tree. Made huge catchment basin and had 13 large reservoirs. Univ
of Penn. came in 1956 for 11 years or so. Katun = 20 years. Feared
Gods would destroy if not placated by building and sacrificing.
Good luck and timing for Cortes. 3 types of buildings = palaces
(lived in), Pyramids, and temples. The elite Mayan were the
interface between the natural and the supernatural. They could
predict the seasons, eclipses and controlled time. The breadnut was
the source of most food, not maize. Ate little meat, sometimes dog,
deer (mostly) and turkeys (taste like tapirs). Lost world complex
excavated 1978-85, last one. Found earliest site at 800 BC. Last
wave of humans from Asia migrated into meso America 10,000 years
ago. Domesticated corn 3500 BC, beans 2500 BC. Currency was
chocolate. Tikal the Manhattan of CA. 2019 when the Mayan calendar
comes to an end.

Then we began our hike. Occelated turkeys, young jacanas, TKs,
kiskadees. Keel-billed toucans calling, sound like frogs chorusing.
Ceiba = national tree of Guat. Hugo gives us the Mayan creation
story which I mostly can’t remember because there were our first
spider monkeys around then. There were a couple of twins involved,
and there were 13 heavens, and the Cieba tree was there. It looked
like a Christian Cross to the Spanish.
Twin pyramids complex Q. red in east black in west, eternal circle
sun wheeling through underworld. First stella stop. Mayan believe
this place is full of spirits and left it alone for along time. 29
rulers + 2 unidentified ones. Blood letting ritual, pierce that
penis. Coatis walking around everywhere. Pyrite sacred sun mirrors
traded all the way from Arizona. 2 very cute gray foxes. Copal,
incense tree smelled. We see the Temple of the Jaguar being
reconstructed. Mayans invented zero but so what that’s nothing (get
it?). It is hot and we stand in the shade of a tree full of olive
backed euphonias while Hugo runs on and on. Oh where is Raoul? We
get some free time to clamber all over the ruins and use our
flashlights that nobody brought. Now the place is filling up with
Guatemalans because it’s free on Sunday. Temple III was last one
built and the only one that was visible before excavation. Pause
for a coke and turkeys. Into the Lost World, Mundo Perdido. 800 BC
temple, was trading center, small population. Story of fig wasps
mating with their sisters. The temple we don’t climb because we are
getting hungry and there is always tomorrow was the highest
building for 1000 years in the Americas, until the Woolworth
Building! A very long 5 minute walk back to the main parking area
and we search for Ramon and our lunch. It is 3 and we are now
famished. After lunch we check into the Jungle Lodge with a pool
and showers and we relax. See many keel billed toucans, spider
monkeys, heard howlers, red-lored parrot, Montezuma’s oropendula,
masked tityra.
We gather for dinner around 8 and sit near a group that is actually
louder than we are! After dinner we traipse outside for the leaf
cutter ant show. WAY COOL. And then there is the tarantula spider
with a beautiful red abdomen that I entice nearly completely out of
her hole. The insects are biting us so we retreat to bed. How many
are getting up tomorrow to see the sunrise from the temple???

February 8, 1999: Well 2 Bobs, Letty, Carol, Beth, Jean and I walk
to Temple IV for the sunrise. Except that it is foggy and full of
loud birdwatchers from Eagle Eye in Canada. Pat, Madeleine, Evan
and Jill I see later at the Acropolis looking at collared aricaris.
Not sure where Barbara and Kurt are, but later I found out that
they go a very special behind the scenes tour with Luis. Driving on
the perimeter of the Reserve in areas that are offlimits to the
normal tourists. Of course there is nothing normal about those two.
They were LUCKY and got to see more than most people could ever
hope to experience. Luis will be showing up in Saratoga soon and
expects a golf cart tour of San Jose and perhaps a nice pair of
binocs. His birthday is coming up soon. It twas a great morning of
birdwatching and peacefulness. I had several temples all to myself
for a long while. The weather is very pleasant, just beginning to
heat up by 11. My birds- collared aricaris, keel-billed toucans,
red-lored, white fronted and white crowned parrots, wood thrush,
Viol trogon, brown jays, bat falcon, slaty breasted tinamou,
chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackburnian, ovenbird warblers,
gnatcatcher, lineated, golden olived woodpeckers, vireo sp. and
more.

In the afternoon most return to the ruins, visit the two museums,
swim in the pool and/or shop shop shop. Sunset at 5:50. Back for
dinner and Habition #8 B buys all the red wine in the Peten Region
for a goodbye toast to Bob, Carol and Jean who will head off to
Antigua tomorrow. Thank you, Kurt and Barbara. Lightening bugs
delight the youngsters in the group. Definitely one neat thing that
California lacks.

February 9, 1999: Howlers wake many up in early AM. A big party,
males under stress. The rest of us get awakened by the ugly
birders. Our last peaceful morning in Tikal. Howlers are all around
us, toucans frogging, parrots screaming, oropendulas bottling, this
place is LOUD! Lunch at 12 and then off with Ramon and the pickup
truck full of our luggage. We stop at the airport to check the
bags. 4 of us stay and the rest take a quick shopping trip to
Flores. Bob and Letty get new belts. Our 14 seater Cessna arrives
on time. We say goodbye to our dear friends, Bob, Carol and Jean.
They are off to Antigua, a beautiful Colonial city. Have fun. Our
50′ flight is really a highlight. We can see some ruins from the
air and the pilot goes farther south than usual so we fly right
over the Maya Mts. Cockscomb, the Hummingbird Hiway, Placencia, the
Southern Lagoon. WOW, the flight is smooth, weather perfect, light
is grand, couldn’t be better and the landing soft. Everything going
so well until….. There aint no Batty Bro Bus waiting for us. I go
to reconfirm for tomorrow’s flight and call the bus company. The
guys are at the Domestic Airport and will be here in 20 minutes
(Belize minutes). Anyway they arrive and drive us into BC to the
Fiesta Inn. Whoops wrong hotel. The Raddison is very very quiet.
They are happy to have us here. We perk up the Dining hall with a
very nice dinner, especially after the Jungle Lodge food. We are
tired and ready to go home. The piles and piles of money are nearly
gone.

February 10, 1999: Well the Batty Bro. bus is late but no problema.
We are already checked in. Everything goes smoothly. Bob gets to
shop just a bit more, another bottle of Marie’s Hot Sauce. Everyone
gets home safe and sound. Until next time.

Species list:

Mammals:
Gray fox, puma (tracks) agouti, Paca (Royal Rat), Deppe’s
squirrel, coati, red brocket deer, Mexican black howler monkey,
Central American spider monkey, free-tailed bat, bat sp, long nosed
bat, Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, West Indian manatee.

Reptiles:
Black-tailed racer ?, boa constrictor, tropical coral snake (dead),
green iguana, spiny-tailed iguana (wish willy), anole lizard,
striped basilisk (Jesus Christ lizard), Barred Whiptail (Rainbow)
Lizard, Central American sliding turtle.

Amphibians:
Central American toad, marine toad (flattened), rainforest toad.

Miscellaneous Creepy Crawlers:
Tarantula, wolf spiders (eye shine spiders), magenta dragonflies,
lightening bugs, praying mantis, tree termites, leafcutter ants,
figwasp (we know they are in there), bull horn acacia ants, long
tailed swallowtail, giant swallowtail, mosquitoes, stingless bees,
tarantula hawk, brown witch moth, apple snails, morpho butterflies,
black flies.

Comments

Skills

Posted on

August 22, 2009