Thursday, March 12, 2009


Today was the team’s second consecutive day off and Isabelle’s birthday. Donna fixed a quick breakfast of eggs with vegetables and much of the team headed out early to catch a water taxi to Belize City, with plans to visit a baboon sanctuary and ancient Mayan ruins.

Jen P. awoke with a severe case of heat stroke after her day spent on Ambergris Caye, and the ladies in the cabana suffered from lack of sleep due to Choncho’s antics. Dr. Sherisse and Eve stayed behind to look after Choncho and Charlie, and get some needed rest.

Gina and Anna revisited Hol Chan Reef, this time to do some diving. It had been about eight years since Gina’s last diving trip. “We dove with sharks and sea turtles,” explained Anna. “We dove about sixty feet, so it was a pretty shallow dive.”

Once in Belize City, we met with our tour guide, Phillip Elliott, and hopped on his tour bus, headed for the baboon sanctuary just outside of a community called Bermudan Landing. En route, Phil provided the group with ongoing commentary of all the city’s sights and buildings. Soon we arrived at the baboon sanctuary, nestled in jungle bordering the Belize River. Shane, who has cultivated a bond with a family of baboons (or black howler monkeys), was an able guide, explaining to us the significance of the surrounding vegetation (such as mimosa pudica, or "sensitive plant") and the monkeys’ behaviour, calling out to the monkeys so that we could hear their cry. They are one of the loudest land mammals, perhaps only surpassed by lions.

A black howler monkey in the trees above

Shane seated beside a two-hundred-year-old banyan tree

Chris, Jackie and Corinne ate live termites and agreed that their taste is much like that of carrots. He pointed out a two-hundred-year-old Banyan (fig) tree, brought to this country from Africa, and its impact on the monkeys’ habitat.

Shane, our impressive guide

“I was very impressed with how conservation-minded he was. Very knowledgeable,” said Caitlin.
The team made their way down a path to the Belize River, home to many crocodiles. In the heat of the late morning, many members of the team jumped in for a quick dip before heading back to the bus, their clothes sopping wet.

The group stands before the crocodile-infested Belize River

Phil drove us to our lunch stop, a small restaurant surrounded by gardens with all kinds of beautiful flowers, as well as a captive howler monkey.

A caged and lonely howler monkey

A short distance from there was Altun Ha, which translates as “rock, stone, water”, the site of excavated Mayan temples. In The Moon Temple, archeologists found seven different tombs with over three hundred pieces of jade objects and hieroglyphic writings. Much of the excavation project was funded by Canada. Surrounded by jungle, Altun Ha was the source of many pieces housed at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, including pottery and the priceless jade head.

One of the many Mayan temples excavated at Altun Ha

“Altun Ha’s main attraction is the Sun God Temple. Every level has an altar on top,” explained Phil. This was the site of many animal sacrifices. The hills surrounding the ruins are like an onion skin – layer on top of layer. Every fifty-two years, the Mayans would change the design of the structure, building one building on top of another.

The group climbed the ruins’ steep steps, amazed at the structures and their history.

Phil gets under the bus to repair it

By this time, it was late in the afternoon and the team boarded the bus on its way back to Belize City so that they could catch the last water taxi back to Caye Caulker. Approximately forty minutes away from the city centre, Phil’s bus broke down and we were stalled at a gas station in the countryside for at least half an hour, which caused us to miss our boat. Luckily, Phil was able to work out a deal so that we could make it home to the island via a boat hired especially for our group. The boat coasted confidently through rough waters, guided by the light of a full moon.

The team gathered at a nearby restaurant to celebrate Isabelle’s birthday and enjoy a chocolate birthday cake prepared by Idalmi, and it was another early night for the hard-working team.

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