Saturday, April 26, 2008

Belize trip: day 0

Island Expeditions calls the first day of your trip "day 0". The idea being that you need a day to arrive and adjust to being there, the real trip doesn't start until the next day. Although, they do pack in a few things on Day 0, in this case a trip to the Tropical Education Centre (TEC) and an after-dark visit to the Belize Zoo.

I arrived at the Belize International Airport at noon, it was over 30C and sunny. For me, blindingly hot. Waited at the airport for a few more participants to arrive and then we were shuttled to a nearby Biltmore hotel, where we waited poolside for the rest of the group to arrive. The hotel is set up in a horseshoe shape with a private courtyard containing a large enclosure of birds, a pool, and a poolside bar. And lots of trees and flowers, very pleasant.

By about mid-afternoon everyone had arrived and we got in our tour bus to go to the TEC where we are to spend our first night in very nice wood, canvas and screen cabanas.

Our guide at this point was Juan Carlos, who gave us a little lecture on the culture and ethnic make-up of Belize before a delicious Belizean dinner. Rice and beans cooked in coconut milk and chicken of one sort or another figure big in Belizean dinners.

The TEC had several other guests, some of whom were engaged in research and documentation on Belizean wildlife.

Night happens fast. A few minutes past 6pm the sun sets and within a half hour it is dark. So at 7pm we set out for the Belize Zoo, just a short way down the road from the TEC.

The Belize Zoo is different from most zoos. It was founded by a woman who wanted to provide a home for jungle animals used in the movie industry. Over the years they have added orphaned and injured animals, all of whom are native to Belize, many of whom are now rare in the wild. So many of these animals have been hand-reared, many have become quite tame. The zookeepers give them names, call them by name and generally treat them like pets.

So for example, we were introduced to two jaguars, C.T. (named for Crooked Tree, the village near which he was found) and Junior. We were told not to stick our fingers through the enclosure fence when C.T. was around because he would take them, but Junior liked to be petted so we were invited to reach through the fence to touch him. You don't get to wander through the Belize Zoo on your own, the zookeepers guide you, explain what you are seeing, and provide food to entice shyer animals to approach the fence. Quite an amazing experience.

Our guide did an excellent imitation of a howler monkey to get the howlers going, they make such a huge roar that it is hard to believe that they are actually quite small monkeys. The jaguars were of course a big hit with us, as was the puma, but all of us stood well back from the wild pigs who were excited to see us but were incredibly rank smelling. Gross!

This is April the tapir...

I had to get up around 3am Toronto time to get my 6.30am flight, and Toronto is two hours ahead of Belize, so by the Belize clock I had been up and active since 1am. I just staggered through the zoo and was good and ready to collapse into bed when we got back to the TEC. Island Expeditions combines two trip groups on the first day, there were 5 of us doing the Paradise Islands trip and 11 on the Glover's Reef trip. I was sharing my cabana with Carol, a 30-something woman from Chicago on the Paradise Islands trip. We continued to share sleeping accommodations for the rest of the trip. All of the people on the Paradise Islands trip were American except me (and Sam, who did not join us until the next day) and there were two Canadians on the Glover's Reef trip, a mother and son.

When I first met Carol at the hotel, and she introduced herself as being from Chicago, I had a kind of gut reaction of "oh! a neighbour!" I don't know why but I have this feeling of Chicago being a kind of sister-city to Toronto. Carol told me later she felt the same thing. The other interesting thing was that whenever I introduced myself to any of the Americans, they all immediately lit up at the mention of Toronto, they thought it was an interesting or nice city to be from. What a difference from how Canadians react! If you're from Toronto, you don't want to share that with other Canadians, it's somehow a shameful thing to admit. So it was kind of nice to get that reaction from Americans not in the know about what a terrible place Toronto is to be from.

One thing I forgot to mention about Day 0, I arrived in Belize with a cold. It was so annoying! I thought I was finally over the endless series of colds, only to have it return on holiday! But, I had brought along a serious supply of vitamin C and I started eating that right away at the hotel, washing it down with litres and litres of water. After several gallons of water and grams of vitamin C I think I licked it. Mind you, it meant multiple trips to the toilet during the night, but small price to pay. I kept it up on Day 1 as well, but I am pretty sure I was out of the woods by the time I woke up that day. Whew! And amazing how effective water is!

Back to trip summary
On to Day 1...


Anonymous said...

Does the tapir have a perversely designed face...or do I have a perversely designed mind?

Zabetha said...

I dunno Gretel, what exactly are you thinking? Hmmm?