Letter from Belize no. 60, Part 2

10th February 2017

As I mentioned in Part 1, Pat and I managed to do some wonderful sight seeing while she was here. The first was, for us, an exceptionally well timed trip organised by the Garden Club to a Mennonite community in Blue Creek on the western border with Mexico. What a contrast to the farmland around here – well kept roads, manicured verges, rolling pastures, fat, healthy animals.

Click on any of these photos for a larger view.

We were taken to an egg producing chicken farm and a rice processing mill.

In the afternoon we saw a beef farm, how a savanna (wetland or vlei) had been drained to grow rice, how water was harnessed to produce power, how a swimming pool was built on a natural spring and needed to be neither filled nor treated with chemicals. It was fantastic, inspiring. They also gave us a wonderful lunch and I came away with loads of chicken manure. Some Mennonite communities remain very closed and have little to do with others outside of the community apart from business associations but the Blue Creek community are very open, charming and welcoming.

One of the highlights for both me and Pat was our day in Sarteneja. Sartenja is a small fishing and traditionally a boat building village across the bay from Corozal. We took the water taxi in the early morning and were met by the sweetest man called Danicio who drove us wherever we wanted to go negotiating the worst of roads you could imagine in his beat up trusty truck. We went first to Shipstern which is a nature reserve where great work is being done to replant forest that was over logged as well as stopping continuing logging, hunting and at the same time offering education programmes.

After a great breakfast where we had this amazing drink of watermelon whisked with powdered milk mmmmm to die for...

... our guide Lester took us on a bird walk and then through the forest pointing out unique tree species and finally to the look out tower which I managed to climb!! Last time I went there were loads of people and I decided I needed lots of time with no-one hustling and with patient encouragement from Lester I got to the top.

From the top you are way above the tree canopy and you can see Sartenja village, Corozal across the bay, Chetumal in Mexico and Shipstern’s own lagoon.

See: VisitShipstern.com

So after that Danicio picked us up and took us to a place in the village for lunch and then on to the best thing ever and something I have been wanting to do ever since I came to Belize. A visit to Wildtracks. This is a Manatee rehab centre and also, since 2010, a primate rehab centre. It is run by an English couple who have lived in Belize for over 30 years and staffed by volunteers who come from all over the world. Manatees closest relative is the elephant, biologically speaking. They are huge, gentle mammals which grow to around 10 feet in length weighing in at around 1000 pounds. They eat 100 to 150 lbs of vegetation daily, mainly sea grass. They are in huge danger with the increase in boat traffic and those that wind up at Wildtracks are babies who have lost or got separated from their parents or adults who have been damaged by boat propellers. Oh gosh, how to describe how moving it was. We were shown around by a young Canadian woman who started off as a volunteer and then loved it so much she persuaded them to give her a permanent job. All the young we spoke to were inspired and inspiring and just having the best time.

This is Hope who was swept ashore by hurricane Earl last August and separated from her mother. She was hungry and de-hydrated and is still on 3 to 4 hourly feeds. Her volunteer feeds her a mixture sent down from Florida, after which she is sung to by another volunteer John (above right) and then takes a nap on a comforting lap.

They have loads of contact with people to try and match the physical contact they would have naturally with their mothers. After graduating from a series of small tanks over many months, years even, they are taken into a sort of holding area in the lagoon teaching them about a bigger world and to forage for their own water grass.

After being in here for some time the manatees are taken into the lagoon and closely monitored, still having contact with their human carers. And gradually, when it is certain that they are ready, they are taken out into the open sea. There was one on each side of this dividing fence – you saw their noses and bubbles rather than the rest of them.

There is also a primate rescue section at Wildtracks but the public are not allowed near the cages so as not to disturb them or bring in any infections. Again the care given to them is fantastic and they will be rehabilitated when they are ready.

We did manage to see these couple of baby howler monkeys with their volunteer surrogate mums.

See: wildtracksbelize.org

After the Open Day we went to Caye Caulker for 2 nights starting in the early morning on the water taxi again.

I mean really... can you beat that?

But I have to say Caye Caulker was a disappointment for me – and for Pat in fact. I have been going there for 5 years now and it is no longer the Go Slow island of no cars or golf carts, of single storey houses, and not many people. It has sold its soul to the Dollar. It has grown up and out, you have to get out of the way of golf carts, a new generator has been brought in to cope with the increased demand for power and all 4 generators are noisy and belch out nasty smoke. The far end of the island where all the young usually hang out and swim is currently a building site, it is very expensive (100% up on items like water and milk) and for me the bottom line was seeing a line of jet skis parked on a strip of beach. On the day we left I counted 8 boats each with 15 to 20 or more people over at the reef for snorkeling. It’s just too bad. Eco tourism? I don’t think so. Is it sustainable? I don’t think so.

BUT the internet is really fast and I loved the pelicans and the frigate birds.

and watching the changing colours of the water

And that wasn’t all because when we got back we were taken for a sail on a Hoby Cat all around Corozal Bay by Gerard who runs the Corozal Sailing Club which teaches young Belizean children to sail competitively. It was so exhilarating and such fun to see Corozal from the other side as it were as well as Ceros Maya site from the sea instead of fighting off the mosquitoes who guard it jealously if you visit from the land. I couldn’t take my camera with us for fear of dunking it so had to settle for this photo taken back on shore.

That took us almost to Pat’s last day. We went for one last bird watch with Hugo and the gang, this time not at the Retreat but at the savanna (wetland) a couple of miles from here. Again, loads of birds to add to the list

On Pat’s very last morning were graced with these 2 less common birds.

So all round a great visit and thanks to Pat for coming and for all her input.

Love to all

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