We Can’t Belize It’s Over!

We’re back! After a full day of traveling, we landed in Boston at 1:00am. However, we could not continue the journey to our beds before first wishing Eric a happy 20th birthday and saying all of our goodbyes. We could not have asked for a better group of students to spend the month with, so it was sad to see everyone disperse!

Let’s take a quick look back on our experience in Belize. We gained many things along the way: new friends, skills in bird watching and fish taxonomy, additional weight to our luggage (as a result of moisture, Mayan crafts, and Marie Sharp’s), and, of course, lots of knowledge. We learned about the work that Programme for Belize is doing to stop illegal rainforest logging and how to cure ailments with tree bark. We had adventures in snorkeling, cave swimming, and zip lining. We quickly realized that tucking our pants into our socks was worth the embarrassment, and we learned the distinction between beans and rice and rice and beans. We caught pumas on camera traps, harbored botflies, and climbed up to the tops of ancient Mayan temples. Peter and our other fantastic guides were invaluable to our learning experience, but we also learned from each other; each student brought something really unique to the group. We had an amazing time.

Needless to say, we can’t Belize it is over. This is the last post for our JanPlan in Belize blog. Thanks for reading!

-Emily and Sarah

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Last Night in Belize

Our last morning on South Water Caye was bittersweet. After a late breakfast and some last minute packing, we gathered on the dock for a final group picture. It was sad to say goodbye to the island staff (and the kittens), but we had a fun boat ride to look forward to. We slowly cruised our way out of the bay and into the Caribbean Sea, and although at first it seemed like a leisurely boat ride, we soon found out that there was a reason the crew were wearing rain jackets. Large swells, white caps, and wind accompanied us for the next half hour as we were sprayed and tossed around in the boat. Once we arrived in Dangriga, many of us wiped salt from our faces and had bruises on our butts. That being said, there were smiles all around.

Group Photo: South Water Caye

Group photo just before leaving the island. Photo Credit: Brian Kim

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Snowstorm in New England, Sun in Belize

We woke up this morning to clearer skies and calmer seas. The group split up this morning as some went scuba diving, others went snorkeling, and a few stayed on the island to rejuvenate. The group who snorkeled went back to the fore reef for the second time and saw an even more diverse environment than before. Those who dove got to experience the wall reef at the drop off near the island.
The day was filled with highlights for many of the students. A highlight for those who snorkeled was seeing a school of eagle rays and swimming with them. Swimming above such an expansive reef was a really unique experience. Those who went scuba diving managed to see a white spotted toadfish that is endemic to Belize. They were very excited to be able to explore the deeper waters up close.
Our afternoon snorkel consisted of watching coral to account for any bleaching or damage to the environment. Through using Coral Health Charts, each pair identified ten different corals and marked down the lightest and darkest colors of the coral. When back on shore, we also tallied up the number of botflies that struck our group. We’ve settled with 16 botflies among the whole group, with Professor Cole taking the lead with seven botflies. Albertha, Alex, Peter, and Cara get honorable mentions for their botflies.
The sunsets on the island never cease to be amazing and tonight was no exception. The view was best by the bar where many of us congregated to appreciate the view. Island life has been more relaxing than the past three stations. We’ve been able to have several snorkeling trips but have had plenty of time to get to know each other better over games like Anagrams and volleyball. Though the weather wasn’t always ideal, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our stay here. Tomorrow we have a full day ahead of us and then off to the US it is!

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– Cara and Olivia

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Day 18: Botflies and Beautiful Reefs

A cold blustery Belizean day (about 60 degrees Fahrenheit) chilled us for most of the morning here in South Water Caye. Due to the rough conditions of the water farther from the protection of the island, we had an optional snorkel along the shoreline. The water was too murky to see much, but some students saw small mantis shrimp and a juvenile highhat among some of the rocks by the dock. A few students stayed on land, since the water was a bit cold, but they did see a couple of dolphins in the distance, much more than those of us that decided to brave the water.

Professor Russ Cole takes the record with 7 out of the 14 Colby botflies Photo Credit: Hannah Kwasman

Professor Russ Cole takes the record with 7 out of the 14 Colby botflies
Photo Credit: Hannah Kwasman

The day took a turn for the exciting after lunch, when a few students, and Professor Russ Cole, went through an entertaining (for the viewers) process of removing the botfly larvae that had taken up residence under their skin. Before arriving on the skin of Colby students, botfly eggs are lain by adult botflies on mosquitos, which then transfer those eggs onto the host. The heat of the host causes the larvae to hatch from the eggs and burrow into the skin. In order to remove a botfly larva, one must cut off its breathing hole to kill it, which causes it to surface and then be removed. At the end of the day, five parasitic botflies out of the fourteen known botflies in the Colby group were removed.

 

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Day 17: A Low Caye Day

Overall, today could be categorized as an off day. Due to poor weather conditions carrying over from yesterday, the currents were deemed too strong and the water too murky to merit a trip out on the water. Instead the group spent the morning inside the classroom learning about some of the more popular aquatic species we have seen so far. The final presentation, given by Brian, Eric, and the two Olivia’s was a special treat because their topic was terrestrially related instead of aquatic. The group of four conducted a tour of the island plant life that could be found around the IZE grounds. Ironically, most of the flora was indigenous to the Indo-Pacific tropical regions and not locally here. This is due to the aesthetic appeal and popularity of plants native to areas across the globe such as the coconut palm.

We were given the afternoon off because the weather still had yet to clear, but this did not deter us from enjoying the activities of the beach anyway. There was no shortage of volleyball games, tanners, readers, swimmers, paddle boarders, or kayakers. With one group of swimmers spotting an eagle ray and a couple barracuda.

Brian and Nancy Sinatra enjoy a mid-afternoon catnap

Brian and Nancy Sinatra enjoy a mid-afternoon catnap

In the evening, one of our guides, Ben, took Gracie and Kel out trawling in his boat with a couple of the other employees. This provided them with a unique experience, hanging out with a group of locals in an alternative setting and the added bonus of possibly catching a big fish with the sun setting in the background.

Hopefully the weather clears tomorrow and we’ll be able to get back in the water!

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Day 16: Bonefish and Alex Birds

Gracie caught a bonefish today! Having become obsessed with fly-fishing on a JanPlan trip to California last year, she brought her fly rod to Belize, dead set on catching a bonefish. Why it had to be this specific species remains a mystery to me, but early this morning she finally did it!

Gracie and her prized bonefish!

Gracie and her prized bonefish! – Picture from Gracie Baldwin

Some bad weather was supposed to move in this afternoon (don’t worry parents, so far it’s only a little windy!), so we only snorkeled once today. We left earlier than usual and headed to Twin Cayes, a nearby island that is bisected by a saltwater channel. We snorkeled in the channel for protection from the wind and the waves, and to look at the mangroves, the epiphytes that grow on their prop roots, and the juvenile fish that live between them. We left our fins behind to avoid stirring up the sediment and making the water murky, but the waves had already accomplished that. Because the water was so murky, it was hard to see anything at first, but once we got accustomed we saw a lot of upside-down jellyfish, various juvenile fish, a crab, and even a barracuda!

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Day 15: Second Day at South Water Caye

Today we woke up early again for a quick breakfast and then a presentation on Coral Reef Organisms by Sola and Tracy. The presentation was very interesting and informative including an overview of the various phyla, warnings about toxic and poisonous marine organisms, and threats to the coral reef system such as bioerosion and ocean acidification.

birds

We got on two boats with our snorkeling gear at 10 am and headed out on to the water. We started by motoring to Bird Island, which is a reserve that is home to Brown Boobies and Frigatebirds. In particular the male frigatebirds were very spectacular with their huge red air sacs that takes them 20 minutes to completely blow up in order to attract their mates. We also threw sticks into the air that the frigatebirds would dive down and snatch up with their beaks, for their nests.

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Day 14 – Welcome to South Water Cay

Our first full day at South Water Cay was BOSS. We started the day with an amazing sunrise over the mangroves. After a typical Belizean breakfast (eggs and beans), we had our first lecture on coral reef fish. Emily and Gracie presented information regarding reef formation, fish behavior, niche strategies, and talked about some of the broad groups of reef fish we might see. In addition, fun facts included toxins and venoms to avoid. Then grabbed our snorkel gear (and applied lots of sunscreen, don’t worry mom) and hit the water! This was the first time snorkeling for about half the group, so we split into two groups: beginners and experienced snorkelers. The first group was given guidance on how to snorkel without damaging the reef, while the more experienced group had some time to refresh their skills. While on our very first snorkel trip we saw two Spotted Eagle Rays who serenely glided below our group before unceremoniously snuffling through the sand for small prey.

Eagle Ray gliding away from approaching snorkelers ~Jessie Batchelder '17

Eagle Ray gliding away from approaching snorkelers ~Jessie Batchelder ’17

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Day 13 — Blue Creek to South Water Caye

January 21, 2015

The girls woke up to an early splash as the boys jumped in for one last swim in Blue Creek. It was nice for us to see familiar faces of the locals with whom we baked tortillas and spent a homestay as they helped carry our bags back to the bus. Our first stop on our journey to South Water Caye was Lubaantun, an ancient Maya ruin site. It was fascinating to see the location where a supposed crystal skull was found and to compare this place with the other two ruin sites we had previously visited.

From here, we traveled to Hopkins where we had a traditional Garifuna lunch. We watched them mash up plantains, which they then put in a fish soup. It was definitely different from the food we eat at home and didn’t settle so great in some of our stomachs unfortunately. After lunch, we listened to a local group in the restaurant play the drums and watched them dance around. They invited us up to dance and we had a great time goofing off on the mainland one last time before the island.

From here, we took a fast boat from Dangriga to South Water Caye and fortunately none of us were seasick (especially after that lunch). Upon arriving to the island, we were all mesmerized by the salty air and the seclusion in such a breathtaking place. Most of us took advantage of the ocean before the sunset and jumped right in. We watched the sunset together, a beautiful finish to a wonderful day!

Our first sunset at South Water Caye -- Emily Walker '16

Our first sunset at South Water Caye — Emily Walker ’16

 

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Day 12 – Cultural Day at Blue Creek

This morning started off a little later than usual because many people were coming back from their homestays at different times. Everybody came back with very interesting stories from their nights! Once we finally got organized, we set off to visit the local high school, called Tumul K’in Center of Learning. Tumul K’in translates to New Beginnings in Ke‘chi Maya. This school is a non-governmental Mayan organization that promotes sustainable development with identity through intercultural education, training, and research by fusing modern and traditional ideas. Shortly after arriving, we hiked up a hill to the school’s radio station and multi-media center, called Ak’kutank 91.6 FM. While recovering their breath from the hike, Grace, Eric, Emily, Jari, and Gracie were ushered into the recording room to share their experiences in Belize with local Mayans. We definitely weren’t expecting to be broadcasted around the country, but it was a very cool experience. Russ, Peter and Sarah also had their five minutes of fame too, as they explained their experiences from a professional standpoint. Next, the principal introduced the rest of the school to us, showing us some of their livestock research and a PowerPoint on the school’s history. On the way back to the campsite, we stopped by the local elementary school to drop off some school supplies and look around the classrooms, even though the kids were gone for lunch.

The group prepares for ziplining

The group prepares for zip lining. Photo credit Russ Cole.

After we continued on to get our own lunch, we had the opportunity to go zip lining for a discounted price if we wanted to. Fifteen people ultimately decided to participate, and had an awesome time soaring above the creek. The course was composed of 9 different lines, the highest of which was a whopping 200ft in the air. All the zip liners ended up having an awesome experience. The rest of the group stayed back at camp to swim and rest up for the afternoon’s activities. Next, we headed into town, where the local villagers had set up stations selling all their homemade crafts.

Kel makes friends with some of the local children after purchasing his crafts

Kel made friends with some of the local children near the craft area. Photo credit Tori Brown.

After loading up on souvenirs, we headed back to the high school again to learn about the Marimba. Not only did we get to watch the students perform the Marimba, but we also got to join in and try it ourselves.
Once we finally wore ourselves out from all the dancing, we headed back for a special candlelight dinner at the Blue Creek campsite. As an added surprise, we even got ice cream for our last night! While we finished digesting all the great food, a few locals came to tell us ghost stories. It was a great ending to a great stay at Blue Creek. We look forward to leaving for South Water Caye tomorrow!

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