Tarantulas are cool, but not in the kitchen...

Trip Start Sep 10, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Flag of Belize  ,
Friday, November 17, 2006

One thing is for sure: in keeping with the laid-back nature of this country, the only thing Belizean buses have in common with Guatemalan buses is that they are both converted school buses. We caught a very uncrowded bus (meaning only two people to a seat instead of three or more) to Belmopan. The driver refrained from using his horn, passing on blind curves, and even came to a complete stop to let passengers on and off. How relaxing! We switched buses for one headed to Dangriga, where we put some of our junk in storage at a hotel we would return to in a few days for Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations. Then we had the best food of our trip thus far, BBQ chicken with rice and beans (rice with red beans mixed in), NOT to be confused with beans and rice (stewed beans sitting on top of white rice), and delicious homemade juices at a roadside stand run by an older Garifuna woman. We caught our third bus of the day to Maya Center, a little village of Mayas that were displaced from lands they were farming to create our intended destination: Cockscomb Wildlife Basin. We hired a taxi to take us the last six miles to the reserve's entrance. The driver, an extremely short Maya man, told us he had frequently seen jaguars on the road we were driving on. Preserving jaguar habitat is the primary goal of the reserve, but the locals haven't reaped the promised benefits of tourism that its creation was supposed to bring since most people book day tours from bigger tourist centers. We arrived just before dark, checked in with the guard, and set up our tent under a thatched roof shelter. We headed down to the communal kitchen to prepare some mac and cheese and discovered that we would be sharing the space with a decent-sized tarantula camped out on the counter, although I later took pity on it and moved it (via a tray, spatula, and pot) outside where it could roam freely. While Matt was leaned over the sink doing dishes, I looked up and saw an even bigger one crossing a wooden beam just above his head. I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him backward before he knew what was happening. The guard encouraged us to go for a walk on the main road to look for jaguars that night. We didn't stay out long, still being in the early to bed-early to rise habit, and didn't see anything. However, some Belize Audubon Society volunteers driving in later that night reported seeing one sitting in the middle of the road! The next morning we went on an early morning stroll and saw some amazing birds like a blue-crowned motmot and collared aracaris (like toucans, but smaller). Matt says that I am turning into a bird nerd, it may be true... We also saw a little crocodile in a lagoon and large butterflies. We returned to the kitchen, now tarantula free, for our breakfast staple of oatmeal, then headed out to hike the Tiger Fern Trail up to some amazingly pristine waterfalls with deep clear pools that we had to ourselves. We spent a good part of the afternoon hanging out there, then did a couple of other short trails until dusk, seeing a few more birds, some large three-toed tapir tracks in the mud, and hearing the ever-elusive black howler monkeys roaring in the distance. We were too tuckered out to look for jaguars that night, so headed to bed after dinner. The next morning went much the same as the day before, oatmeal followed by a hike to a "lesser" but still beautiful waterfall to swim in. After lunch, we opted to save money by walking the 6 miles out to Maya Center instead of taking a taxi. It was hot and our packs were heavy, but it was worthwhile for a rare sighting. Two tayras crossed the road in front of us. At the time, we had no idea what they were, and assuming that you don't either, they are in the weasel family, black bodies with long legs and a long tail, a white head and face that looks like a squished up badger. Our feet were relieved when we made it to the highway where we quickly caught a bus up to Dangriga. All in all, it was a great escape into nature before what we thought would be an overwhelming dose of cultural partying...
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