30 July 2018
First of all, we all made it to Blue Creek safe, sound, and tired. After two short flights, a minor paperwork mishap that was quickly resolved in Houston, and a quick trip through customs, we got to the buses around 1:30. As we all got onto the bus for what was to be a 5 ½ hour trip to Blue Creek, we had no idea what lay ahead. We had a great time racing though the Belizean countryside, and the views of the mountains (especially during the sunset) were unbelievable. We had a quick pit stop about an hour in to use the restroom, and the men’s room opened to a small mound of concrete! Not quite what we were expecting, but certainly not the most surprising thing we saw! Fifteen off-tune songs, three large packages of Oreos, several bottles of soda, and three gallons of water later, we arrived at Blue Creek in total darkness. As we pulled up, we were all surprised to see about a hundred people from the nearby village (total population: 450) swarming the doors to the bus asking if they could take our bags! As Doc Bruce put it, “I felt like Mick Jagger coming out of my tour bus!”. We then proceeded to hike for ten minutes by the light of our flashlight through the rainforest until we arrived at our cabins at Blue Creek. There we met the manager Byron and his family, who have been so kind and informative. Following an amazing dinner of chicken, rice, and broccoli we all called it a night and went to bed. Today (Tuesday) we are going to hear from one of the nearby village elders about ethnobotany, go cave snorkeling, and go into the village. It is so beautiful here, and we cannot wait to see what adventures we have along the way.
31 July 2018
Our first full day in the rainforest was nothing shy of amazing. We woke up in the lush green rainforest, the sun illuminating the world around us that we had come to in the dark last night. Our campsite is right on the creek, in which the water is clear enough to see all the way to the bottom at the deepest part. The first activity we embarked on was a botany hike. We followed a local shaman through parts of the forest by our camp as he told us about all the different leaves he uses to treat various illnesses. He showed us plants for snake bites, dizziness, kidney health, and fevers. The shaman pulled leaves and bark that are used to make teas. We also had the opportunity to eat some local fruits. The most popular was the fruit of the cacao tree. You can eat the fleshy part which is sweet and tart. The pit inside is what chocolate is made from. They take the pit and dry it so it can be ground up as cacao. Then vanilla and sugar cane is added and the chocolate is put in the fridge to harden. Our hike ended at the shaman’s house where he showed us some of the things he grew: banana, vanilla, sugar cane, lemongrass, and May apple. May apples attract toucans for their sweet taste but unfortunately there were no toucans in the tree. We’re hoping to see some fly above the canopy at sunrise tomorrow. We swam in the creek after our hike, diving off the dock and jumping from the rope swing. The water here is cold but feels refreshing in the humidity. Our next adventure followed a rocky hike up the mountain. We came to a cave in the valley of the mountains with the creek flowing from it. It was totally dark in the cave so we had to bring headlamps and flashlights with us. Going upstream wasn’t as hard as intended, the lifejackets were a huge help for us. Some parts were shallow and walkable and other parts were deep and we had to fight the current to get to a point on the wall we could grab. We followed a local guide who knew the cave like the back of his hand. He knew every underwater rock and hand hold through the rocky maze. One of the coolest parts was when we all turned off our lights. Total darkness consumed us immediately. We sat and listened to the rushing of the water echoing around us. Although our eyes were open, it was as if we were blind. We proceeded deeper into the cave until we reached a rapid that was too strong for us to climb our way through. We then turned around and made our way back, and the rapids were tricky to shimmy down. But once we were out of the cave, everyone agreed that it was by far the coolest thing they had ever done. We said that with confidence only after we had survived the hike and the venture into the cave. Overall, this first day in the rainforest exceeded any expectations I had of what it would be like here in Blue Creek. In closing, I am pleased to report that we are all tired but happy and having a blast.
1 August 2018
Our second day in Belize was more relaxed. In the morning we left camp immediately after breakfast to go on a monkey-spotting hike. We walked down a gorgeous path through the village past all of the houses, including one with a plucked chicken running around the yard. The path continued through rice and corn fields with the Mayan mountains in the distance. As we walked the path slowly disappeared until our guide took out his machete and began hacking at the corn and weeds to create a path in front of us. When we finally made it into the rainforest our guide left to search for the monkeys deeper in the jungle. The rest of us sat in silence on large leaves, brushing the ants off of our feet, and taking in the sounds of the rainforest. After hiking 2.6 miles in the burning sun the sudden downpour was welcome — until everyone was completely soaked and cold. Unfortunately, the rain meant that all of the howler monkeys went to hide, and we returned to Blue Creek. This afternoon a group of people went back to the caves to explore and found a place where part of the creek came out from underground. Upon their return we swam upstream to the rapids and climbed up to take advantage of the natural jacuzzi and massage. After dinner we learned how to play the game Mao — where the only rule is that you cannot say the rules of the game. At the end of the day we are all enjoying our time at Blue Creek Lodge.
2 August 2018
This morning, we said goodbye to Blue Creek Lodge and trekked down to the bus which would take us to Dangriga. However, our first stop along the way was a site of Mayan ruins! There was a small room displaying some pottery, stone carvings, and other artifacts recovered, and a short walk led us to a gorgeous forest with the remnants of numerous structures; notably, a couple tombs and a ball court! It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of these people who lived and walked here so long before us, and the view was absolutely stunning. Our next stop was the boat, and after a 45 minute ride, we made it to South Water Caye! As much fun as we had in the rainforest, I think all of us were glad to reach this beautiful place; especially with Reefboy there to greet us! After getting settled in, we went for a snorkel around the reefs relatively close to shore. It was amazing! We saw barracudas, a couple moray eels, stingrays, and a veritable rainbow of parrotfish, angelfish, flounder, and more. The reefs were picturesque, and the water was as clear as glass. It was an incredible afternoon! After our snorkel, we had a relaxing afternoon hanging around the island and researching our species of the day, which we shared after enjoying a fantastic dinner. We're all having a wonderful time and are super excited to see what tomorrow brings!
3 August 2018
I am writing yesterday's update on the morning of August 4th. Most everyone is still asleep and the island is quiet save for a cookin’ sea breeze and some bustle in the kitchen. Peter and Carson are making laps around the island, working on their football conditioning, but mostly, people are still in bed. It’s a peaceful Saturday in Belize. Yesterday was our first full day on South Water Caye, and it is so good to be back here. In the morning, we had breakfast at 8 with fryjacks, eggs, bacon, and pineapple (with accommodations for vegetarians and gluten-free people of course). At 9, we met on the dock, ready for our dive. We took a boat out to our first spot of the trip, called Aquarium, and it was an amazing snorkel. We saw an enormous southern stingray, a little hawksbill turtle, and all sorts of invertebrates in between, such as flamingo’s tongues and brittle stars. It was a good location and we were able to explore different habitats, from the coral itself to seagrass beds. After our dive, we came back in and had an exceptional lunch of fried rice. In the afternoons, how we spend our time is up to us, so Emily and I puttered around right off the docks here and searched for different species of algae, including our favorite of all time, Acetabularia. Everyone at camp enjoyed different snorkels around the island and I know the boys took out some kayaks for some post-lunch exercise. In the later afternoon, Emily and I decided a little siesta wouldn’t hurt anyone and took a nap in some hammocks in the sea breeze. After a nice 40 minute nap, I joined in a rousing game of 3 vs 3 volleyball before dinner. For dinner we had pork chops (or tofu for the veggies), a salad, baked potatoes, and bread pudding. After dinner we shared our best part of the day, worst part of the day, and what surprised us the most. Then we shared our Species of the Day, which is an interesting, educational part of the evening. I, personally, like to see the different species that people pick and why they pick them. In the evening, Emily and I tried to challenge Nicole and Bruce as reigning Euchre champions and got absolutely slaughtered with a score of 0-11. After our disappointing game, we went out and stargazed on the docks for a while before some of us headed in for an early bedtime. There is so little light pollution out here that you can actually see a large chunk of the milky way. It is truly one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever be, in my opinion. There are so many stars, the constellations just fade away and blend in. We counted shooting stars until we almost fell asleep before moving into our beds.
4 August 2018
This morning everyone woke up fairly early, no one slept in later than 7. We worked on our species of the day then had an amazing breakfast. Then we hopped on a boat and snorkeled at a beautiful reef. We saw nurse sharks, lionfish, a little stingray, and many colorful fish. I took a surprising nap on the bumpy boat ride back to South Water Caye. Everyone felt gross after being in the salt water so everyone took a shower. After that, everyone ate lunch and discussed our solider hermit crab projects. I then went on my independent snorkel and saw many Cassiopeia. Then I chilled in a hammock talking to people about what they saw on their independent snorkel. They saw Cassiopeia, bonefish and barracuda. We then all ate dinner and discussed our species of the day and now I am finishing up this email.
5 August 2018
This morning I woke up rejuvenated from a great night's sleep, and we had a great breakfast thanks to the amazing staff at South Water Caye. After the breakfast we had some free time to kill before we took a short boat ride to Carrie Bow Caye, the closest island to us and an established field station housing some of the finest marine biologists in the world. After meeting some of the biologists and taking a tour of the station we parted ways and took another short ride to the reef right off the island. We encountered many species I personally have never seen in the wild such as the spotted eagle ray and my favorite a juvenile trunkfish. We also encountered a nurse shark and smaller rays as well as many colorful and beautiful reef fish. After coming back from the snorkel we had a fantastic lunch once again because of the amazing staff, and now had another block of free time to either work on your species of the day or go for an independent snorkel. On this snorkel I had fun playing with the puppy-like bonefish and some baby Cassiopeia as well as some cute yellow rays. After coming back we chilled in the awesome hammocks enjoying each other's company and the sea breeze, after being awoken from a quick nap it was dinner time and we had a great family dinner and introduced our species of the day and that leads to now me writing this email.
6 August 2018
A bunch of the girls woke up early this morning to go to the classroom available to us. There we like to work on our species of the day, art projects, and figuring out what species latin/ scientific name we wish to memorize and present. After about an hour of working we had breakfast, every meal break has been amazing and today we had chocolate chip pancakes. After breakfast we all hurried to get ready because we had to leave for our morning snorkel earlier than we are used to. Today we snorkeled the four reef slope, the front side of the barrier reef. We were all super excited for today's snorkel since we had never snorkeled that side of the island before. When we hopped off the boat we were greeted with a deeper, and a very different coral reef than we had ever seen. The ocean was a bit on the rougher side so most of us just let the waves push us along as we gazed at schools of discofish and black durgeon (a particular favorite of mine). Once again we saw a spotted eagle ray and some saw some squids, overall it was an amazing dive with different species than we had been seeing. After the morning snorkel, we came back to the island and ate lunch, after lunch we had free time to work on our projects, do our independent snorkel and just chill out. A few of us had fun during this time looking for shells to make into necklaces. We all came to dinner a half an hour early to present our species of the day, we did this because right after dinner we would be embarking on our night snorkel. The night snorkel presented a whole new world. We went out to the patch reef we had snorkeled the first day, but it had completely changed in the night, nocturnal creatures now sat on top of the coral heads and we were able to see multiple octopuses, squid, plankton and shrimp. One octopus we were looking at for awhile kept camouflaging itself right before our eyes, and it was incredible. When we got back to the island we all finished up our hermit crab experiments, and fell asleep easily after a long fun day. We are all sad that tomorrow is our last full day at the island, but also happy to get home as well.