Rachel and I just completed 6 weeks at Belize Bird Rescue. It has been quite an experience. During our time there we received 16 intakes and we are pretty amazed at how much we handled – and mostly by ourselves – though Dr Shannon Riggs was always just an email away. Our bare-throated tiger heron was released, our white hawk will be released next week. Our barn owl babies are growing like weeds on a diet of chicken with bones, beef and rat, and should be released in 2-3 weeks. Our nighthawk from Placencia caused some trouble – it came in with a fractured coracoid which healed beautifully and then during a very loud thunderstorm it fractured its mandible in its reptarium. We fashioned a splint out of a plastic q-tip and tegaderm, amazingly, the fracture actually healed, and that bird was released. One of the non-releasable aracaris developed a pretty severe infection in its hocks at the beginning of our stay and not only did we get the infection under control, the bird also regained full range of motion. All of the parrots that came in are settled and doing well. This experience has actually been quite incredible. We went from a center that has everything available to a center with very little available (most of the things we are used to are just not in Belize) and not only did we cope, we did well. We are both so very thankful for this experience and I have a feeling we will both be back in the future.
Yesterday Devin and Matt flew in to Belize, we met them at the airport and then headed to Orange Walk in northern central Belize. We are staying at Hotel de la Fuenta, a nice little hotel in the middle of Orange Walk with a very helpful and friendly staff. Today we took a boat about 20 miles up New River to the Mayan settlement of Lamanai. The boat ride was incredible – we saw so many birds! And bats, and crocodiles and monkeys! We were the first ones the boat picked up and Rachel informed the captain that we are bird people, so he went out of his way to look for birds for us and stop the boat as he could. It was amazing.
Once we reached the ruins we stopped at the picnic tables and enjoyed a lunch of rice and beans and stewed chicken. We then toured the small museum at the site and hiked through the jungle to the temples. We saw three different temples, a residential area and a ball court – though the guide told us that there are more than 700 buildings in the area. He also informed us that they are not allowing access to all of them because they want to save them for future generations. The first temple was the Mask Temple which had two large carved faces on either side of the stairs. Rachel, Devin, Matt and I all climbed to the top where we had a really nice view of the river. The second temple was the High Temple at a towering 108 feet – it is the third tallest structure in the Mayan world. I climbed about halfway up and once seeing that a rope was needed to get to the very top, decided I was fine where I was. The rest of our group did make it to the top – I heard the view was incredible and that you could see Mexico and Guatemala from that vantage point. The next area was called the Royal Complex where we saw the foundations of a village which opened to a large field and the Temple of the Jaguar Masks. On either side of the stairs of that temple there are images of jaguars – though you do need to use your imagination a bit to see them. I thought that this temple was the most impressive – it was beautiful and it appeared to have a tree coming up out of the top of it. This completed our tour and we went back on the boat.
On the boat ride back to Orange Walk, the boat took a loop in the river that we had passed on the way up. We stopped at a bend where a spider monkey was swinging through the trees. Our guide handed a passenger on the boat a banana to give to the monkey – which the monkey happily accepted. This kind of thing is very common in Belize but unfortunately these “friendly” animals often are captured and kept at resorts or stores to impress tourists. It is illegal to own a monkey in Belize and we know that the Forest Department has done several dozen monkey confiscations in the last two months. There is a monkey rehabilitation group in northern Belize called WIldTreks and that is where all the monkeys go. It takes several years to get a tamed monkey back out into the wild – just as it does with parrots.
Along the river we also saw a sugar factory. Sugar cane is a big part of Orange Walk, it is harvested and processed here. We learned it takes 10 tons of sugar cane to produce 1 ton of sugar. They load the raw sugar (or the molasses) on to barges in the river and send the barges to Belize City where the product is exported. Some of it goes to Europe and the US, the rest of it stays in Belize and goes towards making rum and stout.
Tomorrow we will be going to the Baboon Sanctuary (the locals call the howler monkeys baboons) and another Mayan site, Altun Ha. On Saturday we will go our separate ways, with Devin and Rachel headed to Caye Caulker and Matt and I headed to Ambergris Caye for snorkeling and hanging out on the beach! We are looking forward to it!