A lot has happened since I last wrote, but every day comes with more things to do and I’ve unfortunately procrastinated on this blog. But it’s all good- I’ve been taking notes along the way. I’ve titled this Humankind v. Nature. Not to imply competition, but rather because the last 2 weeks have involved so much human intervention or human presence in such treasured areas, I can’t help to think about how humankind poses a positive or negative effect when dealing with different parts of nature and wildlife, as well as history.
The last day of the course, two new interns came to the clinic and since then, we’ve all grown pretty close. That weekend, we had two amazing excursions on our days off. The first was to Xunantunich, Mayan ruins quite close to the town we’re staying in. We spent about an hour and a half hanging around the ruins, specifically the top of the largest one on the property. Incredibly, there was no one else at the top and we enjoyed the view on our own- just three girls and the sounds of the jungle, sitting upon an incredibly well-preserved artifact from as early as 600 AD. It was a beautiful place to sit.
Our next excursion was to the ATM caves, short for Actun Tunichil Muknal. This is a Mayan archaeological site with skeletons, Mayan ceramics, and more artifacts strewn throughout the caves. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the experience (and for those who know me well, you know how much this killed me) because cameras are banned in the caves. A tourist had accidentally dropped his camera on a skeleton many years ago and the skull of the skeleton shattered. So now they have no more of that. Which is heartbreaking.
Anyway, we’ll have to rely on pure description. The experience began with a 45 minute hike through the jungle to get to the cave entrance. This involved not only hiking on land, but we had to cross three rivers as well. Without a bridge. So we were soaked up to our stomachs within the first 5 minutes of the hike as we trekked through the river and neared the site. Courtney, Michelle, and I all agreed it was like we were real adventurers. Seriously awesome. When we reached the cave entrance, we put on our helmets complete with headlamps, and got into the water. The entrance to the cave was not over land, but into water and not just water to walk through, but about 15-20 ft deep water. We had to literally SWIM into this cave. The water was not cold but “refreshing” as our tour guide kept reminding us, and what we approached could not be captured in a photo even if I tried. The ceiling was dozens of feet above us and when we finally were able to stand, most of our legs were still submerged in water. Our time in the cave would total 3 hours, and for about 2-2.5 hours, we were walking in shallow water, trudging through deeper water, and literally swimming under and around rock formations. It was INCREDIBLE. Our tour guide taught us about the formation of the rocks around us and the different creatures that live in and around the cave while we trudged along. About 2 hours in, we reached dry land to climb and we were told to remove our shoes for the artifact portion of the tour. We walked around broken ceramic vases and bowls and complete or incomplete skeletal remains. This involved a lot of rock climbing into the roof of the cave (which seemed endless), a climb up a sketchy ladder at one point, and lots of careful treading around sharp rocks. About a half hour later, we made our way back into the water and walked/swam back to the entrance of the cave. Easily one of the most unique experiences of my life.
Last week, Courtney, Michelle, and I were invited by Dr. Isabelle to go with her to Chiquibul National Park to work with some macaws preparing to be released. It was about a 3 hour trip with 100 miles of unpaved road, but we got to see some beautiful sights along the way. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve was one such site we passed through which interestingly was pine forest – a drastic change from the tropical forest we’ve been in. Quickly, though, the forest seemingly morphed back into the tropical forest when we reached Chiquibul. Wild birds of all sorts, flying around the buildings, surrounded our accommodations and big cat sightings have been recorded in the area during the nighttime. When we got ready for bed, our lights went out and the dark black of nighttime quickly enveloped us. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such darkness. The sounds of jungle, bugs, birds, and wildlife were vivacious and all encompassing. Rain began pouring down on our roof and drowned out the wildlife that we shared our house with. Cooler than any old camping trip, that’s for sure.
The following morning, we had an early rise to get started on the handful of macaws we would be working with. Poaching is one of the largest problems in wildlife, especially in Belize. Guatemalans cross the border and rob nests of young scarlet macaws to feed into the pet trade. Our job involved a general overview of their health and a microchip injection to prepare them for release.
We left shortly after the job was finished, and one of the most incredible sights greeted us on the way back. We dubbed it “Butterfly Highway,” as there were easily hundreds of butterflies that lined the road we would be taking. We got out of the car for closer looks and walked through. Responding to our presence, the butterflies all began flying up and around the place we stood until we were literally engulfed in a bubble of butterflies. It was a crystal clear representation of wild beauty in its natural form surrounding humanity and we were mesmerized (the photo doesn’t do it justice).
Since then, the interns and I have been working at the clinic. We’ve seen a good amount of cats and dogs, tended to the wildlife that is currently housed in the back, and assisted in more procedures. We also used this last weekend to go horseback riding in the rain (in a rainforest – how fitting) and spend the day at a pool in Cahal Peche resort – who says we can’t have some relaxation on the side? 😉 We also checked out a casino in the area as well as a few places to meet locals. These are my last 3 days in the clinic and then it’s back to the airport for me. I’m looking forward to spending my last days here, but I know I’ll miss it desperately when I go. The clinic, animals, and environment, along with the people who have been so good to me here.
If you’re interested in seeing the first 10 days of my time in Belize, check out this video I put together of the wildlife course I took part in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzRcrSOLP8U&feature=youtu.be