Monday, April 1, 2013

Belize - Day 1

While we are between traveling and volunteer assignments I thought it would be fun to blog a trip that Mark and I took to Belize several years ago.  At the end of each days adventure, Mark would write up a daily journal.  When we returned home I would organize all the photos, combine them with the journaling, and spend many fun hours putting together a scrapbook. 

The next several days will consist of our trip to Belize.  We stayed at Chan Chich Lodge and Ambergris Caye.  Although this blog will have a lot fewer photos than the original scrapbook, there will still be lots of pictures.  

I hope you enjoy our trip down memory lane.

2/14/2005 (Monday) – We left Elgin at 6:15 a.m. and arrived at the airport around 7:15. Lucky me got randomly chosen for the “Special Security Screening” which took an extra ten minutes. You’ve got to love the new transportation security measures! Our flight to Houston left on time at 8:30, arriving shortly before 9:30. Our connecting flight to Belize wasn’t scheduled to depart until 11:55, so we wandered around the airport for a while, including heading in completely the wrong direction to our next gate. The flight left on time, arriving in Belize City at 2:20 p.m., still Central Standard Time.

The airport in Belize was a bit crowded and small, but we got through immigration and customs without any problems. We got to the Tropic Air counter at 3:00, and were given boarding passes for our charter flight which was scheduled to leave at 3:15. Our flight was called almost immediately, and we were walked out to a very well used Cessna 172 where we met our pilot, Wally. Wally looked to be in his late 20’s and was from Belize.
Teri and Wally, our pilot
We lifted off from Belize City and headed west. Near the coast we saw large shrimp farms, which were groups of rectangular reservoirs dug into the ground. A bit farther west we were over a forested area where we noted a few small fires that Wally said were either slash-and-burn agriculture or naturally started. Once we were a few miles in we saw nothing but unbroken forest.
Shrimp farm 
Our shadow 
View from plane
The flight took about 30 minutes, and we landed at 3:45 in a small clearing that was the Gallon Jug Airport. We were told that the Chan Chich van would be there to pick us up shortly, so we explored a bit. In addition to the small building that was the airport office, there was another small building that was the Gallon Jug Post Office. The clearing also contained a large vegetable garden that was being tended by a couple of workers. While we waited for the van we did some birding. Our first Belize birds were Cattle Egrets and Turkey Vultures. Also in the area were lots of Social Flycatchers (our first life bird), Tropical Kingbirds, and Great-tailed Grackles. Around the edge of the garden we found Blue-black Grassquit, Gray Catbirds, and American Redstart.
Gallon Jug Airport
Gallon Jug Post Office
The van from Chan Chich arrived to collect us, and we met the driver Raul, who is one of the birding guides. He was very friendly and knowledgeable. The drive to the lodge was only fifteen minutes, and on the way we passed several flocks of Ocellated Turkey, with their wild blue heads covered with orange warts. 
Ocellated Turkey
Upon arriving at the lodge we were met at the van by Leticia who we later found out was married to Raul. She was the desk manager, and was very friendly and helpful. When we checked in, Leticia explained to us that their staff was very trustworthy, and that they issued no keys to lock the cabanas. We were placed in Cabana #11, which was behind the office and faced a Mayan mound.
Our cabana
The Montezuma Oropendola nest was visible from the front porch. 
The cabanas were constructed of hardwoods from the surrounding forest, and had amazing thatched roofs. The walls were essentially screens with wooden shutters, allowing the breeze to circulate. We also had a large ceiling fan over the bed. The owner of Chan Chich is Barry Bowen, who is the owner of the national brewery (Belikan Beer) and distributor of Coca Cola. Each cabana had a refrigerator stocked with sodas, beer and water, all of which were free!
Inside our cabana

Porch around our cabana
We decided to bird around the grounds a bit before dinner. The most visible birds were the resident flocks of Ocellated Turkeys. There were dozens of them on the grounds, including males who were displaying and strutting. We also noted plenty of noisy Montezuma Oropendola and Melodious Blackbirds. A fruiting “Bread Tree” near our room hosted at least three Collared Aracaris. On the sidewalks we saw Basilicus Lizards, which are also known as Jesus Christ Lizards because of their ability to run across water on their hind legs. The male lizards have impressive flaps of skin on their heads that they raise in display.
Ocellated Turkeys
Montezuma Oropendola 
Basilicus Lizards 
Collared Aracaris
In a fruiting tree near the restaurant we watched Red-billed Pigeon, Blue-gray Tanager, and a knockout male Red-capped Manakin. In the many flowering plants on the grounds we saw White-bellied Emerald and Stripe-throated Hermt.  We also watched a group of Spider Monkeys going through the trees near our cabana.
Red-capped Manakin 
Spider Monkeys
We sat down for dinner at 6:45. It was Valentines Day, so a little busier than normal we were told. It turns out that some local folks from the Gallon Jug area had come to the lodge for dinner. The waitresses were young ladies from the area who were all dressed up in bright red dresses. The tables were decorated with flowers and artistically folded napkins.  The restaurant offered a dinner menu that had several appetizers to choose from, and six or eight entrees. The meal started with fresh rolls and potato/leek soup. Teri had pork chops and I had filet mignon. The food was very good, but portions were on the small side. We had a small piece of strawberry three-layer cake for dessert.
Table set for Valentines Day
When we got back to the room the bed had been turned down and the shutters on the lower half of the windows had been closed. We’d find in the coming week that an evening maid would do this each night, and the next morning the bed would be made up and the shutters opened.

That night we went on a wildlife drive from 8:00 until almost 10:00. We sat on padded benches in the raised, exposed bed of a Kia truck. Raul drove, while our guide Gilberto used a spotlight to search for and point out various animals. We drove the road back out to the airport, circled it on the Loop Road, and returned. On the way out we saw a Tarantula, several Paraque and a few Killdeer. On a distant snag near the airport we saw the eyeshine of a Northern Potoo. The bird flew out and back from the snag several times, but other than the shadowy shape and bright reflection from the eyes, it was tough to see. We got very poor looks at a bird that was originally ID’d as a small owl, but that Raul told us the next morning he felt was a Yucatan Nightjar. In the large grassy clearing around the airstrip we saw many White-tailed Deer and Collared Peccary (Javelina), and a beautiful Gray Fox who was very close and not at all worried with us. We also saw several Opossum and numerous bats flying through the lights of the truck.

All in all, a great first day!


  1. Love seeing some familiar birds... would like to see that flash of yellow as the Montezuma Oropendola streaks through the trees again. Hmmm... maybe another trip to Belize would be nice.....