Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Belize Zoo & Howler Monkeys

Today we got wet!

For the first time in almost 3,500 miles, (165 today) it actually rained on us; it has threatened in the past but after just a few drops it’s always stopped – until today! I know we're in the middle of a rain forest and tropical storms are to be expected, but this is 'supposed' to be the dry season!!! Thankfully it was after we’d done all we wanted to do and were on the last leg to Dangriga; although we didn’t know we were coming here when it first started raining at the zoo. (More of that later!) Bearing in mind that it is soft warm rain that is actually really quite pleasant to ride in; the clouds were low, the jungle impossibly green, (in more shades than I knew there were!) and shining in what little sun was breaking through. And then there’s the traffic; there isn’t any! Here it’s the pedestrians and the cyclists who rule the road, it's the vehicles that have to fit in – how cool. Road rage – hah!!!

It started just as we were about to the zoo so we stopped and had an ice cream and the most expensive bottle of water in the world, ($4 for a litre compared to the usual 1:50) while it passed over. A woman from the zoo came to let me know there was rain coming and as the bike was loaded up with our luggage, I should put it under one of the picnic shelters; how nice of her! Looking up at the black sky we had the option of staying there in the 'Rustic Cabanas' or head on - we set off.

Of course it soon started again when we were too far to turn back; the first time we stopped at a visitor’s centre for one of the local Cenotes, (caves) and got going again a few minutes later. But it started again with a vengeance; I had to stop coz I couldn’t see to ride! We pulled into a bus shelter and got Donkey under cover whilst I swam to the B&B that just happened to be on the corner, but at $40 each for a room with no light and a cold shower in a bathroom with no light and single beds, I thought I’d rather get wet. We hung on for a bit longer till the rain calmed off again and then made a final dash; which in the end was fine coz as wild as the rain was, it stopped early enough for most of our clothes to dry off(ish)! Helen had my waterproof over her and her bag while her jacket was wrapped round the lap-top in my bag, (for once we didn’t have spare polly bags everywhere - obviously we'd got to used to the sunny weather!) our waterproof trousers however had been pinched off the front of the bike – only the day before, (someone obviously knew the rain was coming – dry season or not!) typical; the first time we needed them in six weeks! Somewhere there'll be a couple of very unslylishly dressed, but dry, Belizeans!
So rain aside - today we rode to the baboon sanctuary; of course Belize doesn’t actually have baboons – these were Howler Monkeys that have had their natural environment protected by a voluntary agreement between surrounding land owners! You can do tours and as some of the monkeys see humans all the time you can get right up close to them and even feed them bits of leaves or banana; however they’re not tame and they don’t assume humans will feed them so they do live perfectly normal monkey lives. To prove the point, one of them did take a fancy to the camera Helen was aiming!

We were heading for Dangriga, which took us past the zoo. We weren't sure we were that bothered by 'the zoo'; it all sounded a bit sanitised – all these caged animals for our pleasure however... they’re certainly not there for our pleasure; in 1983 there was a documentary called ‘Path of the Rain Gods’ filmed in Belize and when it was finished Sharon Matola, (from the film) was concerned that the animals had become partly tame and wouldn’t survive back in the wilds. So she founded the zoo which now only houses local animals in their own natural environment; all of which are either confiscated illegal 'pets', orphans, injured animals or ones now born in the zoo. I was really impressed with the place; all the cages were huge, spacious, clean and full of jungle. There were informative signs everywhere, (‘written’ by the animals) that explained where they'd come from, their predicament in the wilds and how they needed the jungle to survive and stuff.

So, we saw; Jaguars, Keel Billed Toucans, (the national bird of Belize) Scarlet Macaws that are on the verge of extinction, a Harpy Eagle which is the biggest eagle in the world and the national bird of Panama, Spider and Howler Monkeys, oodles of other cats, birds, beasts, thingies and of course the Mountain Cow, (Tapir) which is the national animal of Belize; looking very much like an overgrown anteater, it is actually related to the horse and rhino! All in all a very cool place and a worthwhile visit.

Something I’ve noticed about Belize is that there are millions of kids – everywhere! They all play outside all day and most of the night, and they never cry! All they do is laugh and have a good time; in fact considering they have very little money, they also have very little crime and the whole country has an incredibly 'safe' feel to it; just full of happy, laid back, friendly people – like nowhere else I’ve been! And they talk about 'developing countries' as if we've somehow got it so right!!!

When we got here we hung around the hostel doing laundry and watching TV; because it’s an English speaking country they have English speaking TV, and I guess they don’t have their own networks so they get cable from the states; so we’ve enjoyed having something to watch for the first time since I don’t know when! James Bond on a wet afternoon - what could be better???

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