Monday, June 22, 2009

Week Four in Belize

On Monday, I worked on sketches for an Eco-Quest t-shirt. The t-shirt will read “I survived the Chiquibul”, with a hiker and jaguar tracks. The remainder of the day was pretty slow so I caught up on some of my professional report.

Tuesday, Pedro, LeeRoy, Edwin, and I traveled to Spanish Lookout to deliver the third place prize of the “Poster Contest” to a boy from their school. We took Scarlet with us and held a brief ceremony where we recognized the boy’s efforts and his accomplishment. He was thrilled to receive such a huge gift. He received a backpack and all the school supplies he would need for the upcoming year. After wards we thought it appropriate to treat ourselves to an ice cream.

On Wednesday, I arrived at the office only to be informed that I would be participating in a workshop for the next three days. Rafael, Derric and I headed to Cahal Pech to meet with others on creating a program plan for the management of the Chiquibul Cave System. There were people from all backgrounds attending the workshop. There were members of the Archeological Institute, Texas Caving Society, Belizean lumber companies, FCD, and others. Our Facilitators were members of the Nature Conservancy and will be teaching us about using CAP (Conservation Action Planning). The first day was very productive, we identified target areas we wish to preserve and conserve in biological, cultural, and geological aspects. We also identified the vision for the program.

Thursday was the second day of the workshop. We identified target attributes of each of our main target areas, how to measure them and how we will rate them now and in the future. We then discussed the importance of each for quite some time. In the afternoon, a majority of the group went on a field trip to the Cahal Pech ruins, but Rafael and I headed back to the office.

Friday we headed directly over to Cahal Pech in the morning to resume our workshop. We identified major threats that the Chiquibul Cave System will be facing on the cultural, geological, and biological fronts. We were then asked to rate each of the threats as low, medium, high, or very high. A majority of the cultural and geological threats were rated very high because of the fact that many of the items, such as pottery and cave formations, are irreplaceable. On the biological side of things the threats were termed as moderate or medium because most of them can be reversed. At the end of the day we listed all of our findings and agreed to reconvene within the next three months to discuss strategy for dealing with these threats. After the workshop Rafael and I finalized our plans for next week when Dr. Seevers will be visiting.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Camping in Pine Ridge

Derric, Shirley, and I were on the road by six thirty heading toward San Ignacio to pick up Amberito and Pedro before heading to the Chiquibul. We made our way through a maze in the jungle and saw many things along the way. Derric pointed out the areas of the pine forest which had been devastated by the bark beetle, which is exactly what New Mexico is dealing with right now, and areas that were destroyed by fire.
We arrived at the FCD ranger station and spent some time making lunch and getting to see the rangers. The kids we brought along were enthralled with the four wheeler, even Shirley’s one year old daughter wanted to play on it. We enjoyed a feast of bar-b-q chicken, cowboy beans, and homemade flour tortillas, which I assisted in making.

After lunch we were on our way traveling up to the highest reaches of the pine ridge. We stopped to see the lake and stretch our legs then back in the truck for some more off roading adventure. The roads are not used very often so it gets to be a pretty bouncy ride. We finally arrived at our campsite on top of the bald hills. There is a wooden deck with bathroom facilities that, according to Shirley, are reminiscent of the “Hills Have Eyes”. I didn’t think it looked sketchy, it just had rustic charm. After unloading all of our gear, we hopped back in the truck and headed for the mountain stream to take a swim.

The water was chilly but extremely refreshing and the mountain air brought a welcome chill. Derric showed us where the large pool was, unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it. It was so deep that you couldn’t see the bottom. After some hassling, we convinced Derric to jump off the small cliff along side of it into its center. We enjoyed the water and then headed back towards the truck. While following the creek back to the bridge where we had parked, I was blabbing about how I had managed to keep my pants dry. As soon as I said that I slipped on an algae covered rock and fell to my knees! After some cursing under my breath, we all burst into laughter at my clumsiness. What can I say, once a klutz always a klutz.

We made it back to camp and pitched our tents. We enjoyed our fajitas under trillions of stars. We saw several shooting stars and one fast moving satellite. We then hunkered down in our tents as the temperature dropped. It was the first night since I have been in Belize that I actually woke up shivering. The wind howled all around the mountains and rattled our tents so much that we had to tie them down. In the morning Derric and Pedro prepared buckets of food. Breakfast links, beans, tortillas, salad and more. We teased that this weekend was to prepare us for an eating contest.

After we had packed everything we headed to 1000 Foot Falls. It was a spectacular sight to see the water plummeting from a cliff into the vast green canyon below. We then headed home each tired with our own stories and adventures to share. The Chiquibul is an amazing place and so varied in its topography and climate. I think it is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Week Three in Belize

On Saturday and Sunday I spent being lazy and hanging out with my host family. Miss Olivia’s daughter Katia was visiting so I was able to put a face with a name. On Sunday, we relaxed and later in the day I began teaching Krizia how to swim.

Monday morning Pedro and I traveled to Belmopan to meet with our contact at the 4-H office. We delivered trees and newsletters to them. We discussed the possibilities of forming a stronger relationship with them since they are a youth based organization. We then traveled to visit PACT, Protected Areas Conservation Trust, to discuss some of our programs and invited them to tag along on one of our school visits. After delivering the rest of the brochures and newsletters we stopped for lunch and then headed back to Succotz. It was a busy day but I met a lot of really interesting people. We also dropped off our poster so that it could be judged in the nationwide competition.

Tuesday, I made my way to the FCD office and spent some time working on the computer and waiting for Pedro to arrive so we could make our trip to the Benque Viejo Schools. I also explained to the other staff that there is a free health clinic going on at the Nazarene Church if they are interested. The Doctors come from Arkansas and one from New Mexico. After lunch Pedro, Gliss, LeeRoy, and I headed over to Benque. LeeRoy is one of the students in our youth group. We delivered all the trees and traveled further down to Arrenal. It is a small town that is split by the Belize-Guatemalan border.

Along the way I could see where farmers had used the slash and burn methods to clear for agricultural production. Entire sides of mountains were just scorched. On our way back we stopped at the hardware store, where I bought a collar for Ms. Olivia’s dog so he won’t escape anymore and steal our shoes. I reinforced it with Duck Tape. Once we returned to the office we surprised Gliss with pizza, soda’s and cake to celebrate his Birthday.

Once I arrived home I started showing Emil and Gordo how to draw cartoon characters which soon turned into a Spanish lesson for me. It was a lot of fun.
Wednesday morning I met with Rafael for a mentoring session. We discussed FCD’s community involvement and at this stage it is mostly on an informative basis. We also covered the major issues the Chiquibul is facing. Key issues include Guatemalan interference, hydro dams, and mineral extraction. In the afternoon I traveled with Pedro to the Nazarene school down the road to plant trees and educate children about their importance.

On Thursday Pedro, Shirley, Edwin and I made our way to San Ignacio to do a planting at Sacred Heart and to run some errands in town. We met LeeRoy there and proceeded with the planting. We returned for lunch then went to the Central Farm to pick up more trees for our project.

This Friday and Saturday I will be camping at the Chiquibul Ranger station. I look forward to seeing the pine ridge, howler monkeys and orchids. I will post again upon my return from the mountains. Hope all is well on the home front and thank you for your continued support and prayers.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Week Two in Belize

My first weekend with my family was a lazy one. On Saturday I traveled to San Ignacio with Krizia to go shopping. She showed me how to catch the bus and how to avoid any extra costs. We arrived in San Ignacio and went to the market. There was an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruits. The fragrance from the herb vendors floated lightly in the air. We stopped briefly to purchase sodas as we weaved in and out of the shaded tables. There was also furniture and a variety of clothing and jewelry. After the market we headed downtown to go shopping at the little tourist shops. We finished our trip with a pepperoni pizza at Martha’s CafĂ©.

On Sunday, I went with Ms. Olivia to visit her sister’s family and try some escabeche. Escabeche is a local favorite. It is a soup that consists of chicken and lots of onion. It is served with corn tortillas and rice. It was very tasty but extremely filling. I spent the remainder of the day lounging in a hammock chatting with the family. Life is so relaxed on Belize time.

Monday began with a staff meeting. I met a majority of the rangers who keep watch in the jungle. In the afternoon I traveled with Pedro to Spanish Lookout. Spanish Lookout is one of the larger communities of Mennonites in Belize. The land they own has been cleared for agricultural purposes and they use heavy machinery and pesticides. It is a complete role reversal from the United States. We view the Mennonites as somewhat backwards in the U.S. and in Belize they are viewed as being on the cutting edge. It was interesting to see the difference between the native Belizean farmers and the Mennonites. Pedro completed a presentation for one of the primary schools while in Spanish Lookout. He also brought Scarlet, the Chiquibul Maya Mountains Mascot, who was an instant hit with the kids. They all danced with Scarlet to his theme song. Afterwards the children assisted Pedro in planting trees. On our way back to Succotz we stopped for some ice cream at Western Dairies which was delicious.

On Tuesday, I attended Pedro’s briefing with Rafael. We learned how he was progressing towards his goals. Afterwards I worked on my own formal reports. Wednesday I was asked by Rafael to sketch out some ideas for a poster and fact sheet for an upcoming campaign.

Thursday was a slow day; I tried to work on my reports a little more. On Friday we finalized our choices for which poster will win the biodiversity poster and poem competition. The winner must have a well thought out poem and a poster that represents the importance of biodiversity in Belize. The winner will go on to compete nationally against posters from the other districts. The winner of the entire competition will win a laptop. I finished out the day mailing out the FCD newsletter.

I am slowly beginning to accept that it is going to remain hot down here and that I will just have to get used to it. I am grateful for showers and insect repellant and look forward to the adventures yet to come. Next week I will make my first trip to the Chiquibul and camp for a night. I am looking forward to it. I hope everyone is doing well back home and will keep you all in my prayers.

If you want to learn more about Pedro's work with environmental education you can check out his blog at this website:

My First Week in Pictures

Here you can see pictures of the zoo, landscape, Xunantunich, my first school visit, and Succotz.