Belize and Guatemala
Joni with Blue Morpho Butterfly,
Chaa Creek, Belize
If a time capsule could transport
a person to a moment and place where the innocence of humanity
still lingers it would take you to the country of Belize. This
is a land in which dreams can still emerge and float on moist
airy clouds that will carry you away.
Belize is a beautiful and fascinating
country. The people who call this magical land home are the friendliest
I've ever met. They are proud and hard working, and have a politeness
about them that seems to be from a gentler time. The whole country
possesses an innocence that is much like that of an unspoiled
young child. Wide eyed and always smiling, the people of Belize
embraced us with gentle dignity and charm.
Cockscomb Biosphere Preserve, Belize
The country itself offers everything
a naturalist could ever want from complex rain forest ecosystems,
to the northern climate evergreens of the Mountain Pine Ridge
area to the most spectacular coral reefs known in the western
hemisphere. The world’s only Jaguar preserve is here, a
very large tract of land with undisturbed jungle where Jaguar
can prowl in the dark shadows of towering trees with no fencing
around the borders. Cockscomb Biosphere Preserve is an intact
ecosystem offering its inhabitants the kind of life that all
wild creatures are meant to have.
Tapir, Cockscomb Biosphere Preserve
For anyone passionate about the
natural history of our own species there are numerous long abandoned
Mayan civilizations to explore. The jungles surrounding these
protected areas are undisturbed, the wildlife abundant and the
temples speak for themselves. There is a music in the air for
anyone who will listen, music in the sounds of the jungle and
in the reflections of mystery that time refuses to reveal. These
temples guard their secrets with surprising tenacity. Much study
of these ancient cultures still leaves us mostly guessing. Theories
change but there is only one truth. If those temple walls could
Temples above the treetops, Tikal,
Although I saw very little of it,
neighboring Guatemala left me with a much different impression.
This country seems to wear the battle scars of a war torn horse.
There appears to be much confusion in Guatemala on how to run
a country. The apparent priorities are perplexing to someone
like me who believes that all people have the same ethical rights
to dignified treatment. The Guatemalan government it seemed could
be likened to a run-away train. In this country the few that
enjoy financial wealth are VERY wealthy and most others have
nearly nothing. Even the livestock animals are left to their
own devises wandering the rubble country roads searching unsuccessfully
for food. I've never seen such an abundance of starved animals
and questioned how many of the ones we passed along the way would
live to see another sunrise.
Our Land Rover was escorted by
a van with armed guards from the border of Belize to the Mayan
civilization of Tikal in Guatemala on a stretch of road about
seventy miles long. Our guards, Policeman at night and our guards
on this day are banditos on their off time, robbing unprotected
tourists of whatever they can luck into. Guatemala is a beautiful
country with tragic human undertones, a prime example of a good
thing going badly, a bold illustration of what is left when morality
leaves the human heart.
The Mayan civilization of Tikal
is the crown jewel of Guatemala. The rain forest that drapes
itself around the numerous temples of stone is alive with life.
There is great natural diversity there and the Guatemalans clearly
are aware of what a national treasure Tikal is. It is impeccably
protected and cared for.
Oropendola and Nests, Tikal
Our visit to Tikal took us over
several days through and around temples and rainforest. Visitors
were respectfully quieted by the unique mystery of the place.
One evening we had an opportunity to climb the “Temple
of the Lost World” and watch birds in the day’s last
light, saying farewell to the sun as it melted slowly into the
jungle horizon. We cautiously descended down the now damp and
slippery mass of temple boulders, had a short walk through the
night jungle and emerged onto a mowed platform. Before us loomed
the most famous temple of Tikal, the massive “Temple of
the Masks” piercing a dark blue sky, accompanied only by
the moon which was almost full. Together they seemed like two
ancient spirits who know all of life’s secrets but refuse
to tell. It was frustrating, provocative and BEAUTIFUL.
Temple of the Masks, Tikal
While sleeping in our cabin on
the border of Tikal that night I was awakened by a rather hair
raising sound. A group of Black Howler monkeys started their
ritualistic roaring. It was difficult to determine how close
they were; I had learned earlier in the trip how well their voices
can travel. Up close their roar is deafening. Although clearly
audible, on this night I guessed them to be some distance away.
The moon sifted softly into our cabin room through open windows.
Voices of great conviction echoed through the night, penetrating
the darkness. To hear the commanding primeval call of a howler
monkey at night in a jungle is one of life’s truly unforgettable
Black Howler Monkey
the border of Tikal on the side nearest our sleeping quarters
were a small collection of tents which hovered over a variety
of handmade goods being sold by Guatemalan women. Each woman
wore a warm, charming smile, but a polite determination was
evident in their eyes. This was important business to them
being a matter of serious consequence for their families.
The money they asked was very little for their beautifully
handcrafted items. Faint music could be heard in the distance,
a sound with no rhythm, seemingly carrying no melody. It
was reminiscent of music played by an old fashioned hand-cranked
Jack in the box. This odd sound along with balmy air and
smells that were new to me gave Tikal an almost dreamlike
quality, making it the most strangely exotic place on our
By the time we reached the shores
of the Caribbean Sea on the coast of Belize we had only three
days left before returning home. We spent two of those days snorkeling
on a variety of reefs that were surprisingly far from the shoreline.
One of many tiny Coral Caye Islands
off the coast of Belize
Life under water is fascinating
to me. In some ways the creatures seem so bizarre. But a closer
look reveals an eco system whose theme directly parallels that
which is on land. The food chain concept is the same. There are
a wide variety of predators trying to outdo each other with their
adaptations, eating today, only to be eaten tomorrow. There are
bright colored fish simultaneously swirling through the water
as single masses, huge schools which are reminiscent of oversized
herds of ungulates on the African plains, even using similar
strategies for survival. All the players are there, living their
lives in precarious secrecy. We were able to share only a snapshot
in time in the lives of these incredible creatures.
One comes away from
a third-world country a changed person, with renewed perspective
and a greater appreciation for those who are not able to live
like we do. People are faced with great challenges in every culture
and I am continuously amazed at the resilience, tenacity and
strength of the human spirit.
Mountain Pine Ridge,