First off, I would like to apologize (mainly to my grandpa) about how long it actually took me to sit down and finally write this blog. I was in Belize from July 21-31, then I literally had one night at home before moving out to LA then I just never got to it! Belize was really amazing though, don’t think that my lack of blog post means it wasn’t!
So yes. I went to Belize for my final trip of my graduate school program. The course’s official name was “Belize: Approaches to Environmental Stewardship.”
I was supposed to leave for this trip on July 21 in the early morning. I was going to fly from CVG to Atlanta, had a 1 hour layover then I would be off to Belize. My first flight to Atlanta kept getting delayed to the point where I would be getting there like 2 hours AFTER my flight to Belize was leaving. That wouldn’t’ work. I was literally at the airport already on the phone with Delta trying to figure out what to do. Eventually the lady helping me determined there were no options for that day and I would just have to fly out the next morning. Secretly I was more than okay with that. I had been out at my going away party late the night before and had to wake up at like 3am for my flight. It was nice to go back to sleep. Then I spent the day at my mom’s house which was super nice because all my stuff at my apartment was already packed away in the Uhaul, and it would be my last night in Cincinnati. I was happy to spend it with my family!
ANYWAY. The next day, my mom drove me to the airport and I got to Belize with no issues. Luckily one of the instructors also wasn’t getting there until the second day too and we had the same flight from ATL together. We got to the Belize Tropical Education Center (where we stayed for most of our trip) around lunch time. Since it was basically the first official day of the class, no one really knew each other yet so I didn’t feel super behind trying to get to know everyone.
The first few days of the course were spent at the Belize Zoo doing some projects and classwork. One of the first days, we went to the ocean and onto a boat to go study manatees! We were all very excited because Belize is hot and humid as hell. SO HOT. And the Tropical Education Center is in the jungle which really seals in all the juices. Everyone on the trip was very excited to go to the ocean. The place we were going was like an hour bus ride from where we were staying. We were like 15 minutes into the bus ride when we hit a speed bump and the bus literally disintegrated. I’m not actually sure what happened, I’m no bus expert, but a large metal, important looking piece of bus had fallen off the bottom. So we had to get off the bus and wait for another bus to come, which took like an hour. It wasn’t too bad, but there was definitely some initial panic amongst the group that we would not be able to go to the ocean at all that day. And like I said, people were REALLY excited for the ocean.
BUT ALAS. We eventually made it to the sea and onto our boat to go see the manatees. There’s a ton of manatees in that area because a freshwater river empties out in to the ocean, which they prefer. So we got on the boat and ate some lunch while we went out to sea. There were some thunderstorms far off into the distance which everyone should know I was excited about! APPARENTLY some people on the boat saw a motherfucking waterspout. AND NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. Or, I don’t know they claimed they said something but I didn’t hear anyone say anything. If you know me, then you know my ONLY goal in life is to see a tornado in person. Seriously. That’s it. I would count a waterspout as seeing a tornado. And there was one just like right out there in the ocean with us. AND I DIDN’T. EVEN. SEE. IT. Two months later and I am still bitter.
ANYWAY. After lunch we then looked for manatees. Lemme tell ya, we saw HELLA manatees though. Like seriously there were probably at least like 10! We could really only see them every few minutes because they only surface for air. It was very exciting. Manatees are cool. After the manatee fun, the boat took us to another place where we could get in and snorkel. There was a lot of seagrass in this area and in the seagrass were upside down jellyfish!!!! So basically, these jellies stay on the bottom and don’t really swim around so it wasn’t likely that we would get stung. They are quite literally upside down so their little tentacles were facing up. I got out my GoPro to get a sweet photo and MY FUCKING GROPRO FREAKED OUT AND DIED. THE FIRST PHOTO OF THE TRIP. And by died I do not mean the battery died, no I mean the camera is literally dead forever. I’m not sure what happened. I think somehow water got inside the battery compartment and fucked it up. I was so upset because we would soon be going to an island and snorkeling for like 3 days and I really wanted my camera. Oh, and also GoPros are really expensive so that kind of sucks too. So yeah, the number of photos I got on this trip are really lacking.
So after the manatee excursion, we were back at the Tropical Education Center for a couple more days. The days really blur together now. But one of the highlights was going on a night hike. This was optional, but like… hello? I’m in Belize like of course I’m going to do every optional activity possible! So yes. The night hike. This was an opportunity to see some creatures that you might not see during the day. Let me remind you that we were in the MIDDLE OF THE JUNGLE. I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit nervous on this hike. I mean we obviously had flashlights, but people at the Education Center had seen jaguars on the property in the past. Not very often but still.
The night hike ended up just being like really spider-heavy. Literally we just saw big ass spiders and a couple of snakes. At one point the guide told us to shine our flashlights into the grass and we would see tiny little dots glowing. He informed us that all those glowing dots WERE EYES OF BLACK WIDOW SPIDERS (I think black widow- I can’t fully remember I think I blacked out when he started talking about that). There were seriously like thousands. I was OVER IT. Mind you, the spider eyes was like .1 mile into the hike and we weren’t even into the actual forest part yet!!
So we went right along on our merry way into the jungle. Of course, the entire time all I felt was spiders crawling on me. The only time I felt at peace was when we climbed onto this tower thing and we were above the trees. We all turned off our flashlights and looked at the night sky. This was the first time in my life I had really seen the Milky Way. It was also a new moon so we could REALLY see it. I could have stayed up there looking at the stars forever, but alas, we had more spiders we had to go look at.
We hiked a little longer and the guide asked if anyone wanted to be done because we were close to a trail exit. So it was either end the hike now or keep hiking for another couple of miles. I was very hot and over it so I was one of like 3 people who left the hike early. As the guide led us through the jungle, we heard a VERY aggressive rustling in the brush nearby. I’m going to be honest with you, I think I peed myself just a little bit. We were all terrified, I grabbed onto our guide’s arm and looked at him and even he looked absolutely terrified. I knew we were all thinking a jaguar was in the brush and was going to come out and eat us. About 5 seconds later A FUCKING MOM PORCUPINE AND THREE BABIES CAME OUT OF THE BRUSH. PORCUPINES. Now, how many people get to A FUCKING PORCUPINE in the wild!? I was lit as hell after that!! So I and the two other people who left the tour early went back to our cabins, and the guide went back to the rest of the group to finish their tour. They were absolutely livid when they found out that we saw porcupines and they didn’t. Especially since we were the ones who didn’t’ even really want to be on the hike! The other group apparently just hiked another like 2 miles without seeing anything but spiders. See, having a healthy fear of spiders really gets you places in life!
The next day we went to the Community Baboon Sanctuary and we would be staying with Belizean host families that night (which I think we were all a little nervous about). The baboon sanctuary was amazing. We got to go on a little tour and see wild howler monkeys (they call it a “baboon” sanctuary but they’re really howler monkeys). We also go to see how people on the sanctuary make fly swatters and rice (which really made me appreciate Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice).
In the evening we hopped on the bus, were told who else from the class we would be staying with, and then we were dropped off at our host families’ houses. I was grouped with Amy and Nicole who are both super fun and awesome, so I was happy! We pulled up to a cute little house and a lady who was about 30 was standing outside waiting for us. I felt relief because she looked super nice. And she was sooooo nice! It was just her and her husband (who by the way, is the tallest person in Belize!! I think he was 6’9”!). We went for an evening walk around the area where they lived and went over to her mom’s house, which is actually where our course instructors were staying! They offered us some cashew wine which I absolutely hated. It was super sweet. And also I am very wary of drinking anything unfamiliar in another country, ya know? I felt really bad for not drinking it but luckily Nicole helped a girl out and had some of it.
After our visit to the mother’s house, we went back to our host family’s house for dinner. I don’t know what she made us but it was great! There was chicken and veggies involved. After dinner, we sat around and looked at some of their family photos and their wedding photos. Then our host braided our hair! When it was time for bed, there were two room options for sleeping. One was a room with one bed, and the other room had bunk beds. Amy and I were in the bunk bed room together.
Amy and I were getting ready for bed when I saw THE BIGGEST spider of my life crawl up the wall next to my bed. Sheer panic set in between me and Amy. We didn’t know what to do! We sure as shit were not going to kill that spider! The fate of our lives was in the 8 hands of this spider. We finally came to a conclusion that we had to suck it up and ask our host to kill the spider. Luckily they were both still awake so I poked my head out and told Claud (the tallest Belizean) that there was a very large spider in our room (by Ohio standards, I’m sure by Belizean standards that this spider wasn’t shit). Claud laughed and came in with some bug killing spray and sprayed him down. He was a good sport.
Claud left and Amy and I were about to have our second attempt at going to bed. Literally 2 minutes after Claud left, ANOTHER GIANT FUCKING SPIDER came crawling up the wall. I swear this one was bigger than the first. I was basically at the point of tears. I mean we JUST asked Claud to kill a spider so I felt pretty bad asking again. I was seriously considering just running out of the house until I found the nearest road, hitchhiking to the airport and getting on the next flight home. I swallowed my pride and poked my head out of the room and sheepishly told Claud there was another spider.
This is where the story gets wild. He laughed, came into the room, and with HIS BARE HANDS, he clapped the spider. Just fucking clapped it. Like one would do if they had a fruit fly flying around. I can’t even fathom killing that sized spider with a shoe (it was like the circumference of a silver dollar… JUST the body, not even including the legs!) LET ALONE with bare hands. To this day I am still absolutely flabbergasted by the entire situation.
After this whole situation all I could think about was A) there is probably a nest of giant fucking devil spiders under the bed and B) this story was going to make content for my blog. The rest of that night was horrible. Of course I couldn’t sleep. There was an oscillating fan blowing on me and every single god damn time that fan blew past my legs and through my leg hairs, I swear I would jump up and shine my phone’s flashlight all around because it felt like a spider crawling on me. I think I slept maybe 40 minutes the whole night.
The next morning I was SO HAPPY to have survived the night. And I was so happy to get the hell out of there. No offense to our hosts, but I don’t do spiders. We then got on the bus and headed back to the education center.
Finally by like day 7, it was time to go to the island. I mean, if we are all being honest I think this was truly the reason we all were on this trip. The island we went to is called Tobacco Caye (pronounced “key”). Tobacco Caye is TINY. According to Wikipedia, it is 240 meters in the north-south direction and 125 meters east-west. To give you context, you could be on one side of the island and very clearly see right to the other side. There obviously weren’t too many people on the island. There was our class, a few rogue vacationers, and the people who worked at the little hotels on the island. We stayed in little dorm type buildings that were definitely pretty bare bones. There were bunk beds and a bathroom and that was basically it!
We were on the island for about 2.5 days and we basically spent the entire time snorkeling. Truly my dream. There were always stingrays out and about basically every time we snorkeled! We saw countless spotted eagle rays which are so beautiful. The coral reefs in Belize were probably the best I have ever seen. It’s a really tough call. The Bahamas and the Great Barrier Reef are obviously a close second, but damn this reef was thriving. There was so much color and soooo many fish.
One of the days at the island we spent out on a boat visiting a bunch of different reefs. On this day, I got to live one of my dreams and swam next to a sea turtle for like 10 minutes. It was so close I could touch it! TOO BAD MY GOPRO WASN’T WORKING. Seems like it would have been some great footage. Whatever. I’m over it. (except I’m not)
On Tobacco Caye there is one little bar with a deck right on the ocean. It was really nice to go there and unwind each night with a Belizean beer. The stars were absolutely incredible on the island too because there is almost no light pollution out in the middle of the ocean! I saw about 7 meteors which was pretty lit. I realized it was probably from the Perseids shower which takes place at the end of July/ early August each year. While we sat there watching the stars, there was some lighting off in the distance. Seriously, meteors AND thunderstorms all at once? I was hype.
After a while, the lightning started getting closer and closer. Then it started to rain so I went back into my little dorm to go to sleep. What happened next was an absolute monster of a thunderstorm. I mean, I have NEVER, in all my 26 years of being a severe weather enthusiast seen anything like it. The lightning was every 2 seconds, it was super windy, and the heavy rain hitting the metal ceiling of our dorm was deafening. Obviously I was not able to sleep because I was hype as hell! I mean seriously take the most intense thunderstorm ever and multiply it by 3. I’m not gonna lie, I was actually a little bit scared. It felt like we were inside of a tornado and we were pretty vulnerable on this small little island. I was starting to think of what places on the island would be safe if we needed to take cover. Eventually the storm died down a little bit and I started to fall asleep. BUT THEN another storm rolled through, just as intense as the first. All in all, I think there were 3 very intense thunderstorms that night!
So anyway, after our 2.5 days of island living, we headed back to land and to the Tropical Education Center for our final day in Belize. On our last day we went on a super early morning hike out in another part of the jungle. The hike was lovely and we got to go inside some caves which is always fun! Then we went back to the zoo for any final gift shop purchases and to say goodbye to the animals. At night, a group of Belizean drummers came in to the classroom and played some songs. They encouraged us all to start dancing, which was awkward at first but then pretty much the whole class got into it. It was really fun and a great way to spend our final night.
The next day we got up and headed back to the airport to go home. I was very excited to get home and sleep in air conditioning. Also was looking forward to taking a real shower. AND of course was excited to start my journey out to California on the following day!
Some other logistics that I forgot to mention in the post… Our sleeping arrangements at the Tropical Education Center were decent! We slept in these tiny little cabins that were basically just big enough for two twin beds with a little nightstand in between them. They did have outlets, lights, and an oscillating fan, but not air conditioning. I slept on top of the sheets and covers each night. They really weren’t bad though! Although I would occasionally find ants everywhere, including inside my duffel bag but whatever they weren’t spiders so.
The bathrooms were nice too! They were in a separate building near the cabins. There were like 4 little one-holer bathrooms and they were kept pretty clean. In the bathroom area there also a couple of little shower stalls too! Although showering wasn’t exactly encouraged because they didn’t want us to use a bunch of water. Plus, it was so humid there that if you showered, you literally never got dry. The only part that wasn’t great was that they were a little far away from the cabins so if you had to pee in the middle of the night, it was a little spooky. Like the pathway to the bathroom was lit up but all I could ever think about was jaguars.
The education center had a cafeteria-type room and the food was awesome!!! There were some ladies who cooked our meals each day. Definitely ate a lot of beans and chicken. I always think I am going to lose weight on these trips because I won’t want to eat the food but I swear I end up eating wayyyy more than I would at home!!
Anyway, all in all it was a really amazing trip and I had so much fun. All of the people in the class were great too, like always! I am a little bit sad though that this was my last trip for this program! I have learned so much and met so many great people from all across the country.