Shut Up, Sea Cow

So, my final goal for living in Belize is complete. I saw a manatee. Five actually. This is how the dramatic scene went down:

Setting: 15 passenger plane taking off from Belize City
Cast: Danis, Drew, British guy wearing a sarong for a skirt

Skirted Brit: You can see manatees in the river.
Danis: YOU can see manatees in the river?
(to Drew) We have taken this flight a bunch before, and no one has said I
might see a manatee from the plane. That Brit is loony - maybe his sarong
is restricting circulation.
Drew: Yeah, I don't know what he is talking about.
S.B.: They are gray in the river.
Danis: Uh huh....
S.B.: (very excitedly gesticulating) See!
Danis: Dang! Drew, I see one! It looks like a gray potato!
Drew: There are more!
Danis: Five! Are you kidding me?
(we fly out of view)
Danis: Well, I my time in Belize is complete. Let's go back to the States now.

So, it didn't go exactly like that - but it did check off the last "tourist" thing on my Belize list. Now all Drew and I have left is the University of Arkansas group - 60 students and professors in a developing country for a month! And that's all I say. Hahahahaha! It is going to be a good time and a great experience for everyone. I hope Drew and I can remember to post!

**Jim Gaffigan fans will get the title**


La Isla Bonita

Nathan left yesterday, and all is black and white and gray. But for nine beautiful days Drew and I lived in the technicolor glory that is Nathan.

The three of us visited Ambergris Island, La Isla Bonita (yes, the one from the Madonna song) for a weekend. Specifically, the mythical San Pedro. Did it live up to it's reputation? In a word - Surely! When we disembarked from the water taxi, we walked into a town that looked like it was pulled straight from a tourist brochure. The fruit vendor hawking papaya and the Rasta toting his guitar, however, reminded us that we were still in Belize. But sometimes it was hard to remember.

Like when we walked down the beach and passed towering condos with pools and bars and modern-style furniture made out of Belizean mahogany.

Or when we ate pizza better than most available in the States.

Or when we walked into a Super Market with electric doors. And air conditioning. And and turkey lunch meat. And DR. PEPPER. I could go on, but you wouldn't understand the sheer awe and joy Drew and I felt. Nathan certainly didn't. Drew had to lay down. Nathan was amused.

Sunday morning we all went snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark and Ray Alley. Nathan had never been before, and he was really excited, even though he masculinely hid most of his glee. He couldn't contain it, though, when we saw our first nurse shark! We swam with one that was at least 8ft. long. I squealed a little into my snorkel every time the guide would throw chum in the water and the shark would swim close. Drew and I pet a small shark and Nathan got to touch both a shark and a sting ray. His life is now complete. The tropical fish and coral were beautiful, of course.

On a side note, I especially liked snorkeling with a group of scuba divers 20 feet below me. They would blow millions of tiny bubbles up from their masks, and it made me feel like I was swimming in champagne.

When Drew and I got home after leaving Nathan at the airport headed for San Francisco, we had to hit the ground running. Less than two weeks before the students get here! So excited!

Feist is awesome. Her new album gave me the umph to finish writing this blog.


nathan and update

Nathan, brain researcher and high school all state track star, is coming to visit! We'll pick him up at the Dangriga airport in a few hours.

In other news: all major logistics are ready to go so that all 65 coming and going Arkansas will have places to sleep in hotels (3 in Dangriga, 1 in San Ignacio, and 2 in Caye Caulker), ways to get around (buses, minibus, and van), and food to eat.

Right now we're just trying to work out the day to day schedules for all of the teams.

The projects that are happening are: engineering (surveying in Dangriga, health education in Bella Vista, and work on the water system of Steadfast), social work (self esteem, domestic violence, conflict resolution, and alternative discipline seminars to teachers and community members), ecology (work on a 5-year management plan for a national park in Steadfast), business tourism (brochure and a long term plan for tourism development in Dangirga), business seminars (to teach about basic business plans), business microloans (a feasibility study on microloaning in Stann Creek District), economic literacy (teaching business and math to Standard 4 and 5 students of Dangriga), agriculture (school farm in Pomona), and literacy (working with family groups and students).


San Ignacio

So, Drew and I have been in Belize over a month now. Crazy. And I have absolutely no excuse for not blogging. So, just get excited that I am blogging now!

Last weekend, Drew and I were able to travel inland to San Ignacio, which is about 10 miles from the border of Guatemala. When Drew's family came to visit in November, we took a day trip to Xunantunich, which is a few miles outside of San Ignacio. While the ruins were amazing, we weren't able to spend much time at all in San Ignacio itself, so we were excited to be able to spend more time in the city.

San Ignacio is actually a twin city to Santa Elena - they are divided by a river that locals swim in when it is hot. And with the temperatures reaching into the mid 90's, there were a lot of people swimming! Drew and I stayed at the Aguada, a hotel in Santa Elena. It was a little out of the way, but it was very inexpensive, clean, and had a pool to boot. We were very happy. After checking in a and swimming, we took a cab to Cahal Pech, a Mayan ruin site actually in San Ignacio. The ruins weren't huge like the Castillo at Xunantunich, but the ruins were more interesting to explore because there were more chambers and hallways to go through. A beautiful nine-year-old Mayan girl volunteered to be our tour guide, and she showed us all the different ways to climb up the main structure.

The next day Drew and I went on the most popular tour in Belize - the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. The tour was a little pricey, but after it was all said and done, it was totally worth it. We drove for an hour, went on a 45 min hike fording a river 3 times, then finally made it to the mouth of the cave. There, me, Drew, two Italian couples, an Irish man named Rory and our guide donned helmets and head lamps and head into the cave - which meant diving into a 20 ft wide pool of clear cold water. Some of the women dealth with it better than the men. For the next hour or so, we swam and climbed through this enormous cave. The best explanation was like being in a natural basilica. The ceilings reached 30 or 40 feet high. Huge stalagmites, stalagtites and curtain formations glittered in white, red and yellow. Flow stone looked like frozen waterfalls from centuries ago. Rock formations seemed like giant scoops of dripping ice cream. (I was super hungry at the time) It was so humbling. Then we got to an entrance of one of the 13 chambers of the cave. We had to climb up a large boulder then take off our shoes. Park rules dictate that everyone has to wear socks, but no one told Drew and I, so we went bare foot. Luckily we didn't cut our toes. We entered the cave and there was pottery artifacts everywhere. From shards to almost complete pots and urns. Archaeologists believe that the pots were left for food and liquid sacrifices to the Mayan gods. Then, the guide showed us to a shallow dish, used for blood letting rituals. The next artifiacts were calcified skulls and bones, left from human sacrifices. In total we saw the remains of five humans, including the Crystal Princess at the furthest reaches of the cavern. The skeleton of the 18 year old woman is still in tact, except for the fatal wound in her back bone. Her remains lay in front of a large curtain formation. It is at once sad, beautiful and humbling.

It took another couple of hours to make our way back out of the cave, back through the jungle, and to the van. It was a long, strenous day, but so much fun. A once and a lifetime opportunity. Unfortunately, Drew and I didn't bring our camera on the trip because we didn't want to risk it falling in the water of the cave. We spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the pool and exploring the city. The restaurants are wonderful there, everything from Indian to bistro to a French bakery and of course Belizean food. There are also some great bars and a nice market area on the weekend. We can't wait for the students to come in a few weeks and enjoy it for themselves.


A Belizean, Garifuna musician (who has posters around Dangriga) was featured on npr.org. Check it out: Musician Preserves Fading African-Caribbean Culture at npr.org


belize, 2007

things I like about being back in Belize: good fresh fruit, swimming in the sea

thing I don't like about our new house in Belize: squishy toilet seat covers that one might have found in one's grandmother's house in 1992


heading back

We have plane tickets and are heading back to Belize in 2 weeks.