Start: January 21, Mayan Wells
Finish: January 24, San Jose Succotz
Jungle Cats Seen: 5
Monkeys Fed: 1
Days of Reliable Internet in Belize: 1
Price of Gas in Belize: $5.50/gallon
We wrap up our time in Belize with a trifecta of jungle campgrounds. First stop is Mayan Wells in the middle of the country, then it's on to the Belize Zoo education center, and finally The Trek Stop in San Jose Succotz near the Guatemalan border.
By far the highlight of our Belize experience was the zoo. It is unlike any other zoo I've ever been to. The jungle setting and the dozens of species of native animals, all rescued or given by other zoos, made it more than worth the $15 admission fee.
From Sarteneja we backtracked to Corozal, partially because it was an hour less of driving on dirt roads, but mostly because we wanted to stop at our favorite butcher shop. This time the specialty was thick cut bacon. After two months of paper-thin Mexican grocery store bacon we were in hog heaven.
About a 90 minute drive south, a bit east of Belize City we stop at a restaurant/campground called Mayan Wells. We are promptly attacked by botlas flies, the nine welts on my elbow still itch after five days.
Run by an expat for the past 44 years, the property at Mayan Wells is huge, and beautiful. It's named for the ancient well on the property that taps into the underground river. The photo above shows the "pond" that resulted from the excavation of 25 feet of dirt. It's technically part of the underground river system and even holds a few species of small fish.
They also stock the pond with red tilapia, which we'd be grilling up for dinner if we'd stayed more than one night. Too many bugs and not enough time to fish.
The owner taught us how to make a traditional bug repellant device. I consists of a big coffee can with holes punched in the sides, a chunk of coconut husk and a bunch of cahoon nuts. You light the husk and wait for the nuts to start smoking and then cover it. Apparently the smoke keeps the bugs away. It works as well as mosquito coils, entirely dependent on the wind cooperating, which it did not.
Unfortunately Kobus managed to burn his hand in the process. He picked up the container with a pair of pliers just as the wind kicked up and changed directions, blowing the flame up his arm. Needless to say, he's taken the lead on the band aid scoreboard.
The resident loudmouth, named Sweetie, lives next to the pond. The next morning, before we head out, Jessica decides to feed the monkey an apple. Its response? To fire up the howling machine. It's less like a howl really, more like a high pitched growl. The noise attracts three large rottweilers and we decide it's time to go!
Ever wondered what a monkey looks like while simultaneously eating and howling? Now you know. It's messy, and loud.
Our next stop is a short hour-long drive to the Tropical Education Center next to the Belize Zoo. It's part lodge, part nature center and part campground. It seems like most people stay the night in order to take a tour of the zoo after sunset, mostly to see the spider monkeys and cats that are more active in the evening.
We decide to spend one night, once again infested with bugs, and planned to see the zoo early the next morning. We caught our first glimpse of a tucan and a pair of parrots while we had breakfast before heading out. Fruit loops were not on the menu.
The Belize Zoo has an interesting story. It was started in the 80s after a movie set left 20 domesticated animals and no hope of introducing them back into the wild. All of the animals at the zoo are rescues, rehab patients or donations from zoos in other countries. The species are entirely native to Belize, and quite a few are considered endangered.
If you've been to zoos with tropical exhibits in less-than-tropical climates, you know the lengths they go to to construct an environment that simulates the a native climate. That means big greenhouses, glass domes and artificially heated and humidified rooms.
This was totally different. The zoo is literally the jungle. It seemed like they built walls to keep the jungle out, rather than to keep the jungle in. There are animals running around outside the cages that have nothing to do with the exhibits, but could easily be found in a zoo anywhere else in the world.
We took a ton of pictures, the best are at the end of this article, past the butterflies.
The tapir, or jungle cow. Belize's national animal. I think Kobus has made a friend.
Two animals definitely steal the show at the zoo, the harpy eagles and the jaguars. Both are endangered, and the zoo is going to extraordinary efforts to breed and reintroduce individuals into the wild.
This is Junior. He's quite the character. His mother was rescued and brought to the zoo several years ago. Turns out she was pregnant, but unfortunately rejected Junior, as often happens with jaguars born in captivity. He had to be raised by hand, so he's tame, and loves to show off for park visitors.
After leaving the zoo, we head to the Guatemalan border. We're camped just on the other side of San Ignacio in the town of San Jose Succotz at a place called The Trek Stop. The nights are cooler and the biting flies seem to have dissipated. It's funny how mosquitoes don't really seem so bad anymore.
Went spend the next couple days performing our usually pre-border crossing ritual. Researching where we're going and what to expect at immigration and customs. It's a beautiful setting for a work day! Now if only the internet would start working again...
We had a visitor our second day. A rat snake fell from a tree and decided to make the roof his home for a bit. There are a dozen or so venomous snakes in Belize, several of which are really nasty. Luckily this guy's harmless, he's just chasing the geckos around.
The communal area at The Trek Stop is a great place to bird watch. We've had daily visits from this little woodpecker, and we've seen oriole, hummingbirds and countless other colorful critters we can't identify.
The owner keeps a butterfly house with a dozen or so species. With the help of his daughters he tracks down eggs in the forest and brings them into the screened enclosure to hatch. Now if only he could keep the iguanas out...
Pupae are meticulously collected and hung to hatch in a protected case. These two will become blue morphos butterflies.
Our favorite butterfly was the clearwing. It's relatively small, but its translucent wings are out of this world.
Up next, into Guatemala - the granddaddy of all Mayan ruins at Tikal, and the clear pools of Semuc Champey.
I can't remember the name of this guy. But he has a pretty awesome hairdo. We'll call him the Elvis bird.
A blue crowned mot-mot. Winner of the fanciest tail feather award.
A scarlet macaw, very rare in Belize. He greeted us will a "hello" when we walked by.
A closeup of the tapir. Quite a schnozer on this one.
The harpy eagle got a bit excited when we started taking pictures.
An ocelot making kitty-face-love to the fence.
The biggest cat in the zoo was this puma. He was sleepy though and didn't seem too thrilled to see us.
A couple crocodiles chilling out in the sun.
Junior, doing what he does best, rolling in the grass and biting his feet. Check out our Facebook page in a couple days for a video of Junior.
Next to Junior are a couple more leopards, this guy seems to have taken offense with something the tree said.
They also put on a bit of show, chasing each other around and rolling around on the ground.
Ain't he cute?