Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hummingbird Hospital...

Yesterday, Karen was in our gigantic (well, it is pretty big) living room palapa, and a hummingbird wandered in under the edge of the roof and became confused and trapped in the peaked roof area. It eventually exhausted itself and plopped on a reclining chair to rest! Problem is... it couldn't find its way out. It just kept wanting to fly higher. It became so pooped, that she decided to feed the poor thing to get energy enough for us to let him/her loose. So, in Karen goes to the Hummingbird Hospital (our kitchen) and proceeeds to hand feed it with an eye-dropper. It was just amazing watching the looong tongue dart out hungrily to get sugar water! So, after one attempt at release and another "refueling" it finally had the energy to soar off in the sky!

Little Bit's Dilemma...

While trying to doze off last night, Karen and I began to notice Little Bit (our Belizean Chihuahua mix) acting strangely, and scratching a lot. She was just about getting frantic; couldn't keep still and scratch, scratch, scratch. Finally Karen had a better look and saw a puppy with hives... swollen face and all! Pretty strange (and funny) looking. Don't have a clue what she had an allergic reaction to, but 5 or 6 mg of Benadryl and a little bit of Prednisone (steroid) quieted things down very quickly. About 30 minutes after the Benadryl... you could hear the "contentments" and "thank you Mommies" coming from that little dog! The pics are the "morning after" since I didn't screw my head on to get shots during the acute phase at midnight last night! Notice the "jowls" that are definitely not a normal part of her anatomy!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Whale Shark Season

Guests of The Maine Stay have had wonderful experiences diving and snorkeling in Placencia, but none can surpass the thrill of seeing and being close to a whale shark. These pictures were taken by Bryan White, one of our guests in 2008.

For those folks planning their trip to Placencia, the hub of Whale Shark activity in Belize, here are the time slots associated with the full moon. The Destinations Belize website has wonderful detail.

* 9 MARCH - 20 MARCH
* 7 APRIL - 18 APRIL
* 7 MAY - 18 MAY
* 5 JUNE - 16 JUNE

Friends of Nature in Belize also has more details on whale shark activity.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dragon Fly

Swarms of dragon flies frequently appear... not bothering anything. Then there are the Monarch butterflies that I have to get shots of.

Belize Light Show

These three images were taken over the space of no more than 5 minutes...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hidden Treasures

Originally uploaded by traversbelize
I was at a friend's house and looking at the "ordinary" stuff that get's collected over the years of living in Belize... check out what's inside.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Quash (Coatamundi)

There are a surprising number of these interesting creatures on the Peninsula. One of our neighbors treats this one as a semi-pet, so it hangs around a lot and loves to patrol the fence around our house. Of course, this drives our dogs absolutely nuts. Read about these critters highlighted at the Belize Zoo here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Every once in a while, a moment comes along that makes a great photograph. Early one morning, at the end of the Placencia Airstrip, one of those moments presented itself...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Our immediate neighbor on the beach, John Ford, took this incredible photo of an Osprey perched in the whispering pine tree in their beach yard. I hope this is indicative of us beginning to see more of these magnificent creatures around the area.

photo by John Ford

Monday, October 20, 2008

Traveler Palm

I hadn't really done any research on the so-called Traveler Palm plant. It's actually a member of Bird of Paradise family and the leaves look like a banana plant. We have more than a dozen of these very large growing specimens and have learned to propagate them by carefully digging up the "babies" that sprout at the base of the plant and sticking them right back in the sand with some good soil amendment. More information here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Airline Travel

Seth Godin writes a marketing blog that is very popular. He takes on the airline/airport/government mess today with some thoughts that will have you shaking your head with agreement.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Belize Heaven

Well, let's see what everyone thinks of my first video.
Music by Taliesin Orchestra... "Caribbean Blue."
How long do you suppose the guy with the big nose has been waiting for someone to come by and notice him?

And then there's the toothy grin just waiting for the right camera angle...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Placencia, Belize Beach Happiness!

After running and playing on the beach, the kids shared some treats that Dad just "happened" to find! From the looks on their faces... all is well.

Mom and Dad and Zack head back to Maine tomorrow. It's hard to believe that two weeks have flown by so quickly.

Their will be lots more pictures of the other adventures...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Do It Again, Dad!

We have been having some hot days, so lunch and a swim at the pool at Bella Maya was an easy choice for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Kevin will get some pictures posted of his great day out fishing with John Ford. Check those and others here and here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Laughingbird Caye

When you can go to a great place like Laughingbird Caye and swim with Mommy and Grammy... it's a good day!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Zack is here... and all fired up!

One of the first things that is necessary after you arrive in Belize, is making sure that the equipment is running properly and that the sand can be moved around to make the infrastructure work properly. Do you suppose Albert may be getting some competition?

If the boss is taking a morning snack break, it's important to make sure any crumbs that are left over get cleaned up immediately by the hired help.

Then, after lunch, it's very important to rejuvenate from the heat and make sure you are ready to carry on for the rest of the day...

So that the afternoon siesta is comfortable...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Zack Is Coming!

Our 4 year old grandson (and his mom and dad) arrive today. His dad, Kevin, is a graphic designer and artist at Bowdoin College in Maine... so naturally enough Zack will have his own digital journal to record his Belize Adventures. The cover design is a gem. This should be a great visit. Marcia (Zack's mom) and Karen will have their hands full with all the paparazzi around!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Belize Chocolate!!

For quite a while now, I have been planning to write a piece on my addiction to chocolate and my difficulty in finding sources of the "really good stuff" in Belize. It was meant to be witty, humorous and filled with irony and sarcasm... since one of the best sources of great chocolate is now just a few steps down the road from us! Well, much to my delight (and chagrin) someone beat me to it. Check out this wonderful blog entry about Goss Organic Chocolate.

Class Act: BELIZE

Sometimes, as I stumble around looking at various news stories, blog entries and pictures about various trips, tours, and other less easily classified adventures in Belize... I find something that strikes a note of heightened credibility. An article in today's New Orleans Times-Picayune, written by a group of journalism students, captures more of the real flavor of Belize than most.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mom's Lap is Too Small...

It has become a part of the morning routine for Little Bit to jump on Karen's lap during our coffee time. It's important to have a place to rest your chin!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bandolero-Tequila Agave... Yes, it's what they make tequila from!

For a long time we have been using what we call "Bandolero" plants in our landscaping. These are a succulent that comes from the Agave family and there are several types. The most common in Belize and the rest of Central America is the Tequila Agave. This is the first one we have seen shooting up a blossom spike and we are suitably impressed with the size of both the plant and the spike (about 20 feet). Unfortunately, after it truly blossoms, it will die.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Photography in Belize

Well... the joy of being an amateur photographer in Belize is hard to beat. In this age of affordable digital cameras, even a klutz can take decent pictures. I've put together a sampling of My Favorites. Maybe it will inspire just one of you to get that camera out and shoot!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Belize Tourism Industry

Tourism is fast becoming the leading economic engine of the country. [4] In a recent speech to the Belize tourism industry, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said:
"The World Travel and Tourism Council has reported that the tourism industry is responsible for 297 million jobs worldwide. It contributes over 8 trillion dollars to the global GDP. In Belize, over 25% of all jobs is tourism-driven or tourism-related, with the industry directly responsible for over 18% of our GDP. According to the Central Bank, tourism last year accounted for 590 million dollars in revenue. This figure was up 90 million over the previous year, despite the effects of Hurricanes Dean and Felix on the industry generally and the cruise sector in particular. And tourism is now, and has been for some time, our number one foreign exchange earner. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, tourism is for Belize very serious business indeed."

Key Note Belize City - 15 May, 2008 - Biltmore Plaza Hotel - Address by Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow to the 10th Annual Industry Presentation.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Placencia Road Contract Signed

Official News Release from The Government of Belize.

Ministry of Works
Signing Ceremony for Placencia Road Project

Belmopan - 11 July, 2008
Official signing ceremonies were held today at the Inn at Robert’s Grove for the upgrading of the Placencia Road between the Government of Belize and Cisco Construction Limited. Upgrading will be done to approximately twenty (20) miles of road between mile 21 on the Southern Highway Junction and the community of Placencia passing thru Maya Beach, Riversdale, Seine Bight and ending at the Placencia Airstrip.

Present at today’s signing was the Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow. He expressed that he was proud to be a part of history that will realize a project that was initially introduced by the UDP Government in 1998. He thanked the contractor and anticipates that the completion of the project will bring more tourism development in Placencia. Other guest also included the Minister of Works, Hon. Anthony “Boot” Martinez, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Hon. Manuel Heredia and Minister of Transport and Area Representative for Stann Creek West, Hon. Melvin Hulse.

The Civil works will consist of the construction of an embankment, side drains, concrete drainage structures and a double lane bituminous running surface. Sidewalks will be provided through the urban areas of Maya Beach and Seine Bight as will pedestrian crossings, speed control devices and lay by facilities for Bus Stops. The contract also includes the construction of a new Multi-purpose facility that will replace the existing Seine Bight Community Center.

The Project is being funded in the amount of BZ$25,881,550.73 by the Caribbean Development Bank and the Government of Belize. Works have already commenced on the road project and should be completed within a twenty-six (26) months construction period.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tikal, Xunantunich, Cahal Pech & El Pilar

Belize's western Cayo District borders Guatemala and there are several Maya ruins in the general vicinity. The district is a 90-minute drive from Belize City International Airport.

What to do

Tikal National Park This ruin of more than 3,000 buildings was home to an estimated 100,000 Mayans and is located in Guatemala, about 50 miles northwest of its border with western Belize's Cayo District. The drive from the town of San Ignacio in that district is almost entirely on dirt roads and takes about two hours. The Lodge at Chaa Creek offers a full-day guided tour for 1-4 people at $275 per person, which includes transportation, lunch, and visa/entry fees.

Xunantunich Reached by a hand-cranked ferry ride across the Mopan River, this important ceremonial center features "El Castillo," a monument that is among the tallest buildings in Belize, and an exceptional stucco carving of Maya deities. The ferry is located on the Western Highway in the village of San Jose Succotz in the Cayo District. Chaa Creek offers this tour for $100 per person.

Cahal Pech This site is located in the Cayo District on a hill overlooking San Ignacio. Its center is made up of 34 structures, the tallest of which is 77 feet high. Dating to 1200 B.C., it is one of the earliest Maya settlements in the Maya lowlands.

El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna Located north of Bullet Tree Falls in the Cayo District, and about 10 miles from San Ignacio, this site affords incredible views of the Belize River Valley. El Pilar is 32 miles from Tikal. Chaa Creek's tour is $135 per person.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Placencia Airstrip Caution Sign

As I pass by the Airstrip almost daily to go to the Village, I barely even notice this sign... but the tourists just love it. I bet it is the most photographed sign on the entire Peninsula.

What is for certain is the need to pay attention to the warning... sometimes the planes are fully loaded and need every bit of that airstrip that we drive around the end of so casually !

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Placencia Peninsula Road

All of us are hoping that getting rid of the pot hole riddled stretch of pavement through Seine Bight Village is just the beginning of things to come for the Peninsula! Here are some pictures and a short video as equipment worked in front of The Maine Stay. It's the "little things" in Belize that matter.

The paving of the Peninsula Road has been on the Belize government's "to do" list of promises for years. It has finally been funded and work is expected to start "soon." We are all just waiting for the that magic appearance of the real equipment and the job to begin!

Without doubt, the paving of the road will transform the Peninsula... for good and probably a little not so good. Placement of "speed bumps" will certainly be a crucial element in keeping traffic under some semblance of control.

Belize - Make Time for the Adventure of your Life

Here is a 3 minute trailer of the new Belize Tourist Board's promotional video for the tourism industry in Belize. This clip by Naturalight Productions is one of the best we've seen on Belize. Show it to your friends. Click on the title above or this link to play.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jaguar story

On the Trail of the Jaguar in Central Belize

Tue, June 24, 2008

In the 1980’s, American zoologist Alan Rabinowitz led the crusade to establish the world’s first jaguar reserve in Belize’s Cockscomb Basin. The rest, as they say is history. Belize has gone on to great international fame as a conservation trailblazer and our protected jaguar population in Belize has become a thing of genuine wonderment and not a few touristic marketing manoeuvres.

And while tourism and conservation have exploded, in the 20 years since the Cockscomb Reserve was established, no Belizean has stepped forward to take up the mantle and local jaguar research has been dominated by foreigners. And that’s where the subject of our next story comes in. He is Omar Figueroa, a Cayo boy and Belize’s first jaguar man, or to put it more properly, first full-time jaguar researcher. And Figueroa’s not only picking up where Rabinowitz left off, he’s literally re-mapping what is known about jaguars in Belize.

Jules Vasquez visited with him at the Runaway Creek Nature Preserve off the Coastal Road.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,

This is the Runaway Creek Nature Reserve. In the early light it seems picturesque as the morning sun shimmers and dances on a wet weather pond. But don’t let that idyllic setting fool you, this place can be hell! First there’s the nearly impassable roads...and while those are difficult, the bush is far worse.

This may look like a casual jungle hike led by Reserve Manager Reynold Cal with jaguar experts Omar Figueroa and Bart Harmsen and Pecarry Hills guide Gilford Hoare. But after the floods, it feels like a descent into hell: it’s a trek through the most mosquito infested area I’ve ever encountered. And if you don’t see a cloud of them hovering behind Figueroa’s backpack you can see them here, when he stops. But what to do? Just shake them off and walk on – on the trail of the jaguar.

Omar Figueroa, Jaguar Researcher

“We’re trapping jaguars and pumas and deploying GPS collars with a pre-determined program of positioning fixes.”

Figueroa knows that the cats are frequent visitors to this cave and they have been captured on specialised unmanned photosensitive cameras that were placed in the cave and all along this route to make sure they are looking in the right place. And the cave is one of those places where the big cats bring prey to eat, away from the mosquitoes and the heat. Cat scat as it’s called shows that they’ve been through here fairly recently. These shards of pottery indicate that the cave was also used plentifully by the Mayas along with jaguars. One of them crushed this turtle and this armadillo.

Omar Figueroa,

“They usually attack by grabbing an animal by the back of the neck. They bite and then they break their skulls here at the back.”

But after a brief stop in the cave, it’s more trekking, deeper into the jungle where after an hour we do find a spider monkey who looks like he’s having his own mosquito issues but no jaguar as the trap we’ve come to check is unsprung.

Reynold Cal,

“So it is negative for today but tomorrow’s another day.”

He’s re-covering the neatly concealed trap – so that the jaguar doesn’t see it. This is the first time this type of leg hold trap has been used in Central America.

Omar Figueroa,

“It’s a leg hold trap, a specialized leg hold trap that essentially tightens a noose around the jaguar’s leg. It comes equipped with a shock absorber so that when the jaguar jerks on it, the joints are not injured and it also has swivels so there is no twisting on the leg. So it is by far the safest method to trap these large carnivores.”

And to demonstrate how safe, Figueroa tested it himself – showing that it caused no trauma to his hand. But apart from being harmless and almost undetectable on the jungle floor, the trap’s most important feature is that it is fitted with a radio transmitter, which tells the trapper when something’s been caught. When it is activated this pin is released and it sends a signal to trappers out in the field who use this portable antenna to track the radio signal. One beep every three seconds like this.

[Beeping…this is 07 and then that one is not triggered and then 08..beeping…one pulse every three seconds.]

Means nothing has been captured; if it beeped three times a second that would have meant something was caught. Nothing on this day but weeks earlier the beeps came in a flurry, and this snarling jaguar was waiting for them.

[Footage of Wild Jaguar]

Coming in direct physical contact with a wild jaguar is a rare and exhilarating moment that very few have had.

Omar Figueroa,

“You have to understand that we’re dealing here with the largest cat in the Americas and, if you really look at it real closely, we’re looking at the cat that has the strongest bite, pound for pound in terms of pressure per square inch; the strongest bite of any of the large cats all over this planet.”

Bart Harmsen has been working with jaguar research in the Cocksomb for five years but he’s never been this close.

Bart Harmsen,

“Suddenly you can touch your study animal and for me that was one of the most thrilling moments in the world in a lot of ways. Before that it’s been four years of seeing sometimes maybe a glimpse of them or seeing them sometimes walking on the trail and suddenly you have this powerful cat right in front of you and it is a magical feeling. I feel like a privileged person now that I can do that.

I actually thought that they would be really angry at you but they just try to get away from you. I mean they’re snarling at you, they are definitely snarling but you can see that they are just trying to shy away from. You got this big powerful cat that you know has the power to kill you but they’re not doing that. They are looking at you and they’re trying to just get away. They know that if driven to it, they will charge at you but first they are just trying to get away. And that surprises me, the shyness in these powerful animals.”

Reynold Cal, Reserve Manager

“The jaguar is a very feared animal and the Mayans, my ancestors, revered it very much and to actually get close to it, it is very exhilarating.”

Gilford Hoare,

“It is the quite experience for me because I had never gotten so close to a jaguar alive. I usually see them when they are dead and that is the only time I went so close to one that was alive so it was kind of scaring to me.”

Omar Figueroa,

“So it is intimidating and you have to be very careful. When I encounter a cat in a trap, I really don’t have time to think about a lot of things. I get focused and I just have to make sure I drug that cat as quickly as possible because the jaguar is coming at you. The difference between a jaguar and a puma in a trap is the puma is running away from you and the jaguar is coming at you. So you have to move fast and there is no room for error.”

This is what he moves with, a carbon powered tranquilizer gun, seen here under the tutelage of world re-knowned trapping expert Barren Simpson. Here, this puma gathers a defensive stance but is hit before he knows what caught him and shortly after he’s falling asleep. Once asleep, he’s fitted with this collar. At US$4,000 each, it’s designed to be lightweight but efficient; it has a VHF transmitter, a UHF transmitter and a GPS transmitter.

Omar Figueroa,

“These collars weigh about 300 to 400 grams. It is very light compared to the weight of these top predators. They come equipped with UHF beacon and a VHF beacon. In addition they have a GPS. So when the cat is running around, the GPS is working. It is getting fixes and it stores it on board.”

And that’s where this computer comes in, Figueroa tracks them with the VHF signal – and then hones into the collar with a UHF download.

Omar Figueroa,

“After I have identified where these cats are, I hook up with my computer and I establish a connection with the UHF beacon and it is through that connection that I download all the GPS points and I can download two to three hundred points per second when I have a good connection.”

And beyond the exhilaration of capture and the adventure of the trek, that’s the real purpose of this study. To find out where the cats are, where they roam and how they co-exist.

Omar Figueroa,

“If you look Belize, the entire country, you have two huge conservation blocks. But in the central portion of Belize there is no connectivity, there is no corridors.”

Bart Harmsen,

“We need to know how these cats are moving around in this landscape and with this kind of knowledge, knowing how these cats are moving around, the Belize government will be able to shape policy of how they have to deal with these jaguars.”

And as what are called apex predators, jaguars are critical to understanding the state of play of the surrounding environment.

Omar Figueroa,

“The main reason behind using these cats is that as the apex predator they play a critical role in maintaining the structure and function of ecosystems. So when you devise a conservation policy, a natural resource policy, focused on these cats, you simultaneously protect a host of sympatric species. When you focus and you develop conservation policy, natural resource policy around this jaguar you are essentially protecting a host of other specie, flora and fauna biodiversity in general.

Then we will better be able to start to gain some educated guesses as to how many jaguars we have in this country and really where the critical areas are that we need to protect for these cats. You could protect 50% of this country but you could be protecting, half of that you don’t really need to protect. It could be an erroneous plan.”

And while tracking will fine tune plans, it will also tell us about this fascinating predator.

Omar Figueroa,

“All the large cats Jules, across this planet, have really inspired their fair share of legends of superstitions but only the jaguar has really dominated the culture and the religion of an entire continent. You could go back to as early as recorded history in South America and 5,000 year old jaguar sculptures have been unearthed from that era. You can go back 2000 years ago and there are 20 jaguar sculptures and even around us there are the Mayan times. So from a cultural perspective it is important. It is easy to reach out to people and project the jaguar as the conservation icon.”

And a large part of that iconography is the enduring mystery of these predators and their deadly stealth as they traverse the country’s interior. And hopefully, some of the allure of that mystery is preserved, even as these cats are studied and probed.

Figueroa’s research is for the completion of his doctorate at the University of Florida. The study area is concentrated in the contiguous Peccary Hills and Runaway Creek Reserves in central Belize. Combined they occupy an 18,000 acre swathe. So far 3 pumas and 3 jaguars have been collared.

His research is funded by award from the International Foundation for Science based in Sweden. The Panthera/Wildlife Conservation Society with local institutional assistance from PACT and BTB and privately from David Gegg and the Peccary Hills Initiative and Dr. Gil Boese, Foundation for Wildlife Conservation and the Runaway Creek Nature Reserve who have both donated collars and other assistance.

Shortly after our story, the mosquitoes got even worse and the team pulled up traps. Figueroa is presently in the USA acquiring more collars so that he can set up more traps to cover a greater area.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Southern Highway Land Bridge over the Sittee River in Kendall, Belize

A few days ago, I wrote about the Kendall Bridge over the Sittee River on the Southern Highway that had been washed away during the flooding in Belize caused by Tropical Storm Arthur. Today, we went to Belmopan and had the chance to try out the new temporary land bridge. I was suitably impressed with the size, and with the job that got done in just a few days. Large buses and 18 wheel crude oil laden tanker trucks are using this thing all day every day. My hats are off to the folks, both private and public, who made this happen. A few more pictures can be checked out on Flickr. Click on the title above.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wallen's Market, Pharmacy & Hardware

Sooner or later, visitors to Placencia find their way to Wallen’s. There are other grocery stores and veggie/fruit stands, and there are definitely times when hitting more than one will be necessary to find what you need! For most things, though… Wallen’s has a good selection.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Flooding in Belize

Placencia Back to Normal...

Many of you have seen news reports of significant flooding in Belize caused by Tropical Storm Arthur. Torrential rains in the mountains in western Belize and Guatemala caused eastward flowing rivers to overflow their banks and create a great deal of misfortune for coastal Belize residents.

Also, a key bridge over the Sitee River along the Southern Highway was washed away. This effectively cut the country in half for about 10 days. The flow of essential supplies was greatly impeded, since most are brought in by truck.

Although it took several days for the water to recede enough to begin getting a temporary crossing in place... the job has been done and supply and other vehicles are crossing routinely. Work will begin now on a new and better replacement bridge. Yay! Fresh fruits and veggies again! And the Placencia Lobsterfest is the weekend of June 27, 28 & 29!!