Our brief soiree in Belize proved to be rife with volunteer projects to film, Caribbean islands to visit, lookouts to scale, and of course much delicious street food to be sampled. All in a days work.
We were visiting a conservation organisation called Ya’axche, which is based in the town of Punta Gorda but has managing responsibilities over several protected areas, and we divided our time between the field station and the office. Filming was a challenge as the volunteers are all long-term (the minimum stay is 6 months) and so involved in large research and education projects which we were unable to contribute too. However, just as we were tiring of countless interviews and office montages, we discovered another project in the region which was keen to show us their work and contribute to the film.Called TIDE (Toledo Institute for Development and Environment), it too manages protected areas, both marine and terrestrial, and we were whisked off to Abalone Caye to view one of their ranger stations. Which was nice.
Neither of us quite felt at home in Belize, the culture is so different from the rest of Central America which we are used to and with so little time it was hard to settle in. The volunteers and staff at both projects were, however, wonderfully accommodating. Now onward to Honduras…
We have spent the past week working extremely hard at a wildlife rehabilitation centre. Called Arcas, the centre is in Peten,Guatemala, and takes in a whole host of animals which have been illegally traded, attempting to rehabilitate them for release back into the wild. Over the course of our stay we have had the joy, misfortune and hilarity of working with parrots, macaws, hawks, turtles, crocodiles, monkeys (both howler and spider) and a baby kinkajou. Mike has been attacked by a giant turkey, Katie thrown in a crocodile cage armed only with a broom, and both of us have been the target of more varieties of excrement than either of us cares to remember. All that we can say is that they certainly know how to run a smooth volunteer operation; a well established program, Arcas relies on volunteers for the daily care of most of its animals and their rent supports 50% of the entire operation. While we are utterly exhausted, it has been an experience we are unlikely to ever have again and one which as certainly been a pleasure to undertake. We hope you enjoy our animal montage.
So I have been trying to give Mike a taste of the top tourist attractions in Guatemala. Apart from the many punctured tires, road blocks, sardine-esque microbuses and an unexpected night in an outrageously rough hotel, we have managed it! Highlights include a standard waterfall or two, countess bats, the crumbling churches of Antigua and the hugely impressive Mayan ruins of Tikal. Tomorrow we head off across the lake to our next project, an animal rescue centre, I’m expecting baby spider monkeys and I’m excited. K
So the team has assembled in Guatemala City and we are preparing to embark on our first adventure, down to the coast near the border with El Salvador where turtles abound. Despite Mike’s embarrassing spelling mistake on the last blog, his spoken Spanish has reached an impressive level already and we are excited for what will follow. Guatemala City is often avoided but it has a lively atmosphere, particularly friendly people and outrageously delicious street food (although amoebas may ensue). Let the filming commence!
My final day here in Xela is surrounded by a bizzare mix of anticipation and nostalgia. Anticipation of the journey I’ll soon be embarking on, but also nostalgia from the thought of leaving this beautiful place behind. Having just shared lunch with my Guatemalan hosts, I realise just how close we’ve become. If anything, the language barrier has only aided the establishment of an unspoken closeness. They are like a family to me now and I will truly miss them. I have shared all kinds of interesting experiences with the Lopez’ and have a host of incredible memories.
Christmas in Guatemala is an interesting affair. The evening started with two hours in the courtyard of the local iglesia, watching a sweaty-faced man hurriedly attempt to fix the PA system. I reminded myself that even if I could have heard what was going on inside the church I wouldn’t have understood it and concentrated on keeping my eyes open. At the turn of midnight the priest greeted the outdoor congregation with the fact that there was no ‘body of Christ’ left to go around so the crowd dispersed and the festivities began.
Back at the house, mama Olga had prepared a half cow for the thirty odd Guatemalans (and myself) that had returned. Eating and drinking ensued and continued until the early hours when the dancing began and my exhausted pigeon spanish was fortunately no longer necessary. The party finished at 9am. Incredible.
New years was a thoroughly different affair. With some friends from my school, we headed down to the coast and the night of año nuevo was spent in front of a campfire, watching fireworks on every horizon and drinking rum from coconuts. The swim in the sea that followed was accompanied by millions of tiny phosphoresent plankton that would explode with light everytime you made the slightest movement.
In summary, it has been a truly memorable few weeks.
Tomorrow I leave for the big city where I’ll meet Katie and we’ll head off to our first filming destination. As sad as I am to be leaving, I cannot wait to get involved with some volunteer work. The next blog update will be from both myself and my big sis.
Xela is a beautiful place. The food here is outrageously delicious, the alcohol ridiculously strong, the weather flawlessly gorgeous, the people relentlessly happy. It’s also, not surprisingly, a tourist vacuum. By which I mean travellers are sucked in and never leave. There are people here with life stories as eclectic as the smells wafting around in the local market.
Early last week I was fortunate enought to stumble across a charming little cobblers, the owner of which was a suave, walnut-faced, elderly gent who puts up travellers in his family house. Not only did he make an enjoyable first interviewee for the documentary, he also made me a beautiful pair of tailored leather boots. Outstanding. On a similar note, people here are suprisingly willing interview subjects and I have high hopes for the months of filming to come.
In the past few days a visit to a local mayan village and an eventful walk up in the mountains have made for some incredible pictures of some incredible people. I hope to upload some more shots to our gallery page in due time. Keep an eye out!
This blog comes from a dusty internet cafe in the parque central of Xela ju, Guatemala.
For the first part of my trip, I’m spending a month on a spanish course to get up to scratch on the lingo before filming starts.
I’m staying with a Guatemalan family here and they are a hilarious bunch. It seems as though the house is a general meeting place for half of the city – there’s rarely less than 15 people around and I’m still not quite sure which of them live there and which are extended family or friends. I spend most of each day studying spanish in a charming little school on the edge of town. This evening I’m off to a salsa class and tomorrow I’ll be watching the local football team win (my family assures me) their first game of the season. It’s a lively town, I’ve no doubt there’ll be many an interesting story to tell by the end of the month…