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Belize Day 3 – birding, tubing, enjoying the jungle

It all starts when a mango fruit drops from the tree canopy above our house and lands with a sharp clack on our wooden deck, waking you from your slumber. Moments later you vaguely make out the long, drawn out chirp of some lonely song bird longing for a mate. Several breaths later the croak of a giant bullfrog resonates from somewhere beneath our house floor. From there the jungle pours in through the windows, and fills our room with high definition melodies that leave us deadly silent in bed, afraid to move and miss a single note. 

The sun started to peak its head above the small mountain ridge across the valley and shine in through one of our open windows. With the morning light comes a whole new set of animals ready to let the world know they are awake. In the span of 15 minutes we have probably listened to, literally, thousands of different animals, insects, and plant noises. 

It’s now 5:45 am, the kitchen isn’t open for another hour and my stomach is starting to growl alongside the creatures of the night, as though it has reverted to it own carnal state and must announce its presence. Jessica is still in bed, giddy with delight at the spectacle of it all. I walk over to the coffee maker and open the jar of fresh beans to fill the room with an aroma to equal the audible pleasures already invading the place. While the coffee is brewing, curiosity drives me over to one of our windows and I spy outside to try and spot one of the monkeys we had seen the night before. There’s nothing there today but a bunch of butterflies and freshly bloomed flowers. 

Today Jessica and I are going bird watching before breakfast, something that had me internally conflicted as, at the last minute before our departure, I made the gut wrenching decision to leave behind my nice DSLR and telephoto lens. Several reasons played into this, not the least of which is the incredible humidity that we have been enjoying. 80% humidity does not play nice with cameras nor lenses.  Each morning as we emerge from our airconditioned room and hit the wall of tropical humid air, anything with glass instantly fogs over, it’s actually a magical thing to witness, but a tragic thing to see happen to a nice lens. Additionally, I turn into a helicopter parent whenever I have my camera with me. Going for a nice swim in the ocean? Sure thing, just don’t mind me while I stop every two strokes and look back nervously at my backpack on the beach. Want to go for a nice, romantic, stroll down the beach? Sure thing, don’t mind the third wheel of my 300mm lens (not an innuendo, I promise). All of these things conspire against what this trip is going to be about. So with much guilt and pain, I left behind my best mechanical friend. Now, the iPhone can compensate for a good portion of the photographic demands of a tropical, beach, underwater adventure. However, birdwatching, the iPhone cannot do. To get a good shot of anything in a tree top, you need some serious glass in front of that camera, today I’m really dreading my decision a few days ago. 

Our friend, Abel, from adventures such as yesterday’s Mayan ruin extravaganza, met us at 6:15 am with his girlfriend, a field guide book, two pairs of binoculars an epic spotting scope on a tripod. I’m not sure why I had not expected this when we spoke about paying Abel to take us birdwatching. Something about giving someone money to walk with you as you look at birds seems a little peculiar to me. But when Abel showed up with a well used field guide and a legit spotting scope, my suspicions immediately turned to excitement, this dude knew what was up and was ready to get his serious birding game on. We met in the middle of the lodge’s parking lot and Abel set up his tripod right there, in the middle of the road and got started. Something about this was odd to me, I thought that we were going to have to trek deep into the jungle to find the ellusive belly warbler that has only been spotted by medicine men and Mayan tribes. Nope, we can just sit right here, where we’ve been standing 20 times before, and not seen anything, and be shown 20 different birds in about 5 minutes. 

And, with that, we began our great Belizean jungle birding adventure. Abel would expertly call to the specific bird he wanted to see, and it would fly past us and perch nearby so we could spot it with the spotting scope. Abel then transcended from mortal genius to immortal God in my book as he found a way to position his spotting scope in front of my iPhone lens and allow for some pretty sweet, albeit not quite as nice as the Nikon, telephoto shots of the birds,all for your gatlogging pleasure. We slowly called to, spotted, photographed and noted each of birds that were in the area and then slowly moved on down the road deeper into the jungle. We rounded a corner and found ourselves at the base of two large valleys connected in the middle by a long wall of mountain, making a sort of giant bowl. Here we stood for a brief moment and Abel began to make a grunting noise, one that made me a little uncomfortable but was done with such deliberate focus I couldn’t help but wonder to what he was speaking. And then we saw it, a gigantic yellow bill poking through the leaves, the toucan. These birds are awesome, like a painters palette with wings attached, they sit high atop the jungle feasting on giant fruits and showing off for those lucky enough to spot them from below. Abel lined up a great shot for me and we got something in frame that almost passes for a great photo. Good deal. 

Abel’s girlfriend took notes of each of the birds we saw and we headed back to the lodge to grab some breakfast. Along the way we couldn’t help from noticing how our eyes had been retrained to see the ‘jungle through the trees’ and pick out not only the wonderful species of birds everywhere, but also see the flora and fauna of the place. The wild ginger flowers, the orchids and hibiscus everything we had previously looked over or just glanced at popped out and stood remarkably brilliant against its back drop. 

Breakfast was over in the blink of any eye and we were off to one of Jessica’s most anticipated parts of our trip, floating down a river in an inner tube. If you ever want to see my lovely wife in the happiest of her happy places, look for her floating on a body of water, with a drink in hand, and without a care in the world. Throw a jungle and some caves into that mix, and well, you get a pretty happy Jessica. 

We arrived at the jungle tubing experience and had to haul our tube about a mile into the jungle to the entrance of the cave. We also had to sport a fashionable (not possible) life vest and cave helmet with flash light. Amazon failed to ship me some awesome water shoes I ordered for the trip, so I had to sport a wickedly cool pair of blue and yellow crocs for the trek, not my finest hour. We slowly descended into the cave and found ourselves weaving in and out of stalactites and stalagmites, traversing along next to the river deep in the heart of the cave. There, Jessica, myself and a guide jumped into the water, set ourselves up on our tubes and turned off our flashlights. Absolute darkness enveloped us immediately. You could not see your hand an inch from your face. Pure darkness and nothing but the sound of water on rock to orient you. We lit our flashlights back up and made our way through the cave by tube. Being in a cave is not really my cup of tea, something about the lack of sense of direction and natural light gives me an unsettled sense of impending doom. But hey, when in Rome, am I right? We floated as far as one can float in a cave, then hiked our way back out and found the adventure over all to soon. 

On the way back to the lodge we found some spiders the size of my face, and weird caterpillars with hairy spikes dangling from the tree above some 30 feet trying to snag an unsuspecting insect, I almost swallowed three of these bastards. 

We made it back to our lodge in one piece and decided to take some stand up paddle boards out for a spin on the river that flows right next to the lodge property. Seriously this place also has a river! We paddled our way up stream and lazily floated back down, me straddling the board like a surfboard, Jessica doing yoga poses. Fish swam underneath us and as soon as the heat got unbearable I’d jump in and cool off in the fresh mountain water. 

We finished off the day drinking daquiris by the pool and talking with some of the other guests, two of whom we found out we’re from NorthPark, San Diego, like a half mile from our house…the guy also had red hair and a beard, really weird. 

Tomorrow we leave the jungle and head to the coast to catch a ferry from the mainland to one of the barrier reef islands.

Not sure how to top today, but we will try our best to do so. 

Until then,

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