Day 11: Zoo

Oh my, it’s our last day in paradise. Heading home is always bittersweet, usually more bitter than sweet. I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with family and friends, but I also wish I had more time. I feel like I could do this country all over again and instead of choosing option A choose option B and have just as much fun or perhaps even more. I have new ideas on things I’d like to do, places I’d go. I’d even like to visit nearby Honduras for some diving on Rotan Island. If only I had the time to wind my way through Central America.

The tip has gone so much smoother than I could have ever hoped. I was worried about it being hard to spend so much time with the same people, that the trip might be too much of a culture shock, or that we’d have to cut down on our adventures. None of that happened or was a problem. Everyone got on famously and kept up step for step. Hell in a lot of ways they were more adventurous than I was heading down the Crystal Cave.

They say that travel opens new worlds for you, and I think to some degree that was true here. Alyssa may have found a new sport in Diving, and our trip to The Great Blue Hole inspired Jenn to think about going back for more scuba lessons to get her Advanced Open Water Certification. She was always luke warm about the lessons, but now. I’m interested too, we’d be safer divers learning to do beach entries, drift and deep dives, and I’ve been interested in getting a nitrox certification to enjoy tropical waters for that much longer. I’m especially excited for Alyssa.

Today we fly home, but first! The Zoo!

Our wakeup was pretty early to be ready to leave by 7:15. I managed to get some eggs cooked for everyone early enough that when our taxi arrived at 7am we were pretty much ready! We piled into a tiny little Toyota with Alyssa lying across the 3 of us and my head banging against the roof when this poor little car with a blown out suspension would hit any kind of bump. Luckily it’s a short ride to the bus stop.

We make the 7:30 bus, so we’re 1.5hrs ahead of where I thought we needed to be for safety. Good stuff. I hoped the bus would be empty because it was Sunday morning in a pretty religious country, but no such luck, the bus was so much more packed than yesterday. We pilled in, and I sat at the very back on top of my bag. Jenn was able to find a seat after a couple of stops, but it took all the way until Belmopan an hour later for me to get a seat. Like yesterday at Belmopan everyone clears off and we get to move up and sit together.

We meet a nice Belizean couple who work in the tourism industry, and the wife was able to help us make sure we got off at the right stop, but honestly we were fine. They had big signs and the driver knew we planned to stop there.

The Zoo turned out to be so much better than I could have expected. It had a ton of different animals, and a lot of predatory cats: Jaguarundi, Margay, Ocelot, Jaguar, and even a Black Jaguar. They had the national animal a Tapir that looks like a cross between an elephant and a pig. There were a number of birds too, like a pair of Harpy Eagles. The enclosures were surprisingly open and accessible. The animals though are very habituated to humans, and this was in fact how the zoo got its start. Animals filmed in a movie in Belize became too reliant on humans, and so a zoo was set up for them, then the zoo began taking in injured and rescues, even pets. Now as part of an awareness campaign (though I’m a bit skeptical of this), they lure the big cats into smaller cages, then put visitors into people cages inside the big cat enclosure and then let the cats back in. A trainer inside the people cage will feed them chicken legs to get them up close and personal. We got the experience this without the big price tag just walking around because some of the trainers were feeding the big cats after lunch time through the fences. The Jaguars had the biggest impact on me, the female jaguars would hiss and growl at you through the fence, and you could see how if you were alone in the jungle you’d be easy prey. The big Black Jaguar named “Lucky Boy” really impressed with his size. His feet and head were huge. I also learned that Black Jaguars are the same species as the regular Jaguar, but the dark hair comes from a recessive gene that appears about every 1/1000. Interestingly they have the same spotted pattern under their coat and in the right light you can see it show through.

I think we spent a total of 3hrs at the zoo, but then it was time to head on home. We went back out to the highway and set our packs down waiting for the bus. The sun was now sticking out and it got hot quick. The bugs started biting too, little gnats of some kind. We must have just missed the bus too, because 45 minutes later we were still waiting. Then who should pull up but Luis! He wasn’t there to give us a ride, but it was nice to get to thank him again, and he was happy to stay and chat with us until our bus arrived.

The bus ride in was uneventful except for when we arrived a mile or two before the end of the line where a bunch of taxi drivers lured us off the bus telling us this is where you catch a cab for the airport, telling us $45 BZ, only when we got off they wanted $45 US! So tired of this bullshit. We haggle and bluff and eventually get it for $30 US, probably $5 more than it should have been, but again Alyssa is lying on top of everyone in the back seat. And again the taxi has no suspension. Before we even make it a block our driver pulls into a gas station and puts some of our fare into his tank on credit and I’m reminded how tough things are. That all of this bull comes from the stress of having to scape every dollar. You can’t have a view for the long term when you’re just making this month’s rent.

A bumpy ride to the airport and we were past the last real worry before getting home. We did some last minute shopping, and then got reamed with a $40 US/p exit fee we weren’t expecting.  Then it was just a matter of getting on the right flights and getting home.

We had a devil child in front of us on the flight. He started screaming and crying when his little sister got the window even though apparently he got the window on the previous flight. He threw a fit so long that eventually his sister gave in and gave him his seat. He threw fit after fit and his mom despite trying wasn’t able to discipline him. She looked so worn down. Karma caught up a little when we hit turbulence and he had to use the barf bag. When we landed he was still throwing tantrums and lying on the floor at the bottom of the escalators. Eesh.

LAX wasn’t nearly as busy as I expected, and we were out pretty quickly once we passed customs. Though when the customs agent asked us if we bought anything Jenn gave me a heart attack by saying “just food and drink” and I had to add “that we ate there in restaurants!”

Belize was an interesting country in many respects. Culturally there was so much blending from the English colonials, the Creoles brought in as slaves, the local Mayans, and Latinos emigrating from surrounding countries. Belize for an undeveloped country is very clean and it shows a pride in its people and not so much economic pressure that the basic things can’t be taken care of.

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