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Better Belize It
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Better Belize It
  Orange Walk District Travel Tale

By Doreen Kerby . . .

belizemenboat3.jpg One of the most popular tours in Belize is the trip to Lamanai Outpost Lodge in the Orange Walk District. It's a 40 km cruise along the New River, a waterway which eventually opens up into a lake-like expanse called the New River Lagoon. The river teems with bird life,. We saw white ibis, blue herons, parrots, frigate birds, parakeets and jacanas - (the Jesus Christ bird which looks like it is walking on the water). No manatees, but we saw an anteater which lives on termites whose nests are huge balls of mud in the trees above the water.

belizeboatwave2.jpg Lamanai Outpost Lodge is a luxury resort situated on one and a half acres beside the New River Lagoon. How could I be so fortunate? The jungle was out there, but I had all the comforts of home. My cabana, handcrafted of local hardwoods with palm thatched roofs, had a private bathroom, hot and cold running water, 24-hour electricity, purified water, daily housekeeping and a verandah surrounded by lush tropical gardens.

belizeeat2.jpg Testing a hammock, I watched the sun disappear and saw six red lord parrots leave the area to roost for the night. Chico, a howler monkey high above in the trees, was watching every move. Owners Mark and Monique Howells fell in love with Lamanai back in 1992 and decided to stay. They adopted two baby howler monkeys that had been captured by villagers. They refused to pay for the howlers because that would encourage the trade. Mark convinced the owners that the monkeys would die with such poor care. The two little bundles wrapped in baby's blankets, one with a broken arm, became day and night care for the new parents. Years of parenting resulted in two healthy howlers being reintroduced to the wild.

Belize has a healthy family of howlers, 1500 strong. They make a terrible racket. Generated by a powerful throat sac that funnels sound into an unusually large resonating bone, they sound like a lion, only louder. At 90 decibels they can be heard more than a mile away. At the Lodge, Mark encourages Chico to talk to him. It sounds ferocious but apparently that isn't the case.

The staff at the Lodge includes a primatologist, an archaeologist and two botanists to conduct tours. One morning I got up when it was still dark to meet a guide for a birding trip. Dawn was just breaking when we got to a country lane and an open field. With Carlos' expertise and the high-powered birding scope, I was able to see a keel-billed toucan, parrots and other exotic birds.

The first night was set aside for a Spot Light Tour in the Night Tracker, a fishing boat custom-designed for the job. Carlos was remarkable. Birds and snakes picked up in the spot light were identified with detailed information.

The thrill of the night was a six-foot crocodile gliding by our boat with a snake in its mouth. Later in the evening a crocodile with a big piece of fish, slipped out of sight. A blunt headed tree snake came right to the boat. Perfectly harmless, Carlos encouraged us to handle it, which surprisingly, was a pleasant experience.

At the end of the evening we stopped beside a research boat where Thomas Rainwater, a toxicologist from the University of Texas, was busy catching baby crocodiles, trying to determine how they are affected by pollution.

At night the spotlight makes the eyes of the crocodile glow like red embers. Thomas snares young ones, tapes their mouths, and back at camp takes blood samples. Before they are released, the vertical scutes on the back are clipped in a pattern that will permanently identify each crocodile.

Lamanai is unique in its approach to sustainable utilization of natural resources. Scientific research, ecotourism, conservation and education are the mission of the Lamanai Field Research Center funded by Lamanai Outpost Lodge. Researchers are hosted and in return are asked to share their knowledge with their host communities, school children and government officials.

belize_ruin.jpg Just a 15 minute walk away is the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve, a Maya site with 730 buildings but only 5% have been excavated. The residential buildings were only for the elite. Ordinary people lived in palmetto huts with thatched roofs. It is estimated that 40-50,000 people lived in this city, one of 250 major cities throughout Central America, in Southern Mexico, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala.

The Museum is very small and unsophisticated but filled with treasures that should be under glass and protected. The oldest pieces date back to 800 B.C . The curator of the museum, Nazario Ku is a full blooded Mayan, proud of his ancestry. He is knowledgeable and interesting and as fascinating as the treasures.

As we were leaving Lamanai, the staff came down to the wharf to say "goodbye". Even Chico came to watch us leave. Mark got him howling, a rather touching finish to a wonderful experience. As we pulled away from the dock, his howl followed us, reminding us of the exciting things we had seen and done, memories that will last a lifetime.

When You Go

Belize City: Radisson Fort George Hotel & Marina - Ph 1-800-333-3333

Lamanai Outpost Lodge - US$200.00/person/night during Nov 1-April 30. US$170/person/night during low season

All inclusive in/out transfers, activities, meals, accommodations, taxes and service charges.

Contact Monique and Mark Howells at P.O. Box 63, Orange Walk, Belize, Central America. Ph 1-(888)- 733-7864 Website: www.lamanai.com

Web Site: www.travelbelize.org email: btbb@btl.net Phone: 800-624-0686

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