Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Visit to the Mayan Pyramids at Tikal

Tikal is an old complex of Mayan pyramids and temples. They started building them about 2300 years ago. The rainforest has reclaimed most of this place, but what is visible of the pyramids is amazing. Tikal is inside a huge national park in Guatemala where all the plants and animals are protected.

We walked a long way before we ever saw a pyramid. On our way, we saw many birds like the crested quan, motmots and ruby araucaria (small toucans) as well as noisy howler monkeys. Then we saw a giant amazing superb ceiba tree. The Maya thought about the ceiba tree as being an axle of the Earth and that it was a very sacred tree. I can see why because of its super size and jutting buttress like roots. The rainforest canopy felt like a giant green tree tent because there were so many leaves and trees.

Think of walking through a deep deep leafy rainforest and boom, all of a sudden, a giant grey and mossy green limestone pyramid appeared almost out of the air. We were then in a big grassy field called the Grand Plaza which was surrounded by gi-normous pyramids. Some of the pyramids were the size of 20 story buildings. Oscillated turkeys and coatimundi played in the grass around us. One coatimundi had even toppled over a garbage can which we turned back over. But the coatimundi soon toppled it over again and our good deed was quickly undone.

As we climbed the huge pyramid steps we felt very small, just like the leaf cutter ants that also played in the plaza. It took a lot of energy and time to climb them. Each step came up to my thighs so it was like climbing a big limestone mountain block by block. I had to take a lot of breaks because it was so steep. We finally made it to the top the giant pyramid. There was a room and an incredible view of the surrounding pyramids and rainforest. We climbed lots of pyramids in this way. This made me feel like I was on the tippy top of the world. I’m sure that’s what the Mayan’s felt too. The Mayans must have been great architects to have built those giants. They didn’t have cranes, bull dozers, or any of the modern technology that we have today. So if you have the chance, go there.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Trip to the Blue Hole

This week we set off in the Miss Callie, the marine station’s 22 ft motor boat to the Blue Hole for a snorkeling expedition. Although being a bright sunny calm day, we met with some big swells when we got out in the open water. As we got closer to the reef surrounding the Blue Hole the waves calmed down and we skimmed across bright turquoise blue waters. There we were able to find a good snorkeling spot. If you don’t know about the Blue Hole, I’ll tell you a bit. The book says it is 1000 ft wide and 412 feet deep. This sink hole is believed to be the world’s largest blue hole. It is full of geological wonders and fascinating marine life such as giant stalactites. These structures formed in a dry cavern above sea level during glacial periods thousands of years ago. The sea level rose and the cave top collapsed creating this deep hole.

We had our snorkel trip around the edge of it. When we jumped off the boat all you could see was a deep dark blue abyss, as we swam closer to the reef, the rocky sandy bottom quickly rose up from the depths into a beautiful shallow coral reef filled with lots of colorful fish and interesting marine life. There were many kinds of parrotfish, with their strong beak like bills, munching algae off the corals and making sand. Yes the majority of beautiful white sand we enjoy around here is actually pooped out by the parrotfish. To give you an idea of their showy colors, they are given names like rainbow, stop light and red fin. Some of the other eye catchers are the purple and orange damselfish and the electric blue chromos. On the way back to the boat over that big hole we saw a big school of largish sized yellow tailed snapper, chubs, needle nosed ballyhoos and a couple of horse eyed jacks.

The second part of the trip, we motored over to Half Moon Caye Natural Monument also located in Light House Reef. The Caye is really beautiful. There is the guano rich (not too stinky) Ziricote tree forest which houses a nesting colony of Magnificent Frigate’s and the Red footed Bobbies. Did you know that guano is bird poop? The other two ends have sandy beach sites for nesting sea turtles and super swimming spots. You can also camp on the island, but you had better bring all the food and water you need, because there are no food stores and the nearest one is fifty miles by boat. You can find out more about the Blue Hole, Half Moon Key and other Belize Audubon sites by going to

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coconut Oil Making

We wanted to visit our next door neighbor so we got in our kayaks and went for a visit. It was very exciting. I sat in the back of Dad’s kayak and was trolling for fish. A nice man from the local resort lent us a fishing rod. This made me very happy and I’ve been using it a lot. Beneath the water swayed turtle grass. And up above sat an overcast sky but it was still warm. We kayaked up to Raymond’s front door. Raymond is our neighbor and visits us a lot at the marine station. This is the first time we went to visit him.

We saw how Raymond makes his coconut oil. He grates the meat of 30 coconuts and pours hot water over it so that the fat floats to the top. When it cools and solidifies, he puts it in a big cooking pot over a wood fire. He cooks it until the oil separates, the water evaporates and the solids toast. The toasted solids are what give the oil its good flavor and the solid called maya is discarded. We believe that maya is Creole for the left over’s or remainders. This takes about 2 hours to cook.

We made perfect dream boats out of coconut husk. Coconut husks are the parts of the coconut that surround the nut. People usually throw this away. But we found a new use for them since they float real well and have the perfect natural shape of a boat. They are very very buoyant and don’t soak up a lot of water which would make them sink. We then put bright red almond tree leaves on them for great wind catching sails. Almond trees grow wild on Black Bird Caye and the nuts inside taste good if you have a machete and the ability to crack them. As for our dream boats, we think they made it all the way to the Virgin Islands.

We found a really cool bug on near the beach. It was big with a wing span of over 3 1/2 inches and it was black with metalize blue color. It has the face and mouth of a wasp. Raymond called it a hunter bee. He said it only comes out certain times of the year and lives in rotten tree stumps. He said it was not dangerous if you don’t bother it. His land had lots of other treasures.

We caught little land crabs to use as fish bait. We turned over logs in the high strand and found a few. They tried to pinch but I knew a trick. My trick is to grab them behind their claws so they can’t pinch. We also saw a pretty blue crab that was too big to catch for bait. When my Dad got way too close, the crab shot like a shooting star back into its burrow. That’s the last we saw of him.

On our way home we saw two tropical or couch’s kingbird catching white butterflies. Kingbirds are a type of flycatcher with a bright yellow chest. I tried fishing with my new crab bait on patch reefs. I didn’t catch any there but I caught lots of grunts off the pier at the marine station. A grunt is a type of fish that can make grunts noises when it’s out of water. We threw most of them back but kept a few for bait.

This is the first entry in my new blog. I hope to write about nature and life of Turneffe Atoll in Belize. We are on a special island called Blackbird Caye. It is only six miles long. It is named after the grackle bird with is a black bird with a very long tail. The grackles get into a lot of trouble by bothering with other birds’ nests. They also can imitate lots of bird calls and also man made noises like electric screwdrivers and squeaky doors. They are like mocking birds.

P.S. If anyone wants a pen pal in Belize, I would be really interested in being your pen pal too. I have an email address at I will gladly write back to you. You can also write on my blog about what is going on in your world.