Yesterday, we took a break from searching for Whale Sharks to see a little bit of Belize’s only true rainforest — if you want to go by the strict definition which requires a certain amount of rainfall per year. That got us meeting up with a local guide for a boat ride up the Monkey River. Our goal was to see Manatees in the outside lagoons, crocodiles as we went further up the river and eventually tropical birds and maybe Howler Monkeys. I always feel that you should get off the beach or the dive boat for at least a morning’s jaunt since most of these tours are very locally run — think one man and one boat — so the money goes directly into the economy.
Turns out, our guide Terry, was born and raised in Monkey River Town, as were generations of his family, so he was a wealth of knowledge on the history of the area. He could also tell you anything about the medicinal and other uses of any plant or animal, mostly by relaying what his grandmother used them for. Plus, he promised us an authentic Kriol lunch — at his sister’s restaurant. What did I say about helping the local economy?
Mangroves, often get no respect. They are under threat in Belize where too many are being cleared out to create sandy beaches to feed the tourism machine. But without the mangroves, you wouldn’t have the coral reefs which are Belize’s main draw for tourists. These amazing trees can tolerate a wide variety of waters from fresh to brackish to saline. They are incredibly nutrient-rich environments for fish, crustaceans and birds — especially as opposed to the relatively nutrient-poor coral reefs. Most of the colorful fish that we all run to see on the reefs, actually started their lives in the mangroves. The mangroves also filter and purify the waters, protecting the more delicate coral. And let’s not even get started on the coastline protection mangroves provide from the devastating effects of hurricanes. (The “Reef Briefs” on this Belizean website has some good information.)
About 10 miles up the river, we got out and trekked into the rainforest.
But our mission was for Howler Monkeys. Although we wouldn’t have minded seeing a jaguar or two. We encountered something more vicious and dangerous. Clouds of mosquitoes who descended on us in great black masses. Rather, I should say they descended on the White people. Terry said they knew enough not to bite a Belizean. I am here to report that Off Deep Woods will protect you — but only on the skin that has been slathered with it. If you missed a spot — say at the back of your arm — the mosquitoes will target that area. And they can bite right through fabric.
We knew they’d found us when two large clumps of monkey poo splatted in front of us. The Howlers were above us and they weren’t impressed that we’d come so far to see them. One large male positioned his bottom and let loose a stream of urine. (Luckily monkeys don’t have very good aim whatever their projectile!)
And back out of the jungle we hacked…
Then back into the lagoon to search for Manatees. These large, elusive aquatic mammals are, of course, the source for the legend of mermaids. All I can say, is the sailors who saw them must have been having large rations of rum to think they were beautiful women with fish tails.
I have no pictures of the manatees as they popped up quickly and went down just as fast while we were watching. But earlier in the day, a couple of manatees had hauled themselves out on the beach near the dive shop as we returned from the reef and started mating. Of course, we had no cameras ready that weren’t color corrected for underwater use. But luckily, Drew Travers — our man in Belize — forwarded on this photograph taken by fellow Placencian, Lee Nyhus.
And about Our Man in Belize, stay tuned tomorrow…