Cave’s Branch

Arriving at Cave’s Branch on the 3rd we had the afternoon to relax and get accommodated as for the next 2 days while we are here. Yesterday, we were split into 2 smaller groups to do the cave tubing and Black Hole drop. The tubing involved heading down a creek into the cave on tubes. Then, we explored the cave to see the remaining Mayan pottery and carvings. The latter entailed hiking up a mountain and rappelling down into a sinkhole cave; which we then explored and hiked out of. Both events involved having lunch within the caves. Today the groups switched events while others opted out and are instead using the day to relax here at Cave’s Branch. One more night and then we are off to San Pedro and the conclusion of our Maymester here.

Students taking their tubes to the river that runs throughout the cave; disappearing into the underworld or ‘Xibalba’ in the Mayan language. Students floated on inner tubes with only a headlamp to light the way.
Formations seen inside the cave while cave tubing. The calcium carbonate deposits take thousands of years to form.
Mayan artifacts that were found in the cave by archaeologists. Archaeologists left them behind for visitors for educational purposes. The pot is seen with burn markings indicating that it was used during a Mayan ceremony and destroyed as an offering to deities.
This formation consists of drapery.
Stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, and drapery can be seen in this part of the cave.
Students rappelling down the Black Hole drop. The “Mother of all Caves” also called Actun Loch Tunich. The edge of the Actun Loch Tunich sink hole sits over 300 feet above the basin below, 200 feet above the rain forest canopy that grows out from the sink hole basin.

By Ekin and Zach

Staying With Families of San Antonio; Saying Goodbye to Lower Dover

The group stayed with host families in San Antonio for two nights. We helped the families cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. The San Antonio Women Co-op showed us how to make corn tortillas from scratch, as well as homemade tamales, salad, sweet potato pudding, mashed yams and salsa. We were also shown how to spin pottery on a pottery wheel and played a soccer game against some local kids and adults. Finally Monday was our last day at Lower Dover and we said goodbye to Bill and Maddie. Now we are in for a fun three days in Caves Branch Jungle Lodge. – Angie & Armand

Homemade Tamales
Moths Found at Lower Dover
Massive Cockroach found at Lower Dover
Group Photo in front of the lab.

Green Iguana Conservation Project Visit and a Day in San Ignacio

Today we woke up bright and early to check mammal traps, to bird watch, and to nature watch. After lectures and lunch we made our way to San Ignacio to visit the Green Iguana Conservation Project. The tour guide explained how the iguanas are kept safe and are let go into the wild after they have grown. We enjoyed feeding the iguanas and having the opportunity to hold them! After visiting the Iguanas we explored San Ignacio on our own. We shopped at local stores and ate local restaurants. It was a fun and relaxing last day in San Ignacio before we head to San Antonio for the weekend!

More Iguanas!
Feeding an Iguana
Watching a Soccer Scrimmage in San Ignacio

Rio Frio Cave, Rio On Pools, and Butterfly farm

Today we went on a long bumpy ride to Rio Frio Cave in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. It was a huge tube-like cave that was open on both ends and let light inside unlike the other caves we previously have visited. There was a small stream that flowed throughout the cave. The cave had a sand bottom and solid walls riddled with stalagmite and stalactite formations. Both openings to the cave were massive and the entrance was 65 feet tall.

Rio Frio Cave

The opening of the Rio Frio Cave demonstrating its impressive 65 ft height. It has a length of around a quarter mile.
The cave is a big limestone tunnel carved out by the Rio Frio.
Stalagmite and stalactite formations seen on the walls of the cave.

Rio On Pools

After visiting the cave we went for a dip in the Rio On Pools which were a series of small ponds and pools surrounded by granite rock formations that were very slippery when wet. A waterfall flowed through the granite rock which filled the small pools and swimming in them was cool and relaxing. There were also natural waterslides and there were plants too along with algae on the rocks.

The Granite rock formation is solid unlike the porous limestone formations also commonly found in the region. This allows the granite to stay sturdy over time and not erode as easily as limestone would.
Natural fresh-water pools and waterfalls

Green Hill Butterfly Farm

After swimming we had lunch in Mountain Pine Ridge and departed for the Green Hill Butterfly Farm! -Ekin Colpan and Rory Sullivan

The Blue Morpho Butterfly photographed at Green Hill Butterfly Farm. The butterfly spends around 3 to 4 weeks as an adult. The entire life cycle of the butterfly is about 115 days.
Students being taught how the butterflies are raised from egg to caterpillar, larvae, and butterfly stages.
The Mexican Bluewing Butterfly has a wingspan of 64–76 mm and belongs to the Nymphalidae family.
A stick insect residing in the butterfly house that belongs to the Phasmatidae family.
Goldfish in the butterfly house

A Day at Lower Dover

Today we woke up at 7:00 to a delicious breakfast of french toast and fresh fruit! It was a great way to start our morning before both of our lectures. We talked about our time in Tikal, Guatemala, and also about birds, fish, and the different things we have found during our time here in the jungle at Lower Dover. We then had some free time before lunch, so some of us went to the market while some of us stayed back to finish some school work. Lunch was at 12 and it was burritos with rice and cucumbers. It was then time to do aquatic field work. This was the most time we have spent in the water yet, so we went to the wide opening in the Belize River where we caught tons of fish. We are all becoming experts at identifying central tetras, silver side, and cichlid fish! After we came back and cleaned up, we had a special guest teach us how to make tamales. Saundra has been making tamales for eight years and we loved getting to learn from her— plus we had fun doing it! It was important that we made the tamales just right because this was our main meal for dinner. The rest of the night was filled with fun bonding time(: -Alana Madera and Carlie Oddo

Cave World!

The day started with johnny cakes, banana bread, and fruit. Immediately after breakfast, we hopped in the vans to start our journey to Cave World. Cave World is a newer park in Belize with multiple large caves and an exciting bush medicine hiking tour. Upon arrival we split into two groups. One took the three hour cave tour while the other took the bush medicine tour up to a lookout. In the cave, we got to scale slippery rock walls, see Mayan artifacts, and explore the biggest cavern so far. We saw scorpion spiders, gigantic roaches, and many different species of bats. At the end of these tours, we had lunch at Cave World. After lunch, the rest of the students went on the tour, and we returned to Lower Dover. Most students were extremely tired after the long day of hiking and relaxed until dinner. For dinner, Maddie made split pea soup, rice, stewed chicken, and salad. We wrapped up the day with a bonfire where we made delicious s’mores and hot dogs.

Actun Chapat means Centipede Cave
Sara with her new friend from Cave World

Sunrise, sunset: A Weekend in Tikal

Today, May 26th, we got back to the field station at around 5 pm after a weekend excursion to Tikal, Guatemala to visit one of the most famous cities of the ancient Maya, Tikal. We arrived in Tikal at about 1 pm yesterday, and had some free time to lounge by the pool before we embarked on our hike to watch the sunset from one of the tallest temples in the city! We had to rush to beat the sun, so we sped-hiked through the jungle and up many flights of stairs in order to catch the sun going down over the entire jungle and city of Tikal. While at the top, the guide had us stay as quiet as we could, and it was incredible to just sit there and listen to the sounds of the forest. After walking home only by light of flashlights, we all headed to bed to get some rest – because we had to be up to leave for our sunrise hike at 4 am! At a slightly slower pace this time, the group trekked through the jungle in the dark, boxed breakfast in hand, and climbed all the way up the current highest building in the Mayan empire, one of Tikal’s temples to watch the sun come up and listen to the jungle awakening! It was definitely a once in a lifetime type of experience. After a tour of the whole city once we descended, we went back to our rooms and got ready to go back to Belize. We first stopped on the beautiful island town of Flores for lunch, where we got some lovely photos and had a nice rest before crossing the border back into Belize. Overall, it was a super exciting and memorable weekend! – Louise Ferris and Kelly Shannon

one of Tikal’s temples
one of the temples we got to climb on our tour
a distance view of the temple where we watched the sunrise!
the beautiful town of Flores, Guatemala
the lake which the town sat in

Field Work & Mennonite Community

On Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019, We started our morning off with a lecture by Dr. Seaman about the Belizean culture and its prospectives from Peter, Alonzo, and Misa. They are part of the staff at Lower Dover Field Station which all come from different cultural backgrounds. After, Dean Reeder spoke to us about cave formation and the different locations where Mayan’s once lived. Following morning lectures, we headed into Little Barton Creek for some aquatic fieldwork. We practiced catching fish (mostly Central Tetra’s) with seines, a type of fish net. Once we caught enough fish, we ate lunch which consisted of one of our favorite meals, chicken tostados. Then, we left the field station to head to the Spanish Lookout Mennonite Community. Our first stop was at a “real” Mennonite style everything store. It was similar to an American Walmart, but located only in the Mennonite Community. After there, we went to Western Dairies, an ice cream shop. Once we were finished with our flavorful ice cream, we went to a Mennonite Community Park where a community member told us about the history of his people and the current town which they live in. We learned that they had migrated from the Netherlands and with a few stops made it to Belize. Our drive home included a ferry ride across a river! Once we got home, we welcomed Dr. Seaman’s family with a game of volleyball followed by spaghetti and meatballs! After dinner, a few of us set out into the woods to put out more mammal traps with Dr. Porter and Dr. Selcer. We got caught in some rain, but also caught a scorpion! – Isabelle Gidwitz and Chelsea Timmerman

Ice cream from Western Dairies
Scorpion found during evening fieldwork (under UV light)
Entering the Mennonite Community
Ferry ride home

A Day at Calico Jack’s

Today we woke up bright and early and prepared for our day trip to Calico Jack’s to explore a cave and zip line. After a bumpy ride, we started off by gearing up and zip lining across a few small cables. After climbing down from the zip line post, we took a short hike to Bega One Cave. Unlike the other caves we explored, this one did not have flowing water in it. After about 30 minutes of caving, we finally returned to the surface to continue our zip lining excursion. This time, the lines were long and highly elevated. The course was unlike typical zip lining courses, consisting of suspension bridges and a hydraulic pressured elevator. It was amazing! Next, we made our way to the “Jungle Swing.” One by one, we were strapped to a cable and dropped off a ledge, where we swung back and forth from height many of us were uncomfortable with. To end this small adventure, we met back up at the resort restaurant for lunch and a spontaneous swim in their pool! This concluded our day at Calico Jack’s, and we returned home to relax and eat dinner and birthday cake for Mia’s birthday!! -Jade Kerr and Mia Lucarelli

All of us before our zip lining adventure!
Carlie mid-air on the Jungle Swing
Birthday girl, Mia!!
All of us in front of the cave, Bega One
Mid zip lining course, with a flying Mia in the back ground!

Belize Zoo and Baboon Sanctuary

We started off our morning at the Belize Zoo. The Belize Zoo is a type of sanctuary where they bring rescued animals to live out the rest of their lives. Not all the animals are rescued but from what we’ve seen they’re all very happy in their habitats! The Belize Zoo allowed us to see the biodiversity that we’ve been learning about first hand. After the zoo we made our way to the Belize Central Prison to visit the gift shop! The prisoners make the merchandise and receive half of the profit of what is sold. After the Prison, we visited the Baboon Sanctuary (which is actually a Howler Monkey sanctuary) and we learned about the flora and fauna on our way to their habitat. The monkeys were all very cute and friendly. We fed them the fruit of the cashew and they came right to us. On the way back to the field station, we all happily slept. All and all a good day!