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volcanogirl Jun 18th, 2014 11:09 AM

RAC, weird I know - that's so true. We really only saw this one because of Levy's eagle eye. I tried to get a photo, but it was too quick for me. Seems like they're usually so high up too. Thanks for all your help in our planning.

xyz99 Jun 18th, 2014 11:28 AM

You saw so much more wildlife than we did, I am jealous. But it was still raining when we went (even though the rainy season was supposed to be over), so maybe that had something to do with it.

volcanogirl Jun 18th, 2014 01:04 PM

I think we got really lucky with the weather. It only rained during the night, and they told us we were having unseasonably cool weather. x, you can be jealous of me because I'm jealous of RAC and his awesome croc picture. I told all the guides that we'd like to see some crocs, and they just kept saying that they were very shy. We did have more than our share of monkeys though. By the end of our stay, I was like YAWN, oh is that another troop of howler monkeys posing in front of our cabin? :)

xyz99 Jun 18th, 2014 01:32 PM

Wait....RAC is in a totally different category, I will not even dare to compare myself with him. I think he uses some magic...

Luckily we had our howlers encounter by the ruins, but the birds were in hiding. Not a problem, we'll go back someday. Chan Chich is still a place I'm dreaming of.

RAC Jun 18th, 2014 04:03 PM

Nothing magic, just traveling during the dry season.

Great places for river crocs are the Usumacinta river between Mexico and Guatemala (part of every tour to see the Yaxchilan ruins in Chiapas) and of course the Tarcoles River in Costa Rica.

volcanogirl Jun 18th, 2014 05:52 PM

At 4:30 we get to do the best tour of all - the Sunset Cocktail Cruise! We had debated if we wanted to do this tour, but I read so many good reviews about it that we decided to go for it. We weren't sure what to expect, but we headed down to the dock to find not our tiny 2-seater boat, but a big long covered pontoon boat with some nice lounge furniture on deck. There was also a little table and some munchies set up - tortilla chips and awesome homemade cheese dip to go with it. Levy was there to act as our guide and Reoul, a server from the restaurant, to act as our own personal bartender! It was so much fun; we had the boat all to ourselves and cruised all over the lagoon spotting wildlife. They had cold Belikin beers, Cokes, etc. and also offered to make us any cocktails, so we ended up having banana coladas - big ones served in huge glasses. Thumbs up on those - very tasty. They also joked that we couldn't leave the boat until all the alcohol was consumed! While we cruised around, little mangrove swallows flitted all around the boat. We also saw vultures, big flocks of white ibis(es)?, cormorants, anhingas. kingfishers, herons, egrets, limpkins, and snail kites. My husband said that next time we come, we'll sign up for six of these and not do any other tours - ha, ha!!

For anyone who has done the Cano Negro tour or gone to Tortuguero, this reminded me a lot of those only with cocktails!

After the cruise we head back up for dinner (way too much food!) and have tamales, salad, black bean soup, and banana cream pie. This is our last night at the lodge, and we'll be sorry to say goodbye.

xyz99 Jun 18th, 2014 06:22 PM

Oh yeah, the Sunset Cocktail Cruise was great. Loved the munchies, and I still remember how generous they were with the rum in the cocktails.
Most of our wildlife sightings were during this cruise and during the night safari.

janenicole Jun 19th, 2014 05:16 AM

Enjoying your report, Volcanogirl. That spotlight safari and going full speed in the dark would have freaked me out!

volcanogirl Jun 19th, 2014 08:09 AM

I know, janie - maybe I should have had the cocktails on the spotlight safari instead!

For our last morning, we've signed up to do an extra tour - Savannah Birding with super awesome Levy. We board our two seater boat, and he takes us all around the lagoon and up the New River. We also get to know Levy a little better, and he tells us that arranged marriages are still part of the local culture. In fact, he was to have an arranged marriage, but eventually told his parents he couldn't go through with it. It seems like it's an interesting time - people trying to preserve their heritage but adapting to a more modern world. He said that the ironic thing is that he ended up marrying someone Spanish! And they're very happy together. On our trip, we see a gorgeous purple gallinule, more anhingas and cormorants, a tiger heron, egrets, a pygmy kingfisher, and a great blue heron. The water is very calm and full of beautiful water lilies. We come upon a little open area, and Levy parks the boat and says that we'll do a little hiking. This area looks so different from the rest of the lodge. It's a dry grassy savannah with a lot of open space. It conjures up images of the African plains. It's fun to see an area that looks so different, but is still so close to the lodge. There are the remains of a campfire on the ground. Local people come here to camp and to hunt. There are even spent shell casings sprinkled around. We spend so much time oohing and aahing over the wildlife; it's hard for me to imagine people hunting here. We see quite a few birds. My favorite are the squawky white-fronted parrots. Eventually we head back to the lodge, and on the way back Levy points out something in the brush. I can't see anything. He says to look closely, and then I see a small nest full of fluffy green heron babies. They're very young and tiny and have wispy little Don King hairdos. Their nest is right on the river's edge. Seeing them seems like the perfect way to end our stay at L.O.L.

volcanogirl Jun 19th, 2014 09:13 AM

So here's a list of all the birds we saw in Belize: magnificent frigatebird, annhinga, neotropic cormorant, green heron, black-crowned night heron, limpkin, agami heron, bare-throated tiger heron, great blue heron, wood stork, cattle egret, white ibis, black-bellied whistling duck, turkey vulture, osprey, roadside hawk, bicolored hawk, aplomado falcon, snail kite, laughing falcon, thicket tinamou, plain chachalaca, northern jacana, purple gallinule, red-billed pigeon, yellow-lored parrot, white-fronted parrot, red-lored parrot, groove-billed ani, black-headed trogon, slaty-tailed trogon, blue-crowned mot mot, collared aracari, keel-billed toucan, ringed kingfisher, amazon kingfisher, green kingfisher, American pygmy kingfisher, golden-olive woodpecker, golden-fronted woodpecker, smoky-brown woodpecker, vermilion flycatcher, Yucatan flycatcher, tropical and couch's kingbirds, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, social flycatcher, great kiskadee, boat-billed flycatcher, blue-gray gnatcatcher, brown jay, black catbird, mangrove swallow, spot-breasted wren, yellow-winged tanager, red-legged honeycreeper, white-collared seedeater, blue-black grassquit, black-headed saltator, green-backed sparrow, botteri's sparrow, red-winged blackbird, great-tailed grackle, melodious blackbird, hooded oriole, and black-cowled oriole. Whew!

Kudos to the guides at Lamanai who helped us identify every single one.

xyz99 Jun 19th, 2014 09:20 AM

As I said before...jealous. But I'm so happy for you, and can't wait to go back.

Anxious to hear more about your amazing trip. Keep it coming.

RAC Jun 19th, 2014 09:53 AM

Did you see the agami on the spotlight safari? That's where we saw it at LOL--that's a very prized sighting--agamis are not easy to see anywhere, as far as I can tell.

volcanogirl Jun 19th, 2014 12:17 PM

Thanks, x - I wish you great weather and lots of wildlife on your next trip. And an agami heron!

RAC, no we saw it during the day on the water's edge. I didn't realize that was a rare one. It was beautiful - more colorful than any other heron I've seen. I'm even happier that we got to see it now that I know it's not very common.

We end the Lamanai portion of the trip by having huevos rancheros and beans with yummy homemade tortillas. Lamanai Outpost Lodge only runs the boat shuttle at certain times of the day, so we linger around until 11:30 for our pickup. We have George again, the same driver that had brought us in on our first day, and I mention to him that we haven't seen many crocs. He promises to keep a lookout for us, and we take off zooming across the lagoon. This boat is a little different and has a covered compartment on the front for our luggage. George is going to make a grocery run while he's in town. We see a lot of herons, egrets, and other water birds once we reach the river. And then I spot it - yes! The eyes of a croc in the water on the right side of the boat! As we go flying past it, I yell to George that I'd like to try to get a picture, and he points and replies, "How about that one?" I look to my left and there's another big croc sunning itself right on the river bank! I snap a quick photo before it slips back into the water. They really do seem shy. We also see a lot of Mennonites along the water's edge as we go past Shipyard, the women in their long dresses and men in their overalls. They all wave as we go past. After an hour, we land back at the dock, and Calvin picks us up for our trip to the Tropic Air Terminal. It's about an hour's drive and we're in a huge air-conditioned bus since he needs to pick up a big group at the airport. He offers us cold bottled water and tells us he's glad we're not birders - trips with them take twice as long because they have to stop and look at all the birds! That cracked me up!

It's an easy drive, not a lot to see along the way, but quite a few Chinese owned businesses with Asian writing out front. There are no fast food restaurants anywhere, very unlike our trips to Costa Rica where McD's and Burger King have become commonplace. Finally we reach the airport and go to the counter to check in. We're each handed a laminated boarding pass that says "Boarding Pass" on it - no seat assignment, row, or anything else. No security. They tell us that if everyone arrives soon we can leave early. Before I know it, they announce our flight, and we head out to board the tiny plane that will take us to Ambergris Caye.

volcanogirl Jun 19th, 2014 12:36 PM

We get in line, hand over our not so official looking boarding passes, and walk out to the plane. It's just us and a mom with two teenagers. We can sit wherever we want, and the girl comments to the pilot that she wants to be a military pilot someday. He says that she should come sit up front with him then and be his co-pilot. Another moment you would never see in the U.S., but I love how friendly Belizeans are. The girl climbs up front and proceeds to take lots of selfies to show her friends "the best day ever"! The flight is quick, only about 15 minutes, and we fly over the most beautiful bright, vibrant teal-colored water. As we come in for a landing, we can see all the pretty little painted houses that are common here. We debark the plane and go to pick up our luggage that has all been brought to a small cement area. They put a rope between us and our luggage, and we're not allowed to take it without presenting our claim tickets. Luckily we have them, get our stuff, and then get on the little golf cart that will take us to Victoria House.

xyz99 Jun 19th, 2014 12:53 PM

VG, I'd love an agami even if it rains :)

We took the same flight from BC to Ambergris Caye in February. There were so many passengers, that they needed 6 planes. We were all waiting in the airport, and we all held similar laminated "boarding passes". Some blue, some yellow, some pink, etc. Each color for a different plane. And they would announce: "Blue boarding passes" to identify the next plane to take off and the people on that plane. But other than that, same process that you experienced. Great way to fly!

Didn't you love Victoria House?

volcanogirl Jun 19th, 2014 01:34 PM

Yes, I could get used to it. It took us longer to get through customs and immigration back home than it took us to fly all the way to Belize!

Victoria House - love it! It hasn't changed at all since our trip a few years ago except there's a new little pier on the beach where you can have massages, and they've placed little white twinkle lights in all the trees. This is the cushy part of our trip. After a long day of travel, we just want to relax at the beach bar, enjoy the air conditioning, and get a good night's sleep before our morning snorkel trip. We have a second floor plantation room, and it's beautiful with a private balcony. We drop our luggage off and head down to the beach bar to grab a couple of drinks and some burgers - very good, but a little pricey, about what you would expect to pay for hotel food though. The beach is gorgeous - white soft sand, palm trees, hammocks, and beautiful water. Everyone is friendly and the service is great. The bellman tells us, "You'll be glad to know we still don't have phones or t.v.s." My husband was hoping to catch a little ESPN, but it is very relaxing and romantic. After a good night's sleep, we head down to the pier around 9:00 a.m. to get picked up for our snorkel trip to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. We had booked it with VH, but they farm their tours out, and Searious Adventures is the group that picks us up.

It only takes about 10 minutes to get out to the reef, and the water is calm. We have a great time with Searious. They divide us into two groups so we can get personalized attention. Our group only has 4 people in it which is fantastic. The guide swims around pointing out various things - huge rays, lots of sea turtles, big nurse sharks, and more beautiful colorful fish than I can count. At one point he even dives down into a little underwater cave tunnel about 30 feet below us. He swims in one side and comes out the other and asks who else wants to try it. None of us can even hold our breath long enough to get down to the cave!

This is probably one of my favorite vacation things we've ever done. There's just so much to see, something beautiful everywhere you look.

volcanogirl Jun 19th, 2014 01:50 PM

In addition to the big ticket items, there are some neat little smaller things to see as well. Moray eels and spotted eels, conch shells, and a sea urchin that the guide lets us hold - it adheres itself to one of our fellow snorkelers, and he tells me it is sucking out his soul!

I really like that we get to spend a lot of time here because it's more natural feeling than Shark Ray Alley. After we've made our way around the reef, we all climb back into the boat and head out to Shark Ray Alley. It's a very quick trip. Once there, the guides chum the water to attract sharks and rays. Our boat has some kind of pipe full of fish that attracts them, and before long huge rays and nurse sharks are all competing to get a taste. I have mixed feelings about this. It's nice to get up close to the animals, but doesn't seem very natural. The sharks are just like a group of hungry dogs that go from boat to boat to get food. Once the food is gone, they're gone so you have to be quick with the photos.

We all get into the water to swim with them. They tell us we don't even need our fins since we'll all stay close to the boat. One shark is nine or ten feet long, and they call him Big Papa. The guides pick up rays and sharks, and everyone comes back with all their fingers. Bonus, we see a huge sea turtle that comes very close to our boat. Nearby fisherman are cleaning their catch of conch shells, and it's attracting the turtles too. On the trip back to shore, the Searious crew breaks out the most delicious little coconut tarts. They taste like something a Belizean grandma would make. And we have red Fanta soda in a bottle - which is very hard to drink on a bumpy boat. All in all a very good day.

volcanogirl Jun 19th, 2014 03:37 PM

The next morning we've signed up to do a snorkeling tour to the North Channel and Coral Gardens. The person who books the tours tells us that we have a very good chance to see a manatee, something we've never seen before. I really want to see one.

We board the boat at 9:00 a.m., and this time we're on a big sailboat. There are two "guides" - an older gentleman and a teenage boy. Neither seems to speak English all that well. There's no introduction or instructions, we just take off. There's a fun group of people on this boat, just a few other couples, all older than we are and very friendly. We sail for a while and then the older guide drops the anchor and tells us to get in. The kid dives off the boat and I guess we're supposed to follow him. I'm thinking it will be a guided tour like the one we did at Hol Chan, but this seems to be more of a fend for yourself type thing. The boy starts hauling ass, and my husband and I swim as fast as we can to keep up with him. He tells me, "Manatee!" And then starts swimming even faster. I honestly can barely see the kid; he's just a dot that I'm trying to follow. The older people start yelling, "Slow down, slow down.." But he just keeps on going. I catch up and ask him if he can slow down a little for the older folks, and he says, "I AM going slow." At this point the older folks are just bobbing dots behind us. The water is very choppy. I'm glad they have on life preservers. Then the kid points ahead of me and says, "Manatee!" I can't see anything, so I ask him where, and he just points again and tells me it's right there. I'm expecting it to be below me as I snorkel above it, but it's right in front of me, a huge animal bobbing at the top of the water. I duck my head under and see the whole thing. This was worth burning about 2,000 calories for!

I'm surprised at how fast it's swimming. I've always thought they were awkward and sort of lumbering, but in the water it is moving really swiftly. I tell my husband to catch up, and he does, but he never gets to see it; he says that as long as I saw it he's happy because I was the one that really wanted to.

We snorkel around some more. At one point I'm swimming behind the boy and he starts spearing lion fish. There are several in this area, and I've heard that they're very bad for the reef. I'm not sure I want to be around bloody injured fish on a spear though, so my husband and I swim off on our own. There's not much else in the way of wildlife, but there is some beautiful coral. Eventually the man yells for us to come back to the boat, so we do, and we're rewarded with bottled water and some nice fresh fruit. There's no cover on the boat. We end up getting massively sunburned, but we have a fun sail back, and it was all worth it to get to see something so amazing.

xyz99 Jun 19th, 2014 03:55 PM

We loved the Hol Chan so much, that we booked it again the 2nd day. I always wondered after that what we missed by not doing the Coral garden instead.
It seems that other than the manatee, which is probably not a resident there, there is less there in terms of fish, turtles, rays, etc., so I guess Hol Chan was a better option. What do you think after doing both?

Patty Jun 19th, 2014 04:29 PM

Glad you saw a manatee! Have you looked into Global Entry for immigration and customs?

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