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Category Archives: Flora and Fauna

Critters and More Critters… cont’d


Last year I wrote about the critters I had encountered in my life here in Belize.  There was one I didn’t write about last year and I have had a new one this year.

The first critter encounter I am telling you about involves a scorpion.  I know I wrote about scorpions last year but those were just impersonal encounters but last September I had a more personal experience, although I wasn’t stung.  I was doing some house-sitting for some friends at the outskirts of town and I noticed that I had a friendly visitor inside the house in the form of a scorpion.  I tried to trap it but it was too quick and it hid out under the island in the kitchen.  The critter was able to get under the cabinet by following the grout lines of the tiles – I honestly didn’t think they could fit under that small a space but just goes to show what I know….

Anyway, one morning about 6:00 I woke up and sat up on the bed with feet dangling over the side.  I felt something weird on my back at the top so I reached around and flicked at my pyjamas. Something fell on the bed behind me, making a bit of a thudding sound.  I turned around and it was a scorpion.  I’m making the assumption it was the same one that went under the kitchen island about 2 weeks prior but I can’t say for sure.  I grabbed the trusty fly swatter, picked up the scorpion from the bed and took it outside.  I didn’t get stung and I have no idea how long the creature was with me in bed.

I have come to learn that most of the scorpions that reside in Belize are not toxic to humans.  The venom and sting may hurt and you may end up with a red area where stung but unless you are allergic to the toxin you likely won’t have too severe a reaction.  I’m glad I didn’t have to learn this the hard way.

Encounter # 2 was more recent – just about 3 weeks ago.  My husband wanted to go swimming in the sea, and he encouraged me to join him.  In all the time I had been here last year I didn’t go into the sea once and I did kind of mention this point to my family and friends so it didn’t take much to convince me to go into the water.  The water was a bit murky from the sand being churned up but with my trusty shoes on I figured I was safe, so I trod carefully into the water.  I got in as far as 2 feet from the shoreline and up to about 6” up my leg when I felt something on the bottom of my foot.  Startled, I think I jumped, and then I felt an extremely sharp pain on my foot where it becomes a leg.  I got out of the water, blood pouring down my foot and oh, man, hurt.  At first I thought I maybe was grabbed at by a crab but the shape of the wound didn’t look like claws made it.  Good thing we had the car with us that day or the walk to the hospital would have been extremely agonizing.  Turns out I was stung by a stingray.  The barb didn’t stay in but it did penetrate almost down to the bone with severe tissue damage surrounding the wound entry.  Let me tell you, this is the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life.  The venom burns and it burned for just about 6 hours.

The staff members at the local hospital were very good.  The downside is that their experience with stingray stings is very limited so the knowledge on how to treat the venom is also limited.  Much research over the next few days showed that stingray venom is unable to withstand heat so the initial treatment is to submerge the affected area into water as hot as one can stand it for up to an hour.  This breaks down the venom which, I would guess, reduces the pain and probably the surrounding tissue damage.  Barring this unknown information, the wound was cleaned and treated, pain shots given, anti-inflammatory medicines, muscle relaxants, antihistamines and antibiotics were provided, all at no cost to me.  Over the next week the wound proceeded to get worse so I had to visit the hospital daily for penicillin injections, bandage changes and I was given another oral antibiotic, again all at no charge to me.  The staff members were wonderful and helpful and I’m actually pleased that I can give a good review for my experience.

On a final note, I have also learned about doing the stingray shuffle when entering the water.  Apparently the vibration made from shuffling your feet will be felt by the stingray and it will move off.  They aren’t aggressive creatures but they will protect themselves.  And I guess when you are stepped on you use whatever tools you have including a poisonous barb.

Do you know anybody who has been stung by either a scorpion or a stingray?  What did they do to stop the hurt?

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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Flora and Fauna

 

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Sharing the Experience – IXCACAO


This week, February 4, 2013, I had the pleasant responsibility to show my husband some of what I love about the Toledo District, here in Belize.  We visited Cyrila’s Chocolate, now known as IXCACAO, a business run by a delightful husband and wife team, Juan and Abelina Cho.

Arrangements were very easy to make.  I contacted Juan via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Ixcacao) and he replied within a short period of time to discuss the details with me.  After all the plans were arranged I was pretty excited to go with Bob and to see his reaction.  I remember mine from a year ago and even wrote about it in the local tourism paper called the Toledo Howler.  My closing comments when I left was “Wow” so of course I was eager to see my husband’s reaction too.    Our agenda was to meet with Abelina, who has now been dubbed the Chocolate Queen, a promotion from the Chocolate Princess, for lunch, an overview of the process, and then a tour of the farm where the products are grown.

Abelina prepared chicken mole (pronounced molay), curried rice, black beans, boiled plantain, mashed yam, fresh hot chocolate made from local grown beans and for dessert we tasted a sampling of the chocolates produced at IXCACAO.  Portion size for the meal was fine as it was a self-serve setting.  He loved the plantains, “very good” the chicken wasn’t overly spicy, and overall he quite enjoyed it.  The chocolate dessert was a big hit.  The hot chocolate was unsweetened and he tried it that way just for the experience.  Eating or drinking chocolate without sugar isn’t for everybody and it may be an acquired taste but it definitely is something to try.

Plate of Nibs

Plate of Nibs

Next on the agenda was the overview of the chocolate making process, both historically and now.  Abelina started out with roasting some beans that had already been fermented but there was a skin on the beans, similar to that of peanuts, which needed to be removed.  She brought a plate to us to remove this skin and to break up the beans.  The beans broke pretty easily into smaller pieces called nibs.

It was these nibs that we ground up into chocolate using a mano and metate, a tool used historically for the grinding of chocolate.  In older days chocolate was used by the Maya for ceremonial purposes and not as an everyday sweet and in this way the mano and metate process would be efficient.  It took a while for the little nibs to be crushed into a fine paste that could be processed further.  We each took turns crushing the nibs and then Abelina took over to make the paste even smoother.  When it was pretty smooth we opted to have unsweetened dark chocolate treats, but I would guess that it is at this stage the sugar would be added if sweetened chocolate was desired.  After about 10 minutes in the refrigerator the chocolate had set up and we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labour.  Because the chocolate wasn’t perfectly smooth our chocolate had texture from the tiny bits of nibs that remained in it.  My husband thoroughly enjoyed learning about the process and has a greater appreciation for the amount of work and processing that goes into making a good quality chocolate bar.

Young Cacao Pod

Young Cacao Pod

The next phase of our day was a tour of the farm where the cacao is grown.  Abelina and Juan also grow ginger and sugar cane, both of which are used to flavour the chocolate.  Trekking through the jungle, up into the hills that surround Punta Gorda, climbing and climbing, we got a bit of a workout.  When the trees opened up we could see for miles around us, over the top of the jungle, what a vista!  Bob was rendered speechless with the view.  On the way up Abelina chose a cacao pod for us to open to see the beans in their natural state.  It’s not what you would expect, I’m sure….  In the picture to the left are the beans from inside the cacao pod.  The white substance that surrounds the beans is edible and tastes like so many of the fruits that are grown in the area – pineapple, mango, citrusy, and this is quite a surprise because there is no hint of chocolate flavouring at all.  The chocolate flavour comes out after the fermentation/roasting process has been completed.

Cacao Beans

Cacao Beans

At the top of the hill was our destination – the sugar cane pressing machine.  Abelina took her machete and cut down several stalks of sugar cane, peeled it and gave us a small piece to taste in its natural state.  Sugar cane eaten this way is good but the best (in my mind) was to come.  Abelina took the rest of the stalks that she had chopped and put them through a press to squeeze to release the cane juice.  This was good, and yes it was as sweet as you might expect.  I had my water and lime with me and poured some of the sugar cane juice into my bottle.  This was a tasty, tasty treat.

Squeezing Cane

Squeezing Cane

And we were both surprised at how much cane juice came from a stalk of sugar cane.  The next step in the process is to carry the buckets of cane juice back down the hill to where Juan and Abelina refine the cane juice to remove much of the water in order to use it for sweetening the chocolate.

Cane Syrup

Cane Syrup

The whole tour took approximately 4 hours beginning with lunch and finishing with the hike down the hill at the farm.  What an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.  And I can tell you, my husband enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

This is just one of the activities that are available in the Toledo District that you can enjoy on a regular basis when you make Belize a permanent destination.  For more information contact me at wendy@belizepropertycenter.com.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Flora and Fauna

 

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Knowledge is Important


Over the past few months I have written several times about creatures that I have come across since I have been here. Those creatures have included snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, frogs, Howler Monkeys, and spiders. Some of the creatures are venomous and some aren’t but it is important to know which is which so you can be protected.

When my husband and I made the decision to come here one of the things we did in preparation was to research the types of animals we might run across. We wanted to be prepared. Back in my neck of the woods in Ontario the worst wildlife I had to deal with was mosquitoes. When I travelled up north then I had to be concerned with bears and snakes, and of course deer flies, black flies, and more mosquitoes. Those deer flies and black flies were painful and they generally travel in swarms.

But, as I didn’t travel up north very often these types of natural interactions were not part of my daily life. Here in Belize, though, that is a different story. I have come across 4 scorpions since being here, 3 of them alive. I have come across 3 snakes, two dead and one alive (just a small one in the back yard). I have seen a dead tarantula on the road.

I was visiting with some friends one day and the subject changed to the bot fly. The bot fly is pretty common right through to Canada, also called the gadfly or the warble fly. I never really knew anything about these flies until I got here though. The bot fly of Central America lays its eggs on mosquitoes and when the mosquito lands on you the hatched bot fly larva falls off and burrows its way under your skin, where it munches merrily away on your muscles. After learning of this one, I spent a few days researching and let me tell you the YouTube videos are gross.

And the ants – those things bite and sting, and just generally irritate my skin. I don’t know if it is just me but apparently the type of ant I am accusing of stinging me doesn’t bite. Yeah, well tell that to the little beasts.

The ants and spiders and scorpions that I have come across have decided to invite themselves into my home. This is where research is really important. You need to know what to do if you get bitten, how to treat yourself, which ones are venomous to people and which ones aren’t.

Whenever I have ventured out to the jungle I have always gone with at least one person carrying a machete. I haven’t seen anything during these jaunts that I would run from but I certainly would not want to go in unprepared.

I write this post, not to scare you away from visiting Belize, but to ensure that you are prepared to enjoy your visit. I went weeks before I saw any wildlife and it was a couple of months before my home was invaded by the scorpion and the spider. When you decide that you are coming to Belize, do your research about the wildlife that you may possibly come across. While some of them are more toxic to people, others are just magnificent. Listening to the Howler Monkeys brings a smile to my face. I have seen a female toucan, and I have seen so many different varieties of butterflies and dragonflies. I researched the type of animals I might run across before I came here so it wasn’t a surprise when I saw something that could inflict a great deal of pain on me.

Remember, knowledge is important.  And the more knowledge you have about the area you are travelling to, the less likely you will be surprised by what you find when you get there.

Huntsman Spider, Gecko, Fer de Lance, Scorpion

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Flora and Fauna

 

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Finally!


Right now I am staying more in the jungle than I have been since being in Punta Gorda.  And this is how come I finally got to see them.  Oh I have heard them a few times, and I have heard them really well in the last couple of weeks but today, I saw them.  Just down the road is the eco-lodge called Hickatee Cottages where there is a troop of Howler Monkeys that have taken up residence.  It was these monkeys I heard today.  Loud to the left but to the right, further in the distance was the sound of another troop of monkeys.

Howler Monkeys are quite loud; they definitely produce more decibels than you might expect from something its size – they range in size from 22 to 36 inches with their tails being the same length.  Consider this – the sound from a single monkey can travel up to 3 miles (1 source I read said 30 miles but I find that hard to believe, however the Guinness Book of World Records has clearly recorded that the sound has been heard at 20 miles away) so they are quite noisy creatures and are apparently the loudest land animal.

So you can imagine the sounds that this troop that lives in the jungle out behind Punta Gorda town have been making.  I wanted to capture it for you so I took my blackberry out and did a voice note recording of it.  As I can’t post mp3 files here on the blog I will post the video on my business facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/BelizePropertyCenterSouth.Black Howler Monkey

Thanks to Ian at Hickatee Cottages for allowing me to use his photographs.  His are much better than what I saw today.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Flora and Fauna

 

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Critter,Critter, Critter and Critter


Another week has gone by and while it hasn’t been the most exciting week as far as activities it has been an interesting one overall especially with regards to critters.

Critter 1 – Last weekend while out with friends driving down a back road an individual walked by and told us that he had flicked a snake into the bushes.  So we got closer to the spot and I just had to see the snake so one of my friends reached into the bush with his machete and pulled the snake out of the bushes.  Held up on the tip of the machete the snake was close to 6 feet long.  I’m not sure what kind it was, I thought fer-de-lance but maybe not.  Further research showed to me that fer-de-lance are brown but I also learned that they are other colours.  All I know for sure is that this was a snake and it was a dead one.

I took hold of the machete with the snake on the end and my nervousness transmitted down the blade causing the snake to twitch – and this made me think twice whether or not the thing was dead.    I sent pictures to my kids and both of them came back with ewww.  My daughter said she would be packing and heading back to Canada so quick.

a.k.a. - Tommy Goff

Critter 2 – The next exposure to a critter I had this past week was with a scorpion.  Only this time it was alive and it had decided to visit me in my apartment.  The scorpions here aren’t deadly but their stings do hurt.  I know of one woman who was stung in the face while sleeping by a scorpion and awoke to tell her tale.  So, I heard a bag rustling in the kitchen and when I turned to look I saw my little visitor.  After my initial surprise, because I really don’t know how it got inside, I got up to take a closer look.  These things can move quick, holy crow.  I lost sight of it for a few minutes which meant that I needed to take my appliances and dishes off the shelf under the counter so I could find it.  There wasn’t an option in my mind – I had to find it before I went to bed.  As I removed my appliances I saw that it had taken cover under my stand mixer so once it was uncovered it ran.  Did I say they can move quick?  I got my broom.  And I chased it down sweeping it from under the cabinet.  I pulled it out with the broom and gave it a couple of whacks.  Because the broom has soft bristles it took a couple of whacks to make sure that this critter wasn’t going to find its way to my bed.

Live Scorpion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Scorpion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Critter 3 – Next time it was a moth that got into my apartment.  You know the phrase “Things are bigger in Texas”?  Well, Texans ain’t seen nothin’.  This moth had a wing span of 6″ across.  I wish I could have had something to put against it so you could judge for yourself but I figured if I put anything near it that it would just fly away so you will need to take my word for it that it was this big.  It was quite beautiful as well, with its dark colours and patterns across the wings.  I have no idea what kind of moth it is so can’t share that with you.  This one got into my apartment and since I didn’t want it flying around I had to get it out so out came the trusty broom.  I spent the next 15 minutes trying to shoo it out the apartment.  You know how these things flit about so trying to keep a straight track on getting it out the door was quite funny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Critter 4 – This critter was just a funny scenario.  Some of the frogs here have suction cups on their feet.  I have seen them stuck to the side of the house and most recently, one was stuck on the side of the truck.  My Canadian friend was a bit squeamish about the frog as she was driving me back to my apartment and it was on the driver’s side of the vehicle.  She managed to get it off the side of the truck but it ended up on top.  While driving she was afraid to put the window down for fear it would jump through the window but the evening warmth won her over and the window was put down a bit.  We got into town and had to make a stop at a store so while there my friend asked one of the guys to get the frog off the truck.  Well, it turns out, this guy was also squeamish with frogs. It was pretty funny watching him try to get this thing off the truck, (remember it has suction cups) – he would poke at it and pull his hand back quickly as if the critter was going to get him.  It was a comical few minutes.

Frog Catching a Ride

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for those of you who really know me – yes I found a place that has pink walls!

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2012 in Flora and Fauna

 

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A Scenic Sunday


The first week back has been a week of trying to get back into the groove of things.  Mostly the week was pretty boring, just trying to put things back into perspective – what needs done now, and what gets done tomorrow.  That kind of stuff…And then comes today.

My friend and associate Victor took me out to look at the scenery today.  I want to start making a still picture video about this area and all its beauty so today we were going to look at some of the creeks and rivers to get some pictures.  The places are gorgeous but any pictures I took today just doesn’t do the area any justice.  For some reason, and I just noticed this today, all my pictures seem to look like they are taken on a cloudy day.  Even when it isn’t.  Will need to figure that out.  So I will share with you some of the things I did today.

Sulphur SpringsWhat makes this picture so interesting is  that it is a sulphur spring.  This creek is in the jungle near Big Falls, a few miles outside Punta Gorda.  you can smell a bit of sulphur from the road and the smell doesn’t really get any stronger reaching the source.  At the top of this picture, notice that the water is relatively clear compared to the bottom of the picture.  This is where the water bubbles up out of the ground bringing the sulphur with it.  The water at the bottom is brown and cloudy because we have had rain and the waters have been stirred up.

My friend Victor put his hand into the water at the source and it came out smelling like sulphur.  The smell at this point wasn’t too strong, definitely not as strong as I would have expected.

Sonny and Eduardo

This picture is interesting because of the people in it, 2 gentlemen, Sonny and Eduardo.   As Victor and I were out looking at scenery we came across these two guys who were near a field of cattle, 11 head to be exact.

Eduardo (right) lives in the village of Big Falls and is hoping in the next couple of years to run for the position of chairman of the village.  This is the equivalent of the mayor in our cities in North America.  He is a young man but he believes he would be good for the role.

Sonny (left) was by the fence petting one of the cows.  He was picking grass and feeding it to her and she seemed to really be loving it.  At one point she was trying to lick his hand.  He was explaining to me the types of cows he had including a Brahma bull used for stud services.  The cows looked pretty healthy and meaty compared to others I have seen around.

At one point while Sonny was near the cows I walked over and took some pictures of the cows up close.  I’m a city girl, having never been so close to a cow that was still standing up.  My mother loves the eyes of cows, the soft warm brown liquid pools surrounded by long lashes.  I could see what she was talking about when I was that close.  I walked over to the fence and stood talking with Sonny about his cows.  He welcomed my questions and didn’t seem perturbed at my city ignorance.  He spoke with a bit of pride of ownership.

Sonny and the Cows

So while I didn’t get any pictures today of the waterways in and around Toledo, I did meet a couple more people and I got to see areas I hadn’t seen before.  Amazingly, for all the times that I have ridden down the Southern Highway between Big Falls and Punta Gorda I missed a major element of the scenery.  On the right hand side, not too far from the roadside is a lagoon.  When Victor pointed it out to me today I couldn’t believe I had missed it all these times.  It’s not like it was hidden behind jungle flora – no it was visible from the road and I just missed it.  I didn’t take any pictures of that either because of the rain stirring up the waters.  But we are going back out that way when it hasn’t rained for a couple of days and I will have pictures then.

At the end of the day, I didn’t achieve my one objective of getting still pictures that could be used in a video, but I did have quite the little tour, and I met a couple more people who treated me as if I wasn’t an expat.

Oh, one more thing – I saw this today too.  Can you guess what it is?  Don’t mind the mud on my shoe – that got there trying to cross the creek getting to the source of the sulphur spring…

Tarantula - Squashed

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Flora and Fauna

 

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My First Boat Trip in Belize


Yesterday I went out for my first boat trip since I have been in Belize.  The purpose was to look at properties that I either have listed or that clients want to see but I got much enjoyment out of the trip.  We were gone for about 2 hours out across the Caribbean Sea and up the Rio Grande, a major river in south Belize.  It had rained through the night and again in the morning so I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to go.  But about 8:30 in the morning the boat captain called me and let me know that we were still a go.

The above picture is the view of Punta Gorda as we were heading away from shore, towards our destination about 3 miles across the sea to another shoreline.

Riding to the Storm

At one point we thought we were going to get wet.  From a distance it looked like rain, but by the time we got there it cleared up and we were spared the drenching.

Birds Out Diving for Food

Some birds were keeping us company for a bit as they were diving for food.

View of First Property from Sea

After about 15 minutes or so of boating we came to the shoreline of the first property I needed to look at.  From the distance I could tell there was a bit of beach.  In the southern part of Belize there is little beach, although there is plenty of shoreline.  So to see this, I will say I was pleased.

Shoreline

Palm trees overhang the shoreline into the water.  I love this view and this is one of the things I love about being here in Belize.

Mouth of the Rio Grande

Next stop was up the Rio Grande.  This river snakes throughout southern Belize, twisting through the jungle like a snake.  Unfortunately, the pictures I took don’t really capture this but look at any aerial map for this river and you will see what I mean.  The scenery was spectacular going up this river.  The jungle crowded the river on both sides with a wide variety of trees and plants pushing through to the water’s edge.  Flowering trees, air orchids, mangrove stands, coconut, palm, and far more than I know the names of were evident on the shores.  We could hear the birds but not see a lot of them.

Crocodile Farm

I’m not sure if I included this in a previous blog post but this is where Victor (my sales assistant) and I saw 2 crocodiles in the water.  This used to be a crocodile farm and now it isn’t.  We were looking at the property to scout it out for prospective clients and we came across the creatures in the water.  One was further away and was swimming away but the second one was just off the edge of the dock with its eyes and part of its snout sticking out of the water.  We backed away from this spot and we were shaking in our boots all the way back to the main area of the property.

Fishing on the Rio Grande

We passed by this boat carrying 3 men who were out on the water fishing, enjoying the day.

River side of Belcampo Lodge

During the ride we came across this beautiful little haven with the cruising boat, and cabanas, and I learned that this was part of Belcampo Lodge.  Belcampo Lodge is up the hill from here and has a stunning view of the surrounding forest.

Heading Out the Mouth

After cruising the river for about 40 minutes or so we made our way back out to the sea.

Victor

Just had to get a picture of Victor in here, looking so serious.  But this guy knows the area.  And a trip out to a property listing without Victor would not be as productive.

After about 2 hours, the boat ride came to an end.  I can tell you, I loved it.  It reminded me again of why I wanted to be in a tropical area.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2012 in Flora and Fauna

 

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