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Cottage gecko

In addition to the great things about Hickatee Cottages I shared in part 1 of this post, there's even more that we loved about being here.  They have this great little dipping pool.  It was cool, refreshing, and just right for lounging around in.  Even though I am bird watching in this photo, I did enjoy this pool daily after our hikes and bike rides.
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Flowers in our cottage
There are cute stone paths around the property, perfect for watching birds and butterflies from.
The paths did get a bit wet after a heavy rain one night, but they didn't take that long to drain.
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Umbrellas outside your door are a thoughtful touch
There's a pretty creek with lily pads.
And the road right outside the property is great for birdwatching too since it's the perfect wood's edge environment.  We spent many an hour here.
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Jacket bulging in front from binoculars, of course!
The office/restaurant/lounge is well equipped with a bar, sitting area, and library, in addition to outdoor dining.  We loved eating meals out on the porch.
This great library full of books on Belize could have occupied us for a couple of months!
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The bar and office
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Great place for a meal

Fantastic food

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the food here is super tasty and beautiful as well.  Kate is a wonderful cook!  Continental breakfast (hot breads, butter, jam) and an excellent French press pot of coffee is included in the daily cottage rate, and a HUGE plate of fresh fruit is just an extra $10 BZ ($5 US) and worth every penny.  We got two of these every morning.  I'm sure we could have split one, but we love fruit!  There's also a hot breakfast available for $15 BZ, but we had eaten so many eggs at Mama Noots that we skipped it.
My favorite breakfast was these hot and melt-in-your-mouth English pancakes (similar to French crepes), served with raw sugar and lime.  Ian explained that these pancakes were historically made before Lent began to use up all the eggs in the kitchen.  Sure enough, a quick glance at Wikipedia under "pancake" says the same. 
And here is the other dinner we enjoyed on our last night at Hickatee.  (Our first night's dinner is documented in a previous blog post.)  It was delicious and healthy to boot.  Dessert was more of the yummy local dark chocolate drops and a shot of "Belizean Bailey's" liqueur.  We did not leave hungry!
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Salad
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My fish cakes
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Zucchini soup
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Barry's chicken breast
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Hot rolls melted in our mouths

Delightful hosts

Ian and Kate were great -- helpful, knowledgeable British expats who positively bubble over with enthusiasm for what they do and where they live.  They seem to be doing exactly what they were born to do, and we enjoyed all they had to offer and share.  From birds, to bats, to butterflies, to howlers, to plants, to spiders, and even to salamanders, there's very little about the natural world that one or both of them don't know.  This makes Hickatee such a delight for nature lovers like ourselves, and very hard to leave!
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Ian and me
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Kate and me
Stay tuned for blog posts on our short trip to Placencia and finally back home to Ambergris Caye.
 
We already introduced you to Hickatee Cottages near Punta Gorda town in a previous post, but we wanted to share more about this gem of a place to stay in southern Belize.  There was so much to love here, from the peaceful setting with so many plants, to the resident howler monkey troop, to the lovely, comfortable cottages, to the cooling dipping pool, to the fantastic food, and last but not least, to the helpful and knowledgeable owners, Ian and Kate.  I'm sure a lot of folks who stay here spend most of their time venturing out on excursions during the day, but we really enjoyed just hanging out here, watching birds on the grounds or on the road right outside.  The natural setting can't be beat, and as you enter the gates you can actually feel your stress slipping away.

Flora and fauna

Here are some of the plants and animals we enjoyed seeing around the grounds.  There are great identifying signs for many of the plants.  Some we'd seen before in other spots but hadn't known what they were, so it was helpful to put a name with a face, so to speak.
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This little "Jesus lizard" really blends right into the ground -- look very closely or you'll miss him!
Belize has more different species of butterflies than I've ever seen in one place. and there were numerous specimens flitting around at Hickatee.  Many are brightly colored and so striking.  It is very hard to get photographs since they often don't want to alight even for a few seconds, but Barry got a couple nice shots.
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This butterfly perfectly coordinates with the "hot lips" plant it was enjoying
We're going to have a separate blog entry for most of the birds seen on this trip, but here is one that properly belongs here, as it was nesting right on outside the office/restaurant building.  Check out this adorable ochre-bellied flycatcher sitting on her sweet little nest:
The nest was a bit too high up to see inside, but Barry was able to hold his camera up above and shoot down into the nest when she took a break.  What a thrill when he uploaded the photo to see two sleeping nestlings!
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Every baby bird is like a miracle to me

Hiking Trails

There are numerous cleared trails in the jungly woods on the Hickatee Cottages property that we yearned to explore, but this being rainy season, we weren't able to check them all out.  We did hike as many of them as we could manage without being up to our ankles in water, but a return visit during dry season will be necessary to finish our exploration. 
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Trail signs
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Look for the rare bottle trees along the trails
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Very high water in the creek from heavy rain the night before
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Bridge constructed of a huge log that probably fell across the creek
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Beautiful, tiny female American Pygmy Kingfisher posed for us for a long time
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Could go no further on this trail!
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Jungle setting was magnificent

Howler monkeys right overhead!

We saw this troop of five howlers nearly every day, which was very exciting.  I mean, come on, how often do you get to live among howler monkeys, for goodness sakes?!  One afternoon they were moving from tree to tree right over the Hickatee cottages, stopping to eat leaves on occasion, and we got many great looks at them.  Barry got some great photos, so I've included quite a few below since it was so hard to choose the best ones.

They made me a little nervous when they got kind of close, but they were fascinating to watch, and didn't seem too fazed by us; or at least they didn't make any howling noises.  We did hear some very loud howling, which sounds more like the roar of a HUGE, hungry lion, late at night, but those were probably from a different troup across the road, judging from the direction they appeared to come from.  Even when they woke me up, hearing them roar was a huge thrill, since I felt perfectly safe in the cottage, yet electrified by their primal calls.
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See the baby on his Momma's back?
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This guy did all sorts of gymnastics to find the very best leaves
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Ahhhh...that's the one I wanted!
Stay tuned for Part 2 -- for more photos of lovely Hickatee Cottages, including our ever-popular FOOD photos!
 
Here are photos of many of the birds we saw on our recent trip to Hopkins.  Most of these birds we saw while hiking in Bocawina Mayflower National Park or Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, but a few we sighted right near the place we stayed, Beaches and Dreams, technically in False Sittee Point, just south of Hopkins Village.  We added quite a few new birds to our life lists and only wish we could have identified all the birds we saw and/or heard.  Some we only got a fleeting glance of and not even a photo.  

We are fairly confident of all the identifications below, but if you disagree, please let us know in the comments section -- we are certainly not infallible!

Note:  New birds for our life lists are identified with an asterisk (*).
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American Pygmy Kingfisher * (we saw a pair hanging out by the water for a good long time -- so pretty!)
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Black-Faced Grosbeak*
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Black-Headed Trogan (love his blue eye!)
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Blue-Black Grosbeak*
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Crested Guan* (these are HUGE -- we saw a lot of them)
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Groove-Billed Ani (think this funny fellow was a juvenile)
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Another view of the Ani -- couldn't pick just one
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House Wren with a yummy morsel -- s/he was jumping all over the place at our inn
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Ivory-Billed Woodcreeper*
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Long-Billed Hermit* (not the best photo but got great looks through the binoculars -- neat bird)
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Flock of Olive-Throated Parakeets
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Had to include this photo of the Parakeet taking flight with wide-open beak!
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Pale-Billed Woodpecker* (not a great resolution photo, but a thrill to see)
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Pale-Billed Woodpecker*
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Pale-Billed Woodpecker yet again -- loved this photo so wanted to include it
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Pale-Vented Pigeon* (not exciting, but one for our life lists!)
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Plain Chachalaca with young
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Red-Throated Ant Tanager*
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Red-Throated Ant Tanager* (female)
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Red Throated Ant Tanager* male (another specimen)
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Squirrel Cuckoo
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Stripe-Throated Hermit*
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Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher*
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Tropical Pewee
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Vermillion Flycatcher
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Violaceous Trogan* singing brightly
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White-Tipped Dove*
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Yellow-Backed Oriole*
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Yellow-Bellied Elaenia*
We saw other species we were unable to identify or get photos of, as they moved away too quickly.  We missed getting photos of the White-Breasted Wood Wren* , but we did identify it for our life lists with binoculars and our Birds of Belize book.

The following photos are obviously not birds, but we thought they were particularly interesting:
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Find the huge Damselfly
I thought the photos that Barry took of this interesting fly were particularly attractive -- and I'm certainly no fan of flies!
 
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We traveled to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve today from where we were staying in False Sittee Point
Thursday morning dawned warm and sunny yet again.  This morning we had arranged with Kaleem to pick us up again to take us to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for some more hiking and birding.  We had read that the trails here were easier than we'd encountered in our previous day's hiking an Mayflower Bocawina National Park, so we were looking forward to that.  We knew we had another sweaty day ahead, but hoped the hiking and birding would make it all worth while.

When the taxi arrived, it turned out to be another driver, Julian, instead of Kaleem.  He told us that the Rav4 was actually his and that the previous day had been his day off, so Kaleem was using his vehicle.  He took us on a different route since he needed to fuel up at the Sittee River Marina.  So, he drove us from False Sittee Point along the Sittee River, through Sittee Village, and out to the Southern Highway.  It was a really scenic drive, but the rocky road (until we reached the paved portion at Sittee Village) was pretty slow-going.  Julian said it can be impassable at times during rainy season.
After a seven-mile access road into the park (again, unpaved, bumpy, and slow-going), Julian dropped us at the park at 9:30 am, and we agreed for him to pick us up at 3:30 pm.  We wanted to allow an hour longer than the day before since we basically ran out of time then.  We hoped it would be enough time. 
First we checked out the visitor center.  We knew these would be the only jaguars we'd be seeing today as they are seldom seen by humans and are mainly nocturnal. 





Here's some information about how the preserve was developed.  Interesting to see that it is the first jaguar preserve established in the world -- and it's here in little Belize!
We started our hike on the easy Green Knowledge Trail.  It was quite muddy, not my favorite hiking condition, but it was beautiful, and as usual, we had it all to ourselves, as we did all the trails today.  There were frequent creeks alongside the trails as well as creek/stream crossings.  
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The leaves on the trail were hiding some very sticky mud
We saw many of these giant grasshoppers hopping and flying around.  They grow 'em big in the tropics!  Interestingly, the inside of their wings are bright fuschia, so they look really pretty, and almost like birds, when they fly.  But it was impossible to get a photo of them in flight.
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Belizean grasshopper -- at least 5" long
There were informational signs along the way on this trail.  We found this one interesting and joked that we'd have a water source should we get lost in the jungle.  Of course, there were all those creeks too.
Here's the "water bottle" vine.  We had plenty of water with us so didn't try it this time.
Here's another sign about the roots on the kaway tree -- these were massive and so interesting.
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Kaway "Tarantula" tree
There were lots and lots of leafcutter ants on the trails here.  We tried very hard to look out for them (as we were already watching the ground for snakes).  I find these little creatures fascinating.  They work so hard!
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Leafcutters
I thought these blueberry-like fruits in the center of the red wildflowers were interesting and beautiful.
In addition to many exotic birds (which we'll save for a special post), there were many different butterflies flitting about.  They rarely posed for photos, though!
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Note the giant grasshopper on this sign
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Time for a little snack break before continuing on
After completing the Green Knowledge Trail, leading to the Gibnut Loop, which we also hiked, our intention was to hike the 5K Antelope Trail.  However, it wasn't obvious that we were supposed to cross a creek to get to the Antelope Trail so ended up on the Tinnamou Trail instead.  We didn't know this until we got all the way out to the access road to the sanctuary and saw the sign at the other end.  We ended up having to double back to figure out our mistake.  However, it was actually worth it as towards the end of the Tinnamou, we encountered large animal tracks in the mud.  We found out from a park employee later that these three-toed prints were made by the tapir.  Cool!
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See the teeny-tiny hand-scratched arrow on the sign? That was the only clue to cross the creek to take the Antelope Trail. Continuing straight was the Tinnamou Trail.
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This is where we should have crossed. Oops!
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Hiking the Antelope...er...Tinnamou Trail
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Crossing one of many creeks
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Tapir tracks -- one of the few good things about mud
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This guy has some large feet!
When we got to the access road and saw this sign, we realized that we were on the wrong trail.  Time to backtrack!
After backtracking about half a mile, we crossed the creek we were supposed to cross.  This is probably much dryer during dry season, but it was one of the few creek crossings without a bridge, so very easy to miss.  We had to take our shoes off and wade.  The cool water felt great on such a hot day!


On the Antelope Trail, we didn't see any antelopes, but we did come across this fascinating leaf-cutter village.  Looked like they had built temples and apartment houses!
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I loved the gothic-style entry on this one. Who knew leaf-cutters were such brilliant architects?
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An obstacle along the way
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And a pretty little waterfall
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I was determined to make it across this creek without taking off my shoes. The rocks were slick, but I did it.
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Huge hornet nest up in a tree -- fortunately we did not see any of its inhabitants
Sadly, even allowing an extra hour, once again we just barely made it back to the visitor's center at the designated time to meet our taxi. There was just so much to see, and we did stop many times to photograph and watch birds as we were hiking.  

The very end of the Antelope Trail hooked up with a more open, grassy path back to the visitor's center, where there were a whole different variety of birds than what we'd seen in the jungle -- and so many of them.  We wish we'd had more time to spend in this area, but we had to keep moving.

Julian arrived right at the designated time.  On the way back down the access road, he stopped the car to let us check out a small plane wreck.  I looked from afar since another stream crossing was involved, but Barry just walked on through -- leather hiking boots and all.  He was able to get some good close-up shots of the wreck, as well as of the sign explaining it.  Fortunately the pilot of the plane sustained only minor injuries.
I've already blogged about the great private dinner that Tony and Angela served us that night (Thursday), but here are a few other photos from the lovely evening once we got back to the inn and cleaned up after some very sweaty hiking.
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Barry before dinner
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Afterglow
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Enjoying some well-earned relaxation in the palapa after dinner
We had decided the day before that we were going to need another day in Hopkins.  We had originally planned to leave Friday morning.  But we had only seen the village while riding the bus into town on Tuesday, then briefly when visiting the grocery store on Wednesday, so we wanted to explore more and try a couple of different restaurants.  We needed a slower-paced day to rest up after all the hiking as well.  We had already confirmed with Angela that we could stay Friday night, so after a couple of phone calls back home to extend Paisley's stay at the Pampered Paws and cancel our housekeepers for Saturday (since we wouldn't get home in time to let them in), we were all set for one more day in this lovely paradise!  

[To be continued...]
 
We arrived at Lamanai Maya site at the perfect time to eat a delicious traditional Belizean lunch that Allan set up on a picnic table for our group.  Most of us also enjoyed our first Belikin of the day along with lunch.  
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Entering Lamanai
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Our group heading to the lunch palapa
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Stew chicken, coconut rice & beans, cole slaw, salad, fried plantains, and hot relish
The park was absolutely beautiful, with towering trees and lush green foliage everywhere.  There were also a few gift shops and a museum.  Unfortunately, time was tight due to the travel involved getting there and back, so Barry and I didn't actually make it into the museum, which was disappointing.  I looked very briefly in a couple of gift shops but didn't buy anything.  I knew we'd want to tip our guides at the end of the tour, plus pay for the water taxi back home, so I didn't want to overspend.  One key I've found to sticking to our retirement budget here in Belize is simply not to take too much money anywhere, just a little more than the minimum needed.  Since Belize is primarily a cash-based economy, I don't even bother carrying a credit card along in most cases, which makes it much easier to resist temptation than in the US!
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Lamanai Museum
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Looking back towards the dock where we entered
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Black Orchid -- the national flower of Belize
After lunch it was time for a short walk to the first two structures we would see on the Lamanai site: the Jaguar Temple and the Royal Palace.  Isidro, our tour guide, did a wonderful job at explaining how the structures were excavated.  One of the most interesting facts he told us was that the Maya built most of these structures on top of previous structures that now lie below the grass and topsoil.  So if one were to continue digging down, an entirely different, and more ancient, structure might be found below some of the behemoths that have already been excavated.  Mind boggling!
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Jaguar Temple
To a person, our group could hardly wait to start climbing the many stairs of the Jaguar Temple to reach the top.  From young to old, slim to heavy, every single one of us wanted to do it.  I was really impressed with our group as I am sure not all groups are so adventurous!
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Barry makes his way to the top -- and yes, I was already there taking the shot!
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At the top of Jaguar Temple
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One last view of Jaguar Temple
Our next stop was across from the Jaguar Temple and was called the Royal Palace.  Apparently this was where the royalty would speak to the peasants, who would gather in the large field below.  I believe Isidro also told us that human sacrifices would have been chosen at this site, though actually made elsewhere.  It wasn't as impressive as the other structures nor nearly as high, so we didn't spend a lot of time on it.  We wanted to climb!
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The Royal Palace
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Interior of Royal Palace
Isidro made all the women in our group come up and try out the "tools" for grinding corn and making tortillas.  Yes, it was sexist, but I guess that was the way it was in those days.  Because the corn grinding involved moving a heavy rock over the corn kernels, I think I'd assign this job to Barry!
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Emily crack corn...
On the walk through the jungle on the way to the next structure, Isidro heard something up high in the trees and sure enough, there were Howler monkeys!  We only saw one adult and one younger, smaller monkey at the time, but when Barry and I blew up this photo, there were three monkeys in it!  Unfortunately, they never did howl for us.  
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Howler Monkeys
The walking portions through the jungle were absolutely breathtaking; I could have hiked there all day.  Based on research I did after the trip, I think these have to be Cohune Palm Trees, which can reach heights of 90 feet tall, and these had to be close to that.  The pictures don't begin to do them justice; they are truly majestic.  One of the guys on our tour said "Jurassic Park", and I thought, "Yes, that is exactly what this feels like"!
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Lamanai Park jungle walk
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Cohune Palm tree "grapes" contain nuts that are used for making cooking oil
The next structure, to the top left in the photo below, is the Ball Court.  This is where the Maya played a deadly game -- we were shocked to hear that the winner of the game was beheaded.  Isidro explained that this was because the Maya believed it was such a high honor to go to be with their gods that death was welcomed.  This was definitely a game I would want to lose.
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Ball Court ahead
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Walking through the ball court
Just when I thought we had already seen the most impressive of the structures at Lamanai, we walked from the jungle out into another field, and there it was, the High Temple.  It is the highest structure in the park at 108 feet, and took my breath away at first sight. The panoramic view from the top is the best in the park, so of course our entire group was determined to climb it.  It was also the most difficult climbing as the stairs are very steep.  There is a rope down the middle of the stairs to assist in climbing and descending.  I am pleased to say everyone in our group made it, even people who had fear of heights, and it was a real thrill!
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The High Temple
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These stairs are steep. I didn't use the rope but just my hands to scramble up.
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I am at the top on the right side.
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Exhilarating!
Fancy seeing our friend Dale, who runs the Funky Monkey restaurant in San Pedro, here with another tour group!
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Dale made it to the top too
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Now it's Barry's turn. This shows you how steep it is.
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I'm waiting and watching him climb up
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View of New River Lagoon from the top of High Temple -- this is how we came into Lamanai by boat
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Barry took a photo of me taking a photo of the family group on our tour
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Happy at the top of High Temple
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Everyone had their own techniques to climb back down. Mine was butt-scooting!
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Side view showing steepness of the descent
After everyone made it down off the High Temple, we proceeded through the jungle once more to our final structure, the Mask Temple.  Isidro explained that the masks on either side of this temple are reconstructions, as the originals became too eroded.  This temple wasn't nearly as high as the last, but I still decided to skip climbing it as I was afraid my legs were going to really be feeling it in the morning.  Only a couple from our group decided to climb this one.  I think we were all getting pretty tired by this point.
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Mask Temple
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You can see where the original's nose broke off above the lower reproduction mask carving.
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Yep, that's Barry up there on top -- he was one of the few who couldn't resist one more climb!
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That's my guy!
Finally it was time to bid our goodbyes to Lamanai and make the arduous journey back to San Pedro in reverse of our morning's travels.  We took very few photos on this leg of the trip since we'd been there, done that before, just a couple of notable ones.
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Relaxing with Belikin #2 on the return leg
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Local fishermen on New River
On the bumpy bus ride back from Lamanai Outpost to Bomba Village, which felt even longer than the first time, we were served a delicious and ice-cold rum punch.  Fortunately, Allan had huge cups to serve it in and only filled them half-way; otherwise, punch would have been flying everywhere with the bumpy ride.  It was still a slow process to drink it, but we managed somehow!

When we arrived back at Bomba Village, I paid for and picked up my painted sun.  Here's the Suya Tours boat we took for the last leg of the journey on the North River back to San Pedro.  
And here's a not-so-friendly fellow we saw peering out of the brush at us along the way.  
Allan was kind enough to take Barry and me all the way back to the Coastal Xpress water taxi dock.  I had noted that we would probably miss the northbound taxi by five minutes, were it right on time leaving, and end up having to wait nearly an hour for the next one, or walk home.  Fortunately, the boat had not left yet, and Allan called over to the captain to hold it for us.  We quickly jumped off the Suya boat, paid for the water taxi, and boarded.  That was a real stroke of luck and got us home earlier to take Paisley out and for some playtime after a long day inside. 

What an amazing and unforgettable adventure we had!  The Lamanai trip is a must for anyone visiting Belize, and we can highly recommend Suya Tours.  They were extremely professional, and we thought they had more interesting, authentic food and friendlier guides compared to some of the others we noticed who were at various spots at the same time as our group.  They were a class act!

Tomorrow: Birds of Lamanai (unfortunately, we saw a lot more than we got photos of, so it will be a short post).
 
There have been a bevy of beautiful butterflies in the foliage of the vacant lot next door lately.  Except for the monarch, I don't know what these are, so if anyone knows, please leave a comment!
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I always feel bad for the ones whose wings are all tattered and torn
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Just flowers -- no butterfly in this one

Foxy!

10/16/2011

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What a fine day.  The storm that has been hanging out near Belize moved northward, and the rains stopped.  We saw the sun for the first time in days, which always lifts our spirits.  Additionally, my back had been feeling better every day, and Saturday I was able to do a lot more range of motion exercises, stretches, and light strengthening exercises, so I decided I'd try a bike ride today.  Good decision -- it didn't bother me a bit! 

We did our usual Sunday ride up the beach to Indigo, then cut over to Grand Belizean Estates, where the road is much higher and dryer than anything else on the island.  While there, in addition to many birds (herons, egrets, stilts, kingfishers, mockingbird, ibis and others), we saw this gray fox crossing the road.  
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He gave us a curious look
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Then turned and moved on
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Back into the safety of the woods.