So, last week Tabitha and I had planned to go to the Belize Zoo on Saturday. Later, some other people started planning a tour of Caracol. Grr. I chose the zoo.
Saturday was also the day the first batch of two-week students was leaving, so that morning I got up early and went to the market for breakfast so I could hang out with Kathryn and Leslie and Brita one last time. They woke up Christopher, who had partied rather hard the night before, and dragged him along, as far as I can tell mostly for entertainment value. He was supposed to go to Caracol but wasn’t keen on leaving at 7 a.m., and at five til seven when I reminded him he needed to be going, he announced he was coming to the zoo instead.
We all walked back to Midas so that the two-weekers could say good-bye to the people going to Caracol before the bus left, and then we sat around in the common room for a bit before I had to go back to the market to meet Tabitha so we could catch our bus. Christopher whined, so I left him and said he should find us by 7:45 if he still wanted to go. I thought it unlikely that he would show, and he didn’t.
Tabitha informed me that she was feeling sick and hadn’t gotten enough sleep, but she still wanted to try to go. We walked to the bus station and confirmed that the bus to Belize City would indeed take us past the zoo. We had a while to wait before the next one came, and while we were sitting Tabitha continued to look miserable. I reiterated that I wouldn’t be upset if she didn’t want to go. She was indecisive for a few minutes, because she thought if she slept on the bus she might feel better, but she didn’t want to wind up feeling like crap at the zoo and not enjoying it. Eventually she decided she wanted to back to Midas and sleep for a few hours and go later. I agreed.
The problem was that we were supposed to be back from the zoo in time for her to go canoeing with Alex, on a trip they’d already booked. If Tabitha was going to have to choose, she wanted to go to the zoo, but she didn’t want Alex not to be able to go canoeing because of her. So we went to find Chris, who was asleep on the couch in the common room where I’d left him. Tabitha informed him that he was going canoeing, which was a much longer conversation than seemed necessary, since Christopher was half asleep and probably hungover. They talked in circles for some time while David and I looked on and laughed hysterically.
Tabitha went to bed and I lay in my hammock with a book. After the agreed-upon two hours Tabitha came to my cabana and asked if I would hate her if she said she didn’t want to go at all. Obviously, the answer was no, though I was extremely disappointed that I missed out on Caracol only to miss out on the zoo, too. I considered going alone, but decided if that was going to happen I’d prefer to wait until morning and go before the heat. Or at least, before the worst heat.
So I had a very lazy Saturday. I walked across the bridge to Santa Elena and back, but mostly I lay in the hammock and read and sat in the common room and did computer-y things. Late in the afternoon I started thinking about not wanting to miss dinner plans, so I went to the patio and joined Brenna and Simone and Tabitha, who were also having long lazy Saturdays (Brenna and Simone were also not feeling well, and had attributed it to the birthday cake we all ate the night before, though that doesn’t make sense considering that only one person who went to Caracol reported being sick, and nearly everyone ate the cake.), and Maite, who was supposed to have left that morning but whose mother still hadn’t arrived.* Tabitha, who was a two-weeker but was staying an extra night before heading off to travel on her own, had decided she was sick enough that she needed to go home, so Simone and Brenna and I set about helping her to cancel her reservations for the mini-vacation in the Cayes that she’d planned and changing her flight. She was very upset.
When the Carcol group returned, most of us went out to Mr. Greedy’s for drinks and dinner. I hung out with Sam and Flex and Kathryn (a different Kathryn than the one I’d cleaned bones with) and Hope, all of whom expressed an interest in going to the zoo, but most of whom preferred the though of sleeping in to the thought of getting on a bus as early in the morning as I wanted to. In the end, only Hope went with me.
I should mention here that Hope and I are both pale and freckled and have dark hair to accentuate our whiteness. Plus, I was looking pretty touristy in the same battered shorts and t-shirt I’d worn the day before, and Hope was drawing attention to herself with a pretty skirt and tank top and her hair done nicely. In short, we were going to stick out like sore thumbs even if we weren’t the only gringas on the bus. Which we usually were.
Nonetheless, I though the bus ride was a lot of fun. We stood up for part of the way, until seats opened up. There was music playing, and with the windows open it was nice and cool, though sometimes (when the bus was speeding, which is most of the time it wasn’t stopping) the wind was too bad to see out the window very easily. As we were coming up on an hour of travelling, I told Hope to keep an eye out for signs for the zoo, since I’d been told by Suzan that it took about an hour to reach it on the bus. I was a little nervous because I wasn’t entirely sure whether the bus stopped AT the zoo, or just near it, and if the latter I wasn’t entirely sure where we were supposed to get off or how we would know when we reached it, since most bus stops seemed not to be marked as bus stops, much less as specific bus stops. After an hour and twenty minutes had gone by, I was starting to get worried. A little while later and Hope pointed out that we weren’t that far outside of Belize City. Finally, after an hour and forty-five minutes, the bus stopped in front of a sign for the Belize Zoo over a long gravel driveway. (I later mock-yelled at Suzan for lying to me, and teased her about her sense of time.)
The zoo is in the middle of freaking nowhere. But it’s pretty cool, despite being quite small. It’s all local wildlife (so the enclosures are really natural), and all animals that were rescued or captive-bred and given by other zoos. And of course there are exotic birds and lizards just hanging out along the trails that don’t technically belong to the zoo. It’s full of really cheesy signs about the various animals, but at least we had some good laughs about them.
Animal-wise, I was pretty fascinated. I don’t remember ever having seen tapirs (which I LOVE) or coatimundis or jaguarundis before, and some of the big water birds are completely amazing. There were even a few animals I’d never heard of, something that’s usually hard to come by. And then there were the jaguars. I had quite a moment with one. He was in a cage that part of which was sort of an overpass above the trail, and I climbed up on a nearby stump to look in and see if I could spot him. Lo and behold, he was curled up right in front of me, looking out with beautiful golden eyes, and we locked eyes with barely a foot between us. We just stared at each for a long moment before a large group with many noisy children began approaching. The jaguar gave me a look that clearly said, “Oh, good grief,” and got up and walked a few steps away so he was partially hidden by a tree. I swear he would have rolled his eyes if he could.
Leaving the zoo proved to be even more of an adventure than getting there. After about three hours there, we walked back out to the road to await a bus. After about half an hour of watching, one came by marked “Benque”. Expecting one for “Cayo” or even “San Ignacio”, we let it pass by, even though Benque is the last stop in the right direction. We soon realized our mistake and thought we would have to wait another hour for the next one. Fortunately, one came on the half hour, and we made it, but that just made me realize that if the buses ran every half hour, we had probably missed another bus that would have come by about five minutes before we reached the stop. Sigh.
* Maite is in her thirties, married with kids, and lives in NYC, but her parents still live in Mexico and she was apparently going to spend some time with them before going home.