Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 10 – Tikal

Woken at sunrise by the howlers roaring ate each other, then off for a dawn walk to see the early morning wildlife. Saw a troop of XXXXs, YYYYs, a crocodile and so many birds, especially the ZZZ. Racine got a shot of a Bat Falcon taking a Parakeet on the wing, She just raised the camera and got it, right above our heads. I came back to wake Gil but the monkeys were raining fruit down on the metal roof of our room. It sounded like grenades going off.

Monkey puzzle

New world monkeys such as Howlers, Spiders and Capuchins (named after the friars), are a bit of a puzzle. How did they get here? Turns out their genetic markers suggest a fork in the evolutionary tree after S America had drifted away from Africa. The current theory is the ‘raft’ theory, where a 13 day journey allowed the first primates to cross the then smaller Atlantic Ocean.

Museo Tikal

Just enough time to visit the one room museum, and what a find. The stelae are in pristine condition, the glyphs clear and there’s a tomb wit a complete skeleton and tons of jade and obsidian surrounding the bones. Then there’s a fine collection of chocolate cups, enema pipes, bone skewers for blood letting and pots. If you’re thinking of buying a book on the Maya, I highly recommend The Maya by Michael Coe, a detailed and scholarly chronological treatment from the Yale Professor that has plenty of detail. I was also recommended A Forest of Kings by Linda Schele and David Freidel, but found it s a bit too speculative.

Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Centre (

Even if you’re no fan of zoos, this place is a revelation. It rescues animals and has a real conservation ethos. We spoke to the owner, Sharon Metola, while she was feeding a huge endangered Harpie Eagle with raw meat from her hands. With no government funding she relies on tickets, donations and her shop. She’s done lots of work for BBC Radio4 and is a DJ on a weekly rock show. It was all about getting an emotional bond between the kids and the animals so that they don’t throw stones or kill them. She was, apparently. A lion tamer in a previous life. We also had the privilege of speaking to a fascinating German, who had sat in front of the Jaguar compound for two whole days taking pictures of this graceful cat. He gives presentations on endangered species, especially the Jaguar, and was on a mission to stop the habitat loss and monoculture of Palm Oil – the greatest immediate threat to the natural world, in his opinion ( He also laid into Chinese medicine, claiming that many endangered species are hunted and sold to Chinese dealers and tourists, who have crazy ideas about analogous shapes (rhino horns and erections).

The zoos enclosures back right onto the jungle, giving it a real habitat feel, although in the real rainforest, it would take you years to see these rare animals. The cats (Jaguar, Ocelot, Cougar)


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