Trains, Planes, and Automobiles. And a Boat.

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It was 4:45am and I could hardly contain my excitement. It was the day I was going to Belize for the second year in a row. In the summer of 2016, I went to Belize for a study abroad course in marine reef ecology. We spent over a week in the country, snorkeling, diving, and developing our own research studies. Our professors thought our group’s research was so stellar, that they wrote a grant to fund our research for this year.

I live in Dahlonega, a small mountain town in the northern reaches of Georgia, about an hour and a half north of Atlanta. It’s a beautiful town with one drawback, it’s an adventure in itself to get to the airport for a morning flight. Our departure was for 9:50am and because we were flying internationally, we aimed to be there at 7am. Two colleagues of mine, Logan and Kendall, along with our professors, left Dahlonega at 5:30am to make it to the airport on time.

On the drive to the airport, we realized we would be taking just about every mode of transport conceivable within a 12 hour time span. We drove to the MARTA station, which took about an hour, and boarded a train to get to the airport. We then hopped on a plane for a 3 hour flight to Belize City. Once we arrived, we took a 20 minute taxi to get to the Princess Hotel and Casino. We had about 2 hours to kill before our boat ride to the field research station.

Conveniently, there was a lunch buffet being offered at the hotel. Asking how much the buffet cost and hearing “18 dollars” left me flabbergasted. But then I remembered that two dollars in Belize is the equivalent to a single US dollar – even better. I sat at the fine cloth-covered table and ordered a pina colada to accompany my lunch. I received nothing but eye-rolls from my professors and colleagues. My excuse was “We are in the Caribbean and it would be wasteful not to get a drink with coconut in it.” The fresh coconut and pineapple juice in the pina colada sent me straight to heaven. The buffet was an awesome meal featuring some popular Caribbean dishes and a giant bowl of Marie Sharp’s hot sauce.

Let’s take a minute to talk about Marie Sharp’s. You cannot go into a store, restaurant, or gas station without seeing this stuff. It’s a habanero pepper sauce that is made in Belize. It ranges from mild (which is not very mild) to BEWARE – a single drop of which will make you fully aware of how hard everything you sit on is for the next 2 days. This hot sauce is a Belizean staple and let me tell you, they are very proud of it – as they should be.

After taking our last minutes of air conditioning in (the field station has none), we moved our gear and bags to the dock, where our captain for the week, Buress, was waiting. He and his friend helped us load a tiny boat – just big enough for everyone and the bags – and then helped everyone get in. Last year, we had The Diadema as a boat, which was about 3 times larger than the boat we were currently sitting in, and much more comfortable to ride in. Knowing the boat drive to the station takes about an hour and fifteen minutes, I was slightly worried at the time – the boat was that small. The trip went smoothly, though. To get to the field station on Calabash Caye, our journey took us through beautiful mangroves and the clear, bright blue ocean. At this point, reality set in and it felt like we were actually in Belize.

Car, train, taxi, plane, and boat. I was so relieved when we got to the island. That much traveling can really tire someone out. We unloaded all of our equipment, unpacked our luggage, and immediately went to the ocean where there is a reef about 100 meters offshore. We snorkeled for an hour and witnessed a loggerhead turtle, lion fish, beautiful coral, rays, and countless fish.

“Finally,” I thought. “I’M BACK BABY!”

 

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We were all so excited to get to Calabash Caye. This was the last time we saw mainland for almost a week. The Princess Hotel is behind us. I’m pretty sure Logan (male, purple) is sleeping behind those sunglasses.

 

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Our journey to Calabash Caye led us through wonderful mangroves and blue ocean water. The weather stayed exactly like this the whole week – beautiful. We couldn’t have asked for better weather conditions to conduct our research in.

 

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On our way in to Calabash Caye, about 150 meters from the dock was Alligator Island. This island is the site of our sea urchin research that we started in 2016.

 

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This was the sight from the dock when we arrived at the field station. It’s not much to look at, but the location is fantastic.

 

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The dorms we slept in were quite yellow. And purple. They had simple twin beds and no air conditioning, but by the end of the first day of research, we didn’t care. All we wanted was a place to retreat from the mosquitoes while we slept.

 

More on my trip to Belize coming soon!

 

~Matt

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