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Tales from a Belizean Journey-

Have you ever dreamed of having scorpions and tarantulas crawling on your arm? Spider monkeys throwing branches down at you from the rainforest canopy? Being serenaded at night by a cacophony of frogs? Imagine all of this and more, and that gives you the briefest glimpse into the first half of the Belize biology trip.  
As a group of 25, we arrived in Belize with various expectations. When we arrived at La Milpa, an ecolodge and research station in the Rio Bravo Conservation Area in northern Belize, we were astonished when we came down to the open-air dining area and had hummingirds zooming around us.  The area was beautiful. We spent most of the 5 days doing daily hikes through the area. Throughout our La Milpa stay, Melvis Valdez was our trusted guide. He knew everything, and he could spot obscure animals with ease.  We learned from Melvis about the native fauna and flora, what we could eat, what we shouldn't eat, what could be touched (virtually nothing), and what could not.   Even at night, we were lucky enough to go on hikes 
with Melvis. Of the numerous animals that we saw, some of the highlights would be a scorpion eating a poisonous caterpillar, an 8 in. long moth with translucent wing spots, and many red-eyed tree frogs.  
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For two of our days, we got to explore Mayan ruins. The first ruin was actually at La Milpa.
In fact, they have an archaeological lab on site. We even got to tour the lab and talk with the resident archaeologists.  After scaling the top of one of the tallest ruins at La Milpa, we got to see the other buildings that had yet to be excavated, as well as hear a fascinating tale about a king that archaeologists found in a tomb.  The other Mayan ruin, 
Lamanai, was only reachable via boat. So, our group hopped on a speed boat and sped around the bends of the New River.  After we arrived at Lamanai, we were greeted by sounds reminiscent of Jurassic Park. The sounds emanated from the resident troop of howler monkeys that were just beginning their morning patrol.  Melvis guided us through the grounds of Lamanai, and it was truly fascinating. We learned about Lord Smoking Shell, the leader of the site. We scaled the Jaguar temple and the Submerged Crocodile temple. The views were incomparable, with us being able to far see across the river and into the greatest depths of the horizon.  

Our last evening at La Milpa was busy presenting the research on leaf-cutter ants that had been conducted in small groups while on location. Groups used sugar water to monitor changes in various ant behavior. Very interesting results!
On the 5th day, we said goodbye to Melvis and 
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boarded a boat to take us out to Glover's Reef Research Station.  We also met our new three guides: Ivar, Claudius, and Adolfo.  They were all so welcoming, knowledgeable, and hilarious.  The boat ride was exhilirating, making one feel like they were on a roller coaster. As we approached the station, we began to take in the beauty that surrounded us. The clear, blue waters of the reef were captivating.
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The research station was on its own island, Middle Caye, that belonged within the Glover's reef atoll. We spent our days at Glover's reef snorkeling with Ivar, Claudius, and Adolfo around various patch reefs and through a mangrove.  We saw all types of marine organisms including parrotfish, starfish, upside-down jellyfish, angelfish, lionfish, eels, stingrays, sea cucumbers, sea fans, sponges, and we even had a 10 ft. nurse shark swim past one of the 
groups! It was an adventure of epic proportions to say the least.
On the last day, the group participated in a beach clean-up to help reduce the trash that accumulates on the island from cruise ships.  On the last evening, everyone presented their small group research that they had conducted examining species richness of the patch reefs.  Again, the groups presented interesting findings.  

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As we said goodbye to Glover's reef, Melvis picked us up where he had dropped us off and brought us to the airport. I think everyone had a favorite moment from the trip, whether it be eating termites, seeing sharks, outrunning the spider monkeys, playing volleyball on the island, or seeing the Milky Way at night.  I, myself, have too many favorite moments from the trip to even begin to list.
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Until the next time we see you, Belize,
Jeana Albers
Biology Teacher
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