A three-hour drive from the Belize airport to reach our destination seemed excruciatingly long, but once all fourteen of us piled into the small white Toyota bus, time flew by. Pretty soon our little bus was passing tiny homes, cattle farms, and climbing steep hills as the altitude increased. Vibrant green vegetation grew denser as we continued on our journey to our first stop – the La Milpa field station in Orange Walk, Belize.
Staying at the eco-friendly La Milpa Field Station was like staying at a resort. We had luxurious cabanas with a hammock in front of each, clean bathrooms with warm showers, and freshly cooked Belizean food for every meal! We even had local Mennonites wash our laundry for us for a small fee.
A typical day at La Milpa was always a new learning experience and filled with adventure. Waking up at 6 am every morning to go bird watching was tough, but well worth it once I saw a Blue-Crowned Motmot and a Violaceous Trogon, and you can’t forget Jose the crocodile living in the pond! After breakfast we usually started our field research. There were so many options to choose from considering the vast diversity surrounding us. In our class, students ran experiments on leaf-cutter ants, tarantulas, leaf drip tips, thorny plants, and humming birds. You cannot expect to do that in Lancaster, PA! Even though you were doing work for class, it was fun just being in a different environment not knowing what you will come across in the rainforest. While conducting research we came upon spider monkeys, howler monkeys, toucans, scorpions, fruit bats, and lizards, to name a few. Huge mahogany trees, strangler figs, and king palms loomed over our heads protecting us from the hot sun. Epiphytes, bromeliads, and twisted snake-like vines covered the untouched Mayan ruins we visited. We were even fortunate enough to learn some Mayan and Belizean history and cool off in a local river after a long day’s work.
The next part of our trip consisted of traveling in the same white Toyota bus all the way to the eastern coast of Belize City. Here we embarked a large motorboat that took us to a little island located off the coast of Belize in the barrier reef called Spanish Bay. This place was beautiful! We had our own two-story house with a terrace on each level. In the mornings some of us would go kayaking in the mangroves or go for a morning swim around part of the small island. The local workers on the island were accommodating and showed us what the barrier reef had to offer. And let me tell you, we were not disappointed! One of my hobbies is snorkeling and scuba diving, and in Belize I saw so many cool species within such a short amount of time. We encountered smooth rays, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, green moray eels, sea stars, sea horses, colorful arrays of fishes, octopi, vibrant corals, sea urchins (even the noteworthy diadema!), manatees, and even dolphins that swam next to our boat. Research was nothing to complain about. It consisted of swimming around in the clear aqua blue water counting and measuring the length of sea stars or examining the abundance of sergeant major damselfish in different coral colonies. Who could complain about that?
I didn’t know what to expect on our class trip to Belize, but if you like hiking, seeing real wildlife, swimming, and experiencing new cultures, this class is perfect for you! This class has enriched me in a way that no other class could at Franklin & Marshall College. With the hands-on experience in an exciting new environment, learning was fun and something priceless that I will never forget.