Flying Over the Waters of Belize

Today was magical. We took a tiny plane – me, Mick, the pilot, and the co-pilot who was also our guide – and flew over Belize’s coastal waters, barrier reef, atolls, and islands. The colors were gorgeous – greens, many shades of blue and teal, light and bright in the shallower waters, deep blue in the depths. The little islands were like jewels. 

And the Great Blue Hole, of course, is stunning. 400 feet deep, 600 feet across, with 2 natural entrances. It was caused by a cave that collapsed. In this photo, the white comet-looking streak on the right is the wake of a boat that was leaving as we flew over.

This was our last full day here. After we got back to the resort, we relaxed all afternoon, and I played with watercolor palettes based on what we saw today as well as other parts of our trip. Tomorrow we fly home to pick up our lives again. 

Islands off the coast of Belize

The Great Blue Hole

Watercolor Palettes

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Today I Ate a Termite (On Purpose)

This morning we went out with Captain Bobo on his skiff, traveling down the coast from Placencia to the Monkey River. At last! Out on the ocean! We saw many birds diving for fish, mostly pelicans and cormorants. Part of the trip was through some red mangroves – such cool root systems (picture number 1). When we got to the mouth of the river, as we pulled up to the shore, there were seven pelicans just sitting there on the pier looking at us (picture number 2). We stopped there at the village to pick up our guide Mario (who carried a machete) and place our orders for lunch so they’d be ready when we returned later.

As we traveled up the river, Mario pointed out interesting birds, trees, and plants. After a while, we pulled to shore where there is a trail through the rain forest jungle. As we walked, Mario told us about what we were looking at. Many of the trees we saw were familiar, and I liked that fact that different peoples in Belize use the plants in similar ways. One thing different about this jungle is that the inhabitants include large Blue Land Crabs – we were able to see one (picture number three). They live in holes in the jungle floor.

There is a large growth of bamboo in one area – very tall, with stems 3-5 inches across, growing in such a way as to make a large cathedral-like space. That was amazing to walk through. Then Mario found a live termite nest close enough to reach (they build them in trees) and poked his finger in and got some out. These were little, like little ants. His challenge to us was to try them – they are edible, high in protein, and taste minty. How could we refuse? And yes, they do taste very minty. But you would have to eat a LOT of them to get a decent meal.

After our jungle walk, we went back down the river. On the way, we saw a crocodile, our first. We had a delicious lunch at Alice’s Restaurant (yes, the actual name!) and said goodbye to Mario. Then it was back onto the boat to come back to Placencia. On the way, we stopped at a popular manatee feeding ground to see if we could spot any. It took a while, but Captain Bobo was patient and knew how to look for them, and we did finally see several manatee noses as they came up for air. After that we returned to Placencia and then back to our hotel.

Tomorrow is our last full day here, and we are taking an aerial tour of the Great Blue Hole.

Red Mangroves

Pelicans on the pier

Blue Land Crab

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Nim Li Punit and Ms. Pearleen’s

Today’s adventure was a visit to the Nim Li Punit Mayan Ruin, which is known for its huge carved stelae, or stone slabs and columns. Our guide, Gilbert, walked us around it all – the ceremonial areas, the pok-ta-pok court, the residences and tombs. One large area held stones that mark the solstices and equinoxes – that panorama photo is one of today’s pictures, along with one of the stelae.

After we finished at Nim Li Punit, we went on the the Rio Blanco National Park, where we hiked a short trail to a lovely waterfall. The day finished up with lunch at Pearleen’s Restaurant. This buffet of local food was delicious, and included freshly made watermelon juice. Ms. Pearleen sat with us and chatted as we ate. 

Tomorrow, we are taking a boat trip on the Monkey River. 

Above, the seasonal markers, with Mick for scale. 

Carved stela at Nim Li Punit    The waterfall at Rio Blanco      

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No Jaguars, But Other Cool Things

Today we visited the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, This is a 128,000 acre protected forest that is home to many animals, including 5 species of cats: jaguars, pumas, margays, ocelots, and jaguarundis. Sadly, but not surprisingly, we did not see any of these. We did, however, see and hear many birds and insects. Our guide, Ki, spotted these and patiently helped us see them: toucans, White-Collared Manakins, Montezuma Oropendolas, Red-billed Pigeons, Piratic Flycatchers, and more.

We saw many leaf-cutter ants, and learned more about how they live. All those leaves and flower petals they collect? They bring those back to their nests, where “cleaner” ants clean them off, chew them up, and then all the ants defecate on them. This creates compost, and then the ants plant fungus on that. The fungus is what they eat. So essentially, they are farmers! Some of them are warriors – these are much bigger, and have very strong jaws. Ki stomped on the ground near one nest and got some warriors to come out. Yikes! You would not want to be bitten by one of those. He picked one up (carefully) for us to look at, then gently put her back down. That’s one of today’s pictures. 

We also saw some different trees, including one humorously known as the “Tourist Tree” because it has red, peeling bark. That is another of today’s pictures. There were also trees with significant scratch marks from where jaguars had clawed them, just like when your pet cat claws the furniture! 

As we were leaving, Ki spotted a tarantula hole and coaxed the female Scarlet-Rumped tarantula out so we could see her. I am not fond of big spiders, but she was pretty cool. She is the third picture.

Tomorrow we are visiting a Mayan ruin site, and I will tell you about that tomorrow night.


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On To Placencia, and the Beach

We were sad to leave Chan Chich this morning, it is such a wonderful, peaceful place. An Ocellated Turkey hen posed for one final picture – you can really see her beautiful coloring and little “beaded headdress”. Our flight to Placencia, on the southeast coast, was uneventful. This part of Belize is quite different from the northwest in a number of ways. Of course, it’s a beach culture, and far more touristy. The population here is mostly Mestizo (mixed Spanish and indigenous), Garifuna (mixed African and indigenous), and Creole (mixed African and European). On our way to our resort, we stopped at a grocery store, where I was bemused by the sign for the chemist. 

The first real issues we had on our whole trip were here at the Naia resort. We had a reservation for a beach cabin, which to our minds meant a cabin on the beach. What we got instead was a cabin away from the water, with just a tiny sliver of a view of the beach. Hell, no. So we politely protested, and ended up in a smaller cabin but it is right on the beach, and has a lovely view of the water. Sadly, however, the water here has a severe algae bloom at the shoreline, so you really don’t want to go in the water. But it’s beautiful to look at. The final picture today is of the full moon over the Caribbean, taken right outside our door. 

Tomorrow, we have an early-morning outing to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow night!


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Medicinal Plants and Other Wonders of Nature

This morning we went on a walk around the Chan Chich property to look at medicinal plants used by the Mayan people who have lived in this part of the world for nearly three thousand years. Our guide was Levy, a Mayan man whose grandfather was a bush doctor. The remedies he showed us are still used today. 

The trees, shrubs, and ferns we saw on today’s walk include remedies for coughs, sore throats, headaches, respiratory problems like asthma, muscle spams, arthritis, UTIs, skin problems like rashes, cuts, and burns, dandruff, and high blood pressure. Many of these remedies have been documented in a book “Rainforest Remedies: One Hundred Healing Herbs of Belize” by Rosita Arvigo and Michael Balick. Levy assured us that the book is accurate based his family knowledge from his grandfather. 

We also saw some new birds: the most spectacular was the Rufous-Tailed Jacamar – he is one of today’s photos. I have this great picture thanks to Patrick, a German man in our group who let me take a picture with my phone of the great picture HE took with his  wonderful camera. Hence the German text at the bottom of the photo. 

In the afternoon, after a restful nap, we took  another walk around the property with a different guide, Luis. We were just looking around to see what we could see. There were many interesting plants, including the Cow Itch plant (do NOT touch those leaves!), a black orchid plant, various palm trees and philodendrons, a leaf-cutter ant superhighway, and leaf cutter ants at work. That’s today’s other picture – they are so cute and industrious.

We are here for one more night, then tomorrow we are flying to Placencia, which is on the coast. Time for the beach!

Rufous-Tailed Jacamar      Leaf-Cutter Ants at Work

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Chan Chich is Amazing!

Our day started with a delicious breakfast out on the lanai of the dining hall. Then we met with Kris, who was our guide for all three of our tours today.

In the morning, we took a tour of the Gallon Jug Estate, which is the larger property that includes Chan Chich. Among other things, they grow their own chickens and ducks (and yes they have access to pasture), cattle, coffee, fruits, and vegetables. They also have horses and beehives. The bees are Africanized, which makes them hardier and have sweeter honey.
Pretty much all of these things, except the coffee, are for their own consumption. They pride themselves on being farm-to-table and as self-sufficient as possible.

We also saw something totally new to me – brown cotton trees! The Maya people used those fibers for clothing and other textiles. We are talking TALL trees, not little bushes like white cotton grows on. It’s real name is the Ceiba tree (pronounced say-ba). It is the national tree of Guatemala, and is also known as the Mayan Tree of Life.

After lunch Kris took us on an archeology walk around the lodge. The lodge buildings are located in what used to be the plaza of a Mayan settlement, which has been mapped out by archeologists. So you can walk around to the various temples, dwellings, and see how it was all laid out.

We were extremely sweaty by then, so we took a swim in that lovely pool before getting ready for dinner. After another lovely meal, we went on a night drive, hoping to see nocturnal wildlife. We saw a Mexican Red Rump Tarantula, several varieties of birds, and lots of deer.

Tomorrow is our one remaining full day here, and in the morning we are doing a Medicinal Plants tour.

Today’s pictures are of the beehives and the Ceiba tree.


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Time for the Tropics and a Warm Blue Ocean

We are in Belize for Spring Break! It has been entirely too long since we had a tropical vacation. Today was a long travel day, as we had to get up at 4:15 am to make our 7:00 am flight to Charlotte, then the succeeding flights to Miami, Belize City, and then to the tiny airstrip at Chan Chich here on the western edge of the country.

Chan Chich Lodge is an eco-resort with gorgeous grounds full of wildlife. Today’s picture is of some Ocellated Turkeys, which wander around freely. And just for fun, a picture of the swimming pool. I think we’re going for a swim tonight.

And since it’s been a really long day, that’s it for now.


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A Blue Ribbon Month

2022 Hand-spun Yarn Competition Blue Ribbon Winners

2022 Hand-spun Yarn Competition Blue Ribbon Winners

October has been a crazy kind of month. Both the South Carolina State Fair and the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF) occur in October, and as in past years I was involved with both.

For the SC State Fair, I submitted a skein of hand-spun plied yarn in that competition, and my guild the Carolina Spinners, Weavers, and Knitters Guild was there one Saturday for live demonstrations of those arts. It was a fun day with lots of interest from the general public. Children especially are mesmerized by the motion of spinning wheels! And I am pleased to say that my yarn took first place.

The next weekend was SAFF, and here too I submitted a skein of 2-ply hand-spun yarn in the competition. SAFF, as always, was amazing and wonderful. Those people are my tribe! I took two days of drum-carder classes from Henry and Roy Clemes, the men who are the Clemes and Clemes company that make a variety of tools for fiber art. I learned a LOT about using a drum carder for fiber prep and blending, and really look forward to applying my knowledge now that I’m back home again. Here, too, my yarn took first place in its category. It’s funny how the mind works – with this little victory something shifted for me. I feel like now I am a spinner, not just someone who spins. That may seem subtle, but it’s very real for me. There was a lot more competition at SAFF, and the judges’ comments were really complimentary. I’m working now on compiling a list of spinning and fiber prep skills that I want to develop,  and setting goals for the next year (including starting to think NOW about my State Fair and SAFF competition items).

So how, you may ask, am I going to improve my skills? I have joined the Sheep Spot’s The Flock, and become a paying member, which opens up a whole world of classes and targeted skill-building. In addition to the educational resources, I love having an extended online community to engage with.

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Paper Models

Example of Crown Binding

Model of Crown Binding

I feel like I am moving in spirals these days: circling back around but learning and applying new skills as I go. Currently my major art focus is on working my way through the projects in Making Handmade Books by Alisa Golden, using just regular printer paper and making a model of each technique. In keeping with my “a little time every day” personal commitment, I’ve been doing one or two a day.

I’ve made several different types of handmade books over the last year or so, and especially enjoyed using my handmade papers, collage papers, and dyed papers in those. Then I got distracted from that by encaustic painting. But as I was working with encaustic, I kept thinking how it would be amazing in hand-bound books, especially in book covers. However, to really delve into that I felt I needed to beef up my skills and experience with making various types of books. That prompted me to go through my personal library of book-binding books, and I pulled out Golden’s as the most suited for I want right now. It has over a hundred different projects, starting with simple folded books and becoming more complex as you go along.

Then in July, I went back to John C. Campbell Folk School for a class in Stitched Collage, taught by Jennifer Reis. She is a talented artist and wonderful instructor, and it was a very inspiring class. Now I have even more techniques to bring to handmade books, and I am doubling down on working through those paper models.

So the spiral keeps coming back to books, with the desire to use all these fun skills and techniques to birth creative new ideas. Today’s project was crown binding, where one piece of paper is folded to make a spine that holds inserted pages in place.

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