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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Belize - Knee Deep in Ray's in search of Flamingo's

In 1998 shortly after leaving the Army I went off to Belize for five months working for Raleigh International as their Logistics Manager, it was the best thing that could have happened to me at that time. However, and perhaps importantly that was the time when I realised that I wanted to work with people rather than do some routine job that I could do with my eyes shut, hence the reason why I got sacked from my first to jobs in civvy street each lasting exactly six weeks.

Over the years of writing this blog I have shared some of my experiences in Belize and this is another one of those story's, there are still many more to come. This is another one of those stories. I was visiting one of the project sites up in the north of Belize not far from the Mexican border. My task at that time as well as checking on how the project was going and how the staff and volunteers were getting on, was also to search for Flamingo's which were suspected of breeding in the mangroves. Having dealt with a few issues at the project site it was decided that we would head out the next day looking for potential breeding sites.

The next morning we were woken up by the call of the Chacalacha's (a type of bird) and after breakfast we set of in our canoes and headed for an area that the locals rarely venture into. As we travelled along the open waters of the mangroves, could see that the water was very clear and at one point I jumped in to feel cool waters. The water bed looked firm however on entering the water I sank up to my knees before making what might have been solid ground. Shortly after a whole bunch of Rays turn up and as I was not sure if they posed a threat or not I opted to leave the water. The Rays were about one to two feet at their widest point and they appeared harmless enough, but you never know.

We pushed on deeper into the swamp and at one point passing close enough to a Tiger Heron that I could reach out and stroke it, it had adopted the typical Bittern pose of remaining perfectly still and bolt upright. The rest of the day was spent searching for a way through the mangroves trying to reach our chosen start point for our search to begin and of course along the way we encountered many different birds and animals.

We eventually got to our start point by which time it was fast approaching four in the afternoon so it was decided to find a place to stay and make camp, there were three canoes full of people and kit to locate a good spot away from any potential danger be animal or flooding. We canoed through the many channels until we broke into a large open area, which was dotted with small islands. One of which we chose as our camp for the night, it was ideal for setting up camp as it was quite high up and the tide mark on the island we had chosen only went half way up the bank from the water's surface.

As night time fell and the camp was all set up, we thought it would be good to just paddle out into the middle of the area we were in, and to just drift along in our canoes looking at the stars. Every now and then we would turn on our torches in response to splashes in the water only to catch glimpses of several sets of eyes looking back at us from the surface of the water. The night sky was amazing, no light population, and no noise pollution either. Eventually we turned in for the night.

Early in the morning as I lay awake in my sleeping bag, the rest of the group were sound asleep still and all I could hear was the rustling of the leaves in the gentle breeze as it passed over my face. I could hear the birds singing and the odd splash as a fish broke the surface of the water. I felt I was all alone in the world, in the land that time forgot and then in the distance I heard a plane it was a twin prop and as it drew closer I looked up and watched it pass overhead.

I felt I wanted to get their attention by jumping up and down, shouting and waving my arms just like you see in the films, but of course I knew they would not see me let alone hear me, so I stay in my scratcher (sleeping bag) and as the plane slowly disappeared into the distance my world fell silent to the wind, the birds and the water and once again I felt I was alone in the world in the land that time forgot.

After breakfast we off to begin cutting our way through the mangroves. I had the distinct feeling that this was the first time that any human had ever stood on this part of the earth, of course I have no way of proving this only to tell you what I felt and it was a feeling that I had never experienced before nor since.

The whole day was spend cutting into the mangroves which oozed blood like sap every time the machete cut into them, the cutting was easy going at first but soon it became more difficult because of the amount of mangroves there were to cut through. As a result we had not moved very far at all, in fact we had only covered two to three hundred metres in a day. Needless to say we did not find the flamingos and perhaps it was a high goal to set but in terms of the adventure the whole experience was well worth having.

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