Spur-of-the-moment travel to Central America will be educational

January 15, 2014 

Winter is a difficult time. The holiday celebrations are over, and people go into a kind of hibernation. The weather is cold and miserable.

It’s dark in the morning, and it’s barely light during the day. By 4 p.m., it’s gloomy again.

All of that is why we jumped at the chance to go to the tropics.

The notion of a trip to warmer climes started last summer during a boating weekend with friends. As we all bemoaned the fact that summer was ending, folks started to discuss going to the Caribbean and renting a big catamaran, or two, that could accommodate several couples.

It was fun to picture us all skimming along those aqua waters, wearing breezy summer clothes and sipping tropical cocktails.

Further research made it clear that we’d have to spend more money than we wanted to in order to follow through on that plan. So, I put it out of my mind.

Later, we learned there was another plan afoot — to go to Belize.

Those who initiated the plan told us there was a cabana in Belize “with our name on it.”

Although it isn’t like us to make spur-of-the-moment decisions about travel, we couldn’t resist.

Our travel companions are fun to hang out with, the rent was reasonable, and we had enough airline miles built up to cover the flight.

I learned a bit about Belize when our book club read the book, “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World.” Written by Bruce Barcott, it describes Belize and its incredible biodiversity.

The heroine of the nonfiction book is Sharon Matola. The book describes her battle against the building of a dam that would compromise essential habitat for the Scarlet Macaw, as well as countless creatures in the Macal river valley.

One of the reasons Barcott wrote the book is captured in a quote from him.

“Many scientists believe we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction, a massive species snuff-out of a magnitude that happens every hundred million years or so,” he said.

That is a sobering and upsetting concept to contemplate.

His book describes the details of Sharon’s struggle, which mirrors the efforts of environmentalists throughout the world.

Sharon Matola also founded a zoo in Belize. What started as a place to take care of animals that had been used in documentaries grew into a famous zoo that features many native creatures, as well as a tropical educational center.

Matola wanted Belizeans to know about their wonderful fauna. Colorful birds of every feather, jaguars, tapirs and snakes can be seen there.

The Belize Zoo is a must-see during our visit. Another must includes a tour of Mayan ruins, and there are several in Belize.

It is amazing what the Mayan culture accomplished so many centuries ago in the areas of art, architecture, mathematics and astronomy.

As a student of history, I look forward to exploring the ancient culture. I want to walk amid their buildings, climb their pyramids and imagine the people who populated those dwellings so long ago.

Of course, I also want to swim, snorkel, experience local cuisine and indulge in all forms of warm-weather activities. I’m excited about it all.

It’s great when a trip can encompass the history of a region, the beauty and diversity of the natural world, and the current culture of a country, all rolled into one.

A Time to Talk columnist Mary Magee can be reached by email at marymagee@harbornet.com.

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