I woke up at 4:30am and arrived at the airport at 6:00am for my 8:32am flight. I’ve flown a few times and find that wearing a short-sleeve shirt, leggings or jeans, sneakers, and a sweatshirt is the most comfortable for a long flight. I was enthusiastic about traveling, but I was worried about not packing everything I needed. I met a few other CELA Large Animal students in my group while I was waiting at my gate. The flight was about 4.5 hours long and we had almost no turbulence.
We arrived at the Philip Goldson International Airport and after going through customs and finding our bags, we got onto a shuttle arranged by CELA and drove about 2 hours to the Midas Resort in San Ignacio, where we had free time to unpack and unwind until dinner. This resort was much nicer than I expected. I stayed in one of the smaller individual houses in the back of the hotel with one roommate, and we had our own bathroom.
We ate dinner at Hode’s Place, a local restaurant about a minute’s walk from the resort. After eating mostly granola bars for the entire journey, the chicken quesadilla was pretty good, although the chicken was a little dry. My biggest takeaway from the day was from when we were driving – I was surprised at how many stray dogs there were in Belize. In every town we passed through there were several dogs wandering the streets, and dogs that are owned are sleeping in front of houses without leashes and many without collars.
TIP OF THE DAY: **Make sure to bring your bug spray when you come to Belize because there were a lot of bugs that became active as the sun set.**
BONUS TIP OF THE DAY: **Most Belizean stores, if not all, accept United States currency. However, they can’t break exceptionally large bills. I recommend bringing about $500 in American currency, all in $20 bills. I brought $300 US and had to go to an ATM about halfway through the trip so that I would not run out of money.**
I woke up at 7:30am and breakfast was at 8:30am. I had the French toast, which was a little underdone, but not terrible. We started off the day at our orientation, where we learned all kinds of interesting facts about Belize, including that the population is only 400,000 people, and the size of Belize is about equivalent to the size of New Jersey. I also thought it was really fascinating that the Belize flag is the only flag in the world that depicts people. I wasn’t expecting to learn these kinds of fun facts, but it made me so much more excited to spend my time in this unique country.
After orientation, we took a tour of San Igancio. It was quiet, since it was Sunday, so not many shops were open. It’s a very small town, so it is difficult to get lost. There are also three friendly dogs at the Welcome Center. We saw them multiple times while we stayed in San Ignacio, and if you are missing your own pets at any point while in Belize I recommend visiting them.
Among the other facts we learned at orientation, we learned Belize’s staple dish is rice and beans, so of course I had to try this at lunch! We went back to Hode’s Place, and I ordered the rice and beans with baked chicken, which also came with potato salad (much sweeter than potato salad in the United States) and a baked plantain. There are also several kinds of Marie Sharp’s hot sauces to flavor your meal, and I highly recommend you try all of them! My favorites were the grapefruit and the “BEWARE” sauces.
After lunch, we went to Xunantunich, a Mayan ruin. Our tour guide, Lion, was charismatic and explained all kinds of stories and legends to us. Some of the highlights were that “Xunantunich” translates to “Stone Maiden,” due to local Belizeans in the 20th century seeing a female ghost disappearing into the stone walls of the ruins. We also learned that the belief in magic and spiritual rituals in the Mayan culture stemmed from kings who claimed they were praying to their ancestors, but were secretly consulting shamans and obtaining proper medicine for the patients. I’ve always found belief in spiritual healing interesting, so I thought it was really enlightening to get a glimpse of why people believed so deeply that praying to their ancestors would heal the sick.
Outside of Xunatunich, there are lots of little shops (you will see these throughout Belize). To get to Xunantunich, we needed to cross the river, and to do that, we went on this bridge that I can only describe as a crankable pier that can move from one side of the river to the other.
Dinner was at Ko-ox Han-nah (which means “Let’s go eat”), also known more simply as “Hana’s”. At orientation, our program director mentioned that “rice and beans” and “beans and rice” are two different meals, so naturally having rice and beans with chicken for lunch I wanted to try the beans and rice with chicken. While beans are cooked with the rice in “rice and beans,” the beans are cooked separately and added to the rice in “beans and rice.” Both are delicious meals and I can’t decide which I liked better!
TIP OF THE DAY: **Breakfast is always somewhere between 7:00am and 8:00am for CELA students, and it is paid for by CELA. You need to order your breakfast at Midas at the reception desk the night before, otherwise you might have to pay for your meal yourself. You can also fill up your water in the reception office when it is open. There are always water coolers available, which contain purified water that is safer to drink than tap water here.**
BONUS TIP OF THE DAY: **OFF BUG SPRAY KILLS ANTS IMMEDIATELY. One student stepped on an ant hill (it will happen to just about everyone once on this trip), and she borrowed my bug spray to kill them. You should bring a large can of spray with you and use it any time you are outside during sunrise, sunset, or around the farms.**
I woke up this morning at 7:00am. I haven’t felt very adventurous with my breakfast options yet, so I ordered pancakes, which were very fluffy and filling. After breakfast, we went to the PAWS Animal Hospital, run by Dr. Edwardo Tesecum (Dr. T). Dr. T and Dr. Stephanie introduced us to the animal breeds within Belize. I was surprised at how many breeds of cattle there are in Belize, while there are fewer breeds of sheep and pigs. Dr. T also gave us some information about BAHA, the only government lab in Belize.
After the lectures, we went to Cenaida’s near PAWS for lunch. I ordered the chicken tacos, which came in a hard tortilla shell filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and chicken. This was delicious, although I did find a small chicken bone in one of the tacos.
Then, we were able to go to the BAHA lab and perform fecal egg counts by using egg flotation (formally known as the McMaster test). I’ve seen this procedure a few times before in other classes at Rutgers University, but it was interesting to see it again, since it’s been about a year since I last saw it. We also watched as someone in the lab filled and read a hematocrit tube to determine the amount of hemoglobin in the blood of a dog, and then we each smeared and stained blood samples to examine under the microscope and identify different types of white blood cells (leukocytes). Since I worked at an animal hospital, I have performed hundreds of hematocrit tests, but I have never had the opportunity to smear or stain blood samples, so it was educational to get to perform these ourselves.
We were brought to a large restaurant for dinner, and although I do not know the name, if you go to the same one on this day, I recommend the garlic chicken, which came with potato salad, salad, and corn.
TIP OF THE DAY: **Bring a notebook to the BAHA lab. A lot of information was given out about the different kinds of leukocytes and about the science behind the procedures we were doing, and while that information wasn’t technically on the exam, it will undoubtedly help you in your classes and in vet school.**