This post continues the retelling of my 2017 trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation. It details the second half of June 21, 2017, which was the most fortuitous day of my journey.
Part 1 of the June 21, 2017 post left off outside of Everest Indian Restaurant. After a long morning of getting lost and unsuccessfully trying to get my visa extended, I was tired and hungry. Raj, Everest’s owner, was the perfect antidote to my sour mood.
Originally from Nepal, Raj was the friendliest and most energetic person I had ever met. I ordered some mutton curry from him, which he prepared before my eyes. I was no stranger to Indian curries, but Raj’s cooking was the best I had ever tasted. I cannot overstate how extraordinary his food was.
While I was enjoying my meal, an Englishman with as much energy as Raj stopped by. He seemed to know Raj well, and he eventually joined me at my table. His name was Chris, and we turned out to have overlapping interests. Like me, he was a lover of wildlife who felt at home in Belize’s jungles. He also knew far more about Mayan archaeology than I did.
Chris told me a story about one of his many jaguar encounters in the famous Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. While hiking in Cockscomb with some friends, Chris came upon a female jaguar. Instead of running away, she let Chris and his friends follow her through the jungle. It was a remarkable story, and it left me wanting to visit Cockscomb.
Eventually during our conversation, I shared that I had not been able to find affordable housing in Belmopan. Chris immediately referred me to Raj, who apparently owned a large house. While this was true, Raj said that his spare room was not yet ready for guests.
However, a visiting couple overheard Raj and I talking. They explained that they were staying at Belmopan Tiny Houses: a unique hostel with good rates. They gave me the phone number of the owner, Karen, whom I promptly called. We arranged to meet tomorrow morning, so that I could check out the property.
My lunch at Everest was the most delicious and productive I had ever had, but there was more to do. I needed to figure out where the Environmental Research Institute’s (ERI) office was, because Panthera Belize was housed there. I had been trying to establish a time to meet with Dr. Bart Harmsen for many weeks, but we had been unable to schedule a definitive date over email. I therefore decided that the best course of action was to show up in person.
Raj and Chris gave me directions to the University of Belize, which the ERI was a part of. Naturally, I got lost. I ran into a particularly well-dressed man in a park, who set me on the right course. He also informed me that he was returning from a government fair at the nearby high school, which I should check out on my way to the university.
I did as the young man suggested. I was hoping to connect with the Department of Environment (DOE) at the fair, and possibly speak to some of their employees about jaguars. But alas, the DOE was not at the fair.
Fortunately, I eventually found the University of Belize. It had a pleasant, open campus that invited relaxation. I made my way down a footpath that ran behind the main buildings, and there found the ERI. The security guard gave me permission to stop by Panthera’s office.
I met with Yahaira, who works with Panthera Belize in many capacities. I apologized profusely for showing up unannounced, explaining my limited timeframe and desire to speak with Dr. Harmsen. Yahaira called his cell phone for me, but he did not answer. Yahaira assured me that she would have Dr. Harmsen send me an email.
I left feeling slightly disappointed that I had failed to establish a time to meet with Dr. Harmsen – but I was determined to keep trying. I salved myself with some fantastic ice cream from Ice Point, owned by a cheerful family from South Korea.
Once I had rested at Ice Point, I took a bus back to San Ignacio. Exhausted after a long day of being lost in the tropical sun, I returned to Bella’s and crashed.