Posted by: Tori Wong | 18th Feb, 2010

Belize ZOO!

Add to my list of things I love about this country: the Belize ZOO!

Top Reasons this zoo is rad (and different from any zoo I’ve ever been to before):

-It was never supposed to be a “zoo.” The Belize zoo began in 1983 as a as a last ditch effort to provide a home for a collection of wild animals that had been used in a documentary about tropical forests. It has since grown into an educational center that stresses the importance of conservation for future generations.

-All the animals at the Belize Zoo are “special,” none have been taken from the wild-they have either been orphaned, injured, or born here. As we were taking our tour of the property, our guide was constantly saying things like: this is Patty the Tapir, she was shot in the head and can’t see anymore, or Junior (the jaguar’s) mom rejected him as a cub, and he would have been eaten in the wild, so we brought him here.

-One of my main problems with zoos (in the states-the only other type of zoo i’ve ever experienced) is that we remove wild animals from their natural habitats, put them behind bars and subject them to screaming children and flash photography. But this was different. The animals here were rescued, essentially placed back in their natural environment (the zoo itself was located in the middle of the rainforest), and used as a connection to get people engaged in conservation.

-I got to hold a boa constrictor around my neck, feed a tapir (Belize’s national animal!) and play with a jaguar. Can’t get much cooler than that.

Holding a boa constrictor! Around my neck!

“We live in a beautiful world.” So true. There were hand-painted (often times rhyming!) signs all around the zoo.

Awesome Macaw Parrots sign.

Spider monkey. Straight chilling. None of the monkeys were in cages; they just ran all around the zoo’s property and came back to the home base when they knew it was dinner time. how cool is that?

I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to something so graceful and powerful.

Posted by: Tori Wong | 4th Feb, 2010

Hiking and Sleeping in the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve

Yes. I slept in a Jaguar reserve. No. I did not see a Jaguar.

I did however hike the “Tiger Fern” trail through the rainforest in the Maya Mountains to jump into a waterfall! Aside from the intense humidity, tropical fauna, and possibility of Jaguar sightings, it was just like hiking the Appalachian trail back at home! haha.


Our Tiger Fern group at the halfway point! This is where our tour guide, Em sang us the Belize National Anthem. so great.

Tiger Fern Waterfall!

We made it! And got to swim in the waterfall!

DSCN7623Kate and me at the waterfall! I probably could have been sweating a little more…just a little.

DSCN7591A Blue Swallow butterfly flew right past us right as we were starting our hike…the blue is hidden right now, but still pretty rad.

DSCN7668Sunset sky in Cockscomb.


Posted by: Tori Wong | 4th Feb, 2010

Blue Creek Hike and Hokeb Ha Cave

Hiking Hokeb Ha was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was so untouched and pure, yet it was clear that people had been there before (when we reached the cave, we saw a Belkin Beer bottle hanging from the end of a vine, and names/initials scratched into the rock at the water line of the cave.)

I almost don’t even want to put up pictures because there is no way that a snapshot could ever capture its true beauty, (that, and I didn’t bring my brand new nikon hiking because I knew i’d probably be swimming in the cave at some point) but here are some (taken by others in the group) that at least give you an idea of where I was last weekend.


On the way to Hokeb Ha! There wasn’t really a trail cleared, so we got to scale and climb all over these rocks!


At the mouth of the cave. The current was too strong for us to swim any further than the entrance, but we got to hang out on rocks in the rapids and listen to our voices echo!


We found an awesome ROPE SWING in the rapids! We were all pretty bummed that we couldn’t swim in the cave, but we ended up spending an hour swinging off the rocks in to the white water from a 15 foot  overhang! So tight.

Posted by: Tori Wong | 4th Feb, 2010


Sorry for my horrendous lack of posts in the past week- my recent and recurring loss of internet and electricity coupled with my increasingly busy schedule has made for an extreme procrastination of writing about my weekend trip to TOLEDO (January 29-31)! In 3 words: it. was. amazing!

Toledo is the southernmost district in Belize, home to the Cockscomb Basin, Punta Gorda and several protected areas reserved as national parks.

The whole weekend, I was a lovely shade of damp from hiking in the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve in 90% humidity, rope swinging into rapids in Blue Creek and Hokeb Ha Cave, and taking a tour of the Tumul K’in Maya Education Center in the pouring rain…and I loved every minute of it.

Because I have so much to talk about, I’ve divided some of the cool stuff I did in Toledo into different posts with pictures! Enjoy!

Posted by: Tori Wong | 26th Jan, 2010

Weekend in Hopkins Village!

Over the weekend I went on a trip to the coast with 5 other international students and Ms. Rhondine, who we have come to discover is equal parts international student coordinator, best friend, supermom, and wonderwoman. We drove about 2 hours from San Ignacio to Dangriga, where we stopped for lunch at Pelican Beach, a beautiful resort right on the ocean complete with white sand, hammocks, a boardwalk over the clearest ocean water I’ve ever seen, and chocolate ice cream! yum! After lunch we hopped back into “little green” (yeah, we named our bus) and got a nice workout from holding onto the seats, windows, walls, and other passengers as the bus jerked and bounced down the narrow road into Hopkins Village, spitting up orange dirt onto everything within a 15 foot radius.

When I wasn’t turning my knuckles white with pressure, my bus buddy (Ted, a local Galen student heading back home to Hopkins for the weekend) was able to point out that most of the land surrounding Hopkins Village was used primarily for agriculture (the biggest crops in Belize are bananas, citrus, and sugar). We even passed a very American-looking citrus processing plant that Ted told me was the “most industrial building” in Belize. Outside the factory were 5 open semi-trucks filled to the top with oranges.

Once we made it to Hopkins, we took a “tour” of the village, which consisted of a one-lane road with small shacks, houses and a few scattered bars and coffee shops on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. About halfway down the bumpy road, I noticed that there were thick pieces of rope every couple hundred feet, put down to create “speed bumps.” I was struck by the sheer undevelopment of the costal village, and realized that if property half as beautiful as Hopkins was in the states, it would have been developed with monster beach houses, swimming pools and resorts long ago.

All the direct oceanfront property is public, even though there were some houses and small inns built on the ocean side of the road, and as a result, it sometimes seemed like we were swimming in someone’s front yard…but everyone was always really friendly and incredibly inviting. The only guy in our group even met a guy on a run and ended up getting a private tour of the lagoon and the seeing “best view in the whole village.” I specified that he was the only guy in the group because all the girls later agreed that no matter how friendly the village was, we would never have been able to just jump in a stranger’s canoe and still feel safe. Must be nice to be a boy 😛

Sunday morning, I woke up at 5am to see the ocean sunrise, and it was nothing short of amazing! I don’t care what anyone says: sun rises are 100x better than sun sets. I had my feet in the water (so warm!) when a dolphin swam right past me and into the rising sun. I love Belize.

Hopkins Sunrise

Then I found America. I was taking a bike ride down the coast (feeling like I was training for the x-games because of all the little hills and bumps in the road), and rode less than 10 minutes before I ran into huge multi-level spas and resorts with $56 meals and people whose only job was to rake the sand into designs around the palm trees. A little further down, I came to a 10-ft coral colored wall that I later found is going to be the edge of a gated community of summer beach houses. The only problem? The property of the proposed development is home to some of the tallest mangrove trees in the world. The people who are building these huge homes (that will most likely just sit on the coast for the majority of the year) are not Belizean, they’re not even from Central America. They’re wealthy American developers who see the beautiful undeveloped coast of Belize as a gold mine of real estate, instead of realizing that the real beauty is in what they’re destroying to build unnecessarily large houses.

Stepping off my soapbox now. And signing off from an amazing weekend. Enjoy this wonderful last week of January! I love you all so much!


Also, here are some more pictures from my trip to Dangriga and Hopkins:

DSCN7543Ms. Rhondine, Galen’s international student coordinator on our bike ride through Hopkins.


No lie, this grasshopper was literally 5 inches long. That is a medium sized dog. Holy Cow.

drumming!Learning how to play Garifuna Drums in Hopkins! I have the Segunda (bass drum), and Alison is playing the Primero  (tenor drum). Spar was a good teacher, and also runs a scuba touring company! Totally coming back to go scuba diving with him!

DSCN7548Though I am absolutely opposed to ripping up the tallest mangrove trees in the world to build huge resorts, the people were really friendly, and it was beautiful. There’s still a way to do this sustainably.

Posted by: Tori Wong | 19th Jan, 2010

My Clothing Smells Like a Hotel.

The only way to do my laundry down here is to have people from the log cabins do it for me (we’re not allowed to use the machines ourselves), or lug my dirty clothes basket 3 miles into town (in the 100˚ hot sun…no thank you) to a laundromat. I got my first load back from the cabins last night; they wash everything with the same soap they use for the sheets and towels for the guests at the cabins, so my clothes smell like a hotel! haha. I thought it was funny.

sorry I just wasted 2 minutes of your life on that story. Have a fabulous day!

Posted by: Tori Wong | 19th Jan, 2010

Far Away

Is it so much to ask for my life to be exactly like this song?

Far Away (Click to Listen)

by Ingrid Michaelson

I will live my life as a lobsterman’s wife on an island in the blue bay
He will take care of me, he will smell like the sea,
And close to my heart he’ll always stay

I will bear three girls all with strawberry curls, little Ella and
Nelly and Faye
While I’m combing their hair, I will catch his warm stare
On our island in the blue bay

Far away far away, I want to go far away
To a new life on a new shore line
Where the water is blue and the people are new
To another island, in another life

There’s a boy next to me and he never will be anything but a boy at the bar
And I think he’s the tops, he’s where everything stops
How I love to love him from afar
When he walks right pass me then I finally see on this bar stool I can’t stay
So I’m taking my frown to a far distant town
On an island in the blue bay.

Far away far away, I want to go far away
To a new life on a new shore line
Where the water is blue and the people are new
To another island, in another life

I want to go far away
Away away, I want to go far away, away, away
I want to go far away, far away

Where the water is blue and the people are new
To another life, to another life
To another shoreline, in another life

Posted by: Tori Wong | 18th Jan, 2010

After one whole week…

I survived my first week abroad! My first seven days in Belize were filled with all sorts of new experiences; new food (papoosas, tamales, rice and beans, strange nameless vegetables from the Saturday market that I decided looked cool, so I bought some and spent about 45 minutes trying to figure out how to cook…), public transportation in a developing country, playing a latin american harp, punta dancing at Faya-Wata (a dance club/bar in San Ignacio!), swimming in the Macal River, playing bananagrams (which I know has nothing to do with Belize, but SUCH a good game. Can’t believe I’d never played before…), living with new wildlife (from the monster spiders in my bathroom to poisonous snakes in the pool (Carlos, the bartender and all around hero macheted it and hung it on a tree to drip the poison out!) to iguanas in the river). It’s been a pretty rad first week, and as much as I miss everyone back home and at Mary Washington, I tots love it here.

By now I have a pretty set weekly schedule, which most of you know is very important for me; I need to be able to follow a routine in order to be comfortable, and I’m slowly adjusting to life down here. I’ve met a lot of new people, and have already had some great adventures. Planning on heading out to Dangriga (a BEACH in southern Belize!) with the other international students from the log cabins this weekend. Can’t wait!

Posted by: Tori Wong | 18th Jan, 2010

Belize Buses!

Okay, so maybe writing an entire blog entry on the public transportation system in Belize proves just how nerdy I really am, but you’ll just have to deal with that because I think it’s cool 😛

First off, when I say public transportation, I mean the bus. Really the only ways for us (the international students sans cars) to get around is to walk, pay $4-$5 for a 5 mile taxi ride, or ride the bus.

I have now taken the public bus into town a couple times and thought it would be easier to just compile a quick list of interesting facts/stories:

-The first time we took the bus, I was so excited to utilize public transportation in Belize that I left my Mary Washington hat on the seat 🙁 bummer. should make training for the 180 mile canoe race in 100˚ weather very interesting…

-In the U.S., school buses are often completely “retired” from service when they are no longer in a reliable or safe condition. These buses are exported to Belize, where they are repainted and used for public transportation!

-Friday night, 6 of us decided to go into town for dinner and a movie and we experienced the unpredictability of the bus schedule is when we waited 45 minutes for the bus that is supposed to come every half hour. We were a little frustrated (because we could have walked to town in that time), but it was okay because Belize runs on it’s own time schedule; everyone calls it “Belize time,” and our 7:00pm movie didn’t even get started until 7:30pm, so we didn’t miss anything.

-To catch the bus, you don’t necessarily have to be at a “bus stop,” you just have to stand on the side of the road and wave down a bus going in the right direction.

-Once you’re on the bus, you just sit down and a conductor comes around to ask you where you’re going and to collect your fare (which unlike buses in the states, depends on where/how far you’re going as opposed to one flat rate for getting on the bus.)

-The one time I did get on at a bus stop, the driver waited for about 5 minutes while several different people got on to offer newspapers and other goods for sale. Then, one last man jumped on and walked down the isle, silently handing out little slips of lined paper with a handwritten message scrawled on one side; “Jesus is coming. Thank you for collaborating.” I’m just not quite sure what to make of it…interesting bus ride.

Posted by: Tori Wong | 11th Jan, 2010

First Day of School!

I got my first real taste of modern Belize and Belizean students today with my first classes at Galen University! So far, the classes seem pretty comparable to the US and all my UMW courses. The professors are really helpful with small class sizes (my Environmental Econ class has 8 people total!) and aside from the occasional lapse into Creole, I haven’t had any trouble understanding and getting to know the professors and the students! There are only 300 students total at Galen, and Roberto (or “Bigs”) said that it’ll be less than a week before I know everyone! Can’t wait!

Over the weekend, I got lost a bit (okay a lot), met tons of locals (everyone knows eachother!), and I learned my way around the town of San Ignacio. I’m totally looking forward to warmer weather and swimming in the Macal river (apparently the river is the place to be once February hits. It’s about a 4-mile walk from my room, so on a hot day, I’m sure I will need the water to cool me down!).

I also decided that I am going to participate in a 4-day, 175 mile canoe race called La Ruta Maya that takes place in honor of Baron Bliss Day every March! I start training on the river this Thursday! Between La Ruta Maya, the 3 mile walk into town, and lifting my 5-gallon drinking water jug every morning, I am going to be buff mcguffs when I get back! (Kerry-I hope you’re reading this, because that was for you!)

Super excited for the rest of my classes and the semester! Love you all! peace!

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