As we walked down the aisle of the Continental jet that just parked, we could feel it getting hotter and humid, and it really hit us when we walked down the stairs to the tarmac at the Belize International Airport. We left Missoula with temperatures in the 50's and snow still in the mountains, and we were really looking forward to this tropical weather. We met Mike from Pook's Hill who would be our guide for the next four days and become an integral part of our experience. We left Belize City immediately and headed west. We enjoyed our conversations with Mike who sensed our enthusiasm after finally getting off of an airplane after 18 hours of transit time, and he engaged us by telling us about his country. Carrie and I immediately felt at home in Belize as memories returned of our time in West Africa, whether it was the climate, the landscape, or the laid-back atmosphere that was apparent. We were looking forward to our two weeks. We got a quick bite to eat at a restaurant near the Belize Zoo, and it was our introduction to the local beer, Belikin, and Belizean food. After feeling satisfied, we proceeded to the Belize Zoo. This was one of the best zoos I have ever been to, and I was a kid who grew up on National Geographic videos and trips to the zoo. I never would have guessed that the Belize Zoo would be so impressive. What it lacked in infrastructure (you walked on dirt paths instead of sidewalks, and there were not gift shops at every corner), this zoo made up for it in providing a diversity of animals native to the region. Already, you could see the pride Belizeans have for their environment and country based on the interpretive material at the zoo and emphasis on conservation of the environment to protect Belizeâ€™s unique species. It was great to see these animals in their natural surroundings with out the concrete pits and fake motifs found in more modern zoos. I have to say that my favorite animal was the Harpy Eagle, one of the worldâ€™s largest raptors. This bird put on a good display for us, squawking and displaying the head plumage. Mike was great at showing us around the zoo, and his prowess in bird-watching was apparent as he was spotting so many species that have made their home in the zoo grounds. We continued to Pook's Hill that afternoon and enjoyed the drive. We met the staff at Pook's, and we settled in to this great place. Vicky, the owner, took us on a personal hike around the grounds, and we were overwhelmed by the beauty and wildness of this area. Pook's is a great area for birdwatching, and the lodge is located near Maya archaeological sites. The accommodations were very comfortable and well designed to fit with the environment, and the cabanas are constructed with a combination of modern building materials as well as woods and thatch from the forest. It was definitely not luxury but certainly comfortable with electricity for a fan and hot water (the hot water is generated by a unique sustainable system of burning palm seeds that have fallen around the grounds). The food was excellent as well with great cuisine combing Belizean and international flavors, and we enjoyed sharing meals with the other guests and the staff for a family atmosphere.
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