Our first stop.
Actually, the Tropical Education Center (TEC), an eco-reserve ran by the Zoo, was our first stop. They allow overlanders to camp in their parking lot. They also offer several cabanas for rent. TEC frontiers the jungle and features hiking and bird watching trails, an above-ground pool, meeting rooms, and a restaurant. TEC caters, it seems, to outdoor and nature clubs from high schools in the United States. You get a good education here. I learned that it is possible to sweat out ten pounds in one day.
We went to the Zoo the next day.
Ecotourism is in. So in. I don’t think we made a stop in Mexico that didn’t advertise an ecotour or eco-hotel or eco-something. However, in Mexico it mostly felt like a charade, strategic advertisements to lure gullible tourists. Nothing looked sustainable. Nothing felt ecological. And we didn’t witness any conservation (though we were told they were happening, somewhere over yonder).
Not in Belize. The ecotourism here appears legit. The facilities are built to minimize their impact. Workers and volunteers understand and can educate you on local environmental initiatives. And the conservation is easily witnessed, right there in the jungle or right over there on that reef. Kudos Belize. Kudos.
Not many dining options exist near the TEC and Zoo, which was on a fairly remote stretch of Belize — actually, all of Belize has felt remote; only 370,000 people live here. However, the one, easily-accessible restaurant was excellent. Great burger. Fantastic local food. And they even had a Boise State t-shirt hanging from their rafters!
Outside Cheers, we met an Argentinian duo that owns and runs Sur, Cerveza Artesanal, a traveling craft brewery. These guys brew and sell beers as they travel — they’re currently traveling to Cancun to catch a flight to Russia for the World Cup! Awesome and inspiring idea. I got the sense they brew just enough to travel and live. We bought Sur’s Red Ale and Hefeweizen. With the Red Ale, I was hoping for hoppy — not many hops down here — but it was more of a farmhouse beer. It fell flat, both with my expectations and literally. The Hefeweizen, however, was incredible. One of the best I’ve ever had. If you see these guys on the road, make sure you flag them down!
Andrea and I love zoos. As most of you know, I proposed to Andrea with an elephant at the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC. However, we’ve also gotten increasingly skeptical of zoos as we’ve aged. I credit zoos for inspiring my love of animals — and in that sense, they add value to the world — but I get a little dejected seeing animals caged. Unless, of course, they’re caged for good reasons, like rehabilitation, breeding, legit study, and/or because they fell out of their nest and could no longer fly, like the Jaribu stork at the Belize Zoo.
All the animals here are here for a reason, not just display. They also only feature local animals. And instead of building structures and cages to contain the local animals, the Zoo just fences up areas of the jungle, leaving whatever landscaping is there. It’s the most natural-looking and -feeling zoo I’ve ever visited. You get the sense that they care, genuinely care, about each and every animal housed here.