The last leg of the journey we switched gears and headed to the beach. We said goodbye to Melvis and hopped in a van with a man named Ricky, who brought us to the beach town of Placencia in record time. I felt like I was back in Africa as he zoomed past pedestrians, flew around turns, and passed dozens of cars as we over took them. His mouth moved as fast as his car, so we heard about every single interesting monument from the factories and the Maya mountains to women selling boiled corn on the cob.
We arrived in Placencia and found the most adorable beach cabanas in which we were staying, right next to the water. Placencia is a small town which is intimately connected with the sea life that surrounds it, and therefore the whole town functions almost entirely around tourism. From the moment we arrived we heard people discussing the projected crowds for the weekend, “This week is a full moon, and the whale sharks come immediately after the full moon, so this weekend will be busy here!”
Throughout our time on the coast, our group was working with an American woman named Lisa Carne, who has worked in Belize for more than 20 years trying to restore coral that have been damaged from hurricanes and coral bleaching events due to warm ocean water. She and her coworkers in Placencia started an organization called Fragments of Hope to fund their coral and mangrove restoration projects and educate the community about protecting their local environment. (For more info about this organization, see their Facebook page or their website http://fragmentsofhope.org/ .)
Two of our days in Placencia we took a boat 12 miles off the coast to Laughing Bird Caye, the island where Lisa and friends have most of their coral nurseries to regrow the corals. We snorkeled a few times to take a close look at various coral reef sites, and saw such an abundance of beautifully colored fish and other sea creatures. Some people in my group even saw a manatee! My snorkel wasn’t working well, so I was flapping around in the water like a drowning seagull, trying not to drink the salt water, and I missed it.
In addition to the corals, our group focused on mangrove restoration. At Laughing Bird Caye, Hurricane Iris destroyed most of the mangroves in 2001, so Fragments of Hope has been trying to replant the mangrove trees in the hopes that they will grow back into a healthy ecosystem some day. This will also help the island to prevent erosion so that the Caye won’t disappear!
On Earth Day, we spent our last full day in the village. The highlight was attending an Earth Day celebration at the local international school, where the kids put on fantastic skits about the earth. It is always amazing to see other educators working towards a similar cause in creative ways.
Though it’s sad to leave behind the unBelizable country with unprecedented plants and animals and citizens with critical concerns for their environment, we are all excited to go back to our classrooms and share our curricula with our students!