Coconut Palm: The Tree of a Thousand Uses

Giant coconut tree at Lower Dover.

The coconut palm is one of the oldest trees on the planet, and has existed since the age of the dinosaurs.  It flourishes in tropical climates from Southeast Asia to Polynesia, India, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, South America, the Caribbean and South America. We have even seen them thriving in Beverly Hills!  Hailed by many as the most useful tree on Earth,  the Coconut Palm has generously provided civilizations with multiple natural tools to survive for centuries.

Seedling growing out of a dried coconut at Lower Dover.

Lower Dover Field Station & Jungle Lodge is no stranger to this amazing tree.  In fact, one of my first memories of Belize was being hit on the foot over and over by a rolling coconut while riding the bus to Lower Dover. The cocount was old, dried, and sprouting a healthy little shoot. Before exiting the bus, I grabbed it and took it back to the property to plant. 20 years later, that same coconut is all grown up, but refuses to drop its fruit! Stubborn like its planter!

Coconuts ready for harvest.

Coconut’s Many Uses

A hard outer green shell protects its precious nut-like seed that is covered with a hairy brown husk.  This husk provides fuel for cooking, fiber for clothing, and making rope stronger than hemp.  Within this seed lies the true essence of the coconut palm – its water, meat, and oil.  During the months that this seed matures, it goes through two major stages: first the coconut, with its soft jelly like meat and sweet thirst quenching water, provides energy; the second and most potent stage produces the mature nut.  Coconut water is all the rage in western culture. Western medicine has just recently confirmed the profound healing properties of the coconut, dispelling decades of misleading information.  Coconut water is packaged directly from the young coconut, its sweet taste satisfies thirst and sweet cravings and contains no fat. It provides the alkaline balance to acidic conditions, which is the primary cause  of most illnesses. The mineral charged water acts to detoxify the kidneys, and healthy kidneys are believed to promote a vibrant, healthy attitude. Once the nut is harvested, the inner skin, a thin brown layer, is cut away leaving, pure thick, white coconut meat. The milk, cream and oil are extracted and used for delicious recipes like curry sauces and desserts. The oil is used for cooking, body massages, it nourishes the skin, nails and hair, and can be applied topically to wounds to speed up the healing process.

Up close of young coconuts.

Dried coconuts at Lower Dover.

Coconut – A Source of health and longevity

The coconut has always been prized for its medicinal properties by many cultures and societies around the world, but Western culture has just recently caught on to the miraculous effects and uses of the coconut palm.  Recent western medicinal research concluded that coconuts form of saturated fat actually helps to prevent heart disease, stroke and the hardening of arteries. Unlike other oils and fats, coconut oil contains a large amount of the fatty acid known as lauric acid, which is the predominant fatty acid found in mother’s milk. Studies have shown the coconut oil’s effectiveness against HIV, SARS, Crohn’s disease, as well as other chronic illnesses.  It detoxifies the liver, helps to build lipoproteins, fats, hormones, and bile. Coconut’s amazing healing properties are also attributed to reducing the risk of other degenerative conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes.  The fatty acids help to create a healthy digestive tract, which in turn allows for better digestion and absorption of the nutrients in our foods. They also speed up metabolism, providing fewer calories than other fats but are still a viable effective source of energy.

Harvesting Coconuts at Lower Dover.

Coconuts grow year round at Lower Dover and their delicious flavor can be tasted in a variety of dishes. Maximize your Belize vacation by experiencing the incredible healing and nutritional benefits of the coconut palm by drinking its water.  Property workers will gladly chop down a fresh coconut for you to enjoy with your meal during your stay at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge. You can revel in the guilt-free sweet taste while naturally energizing your body before you embark on your day’s jungle adventure!

Source: Coconut Cuisine by Jan London

Super Foto Friday: Red-lored Parrot

A couple of Red-lored Parrots in Belize.

A few months ago when we started this blog we wrote a story about a White-fronted Parrot. We were so excited that the parrot had posed for some pictures, that we were quick to identify it. In our birding haze, we identified incorrectly.

Red-lored Parrots at Lower Dover.

It was only after sighting the same parrots yesterday, that we realized it was actually a Red-Lored Parrot, and this time the photo posing was even better.

Red-lored Parrots showing off for the camera.

A couple of parrots noticed us below, and decided to put on a show for us. They were exposing their tail feathers, spreading their wings, and the male even went in for a kiss. When we were reviewing the photos we realized that it was Red-lored parrot, and not the White fronted Parrot.

Red-lored Parrots in Belize.

The Red-lored Parrot is also known as the Red-lored Amazon, the Yellow Cheeked Parrot,  and the Mango Parrot.

Red-lored Parrot at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge.

Red-lored Parrots in love.

Going in for the kiss, Red-lored Parrots in love.

Birds of Belize: The Great Kiskadee

The Great Kiskadee at Lower Dover.

The Great Kiskadee is the largest of the Flycatchers, and it’s a striking bird upon first sight. At nearly 10 inches in height and blessed with bright yellow under parts, the Kiskadee Flycatcher, is easy to observe against green jungle backgrounds. However, it is also very easy to confuse with its close Flycatcher family members the Social Flycatcher and, even more so, the Boat-billed Flycatcher. These birds even share the same habitat, along the forest edge, here at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge, and make identification much more challenging.

The Great Kiskadee.

The Great Kiskadee.

The Great Kiskadee.

The Social Flycatcher is distinctly smaller than the Great Kiskadee, so consulting with Birds of Belize, by H. Lee Jones would be a first stop to identifying which bird sighting happened. The real challenge is visually differentiating Boat-billed Flycatchers from Great Kiskadees, because they are nearly identical in size and color. The only difference is the Kiskadee has rufous on its primary wing feathers and a smaller, narrower beak.

The Great Kiskadee, notice the red on the wings.

The Great Kiskadee.

The best way for bird watchers in Belize to tell the difference between the Boat-billed Flycatcher and the Great Kiskadee is to listen to the each bird’s call. The Kiskadee gets its name from its call. Listen close and he will identify himself. According to Jones, the Kiskadee voice has 1. Horse, slightly shrill deeee, 2. nasal kis-ka-dee!, often shortened to simply kis-ka!

The Great Kiskadee

Meanwhile, the Boat-billed Flycatcher’s voice is more varied. According to Jones, it has four calls: 1. rolling, squeaky cheeeurr; 2. clear, liquid rrrr; 3. squeaky, but rough ch-choit ch-choit, with 2nd part rolled. Song: very scratchy but liquid ch-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-it. Dawn song: rolling, burry churrr, sometimes followed by cheowit! If you aren’t excited by birding by now, will you ever be?

Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge Logo

At Lower Dover Jungle Lodge the Great Kiskadee is so common that we decided to use it for our logo! They are almost Blue Jay like in their attitude; very aggressive towards nearby birds and never shy about getting close to people. It is not uncommon to see them perched throughout the lodge area looking to feed on insects and lizards.

The Great Kiskadee searching for its next meal.

Photographers should have an easy time getting a great photo opportunity with the Great Kiskadee at Lower Dover no matter how good your camera is! After all, we are just amateurs and are learning about wildlife photography as we go!

The Great Kiskadee at Lower Dover.

Getting to Tikal by Plane, Rental Car, Tour Operator, or Chicken Bus from Belize

Main Maya Temple at Tikal National Park in Guatemala

There are four ways Belize travelers can get to Tikal National Park in Guatemala.

Tropic Air in Belize.

Maya Island Air in Belize

The easiest and most expensive way to Tikal is to fly from Belize City International Airport on Maya Island Air or Tropic Air. Flights generally cost around $120 USD one-way plus the Belize departure tax of near $40 USD for international flights. Two flights leave daily in the morning and afternoon to Flores, Guatemala and take less than 1 hour total.  This option works for tourists on a short holiday with disposable income traveling between San Pedro and Tikal.

Crystal Auto Rental- Belize

The second most expensive way is to rent a car at the Belize City International Airport. Only CRYSTAL, a local car rental agency, will allow you to take their vehicles to Tikal. Rates are about $100 USD a day plus tax. This is obviously more economical if there are 3 or 4 in the travel group. This option allows for more flexibility for sightseeing opportunities, but punishes the driver. Many unmarked speed bumps exist in the villages along the Western Highway that are sure to keep driving interesting. It’s not exactly smooth sailing, and drivers must pay attention to the road, and potentially miss out on the small sightseeing opportunities that make Western Belize unique.

Pacz Tours on Burns Ave San Ignacio, Belize.

The third way is to take an organized day tour to Tikal arranged though a tour operator in San Ignacio. Many operators exist in San Ignacio which will all be trying to sell you a tour to Tikal, ATM cave, and everything else in the book. Most trips leave around 7:30 AM from the tour operator office in San Ignacio.  Tours generally range in price from $115 to $145 depending on the operator and include park entrance fees, transportation, guide, and Belize border crossing fees. On the way back, the tour guide will likely stop in Melchor, Guatemala on the border to allow for the cheapest and most traditional Maya craft shopping available.

Finally, the most adventurous, and cheapest option is to take local public transit the entire way. Lower Dover is only 1/2 mile from the Western Highway at mile 59 in Unitedville. This will roughly cost you around $60 USD for entrance fees and transportation costs. Backpackers leaving Lower Dover can expect a 3 to 4 hour journey by bus and collectivo van to get to the park from our Jungle Lodge.

Bored Parking on the Benque - Belize Side

Taxi to the Guatemala Side of the Border.

Guests must first catch a chicken bus to Benque from Lower Dover. From Benque, a short taxi ride is necessary to the Guatemala border. It is also possible to walk or hitchhike (less than 1 mile). Once clearing customs, change your Belize dollars to Guatemalan Quetzals with the money-changers hanging out nearby. They all work together, offer rates comparable to the Bank, and will take US or Belize dollars, but they will give a better rate for the US Dollars.

Money Changers on the Border give better rates for US Dollars.

From Guatemala side it is necessary to take a collectivo van to the village of Ixlu / El Cruce with the final destination of Flores. At this point, one can continue on to Flores, Guatemala to find a hotel, or get off the van and catch different bus or van headed to Tikal via El Remate.

Welcome to Guatemala.

Melchor, Guatemala Collectivo Area.

Collective to Flores.

Hotels also exist with Tikal National Park, however they are more expensive than Flores. Regular bus service exists between Flores and Tikal so backpackers have options on where to stay. Staying overnight at Tikal or Flores allows for a full day of exploring the massive Maya temples of Tikal before the afternoon heat sets in, which is even more important in the heat of the dry season and Summertime months.

El cruce junction to Tikal or Flores/Santa Elena Guatemala.

Bus back to Belize from the Benque Border Crossing in Belize.

Special thanks to Frederick for the border crossing pictures!

Belize Day Tours: Tikal National Park

One of the main Maya temples at Tikal.

The ancient Maya city of Tikal is one of the great attractions on the Maya Trail. The Mayan Trail stretches from the Yucatan in Mexico, into Guatemala, and all throughout Belize.  It is a common stop for backpackers looking to see the best of the Mayan heartland. If you can only see one Maya site, Tikal National Park is our top pick for Maya travel destination in 2012.

Mayan Temple at Tikal National Park.

Tikal National Park in Guatemala.

Map of Tikal National Park

Located within the Peten Maya Biosphere Reserve, which covers a huge portion of Northern Guatemala, Tikal is one of many archaeology sites in the area. It was once a great capital city during Classic Maya times. It remained extremely important until neighboring capital Caracol conquered the city in 556 AD. A 130 year hiatus of building ensued. Only after Tikal conquered Caracol’s closest ally, Calakmul, in 695 AD did Tikal regain it’s significance in the Maya world. It was after this time that the 5 largest Maya temples were built. Great Mayan monuments continued to be built until 869 AD, the last recorded date on Stela 24 at Tikal.

Tikal Stele.

Tikal Stelae in Guatemala.

Tikal Stelae

Amazingly, it is possible to climb to the top of these Mayan temples, though it requires using narrow ladders built along the side of the structures. It’s much easier up than down!

Another Mayan temple at Tikal National Park.

Stairs at Tikal National Park

The stairs at Tikal National Park

Watch your step! The long walk down at Tikal.

The temples stretch above the jungle canopy making for breathtaking views. In fact, the view was so perfect that George Lucas used it in the making of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The shot where a Rebel oversees the Millennium Falcon landing on Yavin was taken on top of a building known as Temple IV looking east where Temple I, II and III can be seen on film.

The view at Tikal as seen in Star Wars IV: A New Hope.

Another amazing view at Tikal.

Tikal sits within a vast nature reserve, and wildlife sightings are very common. Expect to have photo opportunities of Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Quash, and many different birds. Make sure you don’t hit any driving in!

Snake at Tikal National Park.

Quash aka Coatimundi at Tikal National Park

Tikal is a common travel destination for people vacationing in Belize. It’s close proximity ( about 2 hours) from San Ignacio in Western Belize, makes it a great day trip while in Belize. Tomorrow we will do a story on getting to Tikal from Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Western Belize by organized tour, public transit, or rented vehicle.

Maya Temple at Tikal National Park.

Tikal National Park Guatemala.