Day #4 – Crossing to Guatemala: Tikal UNESCO World Heritage Centre

The Question of the day today, La Pregunta del Día #4:

“Ten years from now, what do you think will first come to mind when you think of Guatemala?”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie – The temples, the zip-lining, or my puns, such as “Can you Belize fill up my water?”

Autumn – The zip line – it was the most fun thing. I was dehydrated after it, so that was fun!

Cale – When we went up temple #4, Mr. Elder and I ran up the stairs and he beat me by a couple hundred feet.

Calvin – The Guatemalans have deforested much of the countryside.

Ella – The residential plaza in Tikal where all the elites lived.

Harrison – The higher people were, the closer they thought they were to the Gods; that sunk in my mind.

Jaida – The people – it goes a long way if you try to speak Spanish… there was one guy who joked with me… and the way he interacted, the Guatemalans are very nice to people.

Mia – Exploring the Mayan ruins, especially the temples. I think that was a once in a lifetime thing for most people.

Nico – The temples, zip lining, monkeys, and the relationship that is building between these two (Auggie and Morgan).

Nolan – I will remember that I’m not allowed to take food across the border. They took my pistachios!

Sophie – The food – better than American food. And zip-lining!

Mr. Elder – Watching a number of the approximate 1,000 Guatemalan students who cross the border daily to attend Belizean schools. They had to go through emigration/immigration 2x a day just to get a better education!

John – So much. Jeez. The cave boating [that was Belize John – the question focuses our attention only on our time in Guatemala]. When we approached the main plaza and came up on the back-side of the King’s temple. We walked up between the elite residences and the King’s temple in the rising mist. Or the Spider Monkeys Auggie and I saw. It’s hard to know what will stimulate my memory.

Tracy – The Ruins of Tikal.

Paul – The Orange-Breasted Falcom perched atop King Chocolate Jr.’s temple. Undoubtedly!

Chad – There I was, the randomness of it all, to stand inside Tikal, be atop temple 4 with my daughter, the birthday cake from Carolita at dinner, just a lot of things.

Corvallis Group:

Morgan – The speech Heather gave me before the zip-lining because I was kind of scared; and then it was a lot of fun and I totally want to do it again.

Kendra – Standing on the temple where Star Wars was filmed (Temple IV where episode 4 was filmed).

Maureen – The highest temple in Tikal and how beautiful it was.

Molly – I am going to remember when Kendra lost her wallet. And Kendra was crying (“No, I was balling like a baby” – Kendra) and Erick came in and saved the day like he always does.

Nick – The view from the fourth temple in Tikal. When we were walking up and seeing that carpet of green above the tree line, it was just breathtaking!

Madison – The tarantula in my bathtub and a monkey almost peeing on my dad.

Eli – Having a monkey pee on me was a novel experience. But probably sitting atop the tallest temple in Tikal and looking out over 1,000 square miles of forest canopy with a few Mayan temples sticking out of the top of it.

Heather – I had heard of Myan Pyramids, but once I was there, I couldn’t even begin to describe being there. It was unforgettable.

At dinner this evening, back at Crystal Paradise just outside of San Ignacio, Belize, Paul thanked everyone for their behavior and for being such an excellent group.

There was just one thing he said we really needed to work on (after going over our itinerary for tomorrow, including that we must pack everything up and be ready to go on time. Silence. Mr. Elder groaned, “Really!?!” Amazed nobody knew of what Paul was speaking of. Then Sophie said, “Don’t leave our stuff behind.” Exactly!

Paul said that if there was one thing we needed to do – and that this group had been reminded plenty of times – was to not leave anything behind. Nick, in a dry monotone, reflected loudly, “Well, I guess we just left that one behind.”

Everyone burst out laughing; yes, we have found the Pun King for our trip!

Day #3: Caracol (Mayan Ruins) and Rio Frio Cave and Pools

Yesterday (Day #3), we started out by hiking into the Rio Frio Cave. I would love to post some pictures, but the Internet is so slow it just isn’t worth it. I’m sticking to text now, and will add images when I get to a better connection. We then went to the Mayan Ruins of Caracol. Caracol was a city of civilization of 250,000-300,000 that thrived from about 3000BC-900AD. We had an excellent lunch after a couple hours learning about the city, and then went to the Rio Frio Pools for a dip in the pools during the afternoon heat.

Today (Day #4) we will canoe in the morning and then drive across the border into Guatemala. Tonight, we will be staying at one of the three lodging options in Tikal National Park, complete with a pool!  The kids are pretty excited about that, but be warned – Internet will be, if I remember correctly, non-existent.

The Question of the day at breakfast this morning was:

“Describe yesterday using five pointed, descriptive words. Ready, go! And, for part 2, what was one thing you learned yesterday about the Mayan Civilization?”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie – Famished. Fatigued. Ferdinand. Factual. Fantastic. In their number system, a line is a ‘5’ and a dot is a ‘1.’

Autumn – Dangerous. Deadly. Fun. Tiring. Fascinating. The Mayans were having a rainfall problem. Instead of actually figuring it out, they decided that praying might work. And that is why they are all dead.

Cale – Amazing. Brilliant. Cold. Damp. Extraordinary! The Mayans had no event numbers.

Calvin – Cold. Warm. Hot. Moist. Tiring. The Mayans had specific way to get dates for their calendar, such as using Base 20 instead of our Base 10.

Ella – Ancient. Interesting. Fantastic. Tall. Green. We learned that the Mayan trail from Asia may well have led them through Helena as they came down along the Rocky Mountain Front, as there may have been a gap between Bering Ice and the Continental Ice sheets.

Harrison – Awesome. Closer to Gods. Rio. The Mayans built their temples high to be close to the Gods.

Jaida – Thick Forests. Above Ground Graves. Because they didn’t have shoes, the Mayans based their numbers off twenties.

Mia – Thirsty. High. Steep. Fun. Caliente. According to archeologists, the Mayan knew about wheels, but didn’t use them.

Nico – Warm. Educational. Ancient. Surprising. Nutritious. The Mayans whipped some people and collected blood on the altars.

Nolan – Factual. Hot. Tired. Excited. Ancient. The Mayans got their heads flattened when they were born.

Sophie – Hot. Fun. Vegetation. High. Noises. The Mayan, when playing the Pok-a-Tok, the Mayans either sacrificed the losing team to the Gods, or… as an honor, the winning team.

John – High. Swim. Cool. Sick. Yess. I didn’t know the Mayans had paved roads.

Beth – Emperor Cue Card. Informative. Strenuous. And cool water. The Mayan were so advanced architecturally, but they had no domestic animals. There were eleven levels of heaven, but you could only go up seven. Eleven levels below, but you could only go down five.

Tracy – While I don’t have five words, I found it sort of an oxymoron that the Mayan’s bound captives had Bhudda-bellies – I expected them to be starving.

Andrew – Vermillion. Ecosystem. Limestone. Woven. Ceiba. The Mayans used Base 20 for the counting system, 0-19.

Chad – Jaguar. Slavery. Butterfly. Belikin. Water. The Mayan believed the Earth was flat and square. They also oriented their city by North, East, South, and West.

Corvallis Group:

Morgan – Strong. Active. Organized. Allegiant. Civilized. The Maya flatten their foreheads.

Kendra – Crisp. Clean. Clear. Peaceful. Culturistic. The ruins had been rebuilt; I didn’t know that.

Maureen – I learned that the most important people – the elite – lived in the highest places in the city.

Molly – I learned the stairs were so tall so that the people ascending them had to bow as they came up the stairs.

Nick – Verdant. Ancient. Consumed. Revealed. Described. The Mayans practiced ritual blood letting.

Madison – Strong. Spiritual. Active. Organized. Segregated. Ceiba trees hold heaven in its branches, the tree represents Earth, and the roots are the underworld.

Janice – Luscious. Rolling. Paradise. Historical. Happy. I had been to Peru, and it was striking how similar the Mayan were to the Incans – architecture, calendars, sacrificial customs, captives, alters, the same type of terracing agriculture, and stone steps, etc.

Eli – Reincarnation. Transcendental Elevated. Mind-boggling. Ardu8ous. For the Mayans, they numbered from zero to 19. Zero was a number. It had value. That contradicts our whole system. It makes you wonder if the Mayan had a concept of nothing.

Paul (Global Travel Alliance Coordinator) – Birds. Humbled. Cool. Ceiba. Tortillas. The understood the wheel, but never used it.

We just ate an excellent meal of stewed pork, plantains, rice with carrots, rice juice (horchata), and a salad – DELICIOUS!  Now we’re off to the border… Guatemala here we come! We will be staying in Tikal National Park tonight. We will have limited connectivity. The next blog post may not happen until the evening of the 28th.



Breakfast, Day #2 – Belize 2017

So, we spent Day #1 traveling from Montana to Belize. This is really our first day in Belize, but it is the second day of the trip for us!

Each morning, I like to start with a question for our students (and the adults that would like to answer). Today during breakfast we had La Pregunta del Día – the Question of the Day #1:

“Since arriving in Belize, what is one thing you saw that surprised you or made you think about differences in this country?”

CRA Middle School Group Responses:

Auggie – There was a fuzzy caterpillar in our shower, and there were a lot of fires below as we flew in (Erick said that they are burning the sugar cane fields).

Autumn – Flying on the plane, I saw a lot of vegetation, not like we have in Montana. It was really interesting.

Cale What are all the Belikin signs?

Calvin – There were no retail stores – no big box stores. Nico

Ella – Some of the houses were on stilts, while others were on the ground. I thought that was really interesting, how they were built with different sized stilts; some were taller than others, and some were on the ground. And, when you look up, everything is green. So many shades of green….

Harrison – I think like the food – I was surprised I could get a cheeseburger last night.

Jaida – All of the people on the street. Nobody was in their house; everybody was outside.

Mia – Interesting how I could feel the humidity right as I got off the plane.

Nico – They had a lot more bikes and motorcycles than cars. Are there always a lot of people out like that?

Nolan – The graves aren’t buried. And Erick told us it wasn’t because of the water; it is because it is easier to bury people. He said there was only 2” of topsoil in much of the country.

Sophie – The highway we were on. It was one of four in the country, and how few cars and how thin it was.


John The wealth of poverty. So much is run-down.

Beth – I saw a giant cactus right over there. It surprised me to see one so big.

Kylie There were a lot of people out and about.

Andrew There was a sign coming in, ‘Tyres Unlimited.” So, I assume they still use limited to represent some corporate entity.

Paul – Very minimal light pollution.

Chad – No paper in the can (use the garbage can next to the toilet; do not flush any toilet paper, as it will ruin the septic system).

Corvallis Group Responses:

Morgan – Spider – the spider that was the size of my hand!

Kendra – One of the coolest parts was being able to see all the houses – they are super-colorful and there is so much art everywhere. When we were driving and saw that frog painting on the house – I thought, that is so cool. Nobody would ever do that in Montana.

Maureen – How many people are out wondering. In the US, nobody goes out wondering around – they’d be scared. But everyone here is just outside.

Molly I like all the birds that we’ve seen – it’s like Planet Earth here. All the different birds, it is really cool.

Nick – I was really surprised by how happy people seem. It seems like people have a lot of value and emotional connections here – friendships and family and that kind of thing.

Madison The size of the bugs; like the size of the spiders. The spiders are like – huge.

Janice – The beautiful colors… at the airport and the hotel. It was dark most of the time, but it was obvious there is going to be a lot of color.

Eli – Did you see the tractor that unloaded our luggage? It was like a giant 1950s John Deere tractor with a trailer unloading our stuff.

Heather I like the bird with 80s blue eye make-up. It’s rocking the retro; my kind of gal.

Tracy – The roofs. The roofs on the houses have a steeper slope than any other country I’ve been to. Why is that?  There is so much open-air up high between the ceiling frames and the thatched roofs – lots of unused space.

Finally, one of our group asked, “Why aren’t there more people here?” Erick, our guide, provided the quote of the night: “We’re not in a hurry.”

Morning briefing. Central America is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. We’re starting at sea level. Some mountains are up over 5,000’. There are a ton of habits, and that’s why this is such an intense area. The cool thing is that many of the 400 species of birds that we see in Montana migrate down here for the winter. We track Osprey. We know that some Montana Osprey come clear down here.

Welcome to Belize – Day #1 2017

We touched down in Belize City at just after 6:00. After seeing the rampant urban sprawl of Atlanta, hurriedly working our way from Terminal A to F, and then enjoying what for many was their first international flight, there was no denying we were landing in a far different landscape.

Despite being the dry season, there was plenty of water to be seen out the windows. Vegetation was everywhere below, except where swaths had been cleared for human activities. No sooner did we touch down than a student behind me muttered, “Is this an airport?” Moments later, the 737-900 came to a stop and we did our U-turn on the strip of pavement, the one runway we then used to taxi back. After walking down the stairs they had wheeled up to the airplane, we made it through customs with no problems. While everyone is speaking English, it is obvious we are in a foreign country. All of our students made it through customs on their own – and not a hitch.

According to Erick (whose family runs the Crystal Paradise Resort just out of San Ignacio), there are 361,000 people in Belize, the majority of which live in eight urban areas dotted throughout the six districts (states). Students must go to school through 8th grade. They then take a test. Those scoring over 91% are given a scholarship to high school. Students are bussed wherever they need to go if they earn a scholarship. Those earning less than 91% go to 2nd, 3rd or 4th level schools. At the end of high school, the same process is repeated. The top scorers are given a scholarship to a university (it sounded like the top universities are actually in different countries).

Here are our two school groups. First, the C. R. Anderson contingent:

And then the group from Corvallis, which has a couple 8th graders this year along with the usual high school crowd!

My Question of the Day (la pregunta del día) for our students tomorrow morning at our 6:30 breakfast will be: “What did you notice yesterday in Belize that struck you as being the most unique or different from our life in Montana?”

I know what my response to this question will be, but I will publish theirs first and see if any of them identify the same characteristic I would name. Next update coming tomorrow evening, folks. By the way, with daylight savings having kicked in, Montana is now in the same time zone as Belize.  More tomorrow… stay tuned!

Montana Students Are Off to Belize/Guatemala March 2017!

A good group, me thinks!

With an hour layover in Salt Lake City before continuing on to Atlanta, 8 of our 11 students found a quiet spot on the floor at the Delta gate and began playing a game of cards together!

Excellent sign; bonding from the get-go. That makes my job so much easier. We haven’t done the name-games yet with the Corvallis group, but their friendly nature is readily apparent. Our total group is 29 strong, and all are excited for the coming experiences.

Be advised, especially the parents tracking our experience via this blog, Internet connectivity will be minimal. I will do the best I can to throw some updates out on the net, but I’m really not expecting much.

One student was on his first plane flight ever – this picture shows him shortly after liftoff from Bozeman this morning.


“Flying is OK. I don’t like it, but it’s OK.” – Harrison, on the second leg of his first plane trip, flying over Arkansas en route to Atlanta. This photo is of him just after take-off from Bozeman about 6:15 a.m.; Autumn is in the background with her way-cool adventure hat!


Our general itinerary will be to land in Belize City about 8:00 p.m. tonight and head west to San Ignacio. There’ll be a couple days in this area, and we will bounce across the border, staying one night in and then spending the next morning checking out Tikal National Park. Back into Belize and out to a Caye that has a marine biology research center. A few days, hopefully with Sting Rays, Nurse Sharks, and some turtles, and then it’ll be time to journey back for our fourth and final quarter of school this spring!