Belize/Guatemala 2017: Final Reflections by the Group

For our final blog entry about this incredible Spring Break Adventure, the group was asked to provide a “Top 5” list in reverse order – David Letterman Style (only the oldest of us understand that reference)! Here are the responses I was able to collect on the plane.

What an incredible week – wow! As these reflections show, this experience is an incredible one for the students of C.R. Anderson Middle School. Our next trip will be in the spring of 2019, and all 7th and 8th graders are invited to learn more when we have an organizational meeting late this spring or early next fall. Thank you to those who participated in this year’s adventure, with a special thanks to the parents who made the trip with us and helped ensure success!

(If anyone didn’t answer the question who would like to, please Email me your Top 5, and I’ll get them added to this post!)

“What are were your top 5 moments/experiences of our past week in Belize and Guatemala?”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie –


Auggie Tupper applies some sunscreen.

5. Holding a puffer fish

4. Ziplining

3. Meeting new people/ Hanging with Kevin/ Having Erik as a guide

2. Swimming with sharks

1. Visiting the ruins/ Looking out from the top of the highest Mayan ruin

Autumn –


Autumn Denney sits atop Temple IV, Tikal UNESCO World Heritage Site Ruins (Guatemala).

5. Riding the airplanes.

4. Shopping – all of it!

3. Mayan Ruins – both Caracol and Tikal.

2. Zip-lining

1. Snorkeling – seeing the rays, sharks, and a turtle.


Cale Hines swimming in the Rio Frio on a hot Belizean afternoon.








5. The fifth thing that I like the best was probably the ziplining. That was pretty cool but I had done it before so it wasn’t as good as the first time.

4. The thing that I really loved also was the amazing food from Crystal Paradise. I loved the pineapple.

3. Another thing that I really enjoyed was probably the snorkeling that was amazing and I had never done it before. I liked it so much grabbed a few shells and got to swim with sharks and rays.

2. My second favorite thing was the Tikal Ruins. That was really cool because I learned how sophisticated the Mayans were and how they lived, how smart they were, and how structurally sound their buildings were.

1. My favorite thing out of this whole trip was probably meeting new people and getting to know better friends. Some of the people I met were Auggie, Kendra, Nick, Morgan and Madison

Calvin –


Calvin Dinh strikes a pose in the airport, excited as we work on getting to Belize.

5. Wildlife: birds!

4. Learning about Mayan Culture in Caracol (Erick).

3. Mayan Ruins: Tikal’s Temple 4.

2. Eating – especially the fruits.

1. Snorkeling – the sharks.





Ella –


Ella Shropshire checks out a large starfish before putting it back gently into it’s ecosystem on the sea floor.

 5. I also really liked seeing all of the awesome animals, like the Toucan, and the Tarantulas.

4. I liked traveling in the first bus. It was really cool to sit with my pals.

3. I liked going to Caracol and Tikal because they where sooo cool. I loved seeing the old ruins (and the bats).

2. I really liked Saint George’s Caye. It was very cool, with the ocean around it. I really liked the rooms, they reminded me of my lake house.

1. my favorite part was Shark Ray Alley. It was cool seeing the sharks, but also seeing the turtle with the remora on it.

Harrison –


Harrison Francis enjoys the water blasting in his face as we boat to and from the reef from Saint George’s Caye.

  1. The Chicken.
  2. Seeing all the sharks.
  3. Howler Monkey.
  4. Crystal Paradise Rooms.
  5. Uncle Andrew!



Jaida –

5. My last favorite thing was Tikal. The view at the top of Temple 4 was amazing you could see trees for miles. It was absolutely incredible. The stairs were a little bit tiring but it was definitely worth the climb!

4. My fourth favorite thing was probably the FOOD. I really stepped outside my comfort zone when it came to the food. I even tried fried Plantains.


Jaida Salois smiles for a portrait as she shares earbuds with her buddy Cale while on a boat in the Caribbean.

3. My third favorite thing was definitely the zip lining! It was my first time and I was scared out of my mind before I went, and it didn’t help that the platforms we stood on weren’t exactly stable. After I went a couple of times we switched my harness around and I went Superman style. When I got to the end of the zip line the guy that was there to stop me was a bit of a jokester, he pretended that he wasn’t going to stop me and I was going to have to do it myself which would have consisted of me sticking my hands out so that I didn’t face plant into a tree.

2. My second favorite thing was probably snorkeling… even though my legs are fried (you should see Mr. Elder’s back). Seeing the Coral and Sharks was a really fun experience.

1. My favorite thing during this trip was getting to make new friends. I became close with many people I didn’t expect. At night we would play games like Truth or Truth and BS. We learned A LOT about each other and are all great friends now.

Mia –


Mia Loble flashes a crazy look of excitement as she goes to get in the mini-bus and begin our adventure moments after clearing immigration/customs at the Belize Airport.

5. Shopping

4. Exploring Mayan Ruins

3. Swimming in the fresh water pools

2. Snorkeling

1. Exploring the cave in canoes




Nico –


Nico Bugni strikes a pose with his friends while checking out the elite residences of the Caracol Ruins.

5. Experiencing new foods

4. Visiting the Mayan ruins

3. Swimming with sharks and sting rays

2. Leaving the country for the first time

1. Making new friends







Nolan Burke takes a break while checking out Shark and Ray Alley.

Nolan –


5. Trying new food

4. Going to a new country

3. Seeing a manatee

2. Snorkeling in the ocean

1. Getting a smoking hot tan body



Sophie –


Sophie Palcisko enjoying a little zip-lining through the Guatemalan Canopy near Tikal National Park.

5. Exploring the ruins

4. Seeing all the wild life, especially the dolphins

3. Snorkeling

2. The food

1. Zip lining

Kelly –

5. The wild and the wildlife. From the Orange-Breasted Falcons (we saw a couple of this rare bird, much to Paul’s delight) to the parrots and other birds, the monkeys (Howler and Spider), the dolphins, rays, eel, lobster, sharks, and thousands of fish living in and around the intricate coral reefs – all of the animals were really incredible. We did not see a Jaguar, but other than that – spectacular!


Mr. Kelly Elder waving to the camera with hundreds of fish in the background as he checks out the reef’s ecosystem about 25′ below the surface.

4. Building relationships with others on the trip: Paul with Global Travel Alliance; Erick, Mariela, and Kevin (San Ignacio Crystal Paradise) as well as Victoria and Johnny (Saint George’s Caye). This is most often my favorite part of travel.

3. Seeing all of the students talking and bonding together, more and more over the course of the week – from the opening interviews and introductions (partner activity) to the evening dock sessions the kids had at Saint George’s Caye.

2. Watching everyone come out from the breakfast area excitedly trying to get the best possible glimpses and photos of the Toucan(s) in the trees at Crystal Paradise near San Ignacio.

1. Riding in the back of the 4-wheel drive truck with Adrienna on the way down to the Burton Cave.

Kylie – 


Miss Kylie Pancich on the beach with the “front dock” going out into the Caribbean side of the island at Saint George’s Caye (Key).

5. All of the good food. Fresh fruits, Belizean spices, rice and beans.

4. The history and exploration of the Mayan ruins in Caracol and Tikal.

3. Snorkeling in the Caribbean. Swimming over shark, rays, and variety of fishes.

2. Meeting new people. The adults and students on our trip were so fun. The Tut family (Eric, Victor, Kevin, Edward) were brilliant, welcoming, and such great additions to our group.

1. The views of the forests from the Mayan ruins. The views of the Caribbean Sea from the Cayes, boat, and water.

John –


Dr. John Tupper taking in the view and looking around the main plaza from the highest temple at the Caracol Ruins (Belize).

5.  Canoeing Barton Creek Cave

4.  Hanging with the adults in the evenings

3.  Tikal : ruins and monkeys

2. Crystal Paradise – meals, toucan, Eric

1. Singing in the van with the Belize Street Boys

Andrew –


Mr. Andrew Mayer takes a selfie in front of the Mayan Ruins – I believe this is .

5. The profiles of faces in the cave walls when we paddled out of the cave on Barton Creek. They looked like there were coming out of the underworld in LED light; I can only imagine what they looked like by torchlight for the Mayans.

4. There was a disabled young man in a wheelchair begging at the Guatemala border, with someone I assume was his brother, who was very stern. As we drove by, the brother bent over the young man in the wheelchair and gave him a huge hug and a smile. I wish I could describe how tender it was.

3. The view of the plaza and the canopy from the top of the tallest temple in Caracol. We stood where the ruling family lived so they could be closer to the Gods.

2. My first time sitting under a waterfall. It wasn’t very big or tall, but all the water was unexpectedly heavy. It felt amazing.

1. Thousands of leaf-cutter ants carrying huge pieces of leaves from a tree to their nest, working in a tight row across the ground and up another tree.


Corvallis Group:

Morgan –

5. Visiting a new country.

4. Getting to know our guides.

3. Watching the sunsets and sunrises from St. George’s Caye

2. Getting to see all of the old Mayan Ruins in both Belize and Guatemala.

1. Getting to see all of the marine wildlife. (Turtles, Sharks, Dolphins, Manatees, etc.)

Kendra –


Kendra focuses intently as she comes onto a platform during our Guatemalan Zip-Lining Adventure!

5. Being in a new country.

4. Meeting new people.

3. Hiking the ruins.

2. Swimming with sharks.

1. Seeing a turtle for the first time



5. Getting a break from Montana

4. Experiencing a different culture and atmosphere

3. Swimming with turtles, sharks, and rays

2. Mayan ruins

1. Being in a new country for the first time

Day #6: Montanans Experience the Great Barrier Reef in Belize!

The Question of the day today:

“What was your favorite 5 seconds of our time in and along the reef?”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie – Holding a fish – a baby puffer fish!

Autumn – I was afraid I was too close to a shark. He started moving, I thought he was going to attack me, and he just swam under me! He didn’t care at all.

Cale – When I saw the ‘big turtle’ – as I swam, John Tupper yelled “Turtle!” I swam as hard as I could to get to see him; and he had three fishes underneath him.

Calvin – Jumping into the water when there were a bunch of sharks just chillin’!

Ella – When I saw the first turtle; I was taking my flippers off and everyone said, “Turtle” – and then I got to see it.

Harrison – While snorkeling along the reef, I looked down, and there were just a bunch of crowded fish staring up at me. They seemed to be saying, “What are you doing here?”

Jaida – Snorkeling at Hol Chan. Victoria said there is a shark right by you, and I looked and it swam right under me.

Mia – When I saw the turtle the first time. It was interesting because it had these fish on its shell. These fish were eating whatever the turtle ate.

Nico – I almost touched the sharks.

Nolan – Swimming over the shallow coral, and then you see the drop off and you see just all this sea-life in their own ecosystem – there in a cave in the coral.

Sophie – Seeing the dolphins just off the side of the boat and how they were playing with each other.

Kelly – The Moray Eel Johnny showed me… I could only see his body. Then, when I went to take a picture of him, he brought his head up into the light from the dark coral cavern he was hanging in, opened his mouth and bared his teeth, seeming to hiss at me.

Beth – When I finally figured how to snorkel correctly today – I finally quit sucking up salt-water.

Andrew – Swimming over the top of some scuba divers as they came by beneath me. I thought, there’s a school of the most dangerous predators in the ocean. It was like watching a movie scene.

Chad – First five seconds I put my face in the water today and my mask worked!

Corvallis Group:

Morgan – When I got to see the turtle; it was the first time I had ever seen a turtle in the wild.

Kendra – Seeing the sea turtle; I dove after it and got a good picture!

Maureen – Seeing the turtle. That was really cool. He was huge and he wasn’t there long, but they are so rare and going extinct – it was so cool.

Molly – When we saw the sea turtle.

Nick – When I got arm’s length away from a Nurse Shark. I dove down and was able to be still – I just looked at it. It was such an alien experience; I just looked at it. The shark was longer than me. It was really cool.

Madison – When Calvin tried to buy an alcoholic drink in town.

Eli – Jumping feet-first into a school of 6-10 foot sharks!

Day #5: Looking Back on Our Adventure in Belize/Guatemala – Random Acts of Kindness

The Question of the day today, La Pregunta del Día #5:

“Looking back over our week, we all saw people from this group doing ‘the right thing’ – a random act of kindness for someone else, whether they were in this group or not. Your assignment for this question: share that story of goodness with us.”

CRA Middle School:

Auggie – Miss Pancich went over and sat with Harrison when she saw he was sitting alone at one point. That was very nice.

Autumn – When I puked on the bus, my grandma used the blanket she just bought to help clean it up, and that was pretty nice. Thank you.

Cale – Calvin jumped in for Molly’s wallet when she dropped it off the dock on our final night at Saint George’s Caye.

Calvin – Erick was providing food to everyone throughout the trip, no matter where we were. Thank You.

Ella – I was really upset when I lost one of the things I’d just bought, and Mia helped me find it when everyone else was sort of ignoring me. Thank you.

Harrison – When we were in Belize City, I found the little concession stand didn’t take Visa, and then Heather just offered to get what I wanted, and all was right with the world. Thank you, Heather!

Jaida – Sophie jumped in the water immediately after Molly dropped her wallet from the dock.

Mia –  Sophie helped me pack my bags and she paid for my hair-do on Caye Caulker. She was an awesome friend. Thank you!

Nico – When Calvin made the paper airplane for Edward (Kevin’s Cousin – Erick’s nephew) after supper at the Crystal Paradise one night.

Nolan – Erick was the best tour guide I’ve ever had. He didn’t have to be the best, but he tried his hardest to be the best. Thank You!

Sophie – Mia bought lots of things for me and she has been awesome, helpful, and a great friend. Thank you!

Kelly – Johnny, the lead snorkeler who runs Eco-Mar with his wife Linda. Johnny not only saved a lost wallet, fixed the broken toilets, cleaned bottles and other litter from the reef as we snorkeled, he guided us to and explained many of the intricacies of the coral. Granted, he was paid to do so, but this master teacher spoke from his heart, and shared all he could with us in a few days about his land, the people on it, and the ecosystem that sustains life in the Caribbean. Impressive!

John – This morning when everyone went to help Mr. Elder to look for his water-bottle [Editor’s Note. The water bottle ultimately showed up the morning we left… it had fallen off the end-table and rolled under John Tupper’s bed!!].

Beth – There were several times Jaida hopped in and helped students who were having trouble. Here on the island, someone was having trouble, and Beth helped her out. Another time, she helped Autumn figure out how to use the seatbelt in the bus. Very helpful, she is.

Andrew – On the boat ride over here, I gave my sunglasses to Harrison, which left me without. Cale saw that happen, and offered up his pair of children’s sunglasses for me the rest of the week.

Corvallis Group:

Morgan – Madison was struggling with doing her hair, and Mo offered to help!

Kendra – Eli paid for my zip-lining and snorkel gear; that was really cool. Thank You.

Maureen – Mrs. D. gave me a pair of socks to snorkel in!

Molly – Kendra bought me a bracelet because I didn’t have any cash. Thank you.

Nick – Johnny (Eco-Mar) dove into the water to help find Molly’s wallet.

Madison – Kendra gave a little boy getting on a school bus a US dollar.

Eli – Nolan, Calvin, Nico, and Auggie – after every meal, they stuck around and did their own little final touches, assigning duties to one another like pushing in the chairs and ‘resetting’ the dining area.

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!

TCFTurkey15 – Reflecting Upon Our Incredible Study Tour

TCF_Group_Bus The thirty people pictured here spent the last two weeks together traveling through western Turkey. Led by our incredible guide Orhan with assistance from our main bus driver Ísmail and his assistant Ercan, The group includes twenty-four teachers from around the USA (including representation from California, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and Washington). We were also joined by a TCF (Turkish Cultural Foundation) staff member and two Turkish Teachers: elementary teacher Esra Ozer and math teacher Yunus Dogan. For two weeks, our senses were bombarded with new stimuli for at least 12 hours a day. At the end of the trip, this question was asked: “Twenty years from now, what memory will come first to mind when recalling your TCF Study Tour in Turkey?”  Below is a compilation of our responses. As you can see, students, even when everyone experiences the same thing, the memories we choose to hold onto can very greatly!


Balloons! Most of the teachers on the tour opted to get up at 4:15 a.m. and go for a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia on the next to last day. Afterward, many wanted to change their favorite moment. Instead, we’ve opted to mention that incredible experience at the start of this final blog entry. A picture of that experience is at the bottom of this posting. In addition to the morning balloon ride, the participants of the 2015 TCF Study Tour suggest the following most memorable moments:

“Walking Stick Wonder” Award Recipient Anita Tucker.

Anita Tucker (California) – Visiting Gallipoli, Anzac Cove, and the Lone Pine Cemetery really took my breath away. It was the 100 year anniversary of the battles and standing on the beaches, in the quiet morning, knowing the tremendous sacrifice of young lives lost on both sides was heartbreaking. I spent a great deal of time looking at the headstones of men like, Frank Hubert Evans, age 20, or Mustafa Oglu Davut, age 25, and saying a prayer for them, thinking about their families, and the devastation of war. The memorial from Mustafa Kemal moved me to tears when he says, “In this country of ours…You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears! Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” – Atatürk, 1934

“Resident Legal Counsel Award” Recipient Cameron Sanchez.

Cameron Sanchez (California) – The interaction with Ezra, Orhan, and Yunus during our breaks. To hear of life in Turkey and share about life in the U.S. – just the everyday interaction over the course of two weeks has been incredible. Further previously I studied Paul in great depth, and to walk through Ephesus where he did was an experience I will never forget. Also at Ephesus came the bee sting, which was quite memorable as well!


“Group Jester Award” Recipient Mike Madruga.

Mike Madruga (California) – My favorite place was the Ataköy school – meeting and interacting with the children. It was an emotional experience for me. It appeared they were all waiting for Santa Clause to arrive. When we got there, you could see the appreciation and excitement in their hearts. We’ve seen some incredible sites, but that moment was incredible – I almost came to tears.

“Back to Life Award” Recipient Sherri Saucedo.

Sherri Saucedo (California) – Walking into the amphitheater at Ephesus, realizing I was standing on the same ground that Paul had stood on to teach and preach about his friend Jesus. And for me, this was a destiny moment as I realized I have been called to do the same!

“Cash Temple & Bazaar Empress Award” Recipient Stacy Maxin.

Stacy Maxin (California) – The Bosphorus boat ride – looking to one shore and then the other, seeing both Asia and Europe… and thinking about the history of migration and trade over this region. Being on the boat, on the water with the comforting breeze, the bridges connecting the two continents, and seeing the city from the water with the refreshing breeze… it was a natural high.

“Van Gogh Award” Recipient Jeanie Palmer.

Jeanie Palmer (Montana) – My whole life as an artist, I have dreamed of being in a foreign land and sketching the people and landscapes I see with no other English speakers around. So, I’ve been able to do that a lot on this trip, but the first time – at the Topkapi Palace in the courtyard – it was perfect. I could have sat there all day long.

“Wanna-Be Photographer Award” Recipients Leslie Rogers (left) and Kelly Elder (right).

Kelly Elder (Montana) – Somehow during the entire two weeks, Aphrodesia really sticks out in my mind. Indeed, when we, the TCF Teachers, found ourselves almost alone on the grounds (minus the workers excavating the central area), it was so much more powerful than the crowds at other sites had been. To lead the group up over the little rise and enter the stadium – and then to imagine the events there thousands of years ago and realize that soil had completely covered the facility and a farmer was actually growing wheat there when he stumbled across some protruding peaks of the structure (at the height of where we stood in the upper row)… this random event led to this entire civilization being discovered!

Leslie Rogers (Ohio) – I’ll never forget when Eric took his own time and volunteered to help me “learn” how to float- under a full moon in the Aegean Sea. It isn’t every day someone goes out of their way to help someone else do something like that. I don’t know, I’ve noticed that happening quite a bit on this trip, actually. Afterward, six of us sat on oversized cushions down on the pier, drinking wine and sharing stories late into the night next to the sea.

“Devout Vegan Award” Recipient Caprice Leidig.

Caprice Leidig (Nevada) – Travelling on the Bosphorus on the open deck of a boat was a spectacular moment for me as a geography teacher. I watched in awe as the sweeping landscape of Ístanbul passed by and I was able to observe Ottoman palaces, mosques and mansions along the way. On one side of the Bosphorus is Asia. On the other Asia. What an amazing experience!

“Chip Connoisseur Award” Recipient.

“Chip Connoisseur Award” Recipient Carol McGrew. Photo by Julie Wakefield.

Carol McGrew (Nevada) – I teach WWI in both US History and World Geography, so the Gallipoli sites showed me WWI through a different lens. I also learned more about Atatürk as a military leader.  

“Don't Worry, Be Happy Award” Recipient Chantay Jensen.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy Award” Recipient Chantay Jensen.

Chantay Jensen (Nevada) – I would like to choose everything but given that is unlikely there are a few moments that took my breath away… Walking into the mosque of Suleiman was one of those such moments.  I have seen images of this mosque in my history books and watched documentaries that show the images but nothing compares to walking into the space, closing my eyes, and imagining what it must have been like centuries ago to have seen the ‘magnificent’ leader and his wife meandering around the grounds. This moment will hopefully stay on my mind forever. In addition to the historical moments that solidified my complete joy in the study of this region I will always cherish my newfound Turkish identity. As it turns out, I am basically Turkish and never knew. My life is forever changed for the better.  

“Man of the Sea Award” Recipient Ed Bischopink.

Ed Bischopink (Nevada) – To stand in the ancient city of Troy and learn about the facts of the civilizations that were once there in addition to the legends that we all teach. That was such a special moment. Troy is such a legend, but to be standing there listening to local expert Professor Mustafa Askin – he told us about the facts of what is known about the numerous civilizations there over the eras. It was amazing.

“Detail Queen Award” Recipient Julie Wakefield.

Julie Wakefield (Nevada) – There have been so many amazing moments and even more amazing memories. I think there are three moments I will remember forever: the amphitheater at Aphrodisias, and the vista of Nevsehir (Cappadocia). These sites are amazing in so many ways – breathtaking, overwhelming, and memorable.

Lynn Thomas (Nevada) – The ancient sites of Turkey are phenomenal and beyond description, my affinity for history has only grown. However, I must say that what I will cherish the most is the connection to our Turkish friends. Evenings eating, talking and laughing together. An impromptu water polo game in the pool is one of the best evenings. Ïsmael stealing the ball to make a point and then taking his goal and running away with it made everyone laugh. Not to be outdone, Dana then trying to avoid Ïsmael gaining the upper hand by swimming away with his team’s goal. Turkey has many irreplaceable sites, but it’s greatest resource is its people.

“Co-Conductor Award” Recipient Pamela Miller.

Pamela Miller (Nevada) – My take-away was that I will always remember Orhan – he is personable, has an extraordinary command of the English language, a sharp sense of humor, and impressive breadth of knowledge. He is the Ultimate Renaissance Man!

“Turkish Bath Screamer Award” Recipient Chris Cox.

“Turkish Bath Screamer Award” Recipient Chris Cox.

Chris Cox (Ohio) – Driving up the mountain to the Acropolis. Going up the mountain in the taksi, exploring the city. It was the first ancient city I’d ever been in and I was inspired by it.

“Turkish Impersonator Award” Recipient John Davis.

“Turkish Impersonator Award” Recipient John Davis.

John Davis (Ohio) – Visiting the mosques. I have not had many opportunities to visit holy buildings of faiths other than my own. Watching people worship, hearing the call to prayer, and experiencing the reverence that is expected in the mosques will definitely be memorable in 25 years.  

“Trusted Helper Award” Recipient Cheryl Healy.

“Trusted Helper Award”
Recipient Cheryl Healy.

Cheryl Healy (Washington) – Watching the skyline of Ístanbul and listening to the call to prayer while cruising on the Bosphorus. The lunch right after that, as we sat on the water and ate our multi-course meal. Oh, and (yes, I get two because I’m succinct) then I loved our visit to the marbling artist’s home. His wife told me the history of their home; a historic military building constructed for one of twelve generals in the 1800s. It took them a decade to restore their home. They both have such warm, gentle, and hospitable spirits.

“International Friendship Through Music Award” Recipient Dana Radcliffe.

Dana Radcliffe (Washington) – There are so many wonderful moments to reflect upon, but my thoughts now lean towards the ruins of Çatalhöyük. The open plains and rolling hills of Anatolia took my breath away. A feeling of space and a dusty breeze revealed to us a different side of this rich country. I was captured by the ruins of these prehistoric sites with dwellings built side by side, sharing walls, keeping there cooking corners, sleeping corners, and burials all under one roof, now deep in the earth, showing the lives of these early urban dwellers dating back to over 8000 years ago. I tried to envision what life was like for these early peoples and it brought a deeper understanding to the depth and breadth of the history here, tying together layer after layer of history until we reach the bottom – the very birth of civilization. The first rain fell during our time and I felt a sense of peace and calm in my new knowledge.

“Logistics Chief Award” Recipient David Blacketer.

“Logistics Chief Award”
Recipient David Blacketer.

David Blacketer (Washington) – The city of Aphrodite – the history still there that is yet to be excavated. I’ve seen museums before, but to see the original artifacts… a Roman God’s face still in the ground and I’m walking on him. Things started earlier, but it culminated… my mind was blown. Just how much is concentrated in one place and to walk on it – I felt it.

“Aquarius Award” Recipient Eric Ayrault.

Eric Ayrault (Washington) – The Microphone Hours are unforgettable. Specifically, Orhan’s love of history and especially music, whether it be Jazz, traditional, or even the hard rock as we drove through the formations in Cappadocia – and Yunus rapping– these times made the trip.

“Budding Turkish Linguist Award” Recipient Josh Parker.

“Budding Turkish Linguist Award” Recipient Josh Parker.

Josh Parker (Washington) – We arrived in the Ulucami Mosque in Bursa in the same way we had the others; carefully removing our shoes, covering our legs, and stepping into a cavernous space full of light. We were given some free reign inside the mosque, a bit of time to explore. On the tour up to this point, I’d busied most waking moments in delightful conversation with the dynamic individuals here alongside rapid-fire photo-taking, trying simply to soak it all in. Instead of jumping right into a chat or even finding a buddy to walk around with, I silently wandered, walking quite slowly, around the mosque until I came to an open space along a great marble column where other, local, men were sitting quietly, each in his own world. I sat and let my eyes wander, across sweeping calligraphy and kneeling worshippers, and my mind found some rest, some peace. Across religion and history and belief, I sat in that mosque experiencing what my brothers and sisters were – a pause from the pace of life, a pause to reflect and maybe even appreciate. In those short ten minutes of sitting I was as refreshed as after a good night’s sleep, glad at having shared in the common human experience of pause, silence, and reverence for something bigger than ourselves.

“Glamorous & Astute Listener Award” Recipient Tara Graves.

“Glamorous & Astute Listener Award” Recipient
Tara Graves.

Tara Graves (Washington) – My father told me an interesting quote when I was growing up – “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason – learn to understand the importance of listening.” And so my favorite part of Turkey would be the sounds- the call to prayer heard from our boat on the sun-glistened Bosphorus; our lunch çura serenade, complete with a chirping parrot; the imagined roars within amphitheaters/coliseums; Orhan’s musical gallery within the tour bus; laughing and drinking on a pier in the Aegean; a dervish singing singularly in an ancient caravanserai.

“Sugar & Spice Award” Recipient Tracy Green.

“Sugar & Spice Award”
Recipient Tracy Green.

Tracy Green (Washington) – The Bizimev Hanimeli Restaurant (the “home cooking” smorgasbord). Kate, recipient of the “Documentarian and Nightlife Consultant Award” (No image, Washington DC) – At the Süleymaniye Mosque, near the tombs of Süleyman and Hurrem, there was a balcony with a really nice view of Istanbul. It was cool to see the city from this point, since it was like I was seeing it for the first time again. There are always new things to discover in Ístanbul and I was really happy to be in that place with our group.

“Young Turkish Secret S****** Award” Recipient Esra Özer (we can’t say the full name of the award, or it wouldn’t be a secret)!

Esra Özer (Famiy from Izmir; now in Ístanbul) – In Çanakkale, we went to the beach after dinner and had a bonfire. We talked and sang Turkish songs with Orhan, Yunus, and Ísmail. At the end of the night, we were intoxicated and had a hard time finding our rooms. From that experience, we are better friends.

“Translator-of-the-Year & Native Expert Award” Recipient Yunus Dogan.

“Translator-of-the-Year & Native Expert Award” Recipient Yunus Dogan (right).

Yunus Doğan (Family from Afyon; now in Ístanbul) – At the Iskender Kebab restaurant for lunch (where everyone got to try a Döner Kebab). The Chef, who has worked in this place for seventy years, was named, Dede Usta. Mr. Usta was very excited about his restaurant, his food, the famous people who had been to visit – Presidents, Kings, and the like – he was excited about everything. Like a machine gun, he enthusiastically rattled off story after story without pausing at all for me to translate to the group. I felt very good by doing this and trying my best to share with everyone his words.

“Orhan the Magnificent” Sezener. Teacher of the Year (drawing by Jeanie Palmer)!

“Orhan the Magnificent” Sezener – the Master TCF Tour Guide/Teacher! (Ístanbul) – what did he decide? Stay tuned!

The inspiring morning many of the teachers spent on a hot air balloon ride over the unique landscape of Cappadocia.

The inspiring morning many of the teachers spent on a hot air balloon ride over the unique landscape of Cappadocia.