Hugh Erle Smith
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Favorite Forays

Trip To Belize, April 17, 2009

mushrooms | creatures | movies

My trip to Belize with our dive club, the Openwater Explorers, was a great experience. Of course, there was not enough time to do everything I wanted to do, but there rarely is. Actually, there NEVER is!

I REALLY could've used at least two more days.

We stayed in the town of Placencia, a little town at the end of a 16 mile long peninsula of sand in southern Belize. This town supposedly has the Guinness Book distinction of having the narrowest highway in the world, actually a two-person wide sidewalk, well, for most of it's length anyway. This town was probably absolutely nowhere until the discovery of the Whale Sharks 22 miles offshore.

I believe the Yucatan Peninsula and possibly even Belize is where concrete was first invented.

There are so many Queen Conchs (Strombus gigas) available in the Caribbean that it is no wonder everyone eats them. They are as common as Abalone here in Northern California, which are as common as Garden Snails.

Common by definition.

But what to do with all of those giant shells? The Belizeans put them in their building forms, add mortar, and voila!


Is this where the Romans received their knowledge of this fantastic building material? Or did the Belizeans improve on their idea? I guess it depends on who you ask.

In less developed areas of towns and villages in the Yucatan, and in the middle of nowhere, speed bumps or topes (pronounced topez) are quite common. Where there is not enough material to build these topes, they use large ropes (you can say ro’-pez) for topes. We saw construction crews digging potholes in the road to make topes to replace ropes.

Now you know how potholes develop.

From Phalluscybe's Dictionary of the Yucatan:

Topes (topez)- speed bump
ropes (ropez)- substitute for speed bump

The reason we went to Belize was to go S.C.U.B.A diving (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, or is that Some Come Up Barely Alive?) with the Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus), the world's largest fish. Whale Sharks can achieve better than 40 feet in length and one of these big ones was seen by our group.

As a group, we got movies and pictures of these leviathans, although I only saw one for about 4 seconds. I think I was too busy keeping my depth at about 60 feet in a place that was 3000 feet deep.

Yes, diving for 5 days was a real treat. But there are always plenty of other things to do when you're in the Sub Tropics. JUNGLE!

Yes, the jungle. I think I live for the jungle. I can't help it. It's not my fault. There's so much life!

There's bugs, creatures, and mushrooms.

Although the end of April is the end of the dry season (Hurricane season officially starts May 1st), this is the time when the seasons are in turmoil, like tornado season in the United States.

Hot air meets cold air, high pressure meets low pressure, and things happen. The ocean was pretty rough. People who I spoke with said it hadn't rained since Christmas.

That's why this could be a favorable time for a mushroom hunter.

The first rains of the season!

It rained sometimes at night and early in the morning before most (not me) people were awake. When it rains in the Sub Tropics, it is a deluge! There's not much warning, and it doesn't last very long (10 minutes). But it doesn't rain like this here at home.

It takes us a while to develop any measurable rainfall here, but in Belize there were suddenly small streams flowing across...sand!

After the five days of diving, we arranged to take an entire day and head into the jungle. The Maya, their ruins, the rivers, the creatures, the mushrooms.

The Jungle

Although I did not find too many mushrooms, what I did find was pretty fascinating. I didn't get very good pictures where I found the most mushrooms, because we were on our way to go swimming in a cavern in the jungle, Ho Keb Ha Cave, a hole in the jungle, a window into the intricate tunnels and caverns of the Yucatan’s underground river system.

This water is more transparent than the water that comes out of your faucet, and just as cool.

Don’t drink it though.

Moctezuma’s Revenge.

From Phalluscybe's Dictionary of the Yucatan:

Moctezuma or Montezuma - ancestor spirit bearing a special gift for tourists.

So I had an underwater camera with me at this time.

I'm really kicking myself now because we had to leave everything outside the cavern anyway (entrance to the cavern is by swimming only), so I could have taken my good camera up to that point.

There are fascinating creatures and other things in these caverns. Stalactites, stalagmites, fish, hornet nests, bats, bat spiders (yes, spiders that eat bats), guano. Beautiful.

And the only cool place in the entire country (not a colorful metaphor).

We got to walk on a trail in the jungle on the way to and from this cavern. This was a great place for exploration of the forest floor.

Some mushrooms look familiar, and some are completely alien.

I've found Artist Conchs everywhere I've been in the world. I found a shelf fungus, except that it was growing out of a crack in a stick. Since the crack was on top, the shelf grew as a mushroom, with a stipe and a cap. I believe the same shelf was growing normally on other locations on the stick.

There were giant Polypores with a concentric stalk, not tough and dry but fleshy and large. And a pleasant smell.

There were familiar mushroom bugs on them.

The Maya children AND their parents were quite amused with me and my mushroom finds.

Giant white Turkey Tails, huge! I wasn't able to get to them because our guide thought it might be dangerous to get off the trail in that particular spot. (Always hire a guide in a new place. They see everything).

And little black balls on stalks, a quarter-inch across and a half-inch tall, like little water towers. Not Slime Mold; similar, but some kind of mushroom that was probably from the last wet season.

I brought some home. They're pretty cool. 

At customs, they always ask if you have any plants or animals.

I don't, so I say no. Mushrooms aren't plants, right?

And I treat them with moth balls.

Have you ever smelled Moth Balls?c How'd you hold 'em, by the wings or the legs?  And the bugs! Tarantulas, other spiders, hornets, flutterbys, moths, caterpillars. The caterpillars were the most beautiful.

I went on a night hunt nearly every night I was in Belize. Put the light on your head and head into the dark.

Look around other lights, wet places, and on the under side of leaves.

Watch where you're stepping. There's a lot to discover.

For diving, I think you would be better off to go to the northern part of Belize. But for jungle, the whole country is a fantastic place.

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