Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Ozarks? While I really like to travel and see the world, there's no denying that it feels really good to come home to a comfortable place ... a place with familiar surroundings.
That hasn't been the case the past two weeks. Regular readers might have noticed no outdoor pages in last weekend's edition. That's because I was stuck in another country trying to get a flight home. Then this week I had another adventure, but this one was stateside.
Two weeks ago this morning I flew out for eight days in Belize. I was leading a mission team from our church on a project to help build a church camp in a remote area southwest of Belize City, Belize.
While we were able to complete two good days of labor on our project, our plans were interrupted by a little storm called Hurricane Earl. This was my first hurricane, and the first for all 14 members of our team. The trip had been planned for nearly a year in advance and the first we heard of any storm headed toward Belize was during a layover at the airport in Dallas the morning we headed down.
We spent that Wednesday helping our host missionary couple prepare their home in Ladyville, a suburb of Belize City, for the pending growing tropical depression (the storm reached hurricane status later that evening, a couple hours before making landfall).
When we returned to our hotel in Belize City, only three blocks from the Caribbean Sea, all the windows and doors were already boarded up and every planter and outside decoration was removed. We rode out the storm with all 14 mission team members huddled in upstairs hotel rooms since it was anticipated the storm surge from the sea would flood the lower floor of the hotel. Fortunately the leading edge of the storm surge only reached about 10 feet from the front door. (Keep in mind that most of Belize City is only a few inches above sea level and is protected by a very short sea wall.)
As I walked out of the hotel on Thursday morning after the hurricane passed I saw fish swimming in the road ditch at the edge of the parking lot. And here I was without as much as line and hook.
That day our team members spent hours shoveling, sweeping and mopping dark sea/sewage/storm water out of our missionary's home. While our preparations the day before protected his windows and doors, it couldn't stop the 30-inch storm surge that pushed through his neighborhood.
But enough about that. While traveling the country of Belize to work on our project, to make a parts run to the capital city of Belmopan, and on a sightseeing road trip on our final day there we were able to learn about many interesting local animals.
While we have box and snapping turtles, Belize has the hickatee ... which lives near the water and looks like a cross between our snapper and box varieties.
While drivers here have to watch out for deer, motorists in Belize have to contend with Baird's tapir (a mountain cow) or peccary (a form of wild hog). There's also always the possibility of seeing a jaguar.
The day after the hurricane I helped ferry the missionary's vehicles several miles back to his home from a higher elevation where he had parked them the previous day. While I tried to be all nonchalant about driving his Land Rover through the wild countryside, inside I was just hoping to see a jaguar or alligator cross the road.
Here we have turkeys, eagles and all sorts of smaller birds. There we saw parrots and egrets, and toucans and mot mots are common.
Here in Missouri we watch out for spiders. That week while working our crew encountered two scorpions ... one nearly four inches long. And it would seem their national pest is the "no-see-um", a tiny insect not all that unlike our local chigger.
One thing I did find to my liking was termites. They taste "minty"! After we had been in country a couple days I ask our host missionary what was the strangest thing that locals ate. He said that as for meat that would probably be iguana (only one people group dine on them regularly) or termites (which were everywhere).
I told him I had previously eaten grub worms and earthworms and would like to give a termite a try before I left. I immediately started goading and guilting some of the teenagers in our group to join me in a termite feast. The day finally came on Friday.
We were driving across Belize headed for the capital city of Belmopan and surveying post hurricane damage to the landscape. The first termite nest/mound we spotted was in a tree about 20 yards off the road. We stopped the rigs and tried to get to the tree but standing stormwater and the fear of an alligator or snake eventually drove us back to the road.
A bit further down the road we spotted a large termite nest on a fencepost of a rural home. We stopped the rigs again and the missionary approached the homeowner and addressed her in Spanish, asking if some of his friends could sample the termites nesting on her fencepost. I wish I had though to snap a picture of her expression, followed by laughter, as she shook her head yes and then from side to side in disbelief. He gave us the wave and we jumped out of the rigs and headed through the gate.
He took his pocketknife and knocked a hole in the side of the nest. Tiny termites swarmed immediately. The trick is to lick your finger and stick it in the hole in the nest. They quickly collect on the moist skin. You simply wait until you've taken on a dozen or more and then stick your finger in your mouth and peel them off. The key is to start chewing immediately ... because it's slightly alarming to feel your food crawling around in your mouth.
But the missionary was right, then do taste "minty". I coaxed a few of our teenagers in the group to follow suit and try a few termites for themself. Even my daughter gave them a try. Atta girl, learn those survival skills!
Admittedly it would take a couple thousand tiny termites to make a good meal, but you'd have fresh breath for a week afterward.
I inquired but never had opportunity to eat any iguana. Maybe next time! Chances are it'd taste like chicken anyway.
So, while I really enjoy traveling and trying new foods, I'd have to say I'm more prone to pan-friend venison tenderloin, sauteed morel mushrooms or fried wild turkey breast.