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Mound House expands programs with educational trip to Belize

February 6, 2019
By JESSE MEADOWS ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Travellers could have the chance to visit the Mayan ruins of Belize and Guatemala this summer, thanks to a new program at the Mound House.

Education Coordinator Penny Jarrett first fell for the crystal-blue waters of Belize 10 years ago, when she worked on a manatee research project during her time at the Cincinnati Zoo.

She has fond memories of tagging manatees, creating a community photo project in a local village, and staring in awe at centuries-old ruins hidden away in the jungle.

Article Photos

Penny Jarrett, education coordinator at the Mound House, led a group of teachers to Belize's Xunantunich in 2006 while working for the Cincinnati Zoo.


Now, she wants to take residents of Fort Myers Beach along with her to rediscover the country.

"It's a small country, but its just got so many different habitats," she said.

There are a number of ecological similarities between Belize and our own backyard on Fort Myers Beach - the migratory, wetland, and shore birds, the dolphins, and the archeological history of indigenous civilizations.

It's a chance for travellers to learn about wildlife, history, and culture, while comparing conservation efforts in Belize and Guatemala to our own in Florida.

"It's a combination, really, of observing wildlife and birds, of seeing a local conservation effort, experiencing the mayan civilization, meeting with professional archeologists, and seeing how the Mayan culture is now kind of integrated in some of the eco-lodges," said Jarrett.

Working with Holbrook Travel, a company based in Gainesville, Jarrett has planned a full itinerary.

First stop: birding.

The group will arrive at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, 20-square miles on an island with 12,800 acres of marshes and lagoons.

From there, they'll take a bird-watching boat ride up the river to the Lamanai ruins.

A visit to the Community Baboon Sanctuary will teach the group about a grassroots conservation effort started by 12 farmers that has grown to include 200 landowners in seven villages working to protect black howler monkeys.

"What a huge impact they've made by this cooperative effort. And not only are they saving the habitat for the howler monkeys, they're saving it for other species as well," said Jarrett.

The group will visit two more Mayan ruins.

In Cahal Pech, archeologist Antonio Beardall, who has been working at the site for five years, will give a lecture on the management of cultural heritage in Belize and a personal tour of the ruins.

And in Tikal National Park, the group will watch the sun rise over 3,000 separate structures on 25 square miles in Guatemala.

The end of the trip will wind down in the traditional Garifuna fishing village of Hopkins, where the group can lounge on the beach, kayak, and snorkel in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, the second longest barrier reef system in the Western Hemisphere.

Attention has been paid to support local eco-friendly businesses, and provide ample opportunities to put tourist dollars back in Belize and Guatemala's local economies.

"We will be staying at eco-lodges that hire local folks. We'll have opportunities to shop in these various locations, going to the Community Baboon Sanctuary and supporting their effort, as well as buying in the (local) shops," Jarrett said.

"We have an in-country guide as well, which I really want to stress, because that's a really important piece. No one knows it like their own backyard."

Jarrett said she sees this trip as an extension of what the Mound House does for the community locally - cultural, environmental, and historical education.

"My hope is that it's one of many future trips," Jarett said.

She currently has three people signed up, and needs a minimum of seven for the tour to take place.

Total all-inclusive cost, excluding airfare, is $3,759, with a $200 deposit due by March 7.

The cost could decrease depending on the number of people who sign up.

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