In the second of three blogs from Belize, a group of school pupils from Nairn share their experiences of conservation and hiking in the rainforest.

Scarlet Macaws - a beautiful but endangered bird.

Scarlet Macaws – a beautiful but endangered bird.

The highlight of this leg of our trip was seeing an amazing amount of native birds, our favourites being the much persecuted Scarlet Macaws and Keel Billed Toucans. We also encountered the less friendly Mexican Red Rumped Tarantulas and various tree frogs and snakes. Remote rainforest living was definitely a far cry from what we are used to at home, with cold showers, limited connection to the outside world and only a few hours of generated power a day. However, the experience of being at Las Cuevas is one that we will never forget and we hugely admire the work that goes on there and the people who live and work in that environment to ensure conservation continues. When we left Las Cuevas Research Station after 6 days we vowed to spread the word about the trials of managing conservation in such a remote outpost.

Trekking in the heat of Belize.

Trekking in the heat of Belize.

Next up was our Gold Duke of Edinburgh expedition which lasted four days and which also saw us complete our John Muir Explorer Award. As part of this award we set out to observe and compare the broadleaf rainforest and the pine-ridge landscapes.

The high temperatures during the expedition were a tough test for all of us, but the stunning landscapes, birds and wildlife more than made up for it. We hiked during the day in soaring heat but usually made camp before the tropical rainstorms that, more often than not, end the day here. We were lucky enough to sample campsites that were totally different from each other and from our usual ‘Scottish campsite’ experiences! Our first camp was an old logging village which was abandoned in the early 1990’s and is now a ghost town. At one time it had shops, a school, bars etc. but is now just empty buildings. The next night our camp was a real jungle camp where we had to carefully clear undergrowth to get a smooth base for our tents. We encountered our first scorpions here! The camp was high above the Sapote Falls ”“ a stunning waterfall with incredibly deep pools below. Night 3 was another jungle camp by the riverside which, after our epic river crossing, we were just happy to reach with dry kit in our bags! On day 4 we trekked upwards and over the hill behind Succotz where our jungle guide’s wife had prepared snacks for us before the last leg to Clarissa Falls.

Not your standard Scottish campsite!

Not your standard Scottish campsite!

Despite the heat and scorpions this was an incredible DofE expedition that none of us will ever forget. It was a privilege to walk in the amazing terrain we encountered and be monitored by our jungle guide who had a wealth of information on our environment and who also taught us survival skills along the way. Not many young people have the chance to experience such a landscape and encounter species/ plants/ trees so completely alien to them, for example: the Nightjar who flies as if she has broken wing to try and protect her chicks, the ‘Give and Take’ tree which can inflict pain with its spikey bark and also sooth pain with the chemicals found in its inner bark and, of course, the deafening Howler monkeys who kept us awake at some point each night.

A Howler Monkey, not so cute when you're trying to sleep!

A Howler Monkey, not so cute when you’re trying to sleep!

We have now completed both our Gold DofE Assessed Expedition and John Muir Explorer Award, both of which we will share about in a presentation to sponsors/friends/family on return.

Next up for us is two days ‘relaxation’ after 12 days in the jungle – washing clothes, visiting Mayan ruins etc before moving onto our next phase which is volunteering at the Kings Children’s Home for a week. This is a home which houses 97 orphans from babies to teenagers.