We had chosen our six "free excursions" at Lamanai and the first one was The Spotlight Safari. We had to assemble at 7.30 at the landing pier and as dutiful tourists all 8 of us were there on time. Our guide fired up the motor on the boat and we all clambered in. The full moon was already illuminating the water and the two powerful spotlights, which were controlled by the driver would shine on any wildlife daring to be in the vicinity. We’d been told to take warm clothing as it can "get mighty chilly on the water", and our cameras. The notion of "mighty chilly" didn’t even cross my radar – it was just a pleasant evening with a gentle breeze, but I guess for the locals it would be cold. Certainly I had no use for my warm clothing, but having experienced the trip I’d suggest that you also take an over-active imagination!
We’d only just pulled away from the pier when our guide stopped the boat and directed his spotlights onto a distant tree. "There, can you see" he shouted. The answer was firmly in the negative but he was unperturbed and pointed his green laser light underneath where the alleged tree dweller was hanging. It was a primate, according to the guide, but despite several hard stares I couldn’t see a thing. Others in the group were claiming a sighting, but I remained un-convinced and gave my tacit agreement to moving on by remaining silent.
We moved on and again, suddenly the boat was stopped as the spotlight shone on to a flat area close to the lagoon. "Water Rats" exclaimed our guide "Can you all see them?" Once again I couldn’t see them and I wasn’t too sure I could get excited about a rat. He persisted by telling us that there were many of them swarming over the small inlet, but still I saw nothing.
I did spot, however, some of the largest Kingfishers in the region and I can claim no credit for seeing the many Grebes that paddled effortlessly on the lagoon. They hardly gave us a second glance and were obviously too busy in their quest for food to fly off when the boat approached. There were many Herons at the side of the lagoon and these looked mystical in the moonlight and when the spotlight danced around them. They too weren’t moving off and it seemed, as they stood motionless on the banks, like they were prepared to "stare us out".
Once again the boat stopped so we could look at an Opossum. Well again I proved the need to visit the optician as I observed, once again, nothing. There were oohs and aahs by those with keener night vision, but I didn’t feel too left out because I have seen this creature earlier on in this holiday.
Snail Kites were hovering against the star-lit sky and as if to order the Limpkins served up copious cries or screeches as if to emphasise the fact that darkness was upon us. They certainly assisted in making parts of the lagoon seem somewhat spooky. We’d been travelling past Cormorants hanging out to dry (they seem to spend their whole life just playing statues on tree trunks near to the laggon’s edge) Rails strutting unperturbed along the river bank, and the distinctive Night-Jar. I say the Night-Jar is distinctive but until this trip I wouldn’t have known one nor recognise it stubby bodied long winged profile. But under the guidance of our guide we were beginning to recognise birds from both their sound and appearance.
Suddenly the boat stopped and the spotlight was fixed on a tree. We all started to look for an animal but our guide was pointing out the tree itself. "It’s the Provision Tree" he said "and that beautiful flower is only on show for one night only. We gasped with delight as we looked, with renewed respect at the huge flower with its long petals and bright orange stamens. Most impressive! It was called the provision tree because of the fact that the tree is edible. Its nuts are sought after and "taste of peanuts, can be eaten raw, cooked or ground in to flour and the flower and leaves are also edible. Almost a "one stop shop"!?
Suddenly a bat flew alongside the boat. We all saw that and our guide told us that it was one of the few species of bat that eats fish although it’s not adverse to picking off moths and other insects as it flies along the route of rivers and lagoons. It seemed to be a fair sized bat but it flew off so quickly that it was hard to note any of its features. Still I was pleased I’d spotted something different and just as I was ready to think I was getting in to the swing of night vision our guide stopped again to point out a "spot". In a small inlet off the lagoon he was pointing out, with his green laser light, a frog. I really wanted to see this but all I could make out were rocks and large pebbles. A murmur went round the boat and then one person muttered "I’ll say yes, just so we can move on". Thank goodness I wasn’t on my own with spotting these creatures!
We moved on and as one voice we all cried out "Crocodile" and pointed. There was a splash and the beast disappeared. The fact that this crocodile was pretty close to the pier, where people were told it was safe to swim from, made me re-evaluate my position. Suddenly another set of eyes drifting towards us and then that disappeared. Decision made – I wouldn’t be swimming in the lagoon or for that matter would I be taking a canoe out!
Now we were in sight of the pier at Lamanai and the boat was moving to dock. We’d been out on the water for around 90 minutes and our guide had made the trip interesting and informative. I think I needed to "believe" more of what he was pointing out to us and perhaps if I’d brought onboard by imagination rather than my warm clothing I’d have seen more wildlife.