After pointing out the termite nest, our guide, Bernard, a full-blooded Mayan man (more on this in a subsequent post), asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to eat a termite.
“Oh, come on, they’re tasty. Anyone?”
No one volunteered – including me. So he appeared to pluck a termite out and pop it in his mouth, and he chewed and declared that termites tasted like carrots. Since I didn’t try it myself, I have to just believe him – and this is now a solid fact as far as I’m concerned!
So began our hiking journey in the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve in Belize, This is the world’s only jaguar reserve, and we hoped to see jaguars, monkeys and frogs, but all were hiding from us that day. We took a 3 km walk through the rain forest to a waterfall where we went for a quick swim.
Things we learned along the way included the taste and habitat of termites in the rain forest. As can be seen in this picture, termites build a huge nest in the trees from digested wood, fecal matter and termite saliva. The termites travel out of the nest by using a tunnel system that extends within the tree trunk and under the ground. Termites are sensitive to the sun, so they need to stay out of sight and you won’t see them running up and down the tree.
Bernard also pointed out what the Belizians call the “tourist tree,” but which is more officially called the Gumbo-limbo tree. Because it is red and peeling, similar to the tourists who get sunburned and then peel, it gets its more affectionate name.
Bernard then handed us some leaves from a nearby tree. Rubbing the leaves in one direction, they were smooth; rubbing in the other direction, they felt like a fine grade of sandpaper. These sandpaper leaves are part of the Dilleniaceae species.
We also saw poinsettas, which look nothing like poinsettas we purchase around Christmas time. They flower at the top, high in the trees, and the roots grow to the ground. The vines that the roots produce are very strong and can be used to swing Tarzan like from trees, and are also used to fasten together local homes.
We were also introduced to trees with almost invisible spikes that you would not want to use for leverage while walking through the jungle. We saw breadfruit trees, which provide a fruit that can be ground into flour, and we saw many other interesting types of flora during our hike.
Of course, what hike in a hot, humid jungle is complete without a swim under a waterfall? That’s how our hike into the rainforest ended (here I am moments before jumping in!)
So do termites really taste like carrots?
I’ll never know.