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Friday, January 19, 2024

Tropical Marine Biology – Belize 2024 has begun!

Day #1 - Friday January 19th 2024 - TREC, San Pedro, Abergris Caye, Belize

Greetings from the town of San Pedro on the island of Ambergis Caye (“La Island Bonita”), a few miles off the coast of northern Belize. Today started very early in New Hampshire, with a 2:30AM meeting on campus, with temperatures hovering around 9F.

We loaded the bus (thanks to Professor Mark Mitch for volunteering to drive us!) to Manchester airport. The flight down departed Manchester, NH at 5:45AM, connected via Charlotte, and landed in Belize City around noon.

After scrambling through immigration and customs, the class transferred to the domestic terminal for a flight on tiny Maya Island Air. The students piled into a small (14-seater) plane for the 15 minute flight to the island. One lucky student was able to sit in the co-pilot seat.

All in all, the journey lasted about 10 hours – not too bad to get from 9F to 82F!

At the tiny San Pedro airport, we sent out luggage ahead via van. First stop: taco beach picnic! It was a local and tasty way to greet the island.


A little further on, we enjoyed ice cream (Prof. Simon has a rule on this trip: if we walk by ice cream, I’m buying!).

From there, we walked about 30 minutes south to the Tropical Research Education Center, our home for the next week.

The students’ rooms surround a central pool. After unpacking, we encouraged everyone to don snorkel gear and practice using it in the pool.

As it got dark around 6PM, we gathered in the main room for dinner, which featured local Belizean flavors: rice and beans, fried plantains, homemade tortillas, stewed chicken, as well as salad and marble cake:

The dinner was homemade, plentiful, authentically flavored, and delicious. We made sure to make good use of Marie Sharp's, the national hot sauce of Belize.

After dinner, we gathered for an orientation talk by Dr. Ken Mattes, Ph.D., who owns and runs TREC (Tropical Reef Education Center):

By this time, all of the students were exhausted from their very long day of travel. I promised that I would introduce them to Belizean night life soon, but not tonight!

Everyone is healthy and happy and ready for adventure! Stay tuned to the blog (or sign up for notifications for it is updated at the top of this page) for daily updates.

For NEC Tropical Marine Biology,

Eric J. Simon (

Friday, January 10, 2020

Day #7 - January 10th, 2020 - Punta Arenas to Santiago, Chile

Greetings from beautiful (and, where we are, warm) Chile!

We continued our investigation into the culture of Chile today by touring the town of Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the world. How far south are we? This city is the launching point for expeditions to Antarctica. (Let's go! Who's with me? Some day!)

After a lovely breakfast, we all sadly said goodbye to our nice hotel.  Today our guide Francisco and our trusted driver Pato brought us around the city of Punta Arenas to see the sights and to stimulate the local economy. We began by driving to a lookout that offered a wide view of the city and of the Strait of Magellan (which, for a century or so, made Punta Arenas one of the shipping and trade capitals of the world; that ended with the opening of the Panama Canal):

From this vantage point, the city seemed quite colorful, with many different shades of tile roofs and a lot of bright paint. We have noticed that most cities in Chile have resident dogs; they are not strays, but are registered with the city, have names, and are well cared for as they live on the street. The students are always drawn to dogs whenever we travel, because the students (and the dogs) have such good hearts!

Our next stop was the famous Cemetery of Punta Arenas. We learned of the history and culture surrounding this historic spot, and viewed many ornately decorated memorials:

The history of Punta Arenas (and much of Chile) is written across this graveyard. The tomb below, for example, is the target of protest because that family is blamed for a genocide of indigenous people:

Others are decorated with flowers and carefully tended:

It was interesting to see how many families decorated windowed crypts with photos and mementos of the deceased. It gave you much more of a sense of who they were in life compared to a typical headstone:

We left the cemetery and walked through the city to the central square, which feature a statue of Magellan:

The locals us told us that if you rub a foot on the statue, you will return to Patagonia some day:

As we walked around the city, we saw a lot of graffiti related to the current political unrest in Chile:

Our guide explained his view of the political situation. We are sure to see more of it when we head to Santiago.

We continued our tour by visiting a variety of shops to buy chocolate, locally made crafts, etc.

By popular demand, our last stop in Punta Arenas was one of this area's famous sandwich shops:

The sandwiches were meaty and filling and a perfect coda to our time in southern Chile.

We headed to the airport for our 2:45PM domestic flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago:

It is always a challenge and a chore to shepherd to many people through an airport. But, luckily, everyone in our group is patient and kind to a fault.

We landed in Santiago and were immediately struck by the heat. Several students came prepared with summer wear. We found our new driver and tour guide Terry (not his real name, but the name he uses with Americans):

As we drove through the city, Terry explained the political situation and assured us that we were always going to be in safe areas at safe times. While on the bus, we also called ahead to arrange dinner. When Terry announced to everyone that we were NOT having fish that night, a loud and enthusiastic cheer went up!

We arrived at our rather nice hotel by 7:30PM or so:

Some students quickly ran to the pool (which is fairly small and a bit cold, but quite refreshing). We gathered for our nightly 8:30PM dinner, which this evening featured a Caesar salad (the first salad we had eaten in Chile), beef and vegetables with rice, and ice cream (flavors: caramel and raspberry) for dessert:

The conversations over dinner were loud and animated, as stories were repeated and jokes repeated themselves. It was a wonderful gathering of a group that started as individuals but have fused into a cohesive travel unit.

We all went our separate ways for the night with our plans in place for our last day in Chile tomorrow. I will do my best to update the blog before we leave the country, but once we board the flight (at 11PM local time), I will not be able to update anything until we are on the bus on our way to New Hampshire. Rest assured that everyone continues to be happy and healthy and fully embracing the spirit of this adventure.

Thank you for reading, as always! And best wishes from Santiago,

Prof. Eric Simon

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Day #6 - January 9th, 2020 - Torres del Paine to Punta Arenas, Patagonia, Chile

Greetings from Punta Arenas, near the very southern tip of South America (look it up on Google maps - it's very far away from New Hampshire!).

Today our trip took a turn from the wilderness to focusing on Chilean culture. We had our usual breakfast at the hotel, then gathered to load our trusty purple bus and head out on the road by 9AM. Our hearts were all a bit heavy as we slowly rumbled out of Torres del Paine National Park, the beautiful heartland of Patagonia. We stopped along the way to take in the views one final time:

This was our last chance to be kissed by the persistent and tenacious Patagonian wind, which left its marks on all our faces:

With somewhat heavy hearts, we boarded the bus for our journey southward, away from the natural beauty of the park, but toward anticipated encounters with Chilean culture.

Everyone settled in for a total of about 6 hours on the bus today:

Along the way, we stopped to view a wide variety of wildlife:

Did you know that there are flamingos in Patagonia? I didn't!

We also stopped to watch, with considerable interest, Patagonian gauchos and their dogs (about a dozen in total) driving cattle across the plains:

After about 3 hours, we stopped in the town of Puerto Natales (where we stayed during our journey northward). Our purpose was clear: to take a break, and to stimulate the local Chilean economy! We split into groups and walked through town, visiting souvenir shops:

This area specializes in wool textiles, copper, and the mineral lapis lazuli.  Some of us stopped to sample the famous Chilean sandwiches, known for their plentiful and high-quality roasted meats:

Speaking of plentiful meat, lunch was at a traditional Chilean BBQ, where meats (most often lamb) are cooked over coals and then coarsely chopped:

In an unexpected twist, they served us salmon! It's been a bit of a running joke during this trip how often we are served salmon. Farmed salmon is very common in Chile and is the most frequent protein offered during meals; interestingly, fowl (chicken, etc.) is very rare.

After enjoying our lunch, we walked across town to a homemade gelato shop so that Prof. Simon could once again treat the class:

The gelato was great, and featured some interesting flavors (such as rose, shown above).

We climbed back into our bus for a 3 hour drive south to Punta Areas, the city where we started our adventure (and where we will be flying out tomorrow). Along the way, we learned that our hotel reservation had a problem, so our tour company rebooked us into an upgraded hotel. This turned out to be a real bonus, as we were booked into Punta Arena's swankiest hotel, called Dreams:

The students were assigned into doubles and triples (we mix up roommates at every hotel). Several of us gathered at the pool, which featured amazing views of the Strait of Magellan:

We also enjoyed the top floor lounge which featured nice views of the city:

We all met for 8:30PM dinner. Given the quality of the hotel, we were all quite excited for the meal!

The appetizer featured seared tuna, smoked salmon, and prosciutto, all in a most lovely presentation. When the entree arrived, we all had to laugh:

Apparently, when in Chile, there is no escaping the salmon! It was very well made and we all enjoyed it, despite the frequency with which we've had this fish during this trip.

Dinner was over by about 10:30PM. This far south, it is still light at this time:

This was a fun day, despite all the time in the bus. We have all come to know each other quite well and everyone gets along wonderfully. Our guides have commented upon how friendly and welcoming our group is, and I couldn't agree more.

The students have been hard at work on their travel essays, which serve as the final exam in this course. They each certainly have plenty of source material.

Everyone is happy and healthy and enjoying our trip. We look forward to our last full day in Chile tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

Prof. Eric Simon