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Doughnuts and Crocs at Lamanai

It’s midnight and I’m sweaty.

I’m sat outside my wooden lagoon front “sauna” on a deck that’s being assaulted by a screaming rainforest. Something, probably with fangs and red glowing eyes is scratching away beneath my veranda and whatever is dropping from the overhead grass palapa roof has finally perfected it’s aim and has zeroed in on my head. Welcome to Lamanai, a lagoon-front lodge in the Orange Walk district of Belize, only accessible by boat.

As you’ve probably guessed, this is not a place for those who don’t embrace nature in all her myriad of scuttling and fluttering forms. But it is a showcase for Belize’s flora and fauna and I’m still shaking with excitement having just jumped off a “fan-boat” night time crocodile tagging trip of the wetlands surrounding the lagoon.

Lamanai Lodge participates in a research and conservation program to help protect the Morelet’s Crocodile, a freshwater crocodilian that lives primarily off large lake snails. George and Pal are the resident croc catchers, a double act who clearly love their job and revel in entertaining as they educate. We board an aluminium-hulled contraption with a huge Everglades style fan. This is not a silent excursion and we set off wearing ear protectors into the darkness. Apparently, crocodiles sense the vibrations and noise of an outboard engine more acutely than our massive hair-dryer!

We eventually catch and electronically tag a foot long Infant. The information is filed and we learn a lot about the creature and the research program. Mission has been accomplished. It’s an extraordinary experience to hold a young croc and help with the research, but the thrills don’t end there.

Above the action, the sky hangs still. It’s cloudless evening and the night sky is a canopy of textbook star constellations.

Sensitive environmental work done, baseball caps are reversed, George revs the engine and demonstrates exactly what his fan powered boat is capable of, pulling full throttle donuts in the lagoon and racing through narrow marsh canals at breakneck speeds. He cuts the engine, turns off all spotlights and asks which way to the lodge. I, of course, point in completely the wrong direction. I fail to understand how George magically knows where we are, given the general pitch blackness and lack of any landmarks, but apparently, living in Lamanai village all your life helps. That and some joo-joo.

And so I’m back at the lodge enjoying the cacophony of a rainforest at night. Turning out time in Cirencester is tranquil by comparison. The Mayan archaeological site, ruins of colonial sugar mills and early Spanish churches are to be visited in the morning. Meantime, I’m retreating to my room and handing over my deck to the creatures of the night.