The people cage inside the jaguar enclosure.

It’s been a great week! My friend C.L. from California came to visit last Thursday and stayed for five days. She’s the first friend that’s come to stay for any length of time that wasn’t on a half-day excursion off of a cruise ship. She actually bought a plane ticket just to see us and our new life “overseas.” So she gets our First Foreign Service Visitor (Friend) Award. Friend is a subcategory, since my mom was the first to officially visit us. And N’s mom flew in on Wednesday.

We had a great time. I’m starting to come up with a good visitor itinerary. A co-worker said that you become an excellent tour guide while in the FS, and I can see how that would happen. C.L. arrived on Thursday afternoon, so we just chilled for the rest of the day, and she got to see the housing compound and meet the baby. I was still pregnant during our last visit.

Friday we puttered around town, went to the farmer’s market, had lunch under a palapa, went swimming and laid out by the pool. Saturday we went to lunch again at a little resort in San Ignacio with a great view over the valley, and then out to the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich.

The next day we went to the Belize Zoo and tried out their Jaguar Encounter. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it. It’s $50 USD per cage, and a cage can hold 1-5 people. C.L. and I were the only ones in our cage plus a jaguar handler. And the whole experience probably lasted about 10 minutes.

The Belize Zoo has around 14 jaguars…most of them they’ve saved from farmers that had targeted them after losing livestock. Only three of them are “on display.” And you can only get up close and personal with one…his name is Junior Buddy. He was raised in the zoo and is somewhat tame from a wild animal perspective. But they’re still not crazy enough to let you loose in a jaguar enclosure. So they have a nice little cage inside his spacious pen that you get to sit in, and he gets to come check YOU out.

The handler brought in a little container of raw chicken feet. They were audibly crunchy when Junior Buddy ate them, which encouraged us to keep our fingers inside the cage. But we got to see him do a couple somersaults, rub up against the cage, then jump on top of it where he paced around above us, licked our foreheads and let us play with his paws. It was pretty amazing! And he was just beautiful.

Monday we drove to Belize City and went diving out on the barrier reef. It was just me, my hubby , C.L. and the dive guide, so it felt like a personal tour of the underwater world. C.L. was excited as this was the first time she’d been diving since we were certified together way back when. And my hubby was looking forward to doing his part in ridding the reef of the invasive lionfish. Unfortunately, C.L. is a vegetarian and was just this side of horrified each time my hubby proudly speared a lionfish. Happily, he was gracious enough to forgo the hunting expedition on the second dive, so we didn’t ruin it for her completely.

It was turning out to be a rough day for the animals though. On our way into Belize City that morning, we were all thrilled to see our first Belizean coatimundi in the wild as it gracefully loped across the road…and was promptly run over by the car in front of us.