Belize in JanuaryAuthor: Paul (More Trip Reviews by Paul)
Date of Trip: January 2008
All too soon, Ronnie pulls in with the new guests and we start the return trip back to Placencia. The sea is still choppy so I pull two PFD's out of the storage locker and keep them close to our seats, just in case. Within a quarter mile all three of us are soaked. The boat is taking a bit of a pounding, almost leaving the water as it crests a few of the larger waves. I would estimate that they are about six to seven feet. Ronnie is excellent with the boat; judicious use of the throttle and tiller and we slide up and down the waves, almost sideways but always heading for shore. Instead of bringing us back to the cabana, we head up the lagoon to Ronnie's office. Development in the lagoon is going full speed; large shovels and earthmovers are dredging out muck and piling in long jetty type works for new houses. The natural landscape will be changing to retaining walls and manicured lawns. Ronny explains that the development is now in the lagoon because the ocean side is packed and much too expensive. We chat with him a few minutes about what this will do to local economy and the native people who live here. He replies "it's progress I guess, just look it up in the dictionary for what it says".
After picking up our spare luggage and packing the car we set out for Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve. The road out seems a bit better but in reality is still the same bumpy ride it was a few days ago. At the turnoff to the preserve we stop at the small building and purchase tickets for $10BZ each. These will let us in the preserve. The lady at the counter warns us that if we plan to stay overnight there is no place to eat or purchase supplies. A small groceteria is just down the road and we pick up some eggs and canned beans to supplement what we already have.
The access road worries me a bit. Rain has been heavy lately, leaves, branches and sometimes whole trees lay across the road and small washouts abound on all the hills. The tiny car scrapes bottom on the road and trees as we descend into the basin. This is also a worry; if the hills are muddy on the return we may have traction problems. This is where a vehicle with more ground clearance and bigger tires would be nice.
After six miles of this jungle road we come to the main complex of sanctuary buildings. The place is almost deserted. The staff is just about to pack up and leave, we will be the only ones here to spend the night save one staff member. He shows us our room in what I call the bunkhouse, a long wood building with perhaps ten rooms of three sets of bunk beds each. We take the room closest to the washroom. Humidity has taken its toll on the building, it sags in the middle and some floor boards are rotten, we know here not to step just by looking at the gaps. We are shown the communal kitchen and how to use the propane stove then he leaves us on our own.
Afternoon and early evening are spent exploring the grounds and the first few yards of the many hiking trails. Dusk comes early here because of the large trees blocking the sun. We sit on the bunkhouse steps and watch all the wildlife; a hawk like bird watching for prey in the yard, birds of orange, purple and black flying about and bats with their distinctive wing motion after insects. There is also a large vulture like bird in a tree at the edge of the clearing that never moves the whole time we are there. Leaf cutter, or wee wee ants as the locals call them, have made trails at one end of the clearing. Thousands of ants in single file march out and back in ordered lines, outward bound searching for food, inward bound carrying pieces of green larger than they are.
As dusk turns to twilight and then evening, the forest comes alive. Night sounds abound. Leaves rustle a few feet from where we sit. Birds call and monkeys howl in the distance. Noises increase as darkness falls, especially in the nearby undergrowth. We both realize that night and imagination will increase the size of any nocturnal sounds but we both decide to vacate the steps and sit back on the bench under the veranda.
A very plain supper of pasta and canned tuna is prepared in the communal kitchen. The place is huge; it can probably seat sixty students and looks empty with just the two of us there. The only company we have are the large mice or small rats that scamper about the floor and through the kitchen. The beans we purchased that afternoon were totally inedible and end up in the garbage.
After supper dishes are cleaned we sit on the porch again, mosquito coils smouldering at our feet, and listen to the night again.
Saturday January 26
Both of us are up early. The air is damp and fog wreaths the trees. Coffee is made on the veranda steps and we have a breakfast of power bars and grapefruit. Dallas goes for a walk and calls me to her after just a minute or so. She has spotted two large wild pigs rooting in the vegetation. We think these can be dangerous so we keep our distance and do not disturb them. They are female, I think, because they lack tusks. We dress for our morning hike and what we expect of the conditions; quick dry nylon shirt and pants, hiking boots with socks over pant cuffs and insect repellent. Humidity is high; all our clothes in the suitcases are damp.
Ours is still the only car in the parking lot; we will have the whole preserve to ourselves.
The trail starts off fairly wide; it is after all an old logging road, but narrows to just a few feet. Slick mud and roots abound. Humidity must be close to 100%. All our clothes stick to us in a matter of minutes. This area had been logged out sometime in the seventies but growth is once again thick. Moisture is falling from the upper branches and leaves, animals are making noises as they travel about and birds cry incessantly. It is jungle once again. Dallas is in the front and pauses when something large rustles through the underbrush, neither of can see what is making the noise. Just a few feet further up the trail we spot a large jaguar print, fresh in the mud, larger than the palm of my hand. It is fascinating but we don't know whether to be scared or not.
We continue on the trail, now getting steep and more difficult. The park has placed many signs here so we are never worried about getting lost. Eventually we can hear a river or brook to our left and soon discover a small waterfall and pool. Being so hot and humid we do not waste any time to strip down and swim naked in the cool refreshing water.
The trails continue but we do not go any further. Another trail with a downed airplane is our other diversion before we leave. Just before we spot the plane a helicopter beats a noisy path overhead. I cannot help it as I am drawn back by memory to my military days of helicopter deployment and also a particular movie of an alien who hunts humans in jungle for sport. These next few minutes are uncannily eerie.
After completing our hike we one again drive north on the Hummingbird Highway. Another stop at the Top Of The Hill restaurant for a nice lunch finds us only a short distance from Ian Anderson's Jungle Lodge. We decide to stay for the night and book a caving tour for tomorrow. This is an upscale resort with pricy tree house cabanas and some not so pricy ones overlooking Caves Branch River. Ian has a real gold mine here and is quite the showman when he speaks to the after dinner crowd. Most of the clientele think they are in a jungle environment and are awed by Ian's talk about dangerous snakes, scorpions and animals. To Dallas and me, the whole place has a manicured and fashionable look and feel.
Our cabana is one of the old ones but it does have an attached toilet. The outdoor, palm thatched shower is down a gravel trail to the side. Even the shower is made to look more rustic than it is.
Supper is buffet style and quite good. We do not stay up late.
Sunday January 27
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