Sunday, April 8, 2007

Caracol with the neighbors

We were up and just about ready to go around 8:00 on Saturday morning when Tom walked next door to see what time we were supposed to leave. He trotted back a few minutes later, and said we were leaving in 20 minutes, which threw me into a tizzy as I finished cleaning up our breakfast and started throwing things in our bag and cooler for lunch and for our stop at Rio On pools for a swim on the way home from Caracol. We had planned to take some green coconuts so we could drink the water from them for our lunch, and we ditched that plan, but other than that we were down the driveway in Tinkerbell the bus to pick everybody up in front of their houses, and we didn’t forget anything. Eleven of them were going: Marta, and four of her six children, Ofelia, Iris, Marixa, and Zulmi; Damion, Olmi, and their two children Wilton and Daisy; and George and Ronald, brothers of Marta and Damion. We drove because our truck is bigger, so George and Ronald pulled the benches out of the back of Damion’s truck so the men and the bigger kids could ride in back, we loaded up the food, and headed up the hill.

The entrance to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Preserve is about a mile up the road from our driveway, and you have to pass through a gate to enter the preserve. The guard at the gate asks where you are going, and if you are planning to return that day, he takes note of the vehicle and the number of passengers in the vehicle, so at the end of the day they can make sure that everyone who was planning to leave the Preserve at the end of the day makes it out. They do this for two reasons. First, many people go into the preserve for a day of hiking, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, caving, or to tour Caracol, and they want to make sure that nobody is lost in the jungle at the end of the day. Second, there was a problem last year where banditos from Guatemala were coming over the border and holding up vehicles coming out of Caracol – which is the end of the road and very close to the Guatemala border – and stealing money, cameras, jewelry, and anything else of value that could be sold. Not everybody going up the road plans to leave at the end of the day since many travelers are tourists planning to stay at one of the resorts in the Preserve, but there are enough day trippers that the Belize government thinks it is worth it to track them.

Our first laugh of the day happened at this gate when the guard asked how many of us were in the truck. Three of us took a count and came up with three different numbers. We counted again, and still came up with three numbers, and all three of us were giving them to the guard in both English and Spanish. The guard finally laughed and just took the middle number – which happened to be the right one – and we were on our way up the hill. The reason we had to leave so early was that due to the banditos in the spring, the Belize Defense Force now provides an armed military escort to vehicles heading to Caracol. They obviously can’t provide an escort for every vehicle heading up the road, so they do a convoy run up at 9:30 am, and then bring the convoy back down at 2:00. Each vehicle has to sign in at the office where the convoy meets and note the number of passengers, and then they must sign out when they return. We had heard about this, and some people had said it was a little intimidating, but besides making the scheduling of the trip a little less flexible, it really didn’t bother us except for a brief moment of panic when we were lining up to leave and one of the buses had a flat tire. As we watched them put the people on the bus – a big school bus – and then get them off, and then start discussing what to do, we had visions of sitting in line until 5:00 and coming home in the dark, but then they decided to send the convoy down the mountain and just keep one BDF soldier with the bus to protect it on the way home.

We had a great day at Caracol, and really enjoyed visiting it with people who may have had ancestors living there, and who knew a lot about the history of the ruined city and the Mayan civilizations. It was also fun to visit it with kids, from Zulmi, who is about 2 ½, on up. Tom got to race the teenaged boys – George, Ronald, and Wilton – up and down the temples, and actually held his own, although I think the boys may have made a few trips up and down more than Tom. Zulmi had the eyes and hands of every adult on her at the tops of the temples, so she had no chance of getting too close to the edges. We were all laughing at 14-year old Iris, who was sunning herself on the big root of a tree, and everyone in her family was telling her she was a Wish Willie, which is what they call one of the iguana-like lizards in the area. We toured the entire site, which had been cleaned up some since Tom and I were there two years ago, and a lot since everybody else was there seven years ago, and headed out for our picnic lunch before heading down the hill with the convoy.

The picnic pavilion was already full when we left the ruins, but they’re building another pavilion near the visitors’ center, although it doesn’t have any tables. No matter; the guys pulled the benches out of the back of the truck and we found a corner where we could sit on the window ledges, and we made a square and set out the picnic of – what else? – chicken, rice, and beans, coleslaw, juice, bread pudding squares, and pumpkin bread. We all ate enough that when we were in the truck heading back down the very bumpy road with the convoy, Zulmi had a few of the older kids and adults joining her for her nap.

We stopped at the Rio On Pools on the way back. Everybody put on bathing suits or shorts and t-shirts and went in the water. I was about the biggest chicken, since I only went in up to my shorts. I think I’m really acclimating to the temperatures here, because I was cold because it was a little overcast and only about 80 degrees, and the river water is a little chilly. That didn’t prevent anybody else from getting in and swimming, although there were a few sets of blue lips and chattering teeth when everybody got out and got ready to go. We got home around five, and when we went to bed at 9:30, exhausted but happy, it had already been a good hour since we’d heard any signs of life from next door. Tom and I can't even begin to say how thankful and grateful we are that they included us in their family weekend plans!

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