Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cheri and Geoff

Our last set of guests to date was Cheri and Geoff from the Yukon, who are spending three weeks in Belize to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. They spent a week with us, and are now spending two weeks kayaking and canoeing with Island Expeditions, a Canadian company that runs kayak and canoe tours throughout Belize’s mainland and on the cayes. We had been in frequent contact with them for the past month or so helping them to plan their stay here, and had a little bit of an anxiety attack when Cheri emailed a couple of days before they were supposed to arrive that she wasn’t sure if they’d be getting out since it was -40 degrees in the Yukon. Before you run to your thermometers (like I did) to see if that’s Celsius or Fahrenheit, I’ll tell you that it doesn’t matter; -40C is almost the same as -40F, and whatever you want to call it, it’s cold enough to ground planes. They managed to get out despite the cold, and arrived at the airport a little ahead of schedule where Tom met them and transported them back to the farm.

They had told us they wanted to do a lot of hiking while they were here, so we figured the best way to get them started was to send them out on the horses with Selwyn right away so they could cover a bit of ground and get a little bit of an orientation on both the area and the jungle. They visited Sapodilla Falls, and by the time they rode home they were ready to get out of the saddles. The next day was Saturday, so Tom took them into San Ignacio so they could see market day in the morning, and then in the afternoon we all took a ride up to the beautiful Big Rock Falls for a swim. Sunday they took a day trip to Tikal, which entailed a very early start, although they were back and ready to be picked up at the border at just a little after 4PM.

We had originally planned to take them to Benny’s for Belizean food that night, but that morning Tom and I had a brainstorm (despite the early hour) and decided to see if Gonzo wanted to join us for a hike to the cave Antonio, the Elijio Panti park warden, had told me about when I was riding with Mike and Stacie. We had arranged to meet Selwyn and Antonio in San Antonio early Monday morning (7:30 early, NOT 4:30 early), so instead of dinner at Benny’s on Sunday night, we picked up Gonzo in San Ignacio and all came back to the farm for a steak dinner and an early night to get ready for the hike.

I’m not sure if Antonio thought I would take him up on his offer to show me the cave so quickly, but whatever he expected, he was more than ready to show us the park. Tom and I were a little worried about hurting Selwyn’s feelings because Cheri, Geoff, and I were the tourists, and we had Antonio, the park warden, as a guide, plus Gonzo, a very experienced guide, and although he was on this trip as a spectator, it could have looked to Selwyn, our “official” guide for the hike, that we were putting him under the supervision of the big guns. Selwyn, however, took it all in stride and saw it as the opportunity it was to learn from more experienced guides even as he was doing his job as this tour’s guide and making sure Cheri and Geoff were comfortable and safe and giving them all the jungle information, one of Selwyn’s specialties, as we hiked. We figured the hike is about six miles each way, through the farm fields behind San Antonio and then through the jungle. Monday was the beginning of what turned out to be a very rainy week, although for a long hike, the drizzle was actually more pleasant than the hot sun would have been. We took a rest at the park’s visitors’ center, where Antonio told us more stories of the beings that haunt the park and the pranks they’ve pulled on his family, and then hiked up to the base camp set up near the mouth of the cave. We took a break and had a snack, and then headed into the cave.

The cave is huge. It has multiple entrances to different rooms, although the passage to the main part of the cave is fairly small and is smaller because the Maya had built a wall to block it. Antonio knows his way through the cave, and has been there enough times to show us lots of interesting things – where the pottery “trash piles” are, stones that were polished by the Maya, burial sites, and geologic features of the cave. We were also glad Gonzo was able to join us, since he put his archeological knowledge to use and found lots of fascinating things Antonio hadn’t noticed before, such as rock formations modified by the Maya, which weren’t clear until Gonzo pointed them out because while we aren’t quite sure what they are supposed to be, the same shape appeared in three or four formations, and it is too much the same to be a coincidence of nature. He also found charcoal writing on the walls and some of the formations, bones and teeth in the burial site, stairs carved out of the rocks indicating the path the Maya used through the cave, and carvings in the large rock at the entrance to the cave. We turned what Antonio says is usually a one hour tour through the cave into a two hour plus tour, but we were all fascinated by the learning investigation. We finally decided that we have to go back, camp for a night, and spend a couple of days in the cave, minus Cheri and Geoff, unfortunately, and that intention finally got us out of the cave and back to the base camp where we had lunch before hiking six miles out and back to Tinkerbell parked at Selwyn’s house. We all came back to the farm to shed our wet clothes and warm up with showers, then headed into Succotz for the dinner at Benny’s that had been planned for the night before – much hungrier than we would have been if we’d had the early dinner on the way home from Tikal.

Tuesday was another drippy day, but Cheri and Geoff made the best of it by taking a hike around our property with Selwyn in the morning, and then visiting Barton Creek Cave in the afternoon. On Wednesday they toured Caracol, and stayed mostly dry despite occasional drizzle. They were scheduled to meet their Island Expeditions group at the Zoo’s TEC Thursday afternoon and had planned to go hike at St. Herman’s Cave and see the Inland Blue Hole, but because of the rain that was abbreviated to a tour of Belmopan and a search for a machete and sheath for Geoff to take home to clear land in the Yukon, and an early drop off at the Zoo for the day time tour. It’s continued to rain for the past two days, so we’re hoping that Cheri and Geoff are staying relatively dry and warm…although whatever the weather, it must be better than -40!


richies said...

WOW! I would sure love to have you guys show me around. I want to come visit Belize again, but like many our finances are in bad shape. We are hoping to be able to make it in 2010. We better start saving.

An Arkie's Musings

MoonracerFarm said...

That's the joy of being small! We can do things off the beaten track without having to worry about how to accommodate too many people.

Terdal Farm said...

I love the food at Benny's in Succotz.
I have also been with Antonio to the cave. It is very special. As far as I know, you are the only resort that can arrange a visit there.
If you have photos of it, please share, but please do not share GPS--it should stay a secret!

MoonracerFarm said...

Erik - I didn't even think to take the camera the day we went to the cave, but will try to remember it the next time we go. And re the GPS - don't worry, we forget that even more frequently than we forget the camera. One of our grand intentions is to set all the trail intersections as way points in case we get adventurous hikers who want to go out on their own (and we want to be as certain as possible that they won't get lost), but we always realize we've left the GPS behind when we hit the first intersection.

Re the cave, it is very special. I think it will stay a secret because I can't imagine anyone even wanting to go into it without a guide. Even the guides with us said they didn't want to return without Antonio!