Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jungle Hiking/Horseback Riding/Caving/Camping

After my intro to my excursion in my previous post (yes, they are rare, but I am not a very fast typist compared to Marge), you by now know that I went camping in the Elijio Panti National Park (EPNP). Marge went a few weeks ago with our previous guests, Cheri and Geoff, as well as Selwyn, Gonzo, and Antonio Mai, the Park Warden.

Selwyn, Marge, and I had been talking about new and different things for guests to do at the lunch table and we are working on providing a unique adventure to those tourists who are physically fit enough to hike through seldom visited yet maintained park trails and scramble through some caves. While admiring the beauty as well as maintaining the sanctity of the caves, we see the caves here in Belize as both natural wonders for their formations, and cultural places of worship that were used by the Mayans (from over 2000 years ago, up through current times). We all decided that the hike to the caves and back from San Antonio was a bit too far if you wanted to spend more than about 2 hours in the cave. So, we needed to come up with an overnight option; and we decided that Selwyn and I could work out some of the details by doing a “pre-tourist” trial run.

The day before we left, Marge spent a bunch of time in the kitchen putting together meals for Selwyn, Antonio Mai – the Park Warden, and me. She decided that she would cook for all three of us to make sure we had enough to eat (that is SO Marge, nobody can be hungry). I packed up on Thursday evening so that I could just head out the door first thing on Friday morning. I packed all the food in my pack, and figured I could just hoof it all in without much problem.

Friday morning dawned, a beautiful sunny morning. I drove to Selwyn’s house, got out of the truck and was immediately greeted by all the kids, like usual.
They all wanted to see what I had, since they had not seen my backpack before – and they LOVE bags of all types. So, what else could I do but take a picture of them all before we headed out to the jungle.

Selwyn and I walked over to Antonio’s house, and found that Antonio was packing up his horse. Antonio had been out in the park on foot the entire day before and said he wanted to ride instead of walk. I said to Selwyn, “Why aren’t we on horses? What are we thinking, we both LOVE to ride.” since I was carrying a bit more weight than I really wanted to. Well, we wanted to see how it would go hiking in with packs anyway, so off we went.

We rounded our first corner, only about 100 yards, and Antonio asked us if we wanted to have him carry any of our stuff on his horse.
Selwyn immediately said ok and handed his pack to Antonio, which he strapped onto the saddle horn. Around another corner we went to start heading out the back end of San Antonio and Emir, Selwyn’s friend and Antonio’s nephew hailed us from his yard. As we were walking, the three of them were going back and forth in Creole and Spanish but I understood that Selwyn and Antonio were trying to get Emir to come along on his horse, but I didn’t understand what the final decision was

It was a beautifully sunny morning.
But, being the gringo that I am (I do like the cold), I was sweating profusely but it felt great; healthy exercise and in the jungle, you just can’t beat it.

We stopped for a short break for the horse at the visitor’s center at the edge of the park.
Trek Force had built a nice cabin complete with flush toilets for the public to use. What I didn’t realize, we were actually waiting for Emir, since I didn’t understand all the Spanish, Creole, and Mayan as we went by Emir’s property. After a few minutes, up gallops Emir on his horse and pulls up while we got ready to go again. Emir offered to carry my pack on his saddle, similar to the way Antonio was carrying Selwyn’s, so I handed him my pack and told him to hook it on with the shoulder straps, not the handle at the top. As he did this, and I let go of the pack, the saddle started to slide around the horse due to the weight. I caught the pack and Emir righted himself while everyone was laughing.
I then explained that he should WEAR the pack, to keep the balance on the horse, and helped him adjust the straps so the weight was on the horse, not on Emir. So, off we went, I feeling about 70 pounds lighter!

After about 6 miles we arrived at the base camp for the cave, we dropped packs, tied horses and headed up the hill for the cave. Now for the real adventure, heading into caves that very few people have been in before (well, at least in current times).

I took camera, headlamps, water bottles and we all took a ton of enthusiasm; up the hill a little farther. As we got close to the cave, we all smeared copal on our hands as a ritual required by the Mayans prior to entering the cave. For me, it also reminded me to be careful and thoughtful of everything that I touch in the cave. These are sacred burial grounds and offerings were made to the gods for rain, sunshine, harvests, strength of the community, fertility, etc.

As we were entering we viewed the artifacts and carvings from the Mayans. The carvings are too faint to get a good picture but there is a
view to another cave in a distant hill/mountain by lining up 2 holes in the rock face.

Entering the Cave of Offerings is not a stroll in the park.
For this cave you really need to be limber and agile. It always amazes me that the Mayans could enter the caves, make offerings, and carry these huge pots,
intact into the caves as offerings.
The pots were broken after they were carried into the cave to release the spirits (of the pots) as offerings.

We use headlamps and can directly light our paths but I can’t even image trying to climb around in this cave using torches or other types of fire to light my way.

There were lots of pots, tight pathways, bones, and hidden rooms in the cave. We could have spent the entire day in the cave learning about how to just get from room to room, let alone look at all the artifacts that were left behind by the Mayans.
But, we had to remember that we only had enough batteries for a limited amount of time (doubled since I packed in spare batteries for everyone), and we had to get out during daylight so that we could set up our camp before dark.

After exiting the cave and getting our eyes adjusted back to regular daylight, we ventured back down the hill to set up camp. I set up our backpacking tent we got for a wedding present almost 25 years ago,
Emir, Selwyn, and Antonio had jungle hammocks. For one person, the hammocks are ideal, they are easy to setup and you are completely off the ground.

After I set up my tent Antonio said I was going to get carried away in the night by a tapir (the national mammal, locally known as the mountain cow) since I was right at the end of one of their trails. I laughed it off as a joke and said “Nothing is going to carry me away, I have my machete with me.” However, in the middle of the night,
a mole came up under the floor of the tent, bumped me in the head to wake me up, then proceeded to go around to my side and keep running in my arm trying to figure out how to join me in the tent – I now see why
hammocks are the preferred abode for camping in the jungle – stay off the jungle floor at night if at all possible. I kept striking at it with my left hand while I was trying to find my flashlight with my right. In my mind, I was thinking “I could just get out my machete and end this right now, but what about the floor of the tent for the next trip?” After about 2 minutes of flailing about, the little critter scurried away, ran under Selwyn’s hammock and then off into the bush.

Early in the morning, we all awoke to very light rain. However, this did not dampen our spirits to have a nice breakfast, complete with granola (from Marge),
tea, and muffins. We then broke camp, and were on trail at 8am. It was drizzling, about 60 degrees, and Emir was cold since he had not been planning on spending the night, so I gave him one of my 3 t-shirts I was wearing, so I only had a short sleeved t-shirt and a long sleeved t-shirt for hiking out.

We were completely soaked within ½ hour of hiking.
We turned onto the shortcut trail and Selwyn and I started chopping a bit to enable Emir and Antonio to ride through without knocking into ALL the trees and making more rain fall on themselves as we made our way out.

We stopped at another cave hidden in the jungle that Antonio had just found out about. There was no real trail to the cave off the regular trail. We just made our way through the bush looking for a chop here, a knick in a log there to point the way. Emir decided to forego the second cave tour though and ride home since he was freezing, so he dropped my pack and galloped the rest of the way home.

Selwyn, Antonio, and I toured the cave, which was smaller than the other cave but still interesting with some pots and artifacts. The terrain in the cave was very easy to negotiate, the cave being much smaller than the other cave. There were pot shards and cave formations that made the side trip well worth the detour.

When we got back onto the main trail, Selwyn and I carried out packs all the way back to town in the rain. We had sticky mud from the farm road we were hiking on weighing down our boots, and as we got closer to town, felt like we were wearing weight boots for walking on the moon!

As we got to town, the rain started breaking up. We were all a bit chilled and wet but we had a great trip. Now we just have to work out some details to be able to put it together for guests. Like I said before, “Man, this job is tough, but someone has to do it!”


Sandy A. said...

wow that sounds like a blast! I've only camped in the jungle once in Belize and it was way fun!

Anne said...

It sounds like quite and adventure. It sounds like Moonracer Farm Lodging and Resort would be a great place to stay if we visit Belize