I have lived in Belize, Central America, for eight years and for those of you who don't know it is a tiny, sparsely populated country on the Caribbean below Mexico. If you are ever lucky enough to visit or to fly over it it is amazing how little human habitation impacts the land. So despite being surrounded by tropical forests you might be surprised that I have never ventured inside the forest for an adventure. When I got the opportunity to go up to a friend's camp for the long weekend I jumped at the chance. Then I thought about bugs, spiders, scorpions and snakes, but as they say "a life lived in fear is a life half lived" so I put this to the back of my mind and started packing.
So what do you pack when you don't really know what you are letting yourself in for? Well for a start I packed my sturdy hiking boots and a good number of socks. I knew that I needed full length clothing but didn't want anything too hot. So I did that typical girly thing and packed way too much stuff.
We set out early in the morning in our black Rodeo for base camp, there was talk of hiking up there but easy does it I thought and of course I didn't want to carry my overstuffed bag. Base camp was a two sided palapa with a tarp roof and this was going to be our home for the night. We quickly set about getting a fire going, making coffee and some breakfast.
Then we began our hike, Manuel our friend, guide and ex-chiclero pointed out all the nasty vines and plants with huge prickles and spikes, so not only was it important to watch where you put your feet, you also had to make sure that you didn't grab one of these plants should you fall over. I didn't know if I could cope, I thought I would let the side down but after deciding not to mind dripping with sweat and looking like an idiot, I thought I was doing pretty well. Of course everybody else is dripping with sweat and looks like an idiot too!
Our first hike was to the top of a hill where the forest gives way to cow pasture, because of this pasture you can see for miles, over San Ignacio to the pine ridge and Maya mountains to Black Man Eddy village and Spanish lookout. The breeze is amazing especially when you are hot and sweaty.
Next up was the trek to a Maya ruin which had been rudely looted and vandalized. We think that it might have been a settlement between the bigger sites, possibly some houses and a tomb but it was just too difficult to tell and I am no Indiana Jones! It is hardly surprising that these sites are looted as the Guatemalan border is only a mile away and is marked by no more than a hard to find stone. Manuel burns any illegal camps he finds but it is an uphill battle trying to keep the border raiders at bay.
With a rumble of thunder in the distance we headed back early and decided to reach the border and the spring the next day. We made it back just in time before the heavens opened up and the storm hit us. Every time Manuel insisted that the storm was passing the rain got harder and the thunder louder, he may be a great forest man but his predictions for the weather were making me laugh.
It was time to string hammocks, scrape the thick mud off of your boots, make supper, drink rum and tell stupid stories before turning in for the night. Next day it had stopped raining and we headed for the border and the natural spring to top up our water supplies, all this done with a slight hangover from last nights rum. The walk there was easy enough because it was downhill, the walk back was so strenuous that my sturdy boots fell apart - so much for sturdy!
What is amazing is that in a short space of time I learned so much! The amount of things that you can find to eat (including some of those nasty spiky things) and vines you can cut to drink from. I don't remember the names as I was too busy trying to remember what they looked like, just in case I found myself alone in the forest. Do I think I could survive a long time in the Jungle on my own? Probably not but I would feel much more confident about being able to survive until help found me.
We saw fresh Jaguar, Gibnut and deer tracks, heard the arguments between the Howler Monkey tribes but didn't catch a glimpse probably because we were making too much noise! Also at night you can hear the Mountain Lion calls as he walks his territory.
I had a fantastic time and I think if I had more time walking around and learning about the forest I would be blown away (and a little bit fitter)!!