Monday, August 24, 2009

Off Campus

Getting off the resort, as we did today, was marvelously refreshing for the spirit and the soul.

The main destination for the day was tubing at Crystal Cave near the Caves Branch River, but to get there we had to backtrack along the Western Highway, much of which we “missed,” having driven most of the way to Chaa Creek in darkness.

In daytime, it was a wonderful journey, particularly the stretch between San Ignacio and Belmopan, passing through towns with names like Blackman Eddy and Teakettle and Esperanza. It was the first day of the school year, and so children in their fresh, light blue uniforms dotted the highway, almost like ants in a chain. Roadside fruit stands were everywhere in evidence, and the Amish and Mennonite farmers were riding their horse-drawn carts from Spanish Lookout to town. Underneath the typical Belizean houses, made of wood and high off the ground, were laundry lines, horses, and old cars, while people congregated on the porches above.

Our driver for the day was a wonderful older man, a retired Justice of the Peace from Santa Elena. As we passed by his house, after crossing the small suspension bridge between San Ignacio and Santa Elena, he pointed with pride at his 1950-60 era Ford which he had driven to the United States and back three times.

As we got closer to Jaguar Paw, the jumping off point for our cave explorations, the jungle got much denser, and what stood out the most for me was the amazing number of different flowers growing everywhere. Birds of Paradise, orchids, and every manner and color of blooms surrounded us. And where there wasn’t jungle, there were fields of corn and pineapples and teak trees, and pastures filled with Brahmin bulls, cows, horses, and chickens.

Arriving at Jaguar Paw, we met Rick, our guide for the cave exploration. A wet and sometimes treacherous path took us inside of the cave, and first we sat and listened to Rick tell us the history of Belize – not just modern Belize, and nor just Mayan Belize, but prehistoric Belize as well. Particularly engrossing was his story-telling of the British pirates, and the battles with the Spanish; sitting inside the cave, listening to him talk, was like being in a real life Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

And the cave was spectacular; the stalagmites and stalagtites were huge, and glittered from the quartz contained inside them. The water was crystal clear and cool, and everywhere our lights shown, were bats – thousands of bats hanging on the walls and the roof of the cave, flying overhead and swooping to catch a meal of the bugs attracted by our headlamps, and pouring in and out of small holes in caves. When we got off the tubes, we wandered for a bit, finding (like so many before us) fragments and pieces of Mayan pottery of different centuries.

After our cave experience, we had a late lunch at Jaguar Paw, and then headed back to Chaa Creek. Ellery slept much of the way, but I managed to wake her up to see my finds of the day … the first siting of a roseate spoonbill near Chaa Creek and, more importantly, the elusive toucan!