Day 10: Blancaneaux Lodge, Belize
This morning we woke up at our lesiure. With nothing that HAD to be done today, it was nice to be able to relax. Nathan and Tracy headed up to the vehicles and found Craig cleaning out his D90. Evidently, 5,000 miles (Craig’s trip started all the way in Berkley, CA) of dust and road grime had begun to pile up on his rig. Tracy did a quick cleaning in Camel as well. Other than us, the parking lot was essentially empty. Most of the group had woken up early and went down to visit the Caracol ruins.
Since Anne, Craig’s “esposa,” and Tracy’s parents decided to stay at the lodge and relax for the day, Craig, Tracy and Nathan decided to go explore the jungle trails and maybe find a bit of mud along the way.
On the way out of the lodge, Craig and Nathan decided to have a look at Blancaneaux’s ex-Camel Trophy Discovery. Seeing a genuine Camel trophy truck is a rarity so the boys took tons of photos to show whoever cares at home or to bore their friends and relatives. “Look hon, remember when we saw THIS rover?!?”
We decided to head south towards an abandoned mining camp called Millionario, as we had heard from a few people that that was where the elusive mud was. Elusive because, although Belize was officially in the middle of its rainy season, there had been very little rain to speak of.
We headed past Douglas de Silva and along the way hit some scattered rain storms. Eventually we came upon a really cool single lane bridge crossing a rather wide river. On one side of the river, the hills were covered with pine trees, while the other side was dominated by lush palms and tropical trees.
Just on the other side of the bridge there was a side road that climbed up the side of a hill. There were deep washouts in the road from past rains and it gave us a good chance to test out the articulation on the trucks. Unfortunately, this road abruptly ended at a group of thatched huts, so we had to turn back to the main road.
On down the road we continued. Although the original intention of the trip was off-roading, we enjoyed the splendors of the jungle. Past the turn off to Caracol, the area is rarely traveled, and thus we saw some cool flora and fauna. Huge palm trees grew beside the road with fronds that were easily fifteen feet long. At one photo stop, we even saw a pair of parrots fly across the sky.
Further down the road, the grass became thicker, trees grew closer and the track less traveled. Suddenly our antennae and Jack fell off. We jumped out to rescue him only to find that that he had fallen into a puddle. We couldn’t help but think of those Jack In The Box TV ads where the dilapidated antennae ball asks for a replacement.
The further down the track we went, the denser the jungle became. We hadn’t seen another vehicle in hours and it felt like we had the jungle to ourselves until we rounded a corner of the forest to a very suprising sight. A sign declaring that we had reached the Natural History Museum of London’s Las Cuevas Forest Research station. We drove around beside the building and parked next to their work truck, a 300 Tdi Defender 110. Out from the building walked a pair of scientists speaking the “King’s English.”
They informed us that they rarely got visitors and were impressed at the distance we had covered to get to Belize. They then invited us in for a cup of tea. While the kettle was brewing they showed us around the station and gave us a look at some of the work they were doing. They were collecting specimens of jungle rodents and bats to send back home, as well as doing population counts of Jaguars and indigenous tree frogs. We took tea out on their veranda and talked of things near and abroad.
We told them that we came down to Las Cuevas to find a trail called Monkey Tail. We had heard that this elusive trail was the most likely place to find mud and, with its remote location, jungle wildlife. We were informed that unfortunately Monkey Tail was closed down because they were doing a wildlife study there but that they had begun the study just that morning. Had we called ahead they would have put it off another day. We chuckled at this information as we’d had no idea that we’d stumble upon this research station when we started out.
After hanging out with our unexpected hosts, it was eventually time to head back to the lodge. On the way back to our vehicles, Nathan remembered that some of the scientists had mentioned they were here from the University of Edinburg in Scotland. Nathan casually asked if they liked IRN-BRU, an obsucre carbonated orange drink available only in the UK. They responded with an enthusiastic “Of course! It’s the perfect cure for a hangover, you know.” A humorous response, because that’s what we’d heard from other Scots when we traveled there 2 years earlier. Nathan’s a huge fan of the stuff, and it just so happened that he had a two liter bottle of it that his brother Dustin brought back from a recent trip to Ireland. Deciding that they would appreciate it far more than he would, given their locale, he gave them the bottle. We’ve honestly never seen someone so excited over a soft drink before … We think it was a welcome taste of home, halfway ’round the world.
Just as we were loading up into our Rovers, we heard a bird call out, and one of the researchers pointed to a pair of huge Scarlet Macaws flying gracefully above the trees, a rare sighting indeed. A lovely ending to an exciting visit.
Heading back to the lodge, we discovered that it had rained over parts of the road and turned stretches into that elusive mud we had been seeking all day. Just before re-crossing the stone bridge we saw a huge British Bedford military truck parked in the middle of the road. Curious, we called out to see if anyone was nearby. Hearing no reply, we rounded the corner only to find a platoon of British soldiers teaching the Belizean Army boat patrol techniques in the river. Although we wanted to get a picture, a soldier came over and politely, but firmly, informed us that there was to be no picture taking of the soldiers.
Despite the photo moratorium, we were allowed to snap off a couple of pictures of a crocodile which was in a pool next to the bridge. This croc was only about four to five feet in length, but the soldier informed us that a group of crocodiles lived just around the bend in the river, and those crocs were upwards of fifteen feet in length. We sure didn’t envy the soldiers in the water.
We continued on down the road until Camel’s fuel light came on. No big deal, we just pulled down one of the jerry can’s filled with good US fuel in it and began to siphon it into the Disco. While doing this, a ranger from Caracol Park pulled up in his MOT (Ministry of Tourism) 110. He told us that he was heading up the road to Douglas de Silva for a cold beer. Evidently, at an hour and a half drive each way, it was the closest cold beer to Caracol. Craig asked him about the Tdi motor in his 110, and the ranger generously let Craig take it for a quick drive while Nathan finished refueling Camel.
When we returned to the lodge we all went to the restaurant for a nice dinner. Blancaneaux has some excellent food and is renowned in Belize for it’s Italian cuisine. The owner, reknowned movie director Francis Ford Coppola, had a brick pizza oven brought over from Italy for his kitchen, and being the only one of it’s kind in Central America it generates some great pizza. After dinner, a few of us went to look at a Pinnochio water fountain next to the lodge’s croquet field. We had been hearing loud frog croaks coming from there for the past two nights so we decided to investigate. What we found was incredible. There had to have been four or five different species of frogs there, ranging from one species that looked like an american bull frog, to a brilliantly colored orange and yellow tree frog. Craig also noticed a small bright orange snake hiding in the rocks that was probably waiting to sneak up on a frog for dinner.
After the little frog trip, it was time to bed down for the night. We don’t have any real plans for tomorrow, and that’s kind of nice. It will be our last day in Belize before we start the marathon trip back home.