La Ruta Maya – Day 9

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Day 9: Blancaneaux Lodge, Belize

Today was a great day. Compared to the hectic pace of the last week, we practically did nothing at all. We came into Belize with a huge list of things we wanted to do in the few short days we had. Upon arriving however, we realized that doing absolutely nothing is really nice too. After waking up late and eating a continental breakfast with johnny cakes, a bread not unlike sopapillas, a few of us decided that we wanted to go on a canoeing trip into a Mayan burial cave.

This tour is normally offered by the lodge, but because we decided on such short notice, they said we could just drive down there ourselves and use the hotel canoes. Since there are always guides in the area they suggested we just hire whomever we found down there. With that, eight of us (the Bibbs, Nance’s, Donaldson’s and Nathan) piled into our Land Rovers and drove down to Barton Creek. Due to “technical difficulties” it took us a while to find the side road (the oblique directions were “On the road, look for a christmas tree and take a right”), but once we did it made for a fun drive. The road wound around the hills and through the jungle, it even had a fun little river crossing.

Upon arrival, we found a guide named David who said he knew where the lodge canoes were and that he would meet us up the river where he would launch them. We parked our vehicles in a field about 1/4 mile down the road. Next to our impromptu parking area (the ground was well packed down from previous vehicles) there was nothing more than a hut and some campers just hanging out. We got out of our Rovers and sure enough, there was David with three empty canoes waiting and two already filled with other people. In the cave, he hooked up three search lights to a car battery and passed them out to adjoining canoes. These lights were to serve as our only source of light in the cave for the next two hours.

David explained that some of the Maya used these caves for burial purposes. The Maya believed that the world was one of 23 different worlds. There existed nine lower levels below ours and 13 levels above. Their belief was that after death, the spirit would try to ascend to the highest level or plane of existence, but in order to do this the spirit must first travel to the underworld, the 9 sub levels. They believed that these caves were a gateway to the underworld, and that by burying their dead in these caves, the spirit would have a shorter trip to the underworld thus speeding their ascension to the higher levels of existence.

This practice was not endorsed by the ruling class of the Mayan civilization. The people who chose to visit and bury their dead at these caves had likely left the cities of the Maya to live on their own. If they were caught doing this, they would likely be candidates for sacrifice to “appease the gods.”

As we ventured deeper into the cave, we saw remnants of pottery lining some of the ledges. An ancient skull peered down at us from another. We floated under a stone bridge the Maya had constructed to connect opposite sides of the cave.

We continued about a mile into the cave and saw some of the magnificent stalactites and stalagmites that nature had created from the natural flow of water seeping down from above. David pointed out fruit bats sleeping soundly above our heads, only momentarily disturbed by our flashlights.

Upon exiting the cave David said for us to meet him by his van down the road where we’d first met him to pay him. We got in our vehicles and started pulling out when a large man came out of nowhere and asked us what we were doing there. We explained and he laughed saying we needed to pay him for the canoes and being on his property and David was not a legitimate tour guide and was actually stealing his business. We all got into a heated argument with him trying to figure out what was going on. He insisted that we pay him BZ$5 per person and BZ$15 for the use of the canoes because that’s what he charges people to use his canoes and guides. We informed him that we didn’t use his canoes as we had permission to use Blancaneaux’s canoes. He fumed at us and insisted that we pay him anyway. He then said “Well, I’m sorry that you got caught in David’s scam…” We told him we’d give him BZ$5 per person for “parking” and that was all he would get from us. He reluctantly took it. However before we left we asked his name to which he responded “Michael John Bogart.”

We went back to David and asked him what was going on. David said that essentially he and Michael didn’t get along very well. Once back at the lodge, we asked the staff of Blancaneaux if they had ever heard of Michael John Bogart. The response was “Oh, you mean the fake door man?” I asked them, “Is it just me or is he kind of a d*ck?” to which the response was “Yup, that’s him all right.” Be warned my friends…

Back at the lodge we bumped into Nathan’s brother, Dustin. Some of us had planned to do some four wheeling the following day, but he wouldn’t be able to be a part of it, since he was heading out to the cayes (pronounced like “keys”) in the morning for some diving and fishing. With a (very) little arm twisting, he convinced Craig and Nathan to head out with him and find some trails.

Since nightfall was quickly approaching, they headed south into the mountains and tried to get as deep into the jungle as possible, while still having enough time to get back to the lodge before it was too dark. About 15 minutes south of the lodge they came across an interesting logging camp that the locals called “delta town” (the town is officially named Douglas de Silva) presumably because it was at the intersection of a pair of roads.

A few miles south of this they found a trail. Veering off the main road was a single track road with a sign indicating it led to Mahogany Creek. Within a quarter mile of leaving the road, the trail became very overgrown and obviously hadn’t been driven in quite some time… fun.

The further into the jungle they got, the more dense the canopy became, until the sky with it’s fading light became completely obscured from view. They drove on until the branches were near constant scrapes on the side of the trucks. They felt like they were in the middle of Camel Trophy. Eventually, with fading light and too many fallen trees in the way they decided it was time to turn back. Three 12 point turns later they were ready to head back out to the main road.

Once we were all turned around, we noticed the lone casualty of the day. While turning Camel around, the antennae got caught on a tree branch and was bent perpendicular to it’s intended direction, knocking our Jack (Jack In The Box antennae ball) off in the process. A quick fix and it was right as rain, although Jack looked a bit worse for wear.

Back on the road Camel took the lead to head back to the Lodge. Suddenly, there was an exclamation on the radio that Camel had something hanging from the back of the Rover. Upon getting out and inspecting, it turns out Camel had “pruned the trees” somewhere along the way and a rather large branch had decided to attach itself to the vehicle. (Tracy’s comment after seeing the photos: “How could you NOT see that attached to your vehicle?)

We stumbled back into the lodge just before 8 and just in time for dinner. Time to relax for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow we’re going on a proper off-road trip deep into the jungle.

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