Why, oh, why do I love Belize?
Placencia Travel Blog› entry 91 of 103 › view all entries
This one is really long entry :) But if you are crazy about jungle, climbing, hiking and pioneering into the Unknown, you might find this one somewhat useful!
Nov 20 â�� Dec 3. Mount Chirripo â�� Costa Rican tallest
Dmitrii Demin, my true buddy got a very diverse sample of Costa Rican crown jewels during his 8 day stay there. Canopy adventures, jumping into waterfalls, lazy beach hours, snorkeling, scuba diving, excessive gastronomical pleasures, and never-ending bus rides left us very well acquainted with Pura Vida concept of living.
Saying goodbuy to Dmitrii left me one on one with countyâ��s tallest mountain Cerro Chirripo.
Starting my â��back toBelizeâ�� journey I was blessed meeting a team of Russian cinematographers fromSt. Petersburgwho were making a documentary about Russian Costa Rica. I personally was amazed with the amount of Costa Ricans who got undergraduate and graduate degrees in theUSSRin 1970s and 1980s. Also,Costa Ricais now frequented by numerous adventurous Russians attracted to this only North American nation by its â��Russians are welcome without visaâ�� policy and relatively cheap airfare.
Three days later, having crossed 3 international borders and having paid $50 to cross Nicaragua (those pobrecitos learnt very well how to squeeze money from moving targets like me !), I reached the shores of southern Belize.
Dec 4 â�� Dec 17. Quest for Doyleâ��s Delight
My third trip to Belizewas my third attempt to find my way to Doyleâ��s Delight, the countryâ��s tallest peak.
My secret was that I KNEW THE NAME of the man who would dare to pioneer such an attempt with me. Alfredo Sho, a Mopan Maya residing inSan Jose, a remote indigenous village in southernToledo. During my second visit toBelizeback in early November I was lucky to meet Bruno Kuppinger, one of the key people in BTIA (Belize Tourism Industry Association) forToledodistrict. He works with Maya guides to set up jungle tours for his clients. Bruno recommended Alfredo and that advice proved to be the Ariadna thread in my multidimensional quest for the right guide.
OK, I knew who to look for, I got my Garmin GPS (myChicagogang presented it on my take off fromWindyCity) and my Iridium satellite phone (a precious gift from Alexander, my cousin) â�� all of that made me feel very comfortable about my prospects to reach the rooftop ofBelize. I stayed in Punta Gorda for several days to get my thoughts in order and get into the right mode. I chose Natureâ��s Way Guesthouse as my base. I met its owner, Chet, back in November. Originally from the States, Chet had lived in Punta Gorda for well over three decades and became an integral part of local community, particularly of its Mayan part. He shared with me his invaluable insights on Mayan psyche, helped me to get in touch with guides from three different villages, and gave me a very realistic and inspiring feedback regarding my Doyleâ��s Delight plans.
The day before I was going to start my adventure I received an e-mail from myChicagobuddy, Igor. To say that I was surprised reading his message is to say nothing. I was shocked! Igor, whose only wilderness expedition experience was limited to two day canoe trips along the banks of some Midwestern rivers richly dotted with fully equipped campsites, wanted to join me for this pioneering trip. My first reaction was â��Man, you donâ��t even have a tent or a backpack!â�� But then I thought â��Why not! He asks for that, let him get into it!â�� I waited for another day and that was enough for Igor to get himself loaded with all sorts of expedition gear in a local REI outlet, to buy tickets (seven hours before the flight) and get his butt on the line just in time for our adventure.
Sunday, December 9, we took an 8am bus bringing us halfway between Punta Gorda andSan Jose. Two rides later we finally reached the very center ofSan Josemaking it before noon, which was an outstanding achievement and luck for a very slow Sunday morning when everybody in the wholeToledodistrict (except for local Chinese population) goes to the church. Almost immediately we met Alfredoâ��s son who brought his father to meet us. Alfredo knew that we were coming â�� Bruno called him several days ago. Alfredo in his early 50s while being an average height projects an immense power and looks like a mountain himself. He didnâ��t speak much, strictly business. Within minutes we were done agreeing on all the essentials.
Igor and I were going to have two guides â�� Alfredo Sho and his long-term guiding companion Emilino Cho.
We all agreed that 6 days seemed to be enough for that trip. That sounded very promising, as the whole trek when established could be done in 5 days meaning a potential inflow of US tourists (those with one week vacation) wishing to reach Belizian highest point.
After a short meeting with Emilino, which proved to be a very pleasant event â�� always smiling and easy-going Emilino was like a perfect match for his serious and mostly silent companion, Igor and I did a final check of our backpacks.
1. High energy snacks to survive the 10-12 hour hikes, i.e. 24 regular-size Snickers Almond, 4 king-size Snickers, 10 dark chocolate Milky Way.
2. Instant food: 7 packs of Ramen instant noodles, 5 packs of chicken soup, and 2 packs of instant Oatmeal (each pack promising 7 servings, later on I figured we could hardly squeeze 4 out of it).
3. Canned food: 1 two-pound beef stew, 2 cans of Macaroni with beef, 3 cans of Danish ham, 1 can of salmon, 1 can of turkey.
4. Dessert: 2 jars of fruit jam (one pound each)
6. 1.3 kg of bread (the one you use for toasts)
7. Useless (as it proved later) food: 3 packs of powdered coconut milk, 4 packs of dry sauces, 15 tiny packs of SugarLow.
Spending a night in a Mayan village was almost a paradise-like experience â�� starry and moonless night, spacious setting ofSan Josewith each family occupying a hilltop (no fences, no doorlocks!), pristine lawns with myriads of lights of some nocturnal insects, all kinds of sounds and voices of night-time jungle. 6:20am Monday morning we took off for what happened to be a non-stop push for seven days in a rowâ�¦
Monday was a piece of cake â�� a steady and very moderate ascent to the plateau.
That day also brought a realization of what kind of potential hazards we are getting into. There was a moment when Igor spotted a snake. He was 5 meters behind me. I didnâ��t pay much attention to that just wondering why it took them so long to look at the animal â�� they only caught up with Emilino and I ten minutes later. It appeared that somehow I didnâ��t notice the jumping viper and â�¦ stepped on it pressing its short and muscular body into the mud.
Monday night Igor and I were filtering water for the next day when Igor spotted another snake. I looked where he pointed. 2 meters away from us there was something that looked like a 5ft-long and thick liana. It was right on a trail leading from the river to our camp. I laughed at Igor thinking that the jumping viper incident made him see snakes everywhere. I was going to kick the liana to show him how wrong he was. That very moment Alfredo showed up from the camp side walking toward us on the trail â�� he heard Igorâ��s exclamation. A second later the â��lianaâ�� curled into a living spring and jumped into the river running away from humans.
Tuesday, December 11, became a real moment of truth for our little team. The Monday success made us, wellâ�¦, overconfident about our ability to cover the remaining 50% of the distance to Doyleâ��s Delight. We started late â�� at 7:30am â�� and three hours later we reached the point where I had to pull my GPS and our guides - their 27-inch machetes. During the next almost 7 hours we only covered less than 4km â�� cutting through the virgin selva was THE challenge of our expedition.
â�¦ And we hardly made 50% of what we had planned for that day. While setting our second camp we had a chance to get everyone on the same page and to become realistic about our prospects to reach the summit. Our average speed of 0.6km/h meant that we still got at least 20 hours of non-stop trail making in the heart ofBelizejungle. 20 hours was two full days â�� Wednesday and Thursday. It became obvious: no way were we making the round trip in 6 days.
Wednesday morning we tried a new tactic â�� Emilino and I started early â�� at 6:20am. Alfredo and Igor followed us with a two and half hour lag. Fighting the rough terrain and thick vegetation took its tall on Igor. Wednesday tactic would allow him walking in his own rhythm and not wasting his energy on waiting for us to make the trail. Another benefit for all of us would be to see how fast Alfredo and Igor could cover the distance on a freshly made trail.
Wednesday afternoon I had a chance to experience what Emilino lived with for the second day in a row. I took his machete and started crushing whatever was on my way. I learned fast that marking a trail has nothing to do with logging â�� I wasted tons of energy and a good half an hour â��markingâ�� the distance that Emilino would have marked in 5-10 minutes. Moreover, I totally lost the sense of direction. The peak of my shame was the moment when machete flew from my hand and landed meters away from me. Emilino was just observing me; he didnâ��t express any emotion, not even a smile! As if nothing happened. I experienced a major relief when he asked for his machete.
I was wondering how he managed to keep cutting through the jungle for hours and hours non-stop! It seemed that the secret was in the way he was using the momentum of his upper body.
By early afternoon we finally reached the southern slopes ofMayaMountainsand started going up and down canyon walls. My Garmin was already having hard time receiving satellite signal even in the valley under the thick jungle. It proved virtually useless in canyons. Moreover, for some reason, eastern slopes of Mayan mountains would become a â��blindâ�� spot for my GPS between 2pm and 4pm. The reception was so poor that we could only use the device as a compass for those two hours on Wednesday.
And we didnâ��t! Thursday was a perfect sunny day. Mountain Divide ridges were covered with very tall forest and the soil was pleasantly dry and easy to walk on â�� that was like a welcoming blessing from the spirit of Doyleâ��s Delight.
Three canyons and an hour and half later we finally reached one of the Mountain Divide ridges that seemed to carry us right on our target. At around 11:30am we spotted a massive and tall mountain on our right â�� across a huge well over 100m deep canyon. Emilino and I were both tired and excited about the proximity of the mysterious mountain (my GPS showed that we were a mere 900m as crow flies from Doyleâ��s Delight summit).
Descending into the next canyon made us face very different vegetation â�� much thicker â�� as well as much wetter soil. Thatâ��s where I had to grasp to all sorts of roots and trunks not to slip into a muddy roller coaster down to the river. It was getting late â�� past 2pm and we were still crawling up a slippery slope only praying that this one would be the slope of Doyleâ��s Delight.
Doyleâ��s Delight summit is a vast area nearly 300m long and a good 100m wide. It took us 10min to figure out what part of the mountain was the highest point. Wondering among the trees Emilino noticed a trail leading eastward. We followed it emerging on the edge of a helicopter landing spot. Doyleâ��s Delight summit is now totally free from trees and bushes, which is great for the views and for enjoying sunsets and sunrises. But it might be a little disappointing once you imagine that a large chunk (a 100m wide circle) of a unique microcosm was completely destroyed. Doyleâ��s Delight is famous among biologists and botanists due to its unique microclimate and flora â�� very different from the flora of any other neighboring mountain.
I experienced an indescribable satisfaction â�� my third attempt to reach the summit ofBelizewas a true success. Emilino and Alfredo, though not showing much, were very excited, no doubt! Later on, they both revealed that before summiting they had had dreams, which they considered to be good signs. Alfredoâ��s dream was about him collecting an abundant crop of fruits from all sorts of fruit trees around him. Emilino found himself picking up dollar bills from the floor in his house and continuing out in the mud outside. There were so many 50 dollar bills out there that another villager joined Emilino in picking up those.
I was curious about Igorâ��s reaction. He was clearly glad to make it to the summit without asking our guides for any extra help (like sharing his load with them â�� what Alfredo offered a day prior).
Camping onBelizetallest summit, watching sunset and sunrise felt like the best possible reward for our 4 day long quest for Doyleâ��s Delight.
Going back was also an adventure of its own sort.
And hereâ��s our performance on our way backâ�¦ Friday, December 14, we started at 7:40am, hiked for nine and a half hours making about 8km at an average speed of 0.8km/h. Saturday, December 15, we had an earlier start at 6:30am as our Friday performance made us doubt our chances to reach Union Camp within a day. Saturday became our longest day â�� we hiked for over 11 hours covering something like 12.5km at 1.1km/h. By Saturday night almost all of our food was gone and we could not afford spending any longer in the jungle. All of that made us work hard to get back by Sunday night.
Over the seven days we hiked 84km with loaded expedition packs. That represents 68 hours of moving. Oh, and I forgot to mention what kind of footwear we wore. All sorts of hiking and trekking shoes would be absolutely useless there. We started to laugh at our branded stuff as soon as we hit the very first mud on the edge ofSan Jose. We were wearing rubber boots all week long!
Take a bus (7 hrs) or a local plane (1hr) fromBelize Cityto Punta Gorda.
San Joseâ�� Doyleâ��s Delight â�� San Josehike will take 6 full days if you plan to camp on the summit. If you only have 5 days you still can do it, but it will be a major stretch.
Alfredo Sho, Emilino Sho + 501 702-2972
That is the only community telephone forSan Josevillage.
Bruno Kuppinger + 501 600-8773, firstname.lastname@example.org
He is a great source of information on southernBelize. Bruno can help you getting forest preserve entry permits necessary for climbing Doyleâ��s Delight fromToledooffice of Belize Forestry Department. His travel agency can arrange that expedition (as well as many other jungle tours and expeditions) for those who donâ��t have enough time to do it themselves.
Chet (the owner of Natureâ��s Way Guesthouse) + 501 702-2119
Chet is a tremendous help in getting you in touch with great people in local Mayan communities. His familyâ��s guesthouse is a wonderful and very convenient base for exploring magnificent Punta Gorda, spending a day or two before and after the expedition. He will also let you store your luggage while you are in the jungle.
December 18 â�� present. She is back! J
And thenâ�¦ I was back to Mexico, ha-ha-ha-ha!!! J To meet Julia, my sweetheart, who flew to Cancun fromRiga.
So, we are back toBelizegetting ready to dive the Blue Hole. Andâ�¦ why do I loveBelizeso much? There was a song in 1930â��s â��I love Pariseâ��. These days Iâ��m singing it to myself replacingPariswithBelizeâ�¦
I loveBelizeevery moment
Every moment of the year!
Why, oh, why do I loveBelize?
Because my Love is near J