First wkd in Belize: Barton Creek Cave

San Ignacio Travel Blog

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Thurs 9 Oct 2008: San Ignacio, Belize

On Thursday we had our general program orientation. Lunch was interesting.  We had ground beef with veggie stew, rice & beans.  The ground beef was of poor quality �" not to my liking.


At 10am we had the website launch.  Irene gave a shart speech.  The computers didn’t have access to the internet since we went over our download quota the day before, so we didn’t get to explore around it, but Wed night Irene showed a few of us the site off her computer.  I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be working on the Cornerstone site or even sorting through bugs since she insisted on continuing with that after leaving, but I was glad she produced an awesome site and that there are 2 other sites that need to be done.  Nellie had made the most delicious sweet rolls for the launch. Mmmmm.


At 1pm Bethany, Tanya and I went on a dry food run with Stanley and Kyle. I thought we’d be getting dry foods and be active in handing it out to people in need, but it was a bit different.  We drove to the outskirts of town (Georgetown) to the meat shop.  The had signs hung up of all the diff cuts of meat and what part of the body they came from �" for pork and beef.  It was a bit chilly in there �" very refreshing.  Then, we stopped at a Mennonite shop and a young boy gave us cuts of meat �" also as a donation.  Here they also chop up leftover meat and produce dog food out of it.  After that we drove back into Santa Elena and began dropping off the food.  Tanya, Bethany, Kyle and I sat in the care the whole time and just watched.  I wished I could help out. Maybe next week when we go on the full run.  This week the truck broke down so we couldn’t carry as much food in the car and only went on a partial run.  After driving around Santa Elena, we dropped off food in San Ignacio.  We stopped by Mary Open Doors, which I will go to later today (Tues) for a mtg.


The rest of the day we had to ourselves.  Bethany, Tanya, and I tried organizing out wkd, but mostly scheduled wkd trips for all the other wkds we’ll be here.


All the volunteers in the house except for Darlene went to Faya Wata for Irene’s last night.  The tourisy bar is down Burns Ave.  Irene was excited to hang out with Anthony, the Belizean guy she had a crush on, but he had been acting moody.  The rest of us sat around a table outside and chatted.  I tried Belikin for the first time.  It’s pretty weak and water �" which for me means drinkable.  Jodine had spent more than a year in Argentina �" studying in San Juan and then traveling in the northern part of the country so I got some advice from her. Argentineans are pretty conservative and traditional. She encouraged me to take a flight in country  traveling as much as I planned by buys would get pretty old after awhile and would be wasting time.  She thought it was worth the extra money to take a flight since I’ll only be there 5 ½ weeks.


Travis and his g/f were sitting with us too.  Travis kind of gets on my nerves.  He’s well-educated and informed about what’s going onm but most of what comes out of his mouth is negative and tends to create fear.  He’s always telling stories of how so and so was murdered, stabbed bitten, injured or otherwise mutilated.Or how such and such food or object is bad for the human body.  After awhile I elarned to tune him out.  It’s good to be aware but not freaked out.


Fri 10 Oct 2008: San Ignacio, Belize

Friday  most of our housemates left for the wkd.  Darlene, Alissa, Jodine and Irene went to Guatemala to see Tikal and Flores.  Jamie went to Mexico.  Elliot went to Chetumal with Travis and his girlfriend.  Kyle went to the country, which he usually does on wkd to “live off the land.”  So Bethany, Tanya and I had the house to ourselves.


I had my office orientation with Carmita in the morning.  It wasn’t until 11am so I went out beforehand to photograph.  There is still so much to photograph here. I wanted to get the local dogs this time out.  It really touched me how bad shape the are in and I wish I could do something for them.  I took some photos of them includeing the dog that likes to lay at the top of our stairs who I named Carmel.  She has open sores on her legs and paws.  The other dogs also have open sores all over their bodies. They areinfested with fleas and other flies and some are so malnourished I can see their bones.  It’s so sad.  The have one vet clinic in town but of course the stray dogs don’t get any help and the owners of the other dogs probably can’t afford care �" that and treatment probably isn’t much good either.  I took more artistic shots including flora.  Near the stop sign (there’s only one in town) and one of the schools, I cam across a black cat sunbathing. 


Across the road was a guy named Abdul who told me he had many cats I could photograph.  I was hesitant at first.  The also looked a bit malnourished. There were 3 older cats, a litter of kittens and an adopted kitten. Fortunately the mother let this adopted kitten take her milk who, consequently was getting healthier.  Abdul tried positioning his kittens for photographs even though I would have preferred candid shots.  Then the whole litter began taking their mother’s milk and it was so cute.  Later she tried escaping by climbing up to the table next to a sewing machine, but one smart kitten made his way up to her.


Abdul is a very friendly guy.  He offered coffee, but I respectfully declined.  Adbul is a mechanic and repairman.  Mostly he fixes sewing machines.  He has quite a few in his one room house.  He also has a very large copy machine, which is broken and needs new parts.  Abdul seems pretty content with his life.  He doesn’t mind having no electricity and living a simple life.  He doesn’t own a clock or watch, but knows time by the shadows cast outside.  He does have a very small stove, and calls himself a cook.  Pots and laundry hang from lines strung up across the room.  He has a tent set up in the corner, which is where he sleeps. He told me of his project to creat separate sleeping holes for each of his cats so they could have their individual spaces.  Also, he explained his viewpoint on schooling Belizeans and how they shouldn’t learn more than they need to because they will lose touch with their roots, learn how much more there could be to life and move away to the U.S.  He thinks it much better that they know just enough to be informed and continue to carry out their non-developed lives.  I’ve heard this type of viewpoint before and understand it, but don’t completely agree with it.  When I tought it was about time for my mtg, I thanked Abdul and told him I’d stop by again.


My mtg with Carmita was very short.  I told her my goals and she told me I would have a mtg with Anna from Mary Open Doors, a safehouse for women.  I will be creating a website for them since Irene just completed the Cornerstone site.  Also, I will do a simple site for the local AIDs org and help teach computer basics with Elliot.  On the side I will help Tanya teach kids art and sports.  I’m kind of nervous, but will take things stop by stop.  It may be difficult creating the sites without my computer and not having software I’m used to, but I didn’t want my computer to die while I was out here (it’s on its last leg), or get stolen, so my camera is the lone valuable that I brought with me.


I can’t rem if I already mentioned it, but I’m giving Tanya a few pointers on photography as well.  I’m getting good at using my camera but haven’t used it much in low light situations or action shots (not having a tripod doesn’t help.)


In the afternoon Tanya put down black and white checkered linoleum in the bathroom. It looks so much nicer!!!


Sat 11 Oct 2008: San Ignacio, Belize

Bethany, Tanya and I went to the market on Sat. morn.  On our way there we witnessed our first Belizean traffic jam.  So many cars were rolling in to the market.  The parking lot, which we hadn’t seen used until then, was completely full and cars were parking alongside the road.  The market had its usual fruit/veggie stands, but the whole rest of the areas was packed full.  On one side there were people selling mostly clothing, but also other random wares.  There were some animals for sale �" pitbull puppies and other puppies, a few parakeets, rabbits, hamsters, mice, kittens chickens, and roosters.  In the middle people were selling more veggies and fruits and some hot pancakes w/ meat, cheeses and veggies (I forgot the name of them) and other types of food.  Bethany bought one of the pancakes and had to wait 15min for it to get cool enough to eat.  After buying some food and walking around, we decided to stop by David’s �" one of the tour guides in town and highly recommended by Bethany’s travel guide.  He charges ½ as much for the Barton Creek tour as the other place we stopped at.  He was also funny and seemed to “have his shit together,” as Bethany put it.  After speaking with him for a bit, we booked a tour for the next day and organized a ride home Mon. morn so we could camp out for the night.  Our first trip together outside the city �" we were quite excited!


Afterwards, we went back home and I napped for an hour.  Then, we headed up the hill to Cahal Pech Resort for a swim.  Cahal Pech Resort is a light orange building that can be seen from town.  The hill up is quite long, a bit of a workout, but definitely woth it.  We wondered what a pool in San Ignacio would be like.  After passing the Cahal Pech Visitor Center, we made it to the resort, which had a few Belizean children running around in their swimmers.  After paying $5BZ ($2.50US), we approached the pool, which had a huge wood sculpture of a Taradacto (sp?) dinosaur smoking a cigarette and hovering above the clean, glistening blue pool.  The backdrop was the beautiful landscape of San Ignacio and the surrounding land �" small hills rising and falling in green hues, fruit trees jutting out from near and far.  It was beauty that a camera cannot fully capture.


Behind the pool were several cabanas �" lodges for resort visitors.  Surrounding the huts were quite a few banana trees �" half plucked.  Sweat was dripping off our faces from the long walk up and we couldn’t wait to jump into the pool.  There were actually 2 pools, so we walked down past the outdoor shower to the lower one.  The water was clear blue, but lacked the scent of chlorine. Bethany jumped in right away.  As I plunged in, I realized how shallow it actually was, but so refreshing!!!  Tanya, who forgot her suit, wore my running shorts and her bra. For some reason they have a policy: No cotton in the poo..  Inbetween the pool was a lukewarm Jacuzzi.  It shouldn’t have been surprising that the water wasn’t hot being that there is no hot water in Belize.  Thejacuzzi did have a relaxing massaging effect though.


Taken over by the beauty of my surroundings, I extracted my camera from my bag and


---oooh we just spotted for our first time a cockroach in the house.  Not wanted to kill it, I scooped it outside but couldn’t fling it off the veranda. So I flipped it on its back, leaving it immobile, to be devoured by the ants.-----




----damn, I just came back from my mtg and the cockroach is gone! ---


Okay, back to Sat �" I photographed the gorgeous landscape, then some close ups of the flowers and banana trees.  After that I dropped back into the pool.  After we’d had our fill we dried off and made our way toward the Cahal Pech Visitor Centre. It’s an expensive $10US to see the ruins. I’ll check it out on another day since Tanya doesn’t want to go.  The tiny museum has a skeleton laying in the sand.  On our way back down the hill we stopped at San Ignacio’s ice cream shop, which has the best ice cream in town (Soy too!!!)  Bethany went all out with the sugarcorn flavor which tastes like cake batter.  I tried the popular rum raisin.  It was also delicious.  Then we stopped at Cost-less, the equivalent of Sam’s Club, where I bought a box of 48 Quaker Chewy granola bars ---- mmmm. They didn’t have those in Australia!!!  We passed by Abdul’s house and I introduced Abdul to my roommates.  We didn’t stay, even though he invited us for a cup of coffee.  For the rest of the night we just relaxed and made our own dinners �" Kraft Mac & Cheese with chicken nuggets for me!!!


Sun 12 Oct 2008: Barton Creek, Belize

Bethany, Tanya and I left the house at 9am to meet up with David for our trip to Barton Creek.  We met up with 2 more ppl for the trip: Thadeus, a U.S. citizen from Florida who is working as an officer trainer in Afganistan and Annie, an editor for websites, who currently lives in San Francisco.  She had spent a year living in Chicago. Both are vacationing solo.  The ride to Barton Creek was 1 ½ to 2 ½ hrs.


Sometimes during the ride David or his coworker would have to start up the car by opening up the hood because the ignition wouldn’t work.  After awhile we drove with the van door open which quickly cooled us off.  The ride was very rocky.  I feared we would get a flat ire.  Tanya was very excited to spot some Mennonites.  They have more orange trees than they need so we stopped and picked rope oranges.  David showed us which ones were ripe and tasty.  David’s asst expertly peeled the oranges with his knife and we gorged out �" the oranges were much better than the ones from the market!!!


Along the way we also spotted some horses and buggies parked near the Mennonite church.  Outside the Mennonites were having their Sunday service.


Finally, we arrived at David’s parking spot.  He parked next to the Mennonite bridge, which was constructed by ropes and 2x4s.  2 ropes were strung as heand rails.  2x4s were built in the center for us to walk across. Underneath them for support was more wood built in a zigzagging pattern.  The brdge was very shaky and swayed as we walked across it.  However, David said it could hold 2,000 pds of weight.  It didn’t seem like that to us.  It was about 15ft high and the river was rushing below. After the bridge we walked 15min to the lodge.


While on our walk we passed by more Mennonite homes.  2 Mennonite boys were dressed in their traditional long-sleeve button down shirts and pants with suspenders.  One was biking with adult galoshes, while the other was running alongside him barefoot.  The Mennonites are like Omish people.  The are very traditional, don’t use electricity or developed inventions such as cars, have separate rules and laws than the rest of the community, keep to themselves, live on farms, are very religious, speak German (a diff dialect than most Germans though) and travel by horse and buggy.  Their marriages are arranged and they often inter-breed.  They don’t like people taking photos of them, but they are very friendly and wave/greet as others pass by.


At Barton Creek Outpost we were met by 2 volunteers from Israel.  The owners and their family (3children, a 10yr old girl, 7yr old boy and 1yr old baby girl), were in town for 3 days.  They are originally from Tennessee.  Since it is low season, we were the only ones there.  As David and his asst. readied the canoes, Bethany, Tanya, Annie, Thadeus and I took a dip in the river.  Another gorgeous site!!! So natural and so beautiful!!!  The water was chilling but so refreshing in the heat! I made my way across the river to a rock formation, climbed up and tried to reach the rope hanging from the tree’s branches.  Thadeus helped me out and from 10ft above the water’s surface I sung out bellowing “Wooohooo!!!” and plunging deep into the river.  When I came up for air I wiped my face and smiled with delight.


Back at the near side of the river’s edge, Thadeus spotted another rope swing, easier to reach. This one was only a few feet up but also fun.  We took turns swinging into the shallow side of the river.  As we stood watching each other, the fish nibbled on our legs and feet.  It was kinda weird at first.  It was good though knowing that if we had any ticks, the fish would eat them off of us.


Soon David called us over for our canoe ride into Barton Creek Cave.  It is the only cave in Belize named after its nearby creek.  David, Bethany, Tanya and I shared our canoe which the other 3 rode in another one.  David paddled from behind.  He steered us between a narrow rock formation, then we turned on our spot lights and entered the dark cave.


David was a very informative guide and filled our heads with knowledge as we were awed by the wonderous beauty surrounding us.  He named all the formations and explained the history of the Maya’s entrance to the underworld.  It was here that htye canoes with torches lit by tree rubber.  The created pottery, which can still be seen high up on cave ledges.  The cave served as a burial site for certain Maya hunters.  The Maya held burial ceremonies and believed that the dead would reincarnate as animals in their next life.


David has been giving tours for 20 years. He was the first guide to do it at Barton Creek.  Up until 10 years ago, visitors were able to go climbing in the caves and get a close up view of skeletal remains and pottery.  However, tourist stole the ancient artifacts and locals began using it as a bathroom, so the climbing ceased.  Also peopleused to go in along, touching and breaking off the stalactites, disintegrating the fragile limestone.  The slightest human touch �" the oils from our skin �" causes the limestone to break down and stalactites, which took thousands of years to develop are quickly deformed. I remember our guides in a Colorado cave explaining the same problem.


Barton Creek Cave is an active cave.  This can be witnessed by the constant dripping of water from within.  We were showered by the growing cave throughout our entire tour.  Being active, the cave was also strong, which meant the stalactites wouldn’t break and fall on our heads.  Small holes inside low hung ceiling are remnants of bats touching them.  The acid from the bats claws also break down the limestone from within the cave.  Inside some of these holes, the fruit bats (no vampire bats here!) call home.  As we glided under the ceiling 3-4ft above us, 1,4, 6 fruit bats would be hanging in their sleep. Sometimes we awoke them with our lights and they quickly flew off into the darkness.  After very heavy rains, tours cannot be run because the water floods too high to be able to pass under the low ceilings.  In high season, 6-7 tour companies run through the caves, rendering a slow, peaceful experience uncommon.  Luckily, we had good timing. The waterline from recent floods even showed us how impossible it would have been for tourists to pass through.  When we approached the area too low to pass, we turned around and experienced the magnificent views from another angle.  At some points we turned off our spot lights and slowly approached the mouth of the cave in complete blindness. Dripping water echoed around us and blessed our heads.


As light reached us from the mouth of the cave we rode into daylight as the Belizean sun licked the remaining water droplets off our skin.  We were also duly impressed by nature’s wonder.  The canoes driftedback toward the outpost and looking back it was hard to believe that that large hill teeming with wildlife and trees, had an even greater beauty within it.


The 7 of us went on a hike after that.  The owner’s 2 dogs led the way and after awhile I couldn’t hold back and sprinted ahead �" knowing that the dogs would lead me down the wide trail.  After awhile we came across a creek crossing and I waited for the others.  We forged on, passed some cows and horses, walked through a gateway and were introduced to several fruit trees.  David and his asst helped us pick grapefruit, tangerines and sweet lemons.  My fav were the tangerines, but eating the sweet lemons was a new experience I relished.  Their flavor is not as strong as regular lemons and would make excellent juice without the addition of sugar.  David’s asst climbed up the trees barefoot, cut off the ripe fruits, and threw them down to David for us.  Along the way back we had a plentiful share of fresh fruits to eat.  Growing under some trees were also poisonous tomatoes and David showed me another toxic plant.


On the way back, I walked barefoot, taking delight in the fresh mud seeping inbetween my toes.  I took notice of the ground making sure I didn’t step on fire ants along the way.  There were many trails of them carrying chunks of leaves to their homes.  If I walked into them, they couldsting my feet with sharp bites.


Some of the ants carried bits of leaves from tree branches 20ft high.  I wondered why when there were so much grass and plants closer to the ground.  David explained that they are very particular with what they carry because these leaves are brought to their ant hills and stores until they turn into mold.  It is this mold that the ants devour to satisfy their appetites.  We all watched, impressed by the hard work of the ants, joking about why Sunday weasn’t a day of rest for them and when social hour would be for them.  Also, on the way back, one of the horses was brave enough to let me pet him.  He nibbled on some grass and looked into my eyes.  I looked back and sensed a feeling of peace and calamity that the other skittish horses didn’t quite have.


Back at the outpost, Thadeus, Annie, David, and David’s asst decided to head back.  Bethany, Tanya and I took another refreshing dip in the pool, then spent the rest of the day relaxing, enjoying our surroundings and learning about the volunteers Israeli backgrounds.


---- Ooooh, Darlene just showed me a pic of the tarantula then spotted in the road in Guatemala!!! -----


I immediately fell in love with all the pets who were a lot cleaner and healthier than those back in town.  I gave in and pet the dogs and cats, promising myself that I still wouldn’t touch any city dogs or cats.  The green macaw had clipped wings and had a vicious bite, so I didn’t get too close to her. However, she could speak “Hello,” and her name.  The two cats were incredibly clean, so we took turns letting them lay in our laps.  All the pets itched for our attention.  They have quite the luxurious life.


Adam and his g/f were volunteering at Barton Creek Outpost for a couple of weeks during their extended vacation.  In Israel, everyone goes through hight school, then they spend 1-3 yrs in Israel’s military.  They are placed in a certain job, but do have a few choices along the way. The girl was an officer in biological and chemical warfare.  She had strong pride in her country and was glad for the experience she had, but after being an officer, decided to leave the military and take another path in life.  Thus, she took her military and work savings, and after 2 years of university, put it towards a year of travel.  When she goes back she will finish off her degree with 2 more years of schooling.  Adam has pretty much chosen the same route.  He had been in the intelligence sector of the military.  The couple met in the military and the girl’s closest friend’s are from the military.


Israeli young adults are placed in the military in areas in which they would probably excel. If you’re chosen as a soldier, you have a combination of intelligence and physical excellence.  Turning down a soldier position is looked down upon.  Few people apply for disability.  However, there has been a rise in people trying to waive their military guty by saying its against their beliefs.  These people are placed in jail �" for a few months or up to the duration of the military time period. Those who aren’t intelligent or skilled enough may get positioned as cooks or secretaries.  This is the Israeli way of life and many Israelites are quite proud of their country.


In the evening, a couple of Germans walked into the outpost �" Leena and Michel.  Leena had begun classes in Aculpulca, Mexico and after 1 week quit because she hated the city scene. So instead she’s traveling around Central America, going to take classes somewhere else, and is spending some time with her boyfriend. They are also very friendly and informed us more about the German lifestyle.


Michel and Leena also told us about their journey to the outpost from San Ignacio including hitchhiking and picking up rides by tractor and horse and buggy.  Being German, they were able to speak with the Mennonites even though the dialects are different.  They also said the Mennonites were very friendly. I was impressed by the couple’s adventureous spirit and I was even more intrigued as they explained their other adventures.  Leena, after high school ahd saved $10,000US from working and made it stretch for an 8 month around the world trip.  She’s been to Australia, Asia, Africa, South America and North America and of course, Europe.  And she’s still in her 20s!!!


As we talked into the night, the clouds gathered above and created a torrential downpour.  The electricity went out and we talked by headlamp and candlelight.  Michel and Leena set up camp under the rain while the rest of us slept under the lodge.  Bethany, Tanya and I had mattresses --- real mattresses!!! �" set up for us upstairs, which we climbied up to using a ladder.  Althought there weren’t many mosquitoes in the lodge, we were still afraid of getting eaten alive overnight being that we were still outside.  So Tanya stretched her mosquito net across herself and Bethany while I tucked myself away in my sleeping bag and draped my mosquito net hat across my face.  It was hot, but otherwise cozy, as the rain lulled me to sleep.


Mon 13 Oct 2008: Barton Creek and San Ignacio, Belize

In the morning, one look at the river and we knew for sure that swimming was not an option.  Well, it wasn’t impossible to go for a dip, but the sediments from the thunderstom had made the water very murky.  I decided to go for a hike, walking to the owner’s vacant house, throught the orange grove, through the trail alongside the river.  When I noticed myself getting eaten to bits �" even wearing white and covered in DEET, I decided to head back.  We were served a delicious breakfast of fresh banana-coconut porridge. Followed by a plate of mashed beans, Israeli eggs, scrambled eggs, fresh fruits and bread.  Then we spent the rest of the morning chatting more and relaxing.  It  rained some more and we all took naps.  We wondered if David would still be able to pick us up after all the rain.  By 1 or 2 pm a few more travelers showed up in addition to the owner’s family.  We chatted for a bit, then Leena and Michel decided to go for a swim until Leena spotted a large poisonous snake skimming the water near her.  She immediately got out and the snake perched itself along the near side of the river bank to sunbathe.  David came down and chucked stones at it until it swam back into the water across the river and climbed up the rock and into the bush.  Needless to say, Leena and Michel didn’t continue their swim.


Pretty soon it was time for us to leave so we headed back down the trail, over the Mennonites bridge and back to San Ignacio.  David had an everlasting bag of fresh oranges for us, so we all had our fill.  When we returned to Cornerstone, we were the first ones home.  After a refreshing shower, we settled down and relaxed some more.


Tues 14 Oct 2008: San Ignacio, Belize

This morning is our first day of work.  I really haven’t done much but journal all day!!! I was supposed to have a mtg with Anna for Mary Open Doors, but she had to cancel.  Instead, I had a mtg with Omar, who I will also be doing a website for.  He is the committee chair for the Cayo  AIDs Committee.  There is a National Organization also �" which already has a site, but we will be the first district with a website. He gave me some information and paperwork, but I still don’t have a full grasp of the org.  I will go to a mtg tomorrow night and learn more about their upcoming program for 16 days of AIDs awareness.

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San Ignacio
photo by: Biedjee