Thursday, February 3, 2011


Fixing a flat tire in the middle of the jungle late at night, a long way from home.
Belize Defense Force, Lance Corporal armed bodyguard in jungle cave.

NICE FOLLOW UP STORY OF A REPORTER ( famous Jules Vasquez ) FOR CHANNEL 7 NEWS ADVENTURE IN THE WILDS OF THE CHIQUIBUL JUNGLES, exploring a cave system surrounded by Guatemalan outlaws and bandits, and poachers exploiting the Belizean reserves of trees, lumber and other plants like xate.

For the past two days - we've been telling you about our trip into the depths of the Chiquibul Forest once again. When we visited in December 2009, we were looking for Guatemalan encroachments along the border, and we found plenty - as many as six kilometers into Belize.

Now, we are told, illegal loggers are 10 kilometers into Belize…..but that is another story, for another time. This time, our visit was about one of Belize's natural wonders, the Chiquibul Cave system. The Friends For Conservation and Development which co-manages the park hopes to someday have it enlisted as a World Heritage site.

We wanted to find out why - and so we signed up to be the first media house to go visit the site at the far edge of the jungle. Yesterday we showed you how tough it was to get there - today we'll tell you why it was worth the arduous trek.

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"It is found under forest cover and thus it really gives it a high level of uniqueness in that it is so large and so extreme and yet it is still under forest."

Jules Vasquez Reporting
To get into a cave that's buried beneath the forest, it's rough going; first you have to walk over it, which means steep, difficult angles.

Basically walking down a cliff…But it's worth it, inside the cave known as Actun Cabal is like the landscape of another planet - reducing that soldier at the edge of your screen to a mere speck.

While Lance Corporal Cus looks like he's walking on the moon - with the ever- present m-16..

The soldiers came down for this, what is known as virgin water, from the Chiquibul river which runs into the cave and then disappears into one of its many sinkholes.

How the cave can swallow up a whole river and empty it out in Guatemala is only one of the mysteries of this system:

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"it would certainly take us a lifetime to really for us to understand more about this system."

But what they do know is that the The Chiquibul Cave System is the longest and largest protected area in Belize:

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"The importance of the chiquibul cave system is because it is considered to be the longest and the largest cave system of its type in Central America and there for it is really a very important culture heritage for Belize. In because of its enormity, because of the magnitude of its chambers because of its size and its length, it is really broken into four cave chambers, if we can refer to that and it starts here in Belize and the last section it ends up in Guatemala.

"It is considered to have the third largest chamber in the world, it is consider to have largest chamber on this part of the western hemisphere. The system is divide into four parts the first one is where we are actually situated today, which is Actun Cabal the second part is Actun Tuncul the the third one is cebada and the fourt one is called shebalba and it is highly unexplore and undiscovered."

But it has been discovered by Guatemalan raiders:

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"In terms of threats the major one is certainly its surroundings, I am referring to poachers around illegal loggers around, xateros around and as we speak about the Chiquibul forest of course the major threat that is faces is at the hands of Guatemalans who might be lurking or walking around these areas."

Gliss Penados
"Yes in some areas I 've seen that they have move some of the parts around. Most likely they will be looking for polychome vessels, thing that are painted or something of real value like jade or other thing like that, that they will try to take out but, we see activity of them going into the caves around here."

But the truth, is with a span of 55 kilometres, four major chambers and maybe more than a dozen entrances, no one knows everything about these caves - in fact the ancient Mayans probably know the most:

Gliss Penados
"South of the Caracol is the part of the cave called Sebada and more likely they would have done rituals and ceremonies in these caves. When you go in this place you go back in time, travel to the time of the Maya and try to imagine how is it going through those caves and carrying those rituals to the Gods."

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"We know also that the Mayas use these areas for ceremonial activities. We know it because of the potteries that we have managed locate here."

And while there are archeological treasures, untold, man's imprint is small; this is a natural wonder, a place with surfaces, crevices so strange and intriguing, an environment so different - that until you see it - you can't even imagine it.

And even these pictures don't do it full justice. It is a world millions of years old - as told by these stalactites and a world still forming…a world unto itself:

Gliss Penados
"When it comes to nature these caves are unique also where some of the life fond in these caves for example we find like blind shrimps, blind crabs. Also you could find like tuncun, also I have found the bones of an extinct bear. We would find other fossils."

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"We would love in the future that this area could become a world heritage site because of the dimensions and because of the magnitude of the area of its chambers, of its tunnels and all of this."

And till awed by the grandeur of the caves, time was short, evening was approaching and we had to hike out before the blanket of night captured us in the furthest reaches of Belize..

And while the team stopped for nourishment - I collapsed right there on the jungle floor.

When we got off the trail about an hour later, vapor was coming off my head - you can see the wisps of it off my forehead…

Of course we were far from finished - we still have to go another 33 kilometres through the middle of the jungle.

At 5:40 with night approaching fast, our Hilux got stuck on a tree stump which dislodged the radiator and while it made it out the vehicle was in trouble and the Landrover had to double up on the power and tow us out through the jungle…

And wouldn't you know it after nightfall, that got a flat in the middle of the jungle

But we fixed it, and we got out of the jungle at 10:00 that night….17 hours after we drove in….

Thats 17 hours, wasn't the end of it; our team left Belize City at 3:30 am on Saturday and got back to the City at 12:30 am on Sunday, 21 hours total.

And apart from being very remote and very difficult to reach, the other thing you have to know about the Chiquibul caves is that you can't go there freely, it's closed to the public is in deep bush that only a master guide with an old school four by four can navigate. Additionally, it's in a very dangerous area trafficked by Guatemalan hunters, loggers and Xateros all armed and all considered outlaws.

No comments: