Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Western Belize wild jungle trails.

Glys Penados, Belize Forest Ranger.
Channel 7 TV reporter on back of mud wagon.

Last night we told you about our weekend journey to the far reaches of the Chiquibul forest to see one of the most spectacular cave systems in the world.

And like any adventure, our journey began on the road, in this case, it turned out to be a very long and forbidding road. Here's the story:….

Jules Vasquez Reporting
Our early morning journey began here on the Pine Ridge Road - mountains of the Chiquibul Forest peering out from beneath the clouds, it is as picturesque an outdoor setting as you will find in Belize - the mountains perfectly framed like shadows, like echoes.

And nestled within those mountains, our first stop is here at Tapir Camp - a facility operated by the Friends For Conservation and Development at the entrance to the Chiquibul forest.

Now beefed up by a permanent BDF presence, known as the Chiquibul Base Joint enforcement unit.

Glyss Penados is the mission leader - he lays out the 35 kilometer track we'll be taking. The names are from the pages of history, Millionario Camp, Aguacate camp, Resumerdero - all old logging Camps from a century ago when logwood was king.

Today it's about conservation, and the team is big 13 people including four soldiers and one policeman essential for traversing this area frequented by Guatemalan outlaws.

An FCD ranger leads on an ATV while the soldiers take to an old BATSUB Land Rover. While we travel in this battered 1997 Toyota Hilux - El Danto or Mountain Cow we will come to call it for its rugged all terrain capabilities. And rugged it will be…

This map shows the cave system starting at the edge of Belize's territory and ending in Guatemala. And while the map is beguilingly green….

On the ground, it is murder. These are old logging trails, and their only upkeep is the frequent illegal use by Guatemalan Xateros and loggers on their horses and the FCD on its patrols and expeditions.

The mud runs are enormous slogs through thick bogs.

And keeping the vehicle under control in a no traction situation is a feat our driver Glyss Penados handles masterfully.

But mud isn't the only obstacle, often times, there are fallen trees across the trail which is why we travel with two chainsaws.

This is a poisonwood tree - any of those sodium coloured splinters go in your eyes and you'll end up at the hospital.

More than twice the tree across the road was just too big to slice up and our team had to cut out a new road.

Less than ideal but workable nonetheless, in this case - the tree was too big and there was no space to cut a new road on the side, so I went ahead with the equipment on the back of the ATV "now it's time for the most rugged part of the trail - a hike through the thickest jungle over and into the cave

The BDF led by Lance Corporal Cus keep a tight escort on the group - because everywhere there is abundant evidence that Xateros or loggers are in the area

Fresh horse manure. Evidence of multiple Xate camps of fairly recent occupation and across the jungle floor, a sickeningly familiar site - Guateplastic.

And something else we saw when we visited 13 months ago - trees defaced as an act of ownership, idleness or territory marking.

Thee Xate Leaves have been left behind, but only because they are blemished.

The BDF stays armed and ready with live rounds and plastic bullets

Jules Vasquez
"Why is there a need for such strict observance of the security attachment? Were we in a dangerous area?"

Lcpl Cus, F - BDF
"Well I think we have been in contact with Xateros recently and all those thing so especially with civilians we have to maintain those personal security. Like yourself you know, so that when you go and do your job you should feel safe. At the end of the day you accomplish your mission, you accomplish what you suppose to do and we accomplish ours also."

Glyss Penados, Ranger - F.C.D.
"These are remote areas and we also come in contact with the Guatemalans in doing illegal activities so the BDF provide support for us, in the protection of these areas."

The descent down the side of the cliff is steep and difficult. And when you get there, the entrance of the cave is another 50 feet down.

Tomorrow we'll take you inside to see its many wonders…
Tune in tomorrow for the second and final part of our story on the Chiquibul Cave system when we'll take you inside one of the largest caverns in the Western Hemisphere….

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