Sunday, October 11, 2009

Caribbean Cayes

September 1st to 5th

A quick 25 miles back in land from Dangriga brings you to a 7 mile track disappearing off into the jungle. It leads on a steadily worsening surface into 'Cockscomb National Park' which is unique in being the only Jaguar reserve in the world....

Belize, despite huge fruit and logging businesses and also having a tourist industry where annual numbers of cruise ship passengers outnumber the entire population 5 to 1 still manages to run massive debts. The governments response has been to issue squillions of dollars of bonds to prop up the ailing country's finances, and to hike taxes and prices massively. Belize is not a cheap country to tour and it's all a bit of a shock after Mexico and Guatemala.

We are asked to pay $60 Bz ($30 US) to enter and camp in the park. Considering we were paying $6 US to camp in National Parks in the states, that seems a little high. For the same price we take a 'rustic cabin' which is an 8x6 foot room in a shack with bunk beds.

On the plus side, it's incredibly beautiful and we have the place - the entire place, like the whole national park to ourselves....

Being an ex-British colony, hikes and trails are well marked and there are accurate maps. Normally this is not noteworthy, however after over a year in Latin countries, this is the first place where we can just hike without having to hire a guide or book on to a tour....

We take an easy hike up river where and you can hire oversize inner tubes and float languidly down river. Well it starts fairly languid, and then we hit a series of rapids and have to paddle for dear life to avoid rocks and submerged branches. It's great fun and a beautiful way to see the jungle. At one point the river divides, and so does our group as I get caught up in the current and cannot prevent myself getting washed along this new course. There are just a few moments of mounting worry as I speculate on my new heading; visions of raging waterfalls or spear throwing tribesmen on the river bank passing through my mind, before the 2 flows finally join up again about a mile or so down stream....

Another short hike takes you to the place where Dr Allan Rabinowtiz's plane came down shortly after taking off in a thunderstorm. Previously the plane was used to track Jaguars for Dr. Allan's research into their numbers and movement. Fortunately no-one was killed, except for the aeroplane which is now, slowly becoming part of the jungle....

In all there are 100,000 acres to explore with trails leading to hidden waterfalls, and the park derives it's name from the range of mountains that have a serrated ridge reminiscent of a cock's comb. We see no jaguars however, except in the visitors centre where they have a rogues gallery of these incredible cats caught on hidden cameras. Beautiful place though.....

We leave heading south towards Placencia, a narrow spit of sandy land that splits from the mainland and extends some 20 miles out into the Caribbean Sea. On the way we cross a number of river bridges, mainly supplied by the UK and the European Union. Frequent storms have damaged several of them and in some cases they have been completely washed away. This is hurricane territory after all and we pass by a couple of solid looking storm shelters. We also cross a couple of not so solid looking temporary bridges....

When we reach the sand spit, the land narrows to under 200m in places - just wide enough it seems for a narrow road and an American retirement community to either side. There are new builds going up everywhere and even more for sale in this little strip of paradise with the Caribbean on one side and the tranquil Placencia Lagoon to the other. Half way in the road is under construction and a year of Spanish has taken a toll on my English skills. We completely fail to comprehend the sign and ride through the 10 mile building site; sending the girls first - just in case....

It all gets too beautiful and we have to stop at Maya Beach for a cold one....

Placencia is a Creole town, the descendants of British loggers and black African slaves. They have their own language (Kriol), a mixture of English, Native American 'Miskito' and various West African Languages; it has some similarities to Jamaican Patois and sounds to-tally tropicaaal. The buildings are wood and stand on high stilts above the high tide levels....

It's also a seafood town and local hero Oscar runs the finest restaurant in town perveying fine snapper fish and lobster that he personally caught that morning. Lobster in a creole sauce with rice and beans. Sue finds a new kind of food heaven....

On a beautiful white sanded Caribbean beach we find 'The Coconut Man', errr - selling coconuts (what else?) under the coconut tree. He offers lessons in 'Slack Rope' walking - 'Dis is not de tite eRrope, dis be de slack eRrope' he drawls by way of explanation. Slung between 2 coconut trees it's weirdly addictive and after a couple of hours of flailing arms and frustratingly lame attempts, it all starts to come together and we take a couple of stuttering steps....

Placencia is just another of those simply magical place we have visited on this trip....


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