So after leaving Caracol, we made the one hourish drive through the Chiquibul National Forest to the Las Cuevas Research Center. The drive through the jungle was on a typical very narrow dirt/rock road that was filled with far less pot holes than the drive to Caracol, but was equally bumpy. In places, they were adding more dirt to the road, but as Albert observed, the dirt being added was mostly clay so when it rains, the road will become a sticky, ugly mess.
As we drove deeper into the Chiquibul, the jungle became more dense and exceedingly hard to spot any kind of wildlife. The primary target for me was the scarlet macaw. I have seen the blue and yellow macaws and the red and green macaws in Peru, but the closest I came to the scarlet macaws was a flock high over head. I really wanted to see the scarlet macaw up close and the Chiquibul is one of if not the only place in Belize to spot the bird. And the Las Cuevas Research Center was the perfect place to see the scarlet macaw because the research center had rehabilitated a number of the birds so they are often spotted in the area.
Anyway, I was on high alert looking for the bird as we drove through the dense jungle. Sadly, I did not see the bird on the giant palms, but I did spot a road hawk just hanging out by, where else, a tree beside the road.
Once we reached the Las Cuevas Research Center, I took a little walk around the grounds and then went back to my room to change into hiking boots. We were planning on walking back up the road about a mile to a bird tower so that we could watch the sunset over the jungle.
I sat out on the deck to put on my hiking boots and just as I was about to put on boot number two, I saw a flash of red fly by me and land on a nearby tree. Uh, what was that? I no sooner had the thought than I realized … scarlet macaw! I jumped up with one boot on and ran into my room for my camera praying the little guy would hang around long enough for me to capture a picture.
I was back outside in less than a minute and fortunately, the little fella was still there. And … as I was snapping away, a second scarlet macaw appeared. I stopped taking pictures and just watched the birds swoop around and then land on adjacent trees squawking back and forth. Then one of the macaws came over to my building and proceeded to land on the gutter. Apparently the gutter had water in it as the macaw was clearly drinking from the gutter.
I stood and watched the pair for about ten minutes as they flew from tree to tree, took a rest and then moved on to other trees. And then just like that, the pair flew off. I waited for a bit to see if they would return, but no luck. It was, however, absolutely incredible to watch the magnificent birds in their natural habitat.
By now, it was just after 4:30 and it was time to start our hike to the bird tower. Now I knew that we were going to be doing some hiking through the jungle to reach the tower, but I guess in my little pea brain I thought it would be an easy little hike. Uh, I could not have been more wrong.
The hike turned out to be absolutely brutal. First, it was about 90 degrees with an equal amount of humidity. Second, I was already tired from the two plus hours of hiking and climbing around Caracol. Third, the hike included about a mile walk to the entrance of the jungle and then a 25 minute hike through heavy jungle in the brutal heat straight up a hillside.
The jungle portion of the hike started out easy enough for the first minute or so then followed by a slight incline for another minute or so followed by two brutal hills the first being the shorter of the two. But it was the second one that really did me in. I was exhausted, ridiculously hot and soaked in sweat when we hit hill number 2. The hill I was looking at had a pitch that made it appear I was climbing straight up the rocky path covered in tree roots and hanging vines. Now I have never quit anything and I was certainly not going to quit this, but man was it a killer. My legs were shaking and it was all I could do to talk myself into continuing the climb up.
And just when I thought I was done, there was a series of steps I had to climb to actually reach the bird tower plus the matter of actually climbing up the 30 foot tower. I literally collapsed at the top of the bird tower. At this point, I could have cared less about the sunset. I wanted my bed and someone to give me a full body massage.
However, once I gulped down a bottle of water and steadied myself, I was able to stand up and admire what turned out to be a glorious view and an equally glorious sunset.
Once the sun went down, however, it became much cooler with the wind picking up. We hiked back down from the tower and then began the walk back through the jungle. Now the jungle had already been rather dark when we hiked up in the afternoon daylight, but now there was zero light so we had to use our headlamps to gingerly make our way down hill to the road where I dragged my body back to the research center.
And just because I am apparently a masochist, I was going to do it all over again at 5:00 a.m. the next day so I could see the sunrise. I must be insane!
Anyway, after a lovely dinner of fajitas, I went to bed at the early hour of 8:30 p.m. knowing I had to be up again at 4:30 a.m. Fortunately, this was the last of the early days as the next four days I would be back at Table Rock Jungle Lodge with no agenda and no early wake up calls!
I met Elroy and Albert at just about 5:00 a.m. for the hike part deux. Fortunately, I think they took pity on me because we ended up driving to entrance rather than hiking the 1 mile down the road. Anyway, we donned our headlamps in the pitch dark and headed back up the dreaded path to the bird tower. Now fortunately, it was far cooler than it had been the day before (obviously at 5:00 a.m. versus 4:30 p.m.) and I was now rested, so the hike did not seem nearly as bad. Oh don’t get me wrong, I was still hot and huffing up the steep incline, but it seemed to go much quicker. Plus it was dark so I really could not see up ahead and anticipate the horrid climb.
At one point, Albert stopped us to point out a coral snake. Apparently a rather dangerous snake that is inclined to jump and bite you if it feels threatened. I kept my distance while Albert and Elroy got at little too close for my taste.
By 5:40 a.m. we had reached the bird tower and climbed to the top just in time to see a pink haze forming over the sky. We spent the next 40 minutes or so watching the sunrise over the Chiquibul and listening to the birds waking up. There were parrots and parakeets galore and the occasional toucan in the distance serenading us.
The hike back down turned out to be almost as tough as the hike up. The cool morning air had caused a great deal of dew on the trees to drip, drip, drip on the leaves that had fallen on the pathway making it a bit slippery on the hike back down.
Once we reached the car, we made our way back to the research center where I took up residence on the deck to watch the assortment of birds flitting about. It was a magical time of the day.
After breakfast we hiked across the research center grounds with hard hats and head lamps on to tackle the Mayan cave that was at one time occupied by Mayans for what was believed to be pagan ceremonies. Now the cave was close by so the hike was easy enough to the entrance, but the inside of the cave was very wet (hence the array of stalactites and stalagmites), but this made the hike rather treacherous. One slip and you would be on your keester or worse.
We ended up hiking about 200 meters into the cave and downhill where we saw shards of Mayan pottery everywhere and beautiful stalactites hanging from the ceiling and stalagmites with flecks of silver. It was gorgeous inside, but the claustrophobia got the better of me when we reached a hole in the cave that would have required some crawling. Uh no thank you. I have seen plenty.
The hike back out of the cave was a little easier but nevertheless still a bit tricky. Once out of the cave, Albert wanted to take me to see the unexcavated Mayan mounds where the Mayans, who inhabited the cave, used to live. At this point, I was done in and declined. All I wanted to do was sit on the deck and watch the birds until it was time to leave.
By around 1:00 p.m. we had eaten lunch and were on the rough and tumble road back to Table Rock and my lovely little bungalow. The tour had been absolutely fabulous. I cannot recommend BZM Tours enough. The company is locally owned, they look for opportunities to employ and benefit locals and are a first class operation. I can’t thank them enough for all of the wonderful experiences they provided to me over the last 8 days.
So I have about 4 days left in Belize and have no plans. I doubt I will be doing any more blogging for this trip, but I have a dandy of a trip coming up in October (Algeria, Malta and Cyprus) so there is that to look forward to. Until then…. Cheers!