We find our adventurers only slightly hung over from good wine and inhaled Jaguar urine from the night before and ready to depart on an 11 mile hike through the jungles of the high country in Belize. We are with our guide, a local Mayan named Eddie, who lives about 45 minutes away in a small village and has been hiking this jungle for 10 years. Our headaches are erased by a sense of adrenaline induced by what lay ahead. Surely we are travelers today… as Anthony would say… not tourists.
Eddie is a remarkable guide and tracker. There is not a thing he misses on the ground. No animal can poop in any given month without his expert knowledge of it — their diet, mating habits, size, and voting preference. We are still high up in the savanna with its tall grass and pine trees.
As we make our way down, Eddie points out the healing powers of many of the plants along the way. We come across a plant known in Mayan as Yax T’a. Eddie takes a leaf and bunches it in his palm and explains that this plant wards off malaria, depression, flu symptoms, liver disease, and migraines, among other things. He says it’s bitter, maybe the most bitter thing you will eat all day. He says many Mayans still hold to its medicinal qualities and use it regularly to ward off illness. Meanwhile, long ago in his narrative about this particular plant, I have already put the leaf in my mouth and started chewing it. Within seconds, every droplet of saliva was gone out of my mouth. It was as if I took a few aspirin and boiled them down to increase the concentration and then took the aspirin tar and a gave it a light quick brush of battery acid and then dropped it in my mouth and played around with my tongue moving it around my gums. I begin to sweat.
“Although the locals don’t take it directly,” he says, “we think it is very bitter. In English the Mayans call this plant Jackass Bitters.”
Kathi asks why, while in back of her, unknowingly, my face is turning red and I’m looking to find a place to lay down and get in the fetal position.
“Well,” he says, “you have to be a jackass to eat it, it’s so bitter.” I quickly spew my chewed leaf out on the jungle floor while no one is paying attention and continue on our jungle adventure looking a little bit like Kim Basinger during the golden years of collagen.
Next we come across a clear sign of a large cat. The ground has been scraped with a paw and urinated on as a domestic dog or cat might do. Unlike those animals, it also left a print with some clear mass to it. This is probably a young jaguar or potentially an ocelot based on its size.
For every six square miles there are 8 to 10 jaguars roaming around among other cats such as black panthers, mountain lions, and ocelots. To give you a sense that is two or three freeway exists in each direction with about 10 to 20 very stealthy killer beasts roaming around, a bit shy but very hungry. I did look it up and only two people were eaten by a jaguar since 2010 here in Belize — one a local and the other an American (I am hoping the American is from New Jersey which hopefully throws that particular cat off Americans for a very long time).
We continue our hike into the deep jungle and canopy above. For each tree there seems an entire ecosystem of predators, benign hosts, protectors, and just good-looking non-tax-paying hanger-ons with a sense of entitlement.
This tree above is not a banyon tree but a vine that makes itself into a tree. It grows up the tree and then begins to strangle it while continuing to grow and wrap around. After 10 or 20 years the original host tree is dead inside the middle and the vine looks like a banyon tree.
now midday and I begin to ponder what our chances would be in the middle of bloody nowhere, with sense of direction completely lost, that my cute little cuddly Mayan eco-guide turns into a Nicaraguan drug trafficking sex slaver.
He points out a Bullhorn Acacia. I’m wary of his motive. Why an Acacia? And why now?
The Acacia has a symbiotic relationship with Bullhorn Ant. They live in the inch long non-threatening thorns along its small branches. When the plant is touched, this tiny tiny ant comes out of a tiny tiny little hole, crawls down the little stem, finds your index finger and bites down. Eddie says it feels like a 22 caliber bullet hole through your finger that gets infected and never goes away. I look at this ant again… literally the size of a pinhead.
Below is not a flower but an actual beehive. The bees in Belize do not sting. The flower is made out of beeswax.
We lunch along the river on fruit and grilled chicken. I’m thinking of the 1930’s archeologist Anderson trekking through this very jungle in search of ancient Mayan ruins. He might have stopped at this exact spot and had the very same grilled chicken and avocado wrap and herbal green tea. A sense of nostalgia and purpose entered my veins.
Here we are at lunch.
Next we hike home, out of the jungle, and stop and the Big Rock falls. We come across a spearhead from 700 AD. I take a picture of it and we put it carefully back for other travelers and other times.
The pools are perfect. I ask about killer fresh water river eels after watching an Animal Channel documentary on it only a few nights before. Eddie smiles knowingly. “No… no, not that I know of.”
The trip is over, we walk to our fresh Allspice Mojito (my new favorite drink and yes, I tried that leaf too.) and get ready for our next adventure.
In Ká (Mayan for see you soon)