The country of Belize has a rich and deep history from Mayan empires to pirates and spanish gold. The city of Belize which houses a third of the 300,000 people in the entire country was founded by the Scottish pirate Peter Wallace (under a letter of marque from James the I to hunt and plunder Spanish ships.) During the heyday of piracy the likes of Black Beard and Captain Morgan frequented this port. Its probably because of this past that the city of Belize is a place to get off your plane and into a bus, car, boat, or new plane and immediately go someplace else. We meet our driver and make our way through the city and the wildlife corridor in the low country savannah and up to the high country, pine forests, jungles, howling monkeys… and jaguars.
The ride is a long one…. three hours with an hour of it along a dirt road. Our driver makes this drive daily from the village where he lives and makes this trek joyfully. He seems very comfortable. All 5 feet of him. I on the other hand am wondering what I had in mind…
We get to our destination… an ecco lodge in the pine forests of Maya mountains built by Francis Ford Coppola called Blancaneaux Lodge. The rooms are private and overlook the river with a shaded porch and hammock. There is a conch shell two-way radio to the front desk for any need you could possibly want. The service and the food and ambiance were remarkable.
After our second bottle of wine (a nice Coppola shiraz) we decide to go Jaguar tracking… at night… in the jungle… I’m not kidding…
We meet our guide Eddie and Jorge at 9pm. They hand us those little led head lamps you strap on and we head to the jeep. About thirty minutes into the drive Eddie pulls over and lets Jorge and us out of the car into the pitch black and takes off. We begin our hike and stop only a few minutes into it and our headlamps look down.
There is a huge trail of leaf cutter ants moving from one side of the road to the other. It was impressive. The path seemed like an ancient roman highway as it was indented and clean of debris and as wide as my hand with small red ants carrying leaves five times their own size. They take this leaves into their next and farm a fungus on them that they use for food. Going up and down the highway were these much larger soldier ants. They are from the same colony and are there to protect as well as move large debris out of the trail. In the dark our guide carefully picked a soldier ant up with his fingers and put the head to our ear for us to listen. It sounded too loud for its size and like a freight train hissing steam in and out. Amazing that such a tiny insect could do that.
The jungle is pitch black and I make no attempt to use my camera. With our headlamps firmly in place and right over our eyes we look around and find tiny piercing reflections in the trees and foliage around us. Each reflection is paired and hints of green and blue. These are spider eyes watching us in the dark as we intrude on their hunting.
We head into the brush along a very thin trail. We walk through the jungle sometimes stopping and turning off our headlamps to listen. (Its now about 11 pm.) There was no moon and it was absolutely pitch black. You could not see your hand let alone the guide or the jaguar on the tree branch above blessing his jaguar god for bringing this delicious, succulent (I’ve put on a few pounds), and oblivious dinner to him without lifting a paw.
We make it to he river’s edge and notice a very strong smell like you might smell in an uncleaned cage in the zoo. It is jaguar scent. Our guide gets a little more nervous and tells us of the time he “heard” a jaguar. “Do not run away if we see one,” he says, “no, please do not do that.” “Do not run towards a jaguar either… definitely do not do that…” “What do we do?” I ask. “I don’t know… just stand there…”
We make for the car.
We make it back home and decide to go out again in the morning (nursing a bit of a headache from the wine) and embark on a 11-12 mile hike through the rain forrest with Eddie (the guy who left us on the side of the road with Jorge.)
More on that later. We are off to see the ruins of the largest Mayan city in the country a few hours away.