Monday, March 12, 2012


We had a couple of days of rain, so I figured it was a good time to visit the rain forest. My traveling companions decline the opportunity to get wet and elected to stay back and rest up for the next meal.  Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a unique sanctuary in southern Belize. It covers an area of about 150 square miles of tropical forest, and is the world's only Jaguar Preserve. Declared a Forest Preserve in 1984 and finally a Jaguar Preserve in 1986, the park is the culmination of many years of work and perseverance by individuals and national and international organizations.

The park area is rich in beauty, wildlife and even Maya culture.  The Cockscomb Mountain Range towers over the basin to the north. The highest mountain in Belize, Victoria Peak at 3,675 feet presides over the range and offers in its largely unexplored reaches chances for unrivaled exploration and adventure.  Unfortunately Victoria Peak was not in plans for the day. The 17 mile climb to the summit is only for the extremely fit and determined and climbable only in the dry season, with a guide. Be warned, it takes 4 days, and has turned grown men into gibbering wrecks.  Some say that I'm a gibbering wreck most of the time so I didn't want to push my luck.

Rainfall averages anywhere from 100 to 180 inches a year and on the day of my visit it rained the entire time.  After paying my entrance fee of $5, it is about a 6 mile drive on a muddy but passable road to the park.



The Jaguar is the third largest member of the cat family and endangered in most of its range. At Cockscomb, the Jaguar is doing quite well and is by no means the only beneficiary of the safety of the preserve.   A visit to the Jaguar Preserve may likely provide one with signs of recent Jaguar activity, but it is highly unlikely that an actual Jaguar sighting will occur. These rare animals are masters of stealth and their very existence is based on their seeing, but not being seen. Other cats such as the Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi and Margay, as well as Peccary, Paca, Brocket Deer, Tayra, Otter and Coatimundi, enjoy a population density difficult to achieve in most locations. Now I don't profess to know what all the above animals are but I was hoping to see some wild animal, but I never did. 

This is what happens if you park your car for too long in the jungle.

At the visitor center I was provided with a map of the different trails in the preserve.  Because of the pouring rain and lack of rain gear, I opted for a short on hour walk on one of the loop trails in the park.

This is a termite nest beside the trail.  They are plentiful and I even saw them around Placencia.  I also saw some pretty big ant hills and there very large inhabitants.

Walking of the trail is just not possible.  The foliage is just too thick.  A machete is required plus a lot of work.  While driving around Belize we often saw people walking beside the road and most of them carried a machete.

Just think about trapezing through the jungle grabbing on to tree trunks to keep you balance.  This particular tree is very common and has very fine needles all over the trunk.  That's not all, there are many poisonous plants.

Ah, sap! It’s all New England and maple sugar candy, right? Not quite. Here in Belize, some trees ooze chichem, an entirely different type of sap. If it hits your bare skin, it causes a third-degree burn & massive welts. It has a tendency to spread, because it’s a sticky oil, so you have to be careful.  How do you get hit by chichem? Basically by being inexperienced. When clearing brush say, the novice might be a bit wild when they swing their machetes, and hit nearby trees. (The Maya workers use much more short, controlled movements when using the machete). If you hit the trees, the chichem flies, and hits your bare skin. Ouch!



I saw this flower several times on my hike.  I stopped at the visitor center on the way out to ask what it was called.  They didn't know, so I found the name with Google.  Hot lips is the common name but is really called Psychotria poeppigiana. Say that three times fast.

A short distance of the park road is this 4-seater Cessna which crashed back in 1984 when Alan Rabinowitz chartered it to do a routine tracking of the signals on the collars of the jaguars (neither the pilot nor Alan were seriously injured in the crash). Alan had studied the jaguars, and had worked with the locals in finding them, placing monitoring devices, and tracking their movements. Airplanes were used to track the signals, and their movements were recorded and studied. The plane, which encountered problems on take-off, causing it to hit a tree and crash, is now overgrown with shrubs and vines.

By this time I was pretty wet, so I figured it was time to head back and rejoin the rest of the crew.  Upon my arrival I learned that everyone was well rested and ready for dinner.  We headed into Placencia and decided on Italian.  We had one of the best meals of our trip at La Dolce Vita, whose owner/chef immigrated from Italy 8 years ago after a visit to Belize.  He met his future wife and made the move opening a restaurant.  After being in business for 8 years, he said he's staying put.  With her dinner Cathie order a Lighthouse Beer,a product of Belize that she's grown fond of, but the waiter said they only carried premium beers.  Not wanting something different, Cathie declined the offer of something else.  The waiter later returned with her requested beer, having run across the street to the market to get a couple of bottles.  The charge?  The store price of $1.25. 

1 comment:

Nick Saraceni said...

All that beauty AND cheap beer. Waht a great country.