Tuesday, April 01, 2008

River Trail

This is the 'River Trail' that connects the main part of the Chaa Creek resort to the Macal River Camp where we stayed. The trail hugs a steep limestone hillside overlooking the river, and it rises and falls steeply enough to require a lot of log stairs like those in this picture. It took about 15 minutes to walk from Chaa Creek to the Macal River Camp and I expect the trail must have been about 2/3 of a mile long. The walk was very picturesque - unless you were carrying Lyra, it was raining, or it was after dark. All of which we experienced. Carrying Lyra is particular raised the exercise value of the walk considerably.

Cath: The trail only took 15 minutes to walk if we had all the kids with us. If I walked it by myself or just carrying Lyra, it only took 5. But you all know how I walk! My calves were SCREAMING the first 3 days here! I did not miss my hill running At All.

Bamboo Forest

This is along the trail between the main Chaa Creek residential area and the canoe dock.  The bamboo thickets are huge, and the base of the individual bamboo stalks are 5" - 6" inches in diameter.  I did not associate bamboo with a rain forest, but it was thriving here and certainly made the forest feel dark and lush.

Barton Creek - Cave Entrance

This is the entrance to Barton Creek Cave.  There are several cave systems within reasonable proximity to Chaa Creek.  Barton Creek is the most accessible for smaller children.  You explore it in canoes, and you are only the the cave for about an hour.  There are two other bigger cave systems that you explore either via swimming through the cave or tubing.  
Barton Creek Cave was used extensively by the Maya (see link for more info).  It is a big cave, navigable by canoe for almost a mile, and then (reportedly) at least several miles deeper with blockages making it harder to explore.  The creek is narrow, but the cave ceiling is high and there are many formations and ledges, some of which contain visible Maya artifacts. 

Access to Barton Creek is via a long dirt road through Mennonite farm land.  One of the (many) interesting things about Belize is how much certain immigrant groups have established significant local communities.  The Mennonites, many still reliant on traditional horse powered farming techniques, have a very large presence in agriculture.  Taiwanese Chinese are another very visible immigrant group, and they have an enormous presence in the retail sector with numerous small grocery and variety stores in every small town.

Barton Creek - Cave Interior

The interior of the Barton Creek Cave was spectacular.  Very high ceiling and lots of limestone formations created over millions of years.  Unfortunately I left my good camera on land, and I was paddling the canoe, so getting pictures was tough.  In addition, our lighting in the cave was provided by hand held spot lights powered by 12 volt car batteries in the canoe.  They were so bright they were dangerous to look into directly, but being spot lights they were useless for taking pictures.  

At one point we (very briefly) turned off all of our lights and it was utterly and totally dark.  You literally could not see your hand in front of your face.  It made me really wander what it must have been like exploring the caves (or holding ceremonies in them as the Maya did) before electric lights.  The cave is big, and even burning torches would have only illuminated a small area.   It must have been really scary being in the caves by torch or firelight.

Barton Creek - Spider Monkey

There was a family that lived and had a small snack bar near the entrance to Barton Creek. Since Barton Creek is at the end of what felt like about ten miles of dirt roads, including two places where you needed to drive your 4x4 through a stream, it was pretty isolated. The people who lived there had a pet monkey on a chain and wire run like a dog. The boy holding the monkey is own of its owners and the way he threw it around I think I could not tell if the monkey was entertained or terrified. Will was offered the opportunity to hold the monkey and he declined.

Cathl: I have to say this whole thing gave me the heebie jeebies. The monkey, name Mango, was about 18 months old so just a bit younger than Lyra. I am not sure if it was orphaned or what. Its coat was dry and sparse and the little monkey just looked very very human and it didn't feel right to see it on a chain as a plaything like this (but of course, most of the kids really wanted to play with it). We saw another monkey at the Belize zoo just like this one and it looked much healthier and happier.

Barton Creek - Eva

This is Eva in the canoe paddling to the cave entrance at Barton Creek.  You can't really see any of Barton Creek, but I liked the photo of Eva.