Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Belize Jungle Adventure - With Horsepower



Belize is changing so rapidly it’ll make your eco-head spin. It has quickly changed from a quiet little country of fishermen and subsistence farmers to an enormously popular adventure-travel destination. Growth like this generally has terrible consequences for the environment but for now Belize seems to be hanging in there. Still quaint, still friendly, still filled with beautiful reefs and rainforests.

I am afraid this won’t always be the case – and so I suggest you visit as soon as possible.

I am finding more new kinds of adventures available these days, and as the sales rep. for The Blue Tang Inn (San Pedro, Belize) I need to be familiar with them all. Sometimes, however I question the environmental impact related to these tours. And although I’m not playing egg toss with sea turtle eggs or harpooning baby manatee cubs, my anglo, middleclass, American guilt kicks in from time to time.

Am I creating a carbon footprint or a giant, heaving carbon suckhole?

Filled with this uncertainty, I agreed to go on a rainforest tour, river kayak, and Mayan cave expedition. Here’s the kicker. The rainforest tour is on ATVs, and we are taking a jet boat to the mainland. (Can’t you just hear the seahorses whimpering?)

We took a 50 minute ride on the “Reef Rocket” jet boat from San Pedro. It was fast, it was scenic and it was FUN. (Look away I’m ashamed). Our guide, Raymond Boatman, met us at the “manufactured for the consumption of cruise-ship passengers” port in Belize City. (Seriously – no locals are allowed into this area of Belize City unless they are employed at a restaurant or shop there. And no tourists are allowed out).

Raymond, an educated, knowledgeable, charming Belizean guided us through the Pecary Park area of Belize. He and all of the guides employed by Discovery Tours have grown up here. This is their back yard.

He did a marvelous job with an overview of Belize (country facts) and Belize City. But it was when we started talking about his home, the area we would tour, that he really began to light up.

He told us that the people who live in this area had mostly been hunters and subsistence farmers. When Discovery Tours opened, the locals were offered the chance to “put down their guns” and earn a living by teaching travelers about their home. He said “We don’t hunt in the jungle any longer and now the animals are returning.”

The ATV thing was a blast. There were just seven of us - Mike, kids, myself, and Fanny Herstig the manager of the hotel with her husband David. The paths were well maintained the ATVs were not overly smelly or loud. But it wasn’t really a tour – more a thrill ride.

The tour part came when we went into the cave. Our guide made certain that we didn’t do anything, apart from our presence there, to disturb or disrupt more than necessary. Now I have been on a few cave tours in Belize in the past, but this one was quite different. Raymond taught us about the history and geology of the limestone caves in Belize. He talked about which portions of the cave were still “alive” (actively creating stalactites and stalagmites) and which portions were dead. He made us aware that even something as small as touching the tip of one of these formations could kill it. He made us appreciate the “life” of a cave in the same way we do the life of a reef.

And of course, there were great pieces of Mayan pottery to photograph (no touching). We learned how the Ancient Mayan’s used these pots for ceremonies –conducted in caves because caves were considered an important conduit between this world and the next. It was cool and spooky – especially when the bats flew by and the scorpions scuttled past on the ceilings.

The day ended with lunch and a leisurely kayak down the river with beautiful scenery and bird watching.

Environmentally irresponsible? Maybe.

Vastly educational? Definitely.

Fun? Bet your deep fried spotted owl it was!

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