8 december 1998 - Lanquin

Alberto Bulom

We wake up fairly early as usual and start the morning by spreading our stuff all over in front of the van. Soon we are joined by the first hombre of the morning - Alberto who is out walking his pig. Yes, he was indeed coming up the road with a big fat pig which he "parks" next us and then he joins us. Alberto turns out to be quite a festive guy, who has this funny habit of whistling and making elaborate gestures while he spoke - hard to explain, but it was quite amuzing. After a while we offer him a bit of our "Gammel Dansk", the Danish bitter snaps, which he drinks with a awkward facial expression. Good good fun. When his mate later joins us and tries a sip of the same stuff and doesn't like it at all Alberto tells his friend that he was enjoying it and didn't feel a thing, and his friend is a bloody softy. :-) A classic. The third person who enters the scene turns out to be the local policeman, we find this out when - as we give him a cup of coffee and demand some money for the coffee (for fun of course), he pulls his huge gun out of his little shoulder bag! He was a very nice guy and we give him a boost of Gammel Dansk as well.

Alberto Bulom, Lanquin, Alta Vera Paz, Bario San Fransico, Guatemala

Caving

Well after having made the third bucket of coffee (enough for everyone) we put our caving gear on and head off caving. The police guy turns out to be the guy with the key to the cave as well, so that's pretty conveient. We give him 10Q as the entrance fee and when he asks if he can come with us we gladly accept as he obviously knows the cave very well, but hasn't been all the way in - the perfect team for a deep exploration. He borrows one of our spare head torches and we have geared up with the whole shooting match of helmets, carbide lamps and all that stuff. We're off.

The first bit we know from the previous days experience, but Nicholas can tell us a good deal of additional stuff and spot some really cool features. After half an hour of so we reach the end of the "tourist" track and the real caving can begin. Yoist! Nicholas knows pretty well where to go, but we both head off left and right to investigate the numerous sideways several of which nobody has seemed to bother looking at and a few which has potential for further exploration. We head further in on the main path though as we enter deeper and deeper in the system.

Batman

After an hour of interesting caving we stop in a narrow walkway and listen. We can hear a strange hissing sound like leaking gas or something like that. We ask Nicholas "Que es ese sonido?" and he replies "Batman!". Bats. We enter a *massive* chamber turn on the halogen and look up. Bats, thousands and thousands of bats. It is absolutely unbelievable. Most of the little creatures are hanging in the cealing but many (hundreds) of the are flying around making the experience quite freaky. It only adds to the animal experience as Mathias looks up on the cealing right above him and spots a big evil looking spider hanging and waiting for something to jump down on and eat. Yeiiekes! The senses suddenly get an extra boost this is definitely a different story than the good old Goatchurch cavern back in Britain. Yoist! The spider looks really nasty, but Nicholas assures us that it doesn't eat humans - we can but trust him. But we make sure to take an extra look before squeezing into narrow passages from now on.


Bats, thousands and thousands of bats.

Under- ground Lake

This Bat chamber is maybe the size of a couple of Sanct Peter's churches and we try to get an idea of where to head of next. There is a significant sound of water running from the far end of the chamber and we decide to try for that. Going through the narrow passages takes a little getting used to - all you see is bats flying straight towards you, veering off in the very last minute. This leads us into yet another big chamber - still filled with bats but also with a big lake in the edge of it. Wow. We carefully get ourselves to the shore of this lake and discover that is opens up further in on the water and it look like it continues deep in - the lake must be massive. Fred and I look at each other. Why did we not bring a little inflatable raft? :-\ The approach to this place looks virtually untouched although there are occasional years marked on the stone (one from the 1852) so imagine this lake - surely noone or maybe just a selected few fanatics have bothered to explore this lake in detail. It would be such an experience in a raft. Damn - who could have known we are now paying the price for Jeppe and Fred's joy and happiness in Roervig, Denmark last year. (Long story). Anyway. We could just swim the bloody thing, but after having met the spider (there where several) who knows what could be hiding in the depths of the dark blue water. We'll never know.

We head further into the cave leaving the lake and the system just seem to go on and on. Great. The bats are still in high numbers but we are actually getting used to them flying directly towards our faces and then just as you think they'll hit you they turn 90 degrees and avoid you. It's all down to radar we heard. (Thanks Stephan).

Eventually we reach the bottom of the cave system which is a lake which quite possible sumps, but which has a violent current as well and it would be insane to jump in. To round of our caving creatures experience we luckily manage to get a good look at a white or transparaent crab which runs away with something in its claws. Wow. All these little buggers look quite scary at a first sight but all turn out to be rather friendly little creatures. Fascinating.

After having spend a few moments in this deep end of the cave, we start heading back and even manage to make the trip a "round trip" by following the river for some distance another way than we came in. Thanks Nicholas you did a marvelous job. He seemed happy as well, and told us that we had been some places that he hadn't been before either.

Franco

In the evening we go to Lanquin to eat, and return to our cave camp spot because it is getting dark again. There is still a bit of light though, so Fred puts in the kayak and paddles up the river to where it emerges from the ground next to the cave. We decide to hang around and see if the bats come out in a big flock which is what the Begian chap, Stephan, told us they did. We must have been too late because there are only a couple of bats flying in and out. We meet a german guy, Franco, at the cave entrance. He wanted to enter, but now it is closed again. We decide to have one last look at the cave so he can see it, grab a few lights and head inside. We know the first section pretty well by now!

9 december 1998 - San Luis

Kayaking

Franco camped near the cave as well, and takes the kayak for a spin in the morning after we wake up. Paddling upstream, he hits a little wave and takes his first swim. No problem. Later he goes *downstream* and in the distance we see him tip over again. This is a little worrying because we don't know what is around the corner, and there is a lot of brush so it might be tricky to get to shore safely. It all turns out ok, though. We are heading to Poptun and since Franco is going in roughly the same direction, he joins us in the van. Very pleasant company, and he is much more prepared than we normally are wrt food - so during the trip we get avocado sandwiches with tomatoes etc. Compared to our usual junk food, it is great.

Bad Road

The road to Poptun is *really* bad and it is raining. Mathias takes over the wheel for the first time since his arrival, and negotiates the monster holes in the road, the mud, the rocks, the sections with no road, and the oncoming trucks. It is raining all day, and there are places where we could easily get stuck, but we escape without major problems except the bottom is pretty scraped up and the van is now brown with mud.

San Luis

After eight tense hours on the road we end up in San Luis - a little pueblo only 20 km from Poptun. It is best to stop though, because it is getting dark. The town is very lively but is not exactly filled up with turists - We are definitely the only gringos here... Lots of little bars, and shops and a certain noibel atmosphere. We find a little motel and mingle with the locals who, as usual, are very interested who we are and where we are coming from, and how much all our stuff cost. There is in particular one completely ratt-assed chap who follow us around, and as I write this he is sitting on the bench next to me, almost asleep against my shoulder.


We are definitely the only gringos here...

I sold my little guitar to a friendly guy that demonstrates tuning by ear. He refuses to let go of the guitar once he starts playing it. He plays a lot of Guatemalan classics for us. He is very funny, and although I sold it for less that I bought it for in Mexico it now has a good home.

10 december 1998 - Poptun

 

After a varied nights sleep in the rough little town of San Luis we (The two of us and Franko) get an early start towards Pontum. Franko has heard tales of a place near Pontum which serves a good breakfast so we aim for that. An hour or so - the roads are a bit better than yesterday - we find ourselves seated in a hut in the middle of the jungle with a bowl of hot porridge in front of us. Y y yoist!

Cocay Camp

We have reached The Cocay Camp which is a little backpackers campingplace some 7 kilometers north of Peptun. We realize that we are in a little paradise on earth as we get a tour of the place after the good and filling breakfast. Just next to the hammocks there is a nice river and it's all very green and pleasant. We quickly find our way down to the river with the kayak under the arm, and Mathias get a good deal of practice in since the fairly traumatic trip in Rio Mendoza about a year ago. Good stuff. Later we even find that the river has some more potential a bit further down. Cool place. If this kayaking business wasn't enough we also rent a couple of horses and head out for some cave spotting but a slight misunderstanding between us and our guide and a bit of a lame horse makes the horseback riding experience less of a fiesta. We do manage to show off a bit of our horseriding skills though and it seems that we are both riding a pretty fine gallop these days.


We quickly find our way down to the river with the kayak.

Crazy Frenchman

The place is run by a pleasant german woman, Kristine, and Paco. Their dish washer is really happy boy, Agner, who unfortunately has polio so he can only walk with crouches. There are two german guys staying there, not very friendly, our very nice friend Franco from Lanquin, and a very festive french chap, Patrice. He talks about stuff using a brilliant mixture of french, spanish and english - spiced up with lot of arm movements. Classic.

11 december 1998 - Flores

Poptun cave

Although Cocay would be the perfect place to chill out for a few days, we decide to head north today. But first we want to explore a cave that is supposed to be nearby. We lend Franco a spare helmet and head torch, and we drive off with Paco and Agner showing us where the entrance to the cave is. Off we go into the cave. Tight entrance, followed by a big tube where we can walk easily. Mathias pushes up a side passage that requires a bit of technical climbing, and we crawl around exploring what turns out to be "the second level". Very similar to a Mendip cave with lots of mud and fairly tight. We get rewarded on this detour by some old pieces of broken pottery - very interesting. Fred demonstrates a complete lack of orientation: "Hey I think this way will go..."-"It's the way we came from, Freddy." After a while we end up in the main tube again, sliding down a ramp from the top. We push the cave further in, through water, under tight passages, and finally end up in a little chamber with a confused bat and no other exits. Great cave with good formations, but not any potential for further exploration as far as we can tell.


Fred demonstrates a complete lack of orientation.

After a wash in the river and lunch we head north with Patrice, the crazy Frenchman, in the back. The roads are really bad, but they appear to be in the process of constructing a tarmac road. Three or four hours later we are in Flores, and we book into a cheap hotel with Patrice. Muchos fiesta in le evening in the chambre de hotel...

12 december 1998 - San Igcanio, Belize

Tikal ruins

Next morning we head to Tikal, the main tourist attraction in Guatemala. We were prepared for a gedemarked of tourist busses and such, but there are not many people there. For a few hours we wander around the huge archeological site, with many impressive tall ruins, arranged around grassy courtyards various places in the dense jungle. An amazing place, very well restored. Many of the ruins we still not cleared and they were completely covered in vegetation and trees and just looked like hills in the jungle.

Back at the car park we bump into a mid-aged Danish couple who turns out to be from Holte as well, our little hometown in Denmark! Small world.

Belize

Off to Belize on a really bad road again - we have been on these roads the past week and I am amazed that Daisy is still in one piece. In Belize, the roads are supposed to be "normal" again. The border crossing is chaotic as usual, but we go through with no problem. We need about 50q of fees to leave Guatemala, but nothing to enter Belize except we had to promise not to sell the van there. This is what our french friend Patrice had done with his, that he drove down from Quebec...

We find San Ignacio, and sit in Eva's cafe. Good place for information about the local playground - the mountains just to the South. This town is quite a culture shock. In Guatemala, everyone was really laid back - here everyone are hyper, partying, and speaking a funny caribian style rastafary English. It is more "civilized" here, but I think we will miss the calm laidback yet talkative Guatemalans.


This town is quite a culture shock.

13 december 1998 - Blue Hole

Had a bit of a rest day in our camp in San Ignacio. We accomplished one thing: putting up a chain of flashing christmas lights in the front windows. We left for Belmopan at 3.30pm. Belmopan is the capital of Belize and is strangely enough a complete ghost town. There is abslutely nothing. We got a bit of vegetables and headed of to Blue Hole where we arrived in the evening and will camp for the night. Had a great meal of rice and fried vegetables. Mathias is eating like a maniac - probably feeding a bendelorm. :-/

14 december 1998 - Douglas de Silva

 

In the morning we met the park ranger for the Blue Hole national park - a very friendly chap from El Salvador. We asked if it was legal to go in the cave, and he just kept saying: just don't go in more than a few hundred feet or you will get lost... We took that as a yes. (Price 26 belize dollars, including camping)

St. Herman's cave

We put on our caving outfit and head into the jungle. The entrance is h huge, with vegetation hanging down from above. There is a well-used path which we follow. In the beginning it is just a huge tube with a stream running through the bottom, and a muddy bank to walk on. Further in it gets more interesting and more technical. We explore a handful of side passages that require quite a bit of squeezing and climbing over loose rocks and boulders. At the end of most passages, however, we are rewarded with a pretty chamber full of stalactites and stuff. The formations are cool, but in the main tunnel they are all covered in mud from the many visitors. After perhaps two hours we spot the light from the exit at the other end of the cave - but we still have a few side passages to explore so we head back in. We tick a one or two more of dead end side passages and lastly we try to scare a team of young mormons and we take a photo of them with each of their cameras. That's about it. Compared to our amazing trip in Lanquin this cave is a bit boring. Unfortunately this is what we feared a bit about Belize - total goverment controlled nature, everything costs money and the accessible caves for example are just as explored as a good old Mendip cave - every little tiny dead end had mud traces of people. Guatemala is the prime choice. But anyway - now we are camped in the Maya Mountains (costs money as well) and let's see what they have to offer. And eventually we'll have a look at the cayes (if we have any money left) and give our final verdict over Belize. So far it's Guatemala 1 Belize 0.

Eyyydds.

15 december 1998 - San Ignacio

Jungle chopping

We woke up in Douglas de silva and prepared ourselves for the day's expedition: A 7-8 kilometers jungle trek to check out a possible crag that we had spotted on our 1:50,000 detailed map of the Maya Mountains. We parked the van next to the Rio Frio which we would have to try and follow down to where it met Rio Macal and where the rock was supposed to be. We figured that we would need to spend most of the day cutting through the jungle so we put on the full rack of climbing gear, food and camping gear. And of course our highly valued machete.

We could only follow the river for a short distance before we had to start heading more into the jungle than we actually had anticipated. We had hoped that it would be a breeze following the river all the way to the junction, but we had to zigzag through the jungle on the left side of the river instead. We did this for two hours or so.

Cutting through dense jungle is actually really good fun. The machete is an amazing tool - the one we got seems to be perfectly balanced and when you get the hang of it you can really "scissor" your way through making a path scattered with chopped small trees, cut --lianer-- and mawned palmleaves. You can cut down a tree the thickeness of an arm in 5 shots. Good stuff. It worked out quite good to have one person leading with the machete choosing the way through the territory, and the second person navigating and resting eventually taking over when the first person get tired leading. But it is a very slow process though.

We stopped after two hours and tried to figure out our progress. We were both pretty sure that we had not made a particularly great distance and we are getting a bit worried that we might be in just slightly over our heads.. So we sat down for a short break, ate our lunch and listened to the sound of the jungle. There was something lurking in the trees further ahead but we never saw anything. Acutally it was quite a (pleasant) surprise how little animal life we encountered going through the jungle like this. You are obviously making a fair bit of noise chopping and singing Danish scout songs so every bit of nasty animal life like snakes, spiders and jaguars seem to be well out of your way. I (Mathias) can cope with steep rock faces, deep caves and even bastards provoking you on bars, but these little critters is just way over my league.


Getting a bit worried that we might be in just slightly over our heads.

Retreat!

Anyway - after having recouperated we considered that this little project of ours might not go at all and we decided to head back to civilisation. It was of course with great disappointment that we would not be there to check out this potential big climbable piece of rock in the jungle, but sometimes you just haven't got what it takes.

The walk back was equally exciting - it was quite a challenge to find our "path" back but at last it went. Back at the car we decided to get a quick fix of adrenaline dumped our big rucksacks and fired up the caving gear and headed into what we thought was a big entrance to a cave, but turned out to be a very big natural limestone bridge. Still good fun.

As the day came to an end we headed back out of the Maya Mountains and back to San Ignacio where we camped in an orange field somewhere out of town.

16 december 1998 - Caye Caulker

Caye Caulker

We heard that there is a good festive atmosphere on the off-shore Islands in Belize. So we take the afternoon boat from Belize City to Caye Caulker, about 40 minutes by speed boat. We are greeted by a rastafari dude who takes us to the Hideaway Hotel with pretty crap little rooms but it's cheap. He offers us some good duubie, but as y'all know the Willerup Bros don't do drugs - we get our kick out of doing wild sports instead. Okay so we never inhale. No seriously, everyone who have approached us in Belize seem completely spaced out on drugs, wanting to sell us some.

We soon get changed to our party gear and head out to investigate this little coral reef that we are staying on. It seems pretty quiet but we do find some people on the Sand Bar. Nice evening, but not as "wild" as we'de expected. We bumped in to an Albanian fellow who was quite a laugh.

Goodbye Belize!

Next day we try to find some action, and find some in the form of two sea kayaks and take a spin around the half of the island. Good exercise for the old arm muscles but the adrenaline is still crying for some action. We park the kayaks where we got them, and both agree - this island is not for us, too many people on drugs and nothing else happening. We get the speed boat (that was good fun) back to Belize city and quickly set the course for Mexico. Goodbye Belize, we never really came to like you. Sorry.

17 december 1998 - Orange Walk

On our way out of Belize we spend the night in Orange Walk Town, yet another strange city.


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