Edited by Naturalight Productions Ltd.
NB: Remember to click on the links in the article to see all the images.
A chapter in the meanderings of a Belizean traveler on the journey of discovery of country takes her from the low lying eastern coast of the Stann Creek District to the waterfalls near Belize's western border with Guatemala. The simple lines of the nation's highways - Northern, Southern, Western and Hummingbird are the arteries for supplies and produce among Belize's major population centers and offer a plethora of visitor experiences.
Sometimes the journey showed the way to dreamy delight lying atop the
Caribbean Sea and lazily watching underwater life flit by. At other times, it led to shimmering stars in a vast, blackened sky viewed from the peaks of giant legacies of the Maya civilization. More than once, the road ended with a cloudless blue sky and a tropical breeze rippling across the surface of the Caribbean Sea, on its approach to Belizean shores, its sole purpose it seemed, to cool my perspiring face. On yet another memorable day the road guided me into the chill of an underwater river coursing through a cave. Once in a while, the journey was halted by the soft glowing smile with which the sun bathed the earth just before she said goodbye to a full day. Each journey seemed to give the glimpse of another, and so my appetite for exploring Belize had been fed.
This particular trek started along the Hummingbird Highway, which connects the capital city, Belmopan, with the culture capital, Dangriga. My favorite of Belize's highways, the Hummingbird, is a 50 mile stretch of curves and hills, valleys and one-lane bridges, flanked by pineapple-decorated hillsides, citrus trees dangling their fruits like Christmas trees, and silently guarded by the Sleeping Giant silhouetted across the mountain tops. My start was Dangriga, my transportation a friend's purloined vehicle for the day. The objective...to find Big Rock Falls in the Mountain Pine Ridge, a quest previously abandoned due to a wrong turn, and the failure of nature's daylight.
Somewhere between a pineapple stand and the Full Belly Café at St.Margaret's Village, near mile thirty-three, hues of blue nest in craters surrounded by green foliage whose arms dance to the wind's orchestra on breezy days - the Five Blues National Park. But this was actually a four-mile detour off the main highway, on a previous wander.
Miles later, past the stare of the ever watchful giant and the parking lot of the Blue Hole National Park, stairs lead to a sinkhole lined by small, smooth, flat, cold stones topped by multicolored water from an underwater stream. As we rolled by, I could see rays of sunlight filtering through the surrounding canopy of trees to warm those emerging from the Blue Hole's refreshingly crisp depths. I won't be joining the swimmers today.
At the Guanacaste Park junction, just outside Belmopan, a quick glance to the right at this intersection where the Western Highway leads to Belize City, brought back memories of a serenade on the banks of the Belize River during one of the La Ruta Maya River Challenges, a remarkable trek through the "best little zoo in the world", and a daunting trip through a cave bobbing with tube riders (daunting only because I was a non-swimmer with a tightly fastened lifejacket floating inside an inflated tractor tire in a pitch black cave for two hours).
Though my mind had meandered to rural Belize District, my feet were still firmly rooted at the Guanacaste pit stop. The Belize District had had its turn; today's journey was westward bound, a left turn at the Guanacaste Park junction and past the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve whose luxuriant thickness conceals karst limestone hills carved by rivers and streams that flow into the Mayan underworld of the
Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave and an archaeologist's fetish.
The topography flattened into softly rolling hills interspersed with fields of yellow, green corn, cattle inhabited pastures and brightly painted village homes. The Mountain Pine Ridge Road starts in the village of Georgeville, with highway and resort signs pointing the way. Roughly eight miles along this road, a left turn would have lead to a bumpy one-lane path up a hill, through the Old Order Mennonite community of Upper Barton Creek, through a stream, and into Mother Earth's bosom via Barton Creek Cave. Inside Barton Creek Cave, it is peacefully quiet and dreadfully dark within minutes. Moisture drips from spectacular stalactites to feed a current-free subterranean body of water bearing the canoes of other adventurers. But I wouldn't be joining them today. Today's quest, if I could stay on track, is in pursuit of the Mountain Pine Ridge.
Famous for its dense Caribbean Pine inhabitants, recently attacked by the transient bark beetle, this 300 square-mile area, houses a number of attractions including the Thousand Foot Waterfall. The falls, estimated at 1,500 feet in height, plunges into the secrecy of the forest below. Other favorites in Mountain Pine Ridge are a collection of granite reservoirs and small waterfalls known as Rio on Pools and the cathedral-like Rio Frio Caves with its gaping entrance - perfect for first time cavers.
The Mountain Pine Ridge road also leads to the ancient Maya city of Caracol where its tallest temple, Canaa meaning "sky place", looms over every other man-made structure in Belize. Memories of that journey, standing atop Canaa, with Toucan Sam's relatives foraging in trees, recall the feeling that I was standing on the top of the world.
Now there is a bona fide detour on today's journey, lunch with the quintuplets -- Five Sisters, a family of five energetic waterfalls cascading down granite walls on the Privasion River. My clamber down to the pools with a picnic reminded me that I would need some energy myself. As an avid subscriber to the ideology of siestas and yawn, -- pardon me -- stretch, maybe after an hour's rest I would wake up and get instructions on how to find the Big Guy.
About an hour later, I was on my way, and the first part of the road looked pretty familiar. Two turns off the main Mountain Pine Ridge road, through a clearing, along a footpath, across a tiny stream, and I was two turns off the main that I remembered well. The first time I had attempted this trip, I had gone left at this intersection; this time around I chose the "right" path. The path soon steepened but there were ropes hanging alongside for me to grasp and lower myself without falling. Surely others had been there before me, but was I on the right track? Just when I was really beginning to doubt myself I heard it. There is no mistaking the sound of torrents of water urgently gushing over rock walls - like a prisoner jumping to freedom. This had to be it!
Scrambling down the last few feet, there before me were several large boulders and the sound of rushing water became even louder. Maneuvering along the tops of the seemingly casually strewn formations was peaceful and easy and I came to a clearing where the lonely nature of my adventure was amended. One visitor emulated a lizard and was sunning on the rocks. A couple had mistaken a secluded pool for their honeymoon suite and another might have lost his mind on the climb down or maybe it was the sheer beauty of the place. Then there was this guy busy taking pictures of everything that moved. Freedom and nature does strange things to people so I just did what I came to do… - I found a seat and paid homage to Big Rock.
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography