Portofino Resort- Now with a new BEACH BAR!!
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#14018 - 06/24/01 09:14 AM Caves Branch
Richard Chambers Offline
There is a large article about this resort in todays Houston Chronicle travel section.

#14019 - 06/24/01 06:37 PM Re: Caves Branch
Sandcrab Offline
Here is the article quoted from the Houston Chronicle... There are a couple of excellent pictures and a map of Belize as well. The article with photos and map can be found on-line at: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.hts/travel/jump/948952

June 21, 2001, 1:04PM

Explore a different world cave tubing in Belize
Associated Press

BELMOPAN, Belize -- To enter Belize's caves under Mayan rule, you had to be a member of an elite family or a shaman ready to sacrifice humans. Or a bat.

Taking an inner tube ride through a Belize cave can be an eye-opening experience.

In the 21st century, all you need is an inner tube, a pair of paddle-ready hands and some hiking boots you're willing to get thoroughly soaked.

It also doesn't hurt to bring a disposable camera in case it tumbles out of its plastic bag into the river.

That's all I had last month when I took my first cave tubing trip: a mellow float through underground river caves sparkling with mica-studded stalactites and stalagmites and filled with 1,000-year-old pottery shards and Mayan footprints.

Belize, a Central American nation bordered by Mexico and Guatemala, is known for its fishing and as a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers, who flock to a barrier reef that is the longest in the Western Hemisphere.

But like Costa Rica and Panama, the country also has begun to tout ecologically friendly adventure vacations in the flower-laden, animal-filled jungles of the interior. Tourist companies in Belize offer everything from cave tubing to animal tracking, bird-watching and the exploration of Mayan ruins.

Cave tubing has become a popular option in the 10 years since Ian Anderson began his Caves Branch Adventure Co. & Jungle Lodge, about 10 miles south of the capital, Belmopan.

"When we opened Caves Branch, we started with one cabana, an outhouse and the river to bathe in," said Anderson, 45, a native of Vancouver, Canada. Today, Anderson has 47 employees on a 58,000-acre spread of limestone cliffs, crystal caves, ceremonial sites and tropical jungle. Guests can pitch a tent, grab a bunkhouse mattress or relax in screened-in cabanas with thatched roofs, comfortable beds, kerosene lamps and bottles of water.

I stayed in one of the cabanas where mesh screens were the only thing separating me from the pulsating squawks, scrapes, grunts and shrieks of the jungle -- a world of dense vegetation where the air is so thick with humidity you sweat just from breathing.

At dawn, I rose with the crickets to shower in a bamboo stall with a sky view and natural gas-heated water sprinkling through holes punched into the bottom of a dangling metal bucket. Nothing like it.

Because I only had a day to explore, I chose the relatively laid-back River Cave Expedition, a daylong trip that combines river tubing and cave exploration.

The trip for me -- and the six others in my group -- began next to a mountain of inner tubes on the back of a rickety wooden trailer that our guide, Esperanza, hauled with an old farm tractor.

Just a short chug down the Hummingbird Highway, we turned and bounced through an expansive orange grove until reaching the Caves Branch River, a clear, tranquil stream that flows only knee-high in some places during the dry months.

But it was deep enough to let us float into the dark depths of Footprint Cave, one of myriad caverns the Mayas believed served as the entrance to Xibalba, the underworld.

After death, the ancient priests said, every person's spirit must pass through nine levels of the underworld before rising through the roots of the sacred ceiba tree and up through its branches toward the heavens.

I was wondering if the trip itself was a kind of purgatory when I plopped down into the hole of the inner tube and felt the water seep like ice through my shorts and add five pounds to my hiking boots. Paddling backward upstream -- which entailed having to swivel my head around awkwardly to see where I was going -- also made little sense to me.

But once we entered the silent cave, I began to appreciate the mystery this space once held for the Mayan shamans and priests.

The beams of our headlamps flashed wildly about, illuminating a glittering stalagmite here, a deceivingly vacant-looking bat hole there. Occasionally, we drifted onto the rock-covered shores of the river cave, abandoning the tubes momentarily while we climbed slippery, red-clay paths to discover hidden ceremonial centers complete with original fire pits, obsidian blades once used for sacrificial bloodletting and a massive piece of pottery that amazingly has stayed intact for more than 1,000 years.

One of the best moments came when we shut off our lamps and floated downstream in darkness, losing all sense of place and direction and feeling oddly like we were not moving at all, just hanging in a silent, lightless space.

I have to admit the experience lost some of its charm when two college boys in the group began grunting like the animated polar bears in that obnoxious Coke commercial. Plus, the antsy part of me wanted more adventure.

But Caves Branch offers more than a dozen other trips that are sure to boost the adrenaline: a jungle safari after dark led by local bushmen, for example; or the overnight caving expedition that begins with the ominous-sounding "Black Hole Drop."

"Dropping" in this case means rappelling 300 feet down into the Actun Loch Tunich sinkhole. The rappelling starts out 200 feet above a rain forest canopy and ends another 100 feet later at the bottom of the hole.

After exploring the Actun Loch Tunich river cave system, the droppers sleep by a campfire, then the next day descend another 400 feet to an underground river and waterfall.

"Once you're at the bottom, the question is, how do we get you out?" a trip description teasingly asks, but does not answer. The mystery, fraught with potential danger, only served to pique my interest. Oh well, next time.

For newlyweds, Caves Branch Adventure Co. offers the "Honeymooners' Five-Night Adventure." After tying the knot, couples tie themselves onto ropes, rappel into the hole, and spend the night next to a waterfall in a subterranean cave equipped with candles, champagne and a flower-strewn bed. Makes you want to propose, doesn't it?

Then there is the "Lost World" expedition, a nine-day excursion through the tropical rain forest, including a visit to some of the country's most interesting caves, rappelling trips into sinkholes and rope drops down a 250-foot cliff face into the jungle.

Whether you like bird-watching, rock climbing or caving, next time you go to Belize, it's worth trading in your snorkeling and scuba diving equipment -- at least for a day or two -- for a pair of hiking boots and a safari hat.

Interior Belize is bursting with life, and boasts a primitive, untouched nature that inspires awe even in the most jaded 21st-century soul.

Trust me, I felt it.

[This message has been edited by Sandcrab (edited 06-24-2001).]


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