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#399168 - 02/01/11 09:36 AM Chiquibul, A Slight Return
Marty Online   happy
As we told you earlier on the newscast, the Chiquibul Forest is once again included in an oil exploration bloc.

We were the first media house to go into the verdant depths of this abundant protected area 13 months ago for a despairing look at how far Guatemalan farmers, loggers, hunters and Xateros have made incursions into Belize. Our team of Jules Vasquez and Victor Noble went back into the far reaches of Chiquibul this weekend for another kind of adventure, to have a look at the spectacular, majestic, and mysterious Chiquibul Cave system. We'll have the full story for you tomorrow, but first here's a preview, with Director of Friends For Conservation and Development Rafael Manzanero telling us what's special about the cave system:.

Rafael Manzanero, Director Friends For Conservation and Development
"The importance of the Chiquibul cave system is because it is considered to be the longest and the largest cave system of its type in Central America and therefore it is really a very important cultural heritage for Belize because of its enormity, because of the magnitude of the chambers in terms of its size and its length. Also it is found in the middle of the Chiquibul National Park. It is found under a forest cover and thus it really gives it a high level of uniqueness in that it is so large and so extreme and yet it is still under forest cover and it is highly unexplored and undiscovered and so it is really of keen interest and value to the country of Belize."

So tune in tomorrow, for the full story about the Chiquibul caves and Jules and Victor's sweat soaked adventure, going to one of the most remote areas of the country by any means necessary.

Channel 7

#399289 - 02/02/11 09:35 AM Re: Chiquibul, A Slight Return [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

Chiquibul: The Road Through Nowhere

Last night we told you about our weekend journey to the far reaches of the Chiquibul forest to see one of the most spectacular cave systems in the world.

And like any adventure, our journey began on the road, in this case, it turned out to be a very long and forbidding road. Here's the story:….

Jules Vasquez Reporting
Our early morning journey began here on the Pine Ridge Road - mountains of the Chiquibul Forest peering out from beneath the clouds, it is as picturesque an outdoor setting as you will find in Belize - the mountains perfectly framed like shadows, like echoes.

And nestled within those mountains, our first stop is here at Tapir Camp - a facility operated by the Friends For Conservation and Development at the entrance to the Chiquibul forest.

Now beefed up by a permanent BDF presence, known as the Chiquibul Base Joint enforcement unit.

Glyss Penados is the mission leader - he lays out the 35 kilometer track we'll be taking. The names are from the pages of history, Millionario Camp, Aguacate camp, Resumerdero - all old logging Camps from a century ago when logwood was king.

Today it's about conservation, and the team is big 13 people including four soldiers and one policeman essential for traversing this area frequented by Guatemalan outlaws.

An FCD ranger leads on an ATV while the soldiers take to an old BATSUB Land Rover. While we travel in this battered 1997 Toyota Hilux - El Danto or Mountain Cow we will come to call it for its rugged all terrain capabilities. And rugged it will be…

This map shows the cave system starting at the edge of Belize's territory and ending in Guatemala. And while the map is beguilingly green….

On the ground, it is murder. These are old logging trails, and their only upkeep is the frequent illegal use by Guatemalan Xateros and loggers on their horses and the FCD on its patrols and expeditions.

The mud runs are enormous slogs through thick bogs.

And keeping the vehicle under control in a no traction situation is a feat our driver Glyss Penados handles masterfully.

But mud isn't the only obstacle, often times, there are fallen trees across the trail which is why we travel with two chainsaws.

This is a poisonwood tree - any of those sodium coloured splinters go in your eyes and you'll end up at the hospital.

More than twice the tree across the road was just too big to slice up and our team had to cut out a new road.

Less than ideal but workable nonetheless, in this case - the tree was too big and there was no space to cut a new road on the side, so I went ahead with the equipment on the back of the ATV "now it's time for the most rugged part of the trail - a hike through the thickest jungle over and into the cave

The BDF led by Lance Corporal Cus keep a tight escort on the group - because everywhere there is abundant evidence that Xateros or loggers are in the area

Fresh horse manure. Evidence of multiple Xate camps of fairly recent occupation and across the jungle floor, a sickeningly familiar site - Guateplastic.

And something else we saw when we visited 13 months ago - trees defaced as an act of ownership, idleness or territory marking.

Thee Xate Leaves have been left behind, but only because they are blemished.

The BDF stays armed and ready with live rounds and plastic bullets

Jules Vasquez
"Why is there a need for such strict observance of the security attachment? Were we in a dangerous area?"

Lcpl Cus, F - BDF
"Well I think we have been in contact with Xateros recently and all those thing so especially with civilians we have to maintain those personal security. Like yourself you know, so that when you go and do your job you should feel safe. At the end of the day you accomplish your mission, you accomplish what you suppose to do and we accomplish ours also."

Glyss Penados, Ranger - F.C.D.
"These are remote areas and we also come in contact with the Guatemalans in doing illegal activities so the BDF provide support for us, in the protection of these areas."

The descent down the side of the cliff is steep and difficult. And when you get there, the entrance of the cave is another 50 feet down.

Tomorrow we'll take you inside to see its many wonders…

Tune in tomorrow for the second and final part of our story on the Chiquibul Cave system when we'll take you inside one of the largest caverns in the Western Hemisphere….

Channel 7

#399348 - 02/02/11 06:30 PM Re: Chiquibul, A Slight Return [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
Marty, we were back in this area, on the Millionario road we took a right at the fork towards Punte Natural and visited the logging camps where we had a meal. Was that the same trip as the fires we drove thru in the MPR? Then had to be April or May, most likely May.
Belize based travel specialist

#399381 - 02/03/11 09:49 AM Re: Chiquibul, A Slight Return [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
yep that was it!

#399382 - 02/03/11 09:50 AM Re: Chiquibul, A Slight Return [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

Chiquibul, The Caves Revealed

For the past two days - we've been telling you about our trip into the depths of the Chiquibul Forest once again. When we visited in December 2009, we were looking for Guatemalan encroachments along the border, and we found plenty - as many as six kilometers into Belize.

Now, we are told, illegal loggers are 10 kilometers into Belize…..but that is another story, for another time. This time, our visit was about one of Belize's natural wonders, the Chiquibul Cave system. The Friends For Conservation and Development which co-manages the park hopes to someday have it enlisted as a World Heritage site.

We wanted to find out why - and so we signed up to be the first media house to go visit the site at the far edge of the jungle. Yesterday we showed you how tough it was to get there - today we'll tell you why it was worth the arduous trek.

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"It is found under forest cover and thus it really gives it a high level of uniqueness in that it is so large and so extreme and yet it is still under forest."

Jules Vasquez Reporting
To get into a cave that's buried beneath the forest, it's rough going; first you have to walk over it, which means steep, difficult angles.

Basically walking down a cliff…But it's worth it, inside the cave known as Actun Cabal is like the landscape of another planet - reducing that soldier at the edge of your screen to a mere speck.

While Lance Corporal Cus looks like he's walking on the moon - with the ever- present m-16..

The soldiers came down for this, what is known as virgin water, from the Chiquibul river which runs into the cave and then disappears into one of its many sinkholes.

How the cave can swallow up a whole river and empty it out in Guatemala is only one of the mysteries of this system:

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"it would certainly take us a lifetime to really for us to understand more about this system."

But what they do know is that the The Chiquibul Cave System is the longest and largest protected area in Belize:

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"The importance of the chiquibul cave system is because it is considered to be the longest and the largest cave system of its type in Central America and there for it is really a very important culture heritage for Belize. In because of its enormity, because of the magnitude of its chambers because of its size and its length, it is really broken into four cave chambers, if we can refer to that and it starts here in Belize and the last section it ends up in Guatemala.

"It is considered to have the third largest chamber in the world, it is consider to have largest chamber on this part of the western hemisphere. The system is divide into four parts the first one is where we are actually situated today, which is Actun Cabal the second part is Actun Tuncul the the third one is cebada and the fourt one is called shebalba and it is highly unexplore and undiscovered."

But it has been discovered by Guatemalan raiders:

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"In terms of threats the major one is certainly its surroundings, I am referring to poachers around illegal loggers around, xateros around and as we speak about the Chiquibul forest of course the major threat that is faces is at the hands of Guatemalans who might be lurking or walking around these areas."

Gliss Penados
"Yes in some areas I 've seen that they have move some of the parts around. Most likely they will be looking for polychome vessels, thing that are painted or something of real value like jade or other thing like that, that they will try to take out but, we see activity of them going into the caves around here."

But the truth, is with a span of 55 kilometres, four major chambers and maybe more than a dozen entrances, no one knows everything about these caves - in fact the ancient Mayans probably know the most:

Gliss Penados
"South of the Caracol is the part of the cave called Sebada and more likely they would have done rituals and ceremonies in these caves. When you go in this place you go back in time, travel to the time of the Maya and try to imagine how is it going through those caves and carrying those rituals to the Gods."

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"We know also that the Mayas use these areas for ceremonial activities. We know it because of the potteries that we have managed locate here."

And while there are archeological treasures, untold, man's imprint is small; this is a natural wonder, a place with surfaces, crevices so strange and intriguing, an environment so different - that until you see it - you can't even imagine it.

And even these pictures don't do it full justice. It is a world millions of years old - as told by these stalactites and a world still forming…a world unto itself:

Gliss Penados
"When it comes to nature these caves are unique also where some of the life fond in these caves for example we find like blind shrimps, blind crabs. Also you could find like tuncun, also I have found the bones of an extinct bear. We would find other fossils."

Rafael Manzanero Executive Director, Friends For Conservaiton and Development
"We would love in the future that this area could become a world heritage site because of the dimensions and because of the magnitude of the area of its chambers, of its tunnels and all of this."

And till awed by the grandeur of the caves, time was short, evening was approaching and we had to hike out before the blanket of night captured us in the furthest reaches of Belize..

And while the team stopped for nourishment - I collapsed right there on the jungle floor.

When we got off the trail about an hour later, vapor was coming off my head - you can see the wisps of it off my forehead…

Of course we were far from finished - we still have to go another 33 kilometres through the middle of the jungle.

At 5:40 with night approaching fast, our Hilux got stuck on a tree stump which dislodged the radiator and while it made it out the vehicle was in trouble and the Landrover had to double up on the power and tow us out through the jungle…

And wouldn't you know it after nightfall, that got a flat in the middle of the jungle

But we fixed it, and we got out of the jungle at 10:00 that night….17 hours after we drove in….

Thats 17 hours, wasn't the end of it; our team left Belize City at 3:30 am on Saturday and got back to the City at 12:30 am on Sunday, 21 hours total.

And apart from being very remote and very difficult to reach, the other thing you have to know about the Chiquibul caves is that you can't go there freely, it's closed to the public is in deep bush that only a master guide with an old school four by four can navigate. Additionally, it's in a very dangerous area trafficked by Guatemalan hunters, loggers and Xateros all armed and all considered outlaws.

Channel 7


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