another brilliant and beautiful article by Tony Rath...

Bringing Light to the Heart of Darkness.

MOVING SLOWLY FORWARD, YOU PART THE BRANCHES AND LEAVES TILL THE BOW OF THE BOAT TOUCHES THE RIVER BANK, THEN YOU TIE THE BOW LINE SECURELY TO A BRANCH. Looking over the side of the skiff, you raise your leg over the gunnel and search carefully for a place to put your foot. That first step is a choice: leaf covered muck, thin arched root, or an unknown puddle inches or feet deep. The root it is. The second step? The same options. You chose another root. Head down, concentrating, your eyes search for that third root. As you step, your back foot slips, both boots sink into mud and water. Resigned to wet feet, lifting your gaze you see a tangled, confused wall of impenetrable roots rising from festering, thick, decomposing blackwater. The stench of decay the air; oil sheening on stagnant pools; rotting, swollen logs covered by fungus and moss; the buzz of mosquitoes, the silent fleeting blur of biting flies, spiderwebs peppering the path ahead; sweat pulled from your forehead by the still, humid air drips and blurs your left eye. Everywhere is shadowy and cramped, claustrophobic and forboding. The sulfurous, dense forest lining the northern banks of the Sarstoon River, Belize‘s southern common border with Guatemala, overwhelms all five senses at once; as if you‘re stepping directly into Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness.

This expedition explored the forests along Belize‘s two southern rivers, the Sarstoon and Temash. The area between the rivers is part of the Sarstoon-Temash National Park (STNP). The STNP protects the entire watersheds of these two wild and remote rivers, including a vast wetland complex and the most highly developed riverine mangrove in the country. Both rivers then empty into the rich fishing grounds of the Caribbean Sea.


The survival of STNP‘s unique wetlands and mangrove complex owe much to the careful management practices of the local indigenous peoples who have historically used its resources. Remoteness and difficult access has helped greatly in its preservation. The discovery of oil there is changing that. While the broad ecological characteristics of the STNP have been established from remote sensing, most details of the area‘s fauna, flora and ecology have yet to be recorded. No species list exists and even the local residents are uncertain about the variety of wildlife that occurs in the park. We were there to help fill in one of the blanks of knowledge about the STNP; we were there to search for epiphytes.

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