(This one's a little lengthy. Sorry! So much to tell!)
Up early. La Popular Bakery (a must!) was breakfast. Tropic Air flight at 7am to Municipal (left about 20 mins late). Met the couple who had been hurt on Monday. They were on their way to the clinic in Belize City. Seems the girl was sucked up to the surface from 35' by the current. Lost her mask on the way. The husband (a dive instructor) went up to help her. As he tried holding her above water (she was getting so tired she kept kind of passing out), he got pretty banged up by the reef. She had been rushed to the chamber on AC right after the accident. Had to get her lungs checked at the clinic before diving again. Diving again?? I think I'd be scared to death. They were a great couple. "Things happen"; that was their attitude. We found out later in the week that they did go diving again. Thank gosh they were OK. Talk about dedicated divers!!
We were picked up at Municipal to be taken back to the lodge (about 1 � hrs drive). That was a little delayed (the driver was waiting for a package that was coming in for another guest). No biggie. The ride was nice (except the fender bender that happened right in front of us in Belize City) Beautiful scenery. The farther south you go, the more mountains. The foliage gets much thicker and greener. By the time you get there, the rain forest it at it's best. Marcos (driver) was really cool explaining the history of Belize, the people, politics, his life, etc. Very interesting
I don't know where to start about the lodge. It surroundings are breathtaking (mountains, jungle, orange orchards)! The lodge and the accommodations are literally right in the jungle. As soon as we got there, we had to leave for our trip ...The Black Hole Drop. We dropped off our bags, changed into our jungle clothes and off we went!
After about a 15-minute truck ride, we accessed the beginning of our hike path at the edge of an orange grove that would take us up and deeper into the jungle. We had 3 guides; Mario (extremely knowledgeable and friendly guy) who was the main guide, and Victor and Marriello (Belizean/Mayan...spoke no English. Funny guys. I happen to know a little Spanish, much to their embarrassment). We started our 2-mile hike to the Black Hole.
The Black Hole is a natural sinkhole. The ground actually caved down into an underground cavern. What's left is a huge "hole" in the ground about 300' deep. All long the wall of this hole are huge cave openings that had once led into the huge cavern that collapsed. The floor of this hole is entirely cloaked with rain forest foliage. Vines also grow from the rim of the hole to the bottom. We hiked to the rim of the hole. Pretty strenuous hike but SO worth it. All along the way, you see wildlife (snakes, lizards, birds, etc). Even ran across a pack of wild pigs! When you get to the top and look out over the sinkhole, it's absolutely amazing!! You can't see the bottom because of all the trees below. The hole is like a huge echo chamber. You almost can't conceive the size of the cave openings along the walls. We hiked around � the rim to the spot where we rappelled, yes, rappelled to the bottom. These guys are amazing. They all carried 60 pound packs up to the rappelling point. Sebron and I could barely catch our breath and these guys were barely breaking a sweat!! The whole operation is very safe. These guys really know what they're doing. All the guides that work for the lodge have to be certified in jungle and cave rescue as well as be versed in history, archeology, geology, etc., etc.
As for the rappel, what can I say? This was my first time. Sebron had done it from about 50'. What a rush! You're hanging 200' above the rain forest! Definitely a humbling experience. Once everybody was safely to the bottom, a picnic lunch was prepared right there on the jungle floor at the mouth of one of the caves. After lunch, we explored the largest of the caves there with Mario. Once again, I can't describe the beauty and feeling. We did some hiking into the cave and saw the more wonderful formations (some as big around as cars or bigger and at least 3 stories tall! These things take 1000 years per inch to grow!). Lots of Mayan evidence, too (carvings, pottery, firepits...). We sat at the edge of one of the naturally formed plateaus at an actual Mayan fire pit and listened to stories of the Mayans, the jungle and some of Mario's personal experiences. It was time to make the 2-mile hike up and out of the Black Hole and make our way back to the lodge.
Cave's Branch is wonderful. I recommend it to anyone who likes to camp and is adventurous. Very rustic. As close as camping as you can get without staying in a tent. The lodge is basically the office, kitchen, and large porch where the meals are served. The staff is great (thanks Sue-Jungle Mama, Barnaby, Pablo, Doria, etc.). We took showers. I mention this because it's an experience in itself. These are jungle showers-small thatched huts, private but kind of open to the outdoors. The water poured through a bucket with holes in the bottom! The people who were showering at the same time (including Sebron and I) broke out in South Pacific songs! I guess the jungle does that to you!
Howler monkeys were playing in the trees while we laid down in one of the hammocks to relax before dinner. Saw tons of lizards and frogs. Lots of fish in the river that runs thru the grounds. All the meals were served buffet style on the veranda of the lodge. The food was wonderful (salad, veggie soup, stewed pork, potatoes, squash, eggplant, fresh bread, rice & beans, pineapple cake and more)! Home cooked. All the guests and staff sat together to eat and chat about the day's events. Time for bed. We were wiped out!!
The whole camp is lit by torches and the oil lamps from the cabanas. The walk back to our bunkroom was greaThe bunkroom was a screened in canana with 4 sets of bunkbeds (only $15/person per nt). We were the only ones in the bunkroom the whole time, though. Sleeping that night (very cozy), we could hear all the sounds of the jungle around us. About 3:30 in the morning, though, we started to hear this ungodly sound. Jaguars (they are around)? Wild Pigs? The sound was deafening and came from everywhere! Woke up the whole camp. Everyone started coming out of their cabanas after the sound ended. Found out from a couple of the veterans of the camp that it was the howler monkeys. Can't believe those little things can make such a noise!! I heard they were loud, but I never thought it would sound like that! Good thing we were in bed early. Another big day ahead of us. This time, fell back to sleep with the sounds of the birds, insects and (thank gosh) no more howler monkeys!