Thursday, February 16, 2012

In the Land of Jaguars!

A sound wakes me from a light sleep. We are deep in the rain forest.  The mosquito's and humidity , make it impossible to get comfortable. There is no fan or electricity to give you any relief, from the heat.

The howlers are calling in the forest outside, tricking your mind into thinking the worse. I remind my imagination that monsters don't exist,  that it's just the abnormal calls from a monkey,  smaller than a chimpanzee.  I hit the light on my watch, it reads 3am. Why are the howlers calling so early?

Howler monkeys, call for two main reasons, to warn off other howlers, or announce approaching bad weather. Sure enough, the rains came. Light at first, then turned into a down pour that made it seem as if we were in a monsoon. I was sure glad to be in the rustic cabin, we had rented, and under a  tin roof,  I headed back to sleep.

My alarm goes off again, waking me from a dream. It's still dark out, no sounds. The rains have stopped and so have the howlers. I look at my watch, it's 5am. Time to get up.  I wake my girlfriend, who is already awake.  She couldn't get to sleep.  

For the last three days, I made a deal, she got her beach time, in Placencia, so I could get my adventure time, back in the Belize mountains looking for Jaguars.  I would have liked to spend a week, in the mountains, but exploring in the jungle can be tough and dangerous. Something I would rather do alone.  So we decided on just one night in the Reserve.

Cockcomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a large piece of land set aside, mainly for the jaguars.  It's a mountainous area, with step peaks and waterfalls.  It's not set up for the high maintenance tourist. So if you came to Belize on a cruise ship, this place isn't for you.  

The day before, we spent the day exploring some of the Jaguar Reserve.  We hiked all over the valley floor, then made our way  up tiger fern trail, that had an amazing view of the Sanctuary.   The hikes ends at two amazing waterfalls,  that were made for photography.  One towering 75 feet, cascades into a deep clear pool, which then cascades into another deep clear pool.   We had the place to ourselves, meaning clothing was optional. The swim made the exhausting, hot trek up the mountain, in the heat of the day, worth it.  On the way back we spotted, lots of Jaguar tracks.  Which got us excited for looking for them later when it got dark.  

So here we were up early and heading out into the jungle,  when the Jaguars are most active.  Hoping to get lucky enough to spot one moving, hunting, at the very least disappearing into the jungle.  

It didn't take long to spot the first fresh jaguar tracks.  The down pour only hours before, would have erased any tracks made before then.    There was a jaguar here at this very spot, within the last hour.   Was it still in the area?

Your heart begins beating fast, knowing you aren't alone. It could be watching you, at this very moment. It's ability to remain hidden, and living hidden in some of the most remote and rugged landscapes,  is the only thing that has kept, this absolutely stunning animal from going extinct.

As if on cue, a shape  slithers across the path in front of us. A non poisonous snake, races to get out of our way. Just as worried about us as we are about it.  In the movies, when someone relaxes after a scare, that's when they are attacked.  But this isn't the movies,  it's reality.  

We are both on edge.   Continuing our walk deeper into the woods. Every step taking us further from the safety of our cabin.   Every falling branch, makes us  jump. Every rustle in the forest, makes us freeze in our step.

I shine the light into my girlfriends face, making sure I'm not dragging her along on some adventure, that she didn't want to go along.   But her face, tells  me she is just as excited.   Nowhere back in Alaska,  can you go looking for Jaguars in the Jungle,  and here we  are, deep in the jungle, with one somewhere close by.   It's what makes me addicted to traveling.  

The light from the rising sun, slowly washed out the darkness from the night.  The monkeys began waking up and moving about.  The birds began to sing.   

We never did get lucky enough to spot a Jaguar,  but it was still amazing, getting out there, and exploring.  A total,  rush hiking through the  Belize jungle, in the dark,  looking for the largest cats on the Continent.  

If you would like to visit the Jaguar Reserve,  just take a bus to the Mayan Center.   From there you can arrange a taxi to take you back into the reserve from the gift shop-restaurant on the corner.   Please buy something from them or order some food from the nice Mayan ladies.  The villagers were kicked off their lands, when they created this reserve.   

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