Pilgrimage, Part Two: A Night in the Rainforest

Caves Branch
It’s only 90 minutes in the rickety old Blue Bird school bus (whose drivers navigate the twisting mountainous roads of Belize way too fast) from the impoverished Southern coastal Garifuna village of Hopkins that I described in Part One of this article yesterday, to the daunting entranceway to Caves Branch, in the rugged interior of West Central Belize. The bus drops me off at the edge of the highway, and it’s a mile hike in sweltering 90F heat and occasional torrential rain up the mountain road through stunning tropical rainforest to the ecotourist Caves Branch “jungle lodge” owned by Vancouverite Ian Anderson, who I meet almost as soon as I arrive.

On the trek up, I keep stopping and staring, taking photos of the towering tangle of ferns, vines and immense (100′) trees that extend darkly into the distance on both sides of the road, and create an imposing archway over the dirt and stone road. And I think to myself, breathlessly: I am home. This is where we humans were meant to live. The jungle calls me, inviting me in. I have no fear of the poisonous snakes and spiders, or the jaguars and other wild cats whose last remaining Earthly refuge is in this country. I haven’t felt this way, this sense of instinctive belonging, about a place I do not live, since I walked through the temperate rainforest in Qualicum BC, and the 300′ redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest.

The other people staying at the lodge are all North Americans — couples in their 50s and 60s, some with kids and inlaws in tow. The cheerful workers, mostly Mayan youngsters, are as culturally different from the Garifuna I’ve been living among for the previous three days, as day is from night. They patiently explain their history, culture, lifestyle, and the nearby archaeological sites, to me and the other curious tourists. They ask no questions of me, about how I live, what I think, or the unimaginable snow-covered country I come from.

I keep looking for good conversation in Belize, but, other than with Joe Bageant, I haven’t found it. The Garifuna, the North American tourists, the Mayan workers, all seem to live in their own narrow, isolated worlds, and are disinterested in the future, in philosophy, in the purpose of life or in any other profound or long-term subject. Their intellectual curiosity is shallow, their imagination dormant.

More than anything in this natural paradise I miss you, dear online friends. This is a staggeringly beautiful land, but to me, except when I imagine you here with me, it’s an intensely lonely one. The night in the rainforest, in my bug- and water-proof but authentic-looking cabana, is delightful. I awake to the cries of the howler monkeys, the macaws, and the driving downpour of a wall of rain so heavy I cannot see through it. The forest smells are so dense and rich I can taste them.

The foolishness of the sense of invulnerability I feel in the rainforest becomes apparent the next day when the inner tube I’m riding down the the river through Belize’s vast rainforest cave system hits the rapids, and I cannot stop from crashing into the riverbank, carving up my arms and spraining two fingers in a spiky stand of bamboo, and losing my only pair of glasses in the process.

One of our young guides has to steer me through the rest of the journey, hooking her feet under my tube and answering my questions about Mayan history and culture as I squint to see at least the nearby sights. I complete the arduous five-hour tour in tow, but I feel humiliated, and worried about the risk of infection and making my way home visually impaired. I decide to cut my trip short, a day early, and book a flightback home. Paradise found, and lost.

This entry was posted in Creative Works. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Pilgrimage, Part Two: A Night in the Rainforest

  1. Chaitanya says:

    Hey Dave, thanks for sharing your experience. Funny you should mention eye glasses. I wear glasses myself, and to me its a daily reminder of the power and presence of technology in our lives. Some would argue that, without technology, my ancestry might have been “naturally” selected out if it had poor eyesight genes. Theres another way of looking at it though — technology hastens evolutionary process. Nature, through human brains, worked out a faster way of overcoming physical limitations. What might have been a long process of mutation -and-natural selection, now is quickly overcome through technology. Ofcourse, technology has its own drawbacks as we all know all too well. Lets keep on searching for that elusive balance !!!

  2. lugon says:

    Dave, thanks for sharing! Great pictures and comments.I’ve come to depend on my glasses too. Most annoying.Flu preppers – and I guess many hard-core preppers in general – would at least smile at your only pair of glasses. But it’s no laughing matter. Just like insulin is no laughing matter for diabetics. “These things should be under control, you know!”Looking at the bright side, you’ve learnt that you value your glasses more than you value other things. And you’d probably like an internet connection in the jungle, but maybe you’d start using it less and less (?). But you’d still want your glasses.So maybe this takes us to fablabs, where information flows but ingredients are local?There’s no going back, but welcome home anyway!

  3. Cory says:

    Hi Dave, missed you while you were gone. I hope you’re healing well from your injuries, and sorry your jungle adventure took an unexpected turn.Your post of your Belize trip reminded me of my journeys to Belize 15 years ago for the International Ecotourism Conference, and subsequent community planning project I participated in. Because the conference brought together so many like-minded people concerned about the impacts of tourism on natural ecosystems, I had some of the most interesting and satisfying conversations and connections of my life, and think back on those times fondly.It’s distressing to me that people are becoming less willing or able to engage in deep and meaningful conversation. Maybe the world is getting too chaotic, or maybe the 24/7 news connection makes it seem more chaotic. Maybe people are exhausted from information overload, what with all the blackberries, wireless laptops, cable TV and Tivo, so they retreat to their ipods for refuge.I make eye contact and engage in conversation with strangers almost every day. Many people are put off by it, but when I reach someone willing to connect, the words flow out of them like they’ve been bottled up for months. Sometimes they seem like they feel guilty that they’ve opened up.I’m currently reading “The Second Circle: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation” by Patsy Rodenburg. You might be interested in having a look at it. “In our over-stimulated yet lonely world, we are increasingly losing our ability to communicate effectively and intimately with others.” She states that balanced between the energies of introversion and extroversion lies the second state of energy, where we are alert, present and engaged, and from there we can achieve the most satisfying communication and connections. I bought it for my daughter but am finding huge relevance for myself, first. (Put on own mask before assisting others).Welcome home, take care.

  4. Having worked with people of many cultures and only being a second generation American myself, over the years in NYC, I learned to shut my mouth if I wanted to learn anything about those around me. Most only spoke if there was silence to fill, since they felt that those who speak are least interested in listening. Some of the ancient tales of very old people can only be heard if you don’t ask questions. Generally took weeks of acquaintance or even months before you were offered such gifts of the self by them. I doubt they find many of their short term visitors terribly interesting either (*GRIN*). Too bad you couldn’t stay longer.

Comments are closed.