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view from temple IV

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distant temple

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temple of the jaguar

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temple of the jaguar (front)

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look familiar? (think "The Empire Strikes Back")

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cockscomb basin

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victoria peak

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william shoal

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pet lamprey

I chose this trip while trying to decide where to go before I left my job to return to school.  Looking through the Nature Conservancy website, I came across an international trip to Belize.  I was very interested but when I saw the price was about $4k not including airfare I was a bit bummed.  I started looking on the internet for more information and came across several message boards which were extremely helpful and allowed me to cut the trip expenses by about 1/4 the cost if I did it myself!  Researching more info on the net I came across the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve and in it was a mountain called Victoria Peak.  Seeing that majestic mountain rising above the valley floor was the last bit of convincing I needed.  It was off to Belize!

Some quick notes...Belize is a small country along the Caribbean just below Mexico and east of Guatamala.  Although the Cayes are becoming very commercialized, the mainland is still emerging third-world.  There are incredible things to see there and a day trip into Guatamala is a unique experience once you get over the culture shock.  Much of the Guatamala country-side is very third world with no electricity, shacks for houses and a very simple lifestyle.

After spending a few days in San Ignacio and sightseeing the various ruins, it was off to Cockscomb Basin for my trek to Victoria Peak!  The first night I spent at Cockscomb Basin headquarters.   For some reason I could not get to sleep.  I don't know if it was because I was so pumped for the next day's hike or that I was wondering what the hell I was doing hiking to some far off peak with just myself and some mayan guide.  Anyway, most of the night was spent watching the fireflies swarm in the jungle and listening to the howler monkeys.

The next morning I met my guide, William and came across my big disappointment...I needed a permit to hike to Victoria Peak because it was outside of the Cockscomb boundary!   What the hell!  I travel some 8 thousand miles from Hawaii and end up not doing what I had initially set out to do!  But, I took it in stride and asked if we could instead hike to a peak called the Outlier which was within the boundary and in viewing distance of Victoria Peak.  This itself proved to be quite an experience.   The first day we hiked about 7 miles to the base of the mountain and set camp there.  It was extremely hot at about 105C with the humidity somewhere in the 90's as well!  We camped near a stream and shared our foods.  I gave up some of my powerbars and dehydrated oatmeal and William treated me to some homemade corn tortillas and some soup broth.  The night was incredible.  You hear all sorts of noises and see all sorts of cool insects.  Huge long legged spiders, green fireflies...oh, and damn cicadias!  Think of the sound a grasshopper makes at night, then multiply the volume by about 100 and have about 50 others join in the singing!  Anyway, I didn't get much sleep that night.  Even after the cicadias stopped their noise making, I was up and attentive for hours, listening to all the different sounds of the jungle...I'd hear bushes or trees rustling and wait at the door of my tent until it sounded near enough, then open the door and shine the flashlight hoping to catch a glimpse of something!  Just about every ambush was a failure, however I did get to see a kinkajoo, which is a nocturnal cat/monkey-like creature.

The next morning we ate breakfast (more tortillas and dehydrated oatmeal), broke camp and hiked up to the peak.  The views up there were beautiful!  Endless mountains as far as you can see!  Soaring hawks in the valley's below!  And on the left...Victoria peak in the distance!  The only bad thing about it was that May is the time when the people of Belize burn their fields as part of their "slash and burn" agriculture, so there was much smoke in the air.  The return back the the headquarters was pretty quick and I spent the rest of the day lounging in a nearby stream trying to beat the heat.

The rest of the trip was spent in nearby Hopkins at Greg and Rita Duke's Hopkins Inn.  Although the beach and coastline area around Hopkins left something to be desired, a boatride out the the cayes takes you to the crystal blue waters you read about!  I even got to have a lamprey attach itself to my leg!

Date:  May, 1999

Hike to the Outlier:  I had been hearing about how brutal the hike to Victoria Peak was.  I can't say for sure because I never did it, but I'd guess the Outlier was probably half as difficult and I'd rate that hike as very easy.  The only thing that made it hard was the heat and humidity.  I think I could actually have hiked all the way to the peak and back in a day.  Definately could have if I didn't carry my 45lb pack.  It's much like the hikes here in Hawaii, where they say they're very difficult but often those warnings are for the novice hikers.

Belize is an incredible place.  There's all sorts of different animals unlike Hawaii.  I really liked the birds....the macaws, the toucans and my favorite, the oropendula montezuma.  I definately will be back there someday.  Probably this time to the Cayes!

Couple things though....bring very good insect repellant.  The mosquitos are tiny but they swarm!  The flies bite and draw blood!  If you stop and sit while hiking, you'll probably pick up ticks.  Also there's an insect called the Bot-Fly that lays it's larvae on the mosquito's "beak" and thus gets deposited into your flesh when bitten my a mosquito.  Supposedly after about 4 weeks, the larvae are feeding on your flesh and you can actually see them as they come up through openings in your skin to get air.  Preeeetty grusome.  I thought I had them too!  But I think it was just bug bites that I got from my layover in LA because I decided to stay in a chinese hotel near Inglewood.