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Published: January 31st 2018
Cheryl, Chuck, and I drove to Mountain Pine Ridge in Belize from Tikal, Guatemala. The Mountain Pine ridge is an area of Belize that none of us had visited prior to this trip. This is the place that this trip I was looking most forward to visiting because it was unknown to me and also because it was an area that seemed unique to its surroundings with more of a rustic and natural feel. I like being immersed in nature as well as something new and foreign and so I was excited.
The Mountain Pine Ridge is a protected reserve situated in west central Belize, covering over 250 square miles of the Maya Mountain Range. It is a forest reserve of Honduras Pines. The highest point is Baldy Beacon at 2300 ft. There are granite hillsides and formations among a scattering of limestone shelves with cenotes or sinkholes and caves. Points of interest in the area are caves, waterfalls, mountain peaks and valleys, grasslands, rivers, and an abundance of wildlife.
We stayed at Moonracer Farm, just outside of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve. There are places of lodging within the reserve, but most cater
to luxury travelers. We chose Moonracer, which had no electricity, but was beautifully rustic. Chuck and I rented a standard room with full private bathroom and screened porch for $60 per night. Cheryl rented a camping cabin with private sink and commode with access to a shared shower for $35 per night. The standard was quite a bit larger and I was happy to have a screened porch because all bugs love to eat my flesh. However, the camping cabin was far more bright and airy. There was a common area at Moonracer where guests can gather for meals or just to converse. Since there was no electricity on site, inflatable solar powered lanterns were distributed to guests, just hang them on the clothesline during the day to recharge. Moonracer serves meals family style to guests, but this needed be arranged a day prior. There are dogs, horses, chickens, and hummingbirds fed intentionally by Moonracer. Unintentionally they also feed bats and some other fat and happy critters living off in the woods, but near enough to benefit from the compost pile. The owners and staff at Moonracer were very friendly and equally helpful with tips for exploring in the area.
In the evening it was really nice to sit back and here the calls of roosters and howler monkeys. I quite enjoyed our stay and would happily return.
Our first night at Moonracer there was over an inch of heavy rain that fell in a short time, which made for a very fun drive the following morning. Roads in the area were clay, so an inch of rain in a short amount of time can cause quite a commotion. Our destination for the day was Caracol. The drive between Caracol and Moonracer typically takes about an hour and a half. Our drive going to Caracol in the morning after the rain was closer to three hours with 4WD, although we did make a few stops to check in at the entrance to the reserve, to make sure a van full of tourists stuck in the muck had assistance, to check in at the military checkpoint, to clear fallen trees or branches from the road while hoping this was not a trap set by bandits, and to check out the Chiquibil Visitor Center where the road splits to the Chiquibil Forest Reserve or on to Caracol.
I should explain, there has been an actual concern because of bandits robbing, kidnapping, and causing problems in the area. This concern has diminished in recent years because the Belize Military implemented a number of permanent posts. Most issues of late are focused more toward animal poaching and illegal logging and harvesting of various forest plants. I have to say it was a huge relief to come upon the post at the Chiquibil Vistor Center after happening upon the downed branches in the road. I should add that bandits have been known to block back roads with branches so that when a driver or passenger gets out of a vehicle to clear the road, they can be ambushed and robbed, or kidnapped, or whatever by bandits waiting in the brush. Fortunately and happily, that was not the course of our day!
So, the routine is for visitors to sign in at the entrance to the reserve, sign in again at the military post, and travel with a military convoy between the military post and Caracol, which departs the post at 9am daily. The morning we drove, the military convoy was delayed because they went back out
Road to Caracol
Nicer section of road at junction to either Caracol or Chiquibil
of the reserve to assist the van-full of tourists stuck in the muck, which we had passed on our way in. Rather than waiting for the convoy, we drove ahead on our own, with their consent of course. The convoy then leaves Caracol daily at 2pm, without question! The military is always the last vehicle in and out. We were told that if our convoy was stopped by bandits, we were to stay locked in the vehicle and allow the soldiers to deal with any problems. No problem! Visitors must sign out at the military post and again at the entrance to the reserve. Phew, we did it.
Caracol was another enjoyable Mayan archaeological site. It was relatively small and underdeveloped, which I actually prefer. There was one large climbable temple. I stayed on the ground to explore while Chuck and Cheryl opted to climb up. I am told the view was great. Apparently, atop the first structure there are still more along with some very impressive hieroglyphs. At ground level there were two ballcourts, many stelae and altars, two ponds, and two main clusters of structures situated around courtyards or plazas; A Group and B Group.
Along the trail between the site entrance and the site itself there were the “twin ceibas”, two towering ceiba trees growing next to one another with connecting roots. Caracol, although well removed from populated areas, has been extensively researched and documented beginning in the 1930s and continuing to the present day. For more info look at caracol.org.
On our way back from Caracol we stopped at Rio on Pools. This place featured a river running over an outcropping of granite formations that created little pools frequented by locals and visitors. This place was great for relaxing, exploring, hanging around with friends or family, having a picnic, and splashing in the water. Had it been a warmer day, even I (Leila swims like rock) would have gotten in the water. There is one small shack for changing in and out a swimwear, otherwise it is entirely primitive with a sign reminding visitors to leave only footprints and take back any garbage. Some people forget this rule sometimes, so no harm in a friendly reminder!
On our way out of the reserve we were flagged down at the Chiquibil Visitor Center. One of the soldiers was
looking for a ride into town. We could take him as far as Moonracer, which he said was fine since he had cell coverage there and could then call for a ride. This all turned out great because we mentioned wanting to see Rio on Pools and Alden, the soldier, told us where to turn in. We otherwise likely would have missed at since there is a small sign in only one direction, the opposite of the way were travelling. At the junction near Moonracer was a little local dive bar and we like dive bars so we offered to buy Alden a beer while he waited for his ride. Locals referred to the little dive bar endearingly as Malfunction Junction. There was a younger guy who was trying to make a go of running the place. He was doing alright; he won’t get rich, but he might squeak out a fun living for a while. He served local beer (Belikin) and local rum (Misty Mountain Rum). After having drank the guy out of both rum and beer while catting it up with the locals, we made our way back to Moonracer where we called it a night. The next
morning we left for Placenica to live like beach bums for the next week.
In the end, we enjoyed our short visit to Mountain Pine Ridge. I look forward to a time that I might return to more fully explore and get to know this area of Belize.
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