‘You would expect the machete to be much sharper.’ Linsay puts her index finger on the sharp side of the machete she just received from our Marcos Cucul, a Maya guide with an exceptional experience when it comes to surviving in the jungle. Like a real-life Lara Croft she puts the machete back in the sheath hanging around her hip.
There were two reasons why we chose Belize as our travel destination: the Belize Barrief Reef and the Belizean jungle. The latter was added to be terrain we were not familiar with, us deciding to take a Jungle Survival Course with Maya Guide Adventures. Spending three days and two nights deep into the Belizean rainforest, on a place where jaguars, boa constrictors and the puma have their home. This experience would make acquaint us with the hostile environment of the jungle.
The jungle as a source of food
The many poisenous snake species, hunting jaguars and the lack of food the next few days make this environment one of the most dangerous ones we ever found ourselves into. That we were on our way to camp presented some fun stories about the many botflies in this area, laying eggs under your skin via mosquitoes, giving you a burning feeling as they live as parasites, not yet included. And believe us if we say that you will start worrying seriously when you see the first five mosquito bites appear. Fortunately all those worries disappear when you got bitten fifty times (no exaggeration) and spend all your time scratching the itch.
How hostile the jungle environment may well be, at the same time it’s a great source of food and water. With lots of rain having fallen out of the sky the past few days above mainland Belize, lack of water was no issue. More than once during our journey we found ourselves in thirty centimeters deep puddles of water and mud. ‘Taste this. It’s very nutritious.’ Marcos gives us a stem that looks like an asparagus and cuts his open. ‘This is the fruit of the Pacaya palm.’ Inside there are numerous green stamens that remind us of the hyped loombracelets. The taste is very bitter. Too bitter to our taste. ‘For tonight.’, he says and starts picking the pacayas from the tree. Okay, so our dinner would be bitter loom bracelets, so what? Fortunately, soon after Marcos pointed out to a tasty way of washing it down. He grabs a vine and tells us this is called the tea vine by the local people of Belize. When it’s boiled in water, you get a delicious kind of jungle coffee. In the evening, it turned out to be our cup of tea.
The jungle as our new home
With many snakes being camouflaged by the foliage on the ground, a tent isn’t the safest option to spend the night. A hammock on the other hand… Trees are easily found in the jungle and with a tarp hanging above our hammock, we’re assured of a dry and safe night. At least, that would ‘ve been the case if we hadn’t drunk too much jungle coffee, making us pee at least three times a night. Opening your hammock, check with your head torch if there aren’t any snakes laying underneath your hammock and looking for a decent spot to ‘drain’ the coffee. Just in time, it springs to mind that I better check for snakes here as well. When I return to my hammock barefeeted, I hope that mosquitoes didn’t take advantage of that opportunity to accompany me in my cocoon. Alas, the buzzing of a still actively hunting mosquito marks the beginning of a short, but severe battle before I can continue my night’s sleep…until my next visit to the loo.
Setting traps and looking for food
No alarm clock in the jungle. Only a family of howler monkeys that isn’t too happy with our stay in their territorium. Their intimidating roar is what wakes us up in the morning. Our first task of the day is boiling water from the nearby river on the campfire. After another cup of jungle coffee (I know…) and some grilled pacaya for breakfast, a serious challenge lies ahead. With a sharpened machete in hand, we chop ourselves a way through the dense ferns and plants of the jungle, looking for food. Our plan is to set a trap, hoping to catch a bird. However, for this we need some bait. It takes nearly an hour before we reach a small river where we start wading and looking for snails, the favorite snack of several birds living in the lower parts of the jungle. ‘You see this?’, Marcos says. ‘These small mushrooms are edible. With his machete he cuts the small mushrooms off the fallen tree trunk and puts them in his pockets.
Once back closer to camp, we look for the perfect spot to set a trap. A piece of string, a flexible small tree, some branches and our bait. That’s all we need to set up the type of trap you only see in cartoons. Step by step we are explained the different knots used that will trigger the trap when a bird nibbles the bait. And let’s hope it doesn’t get catapulted pops up in my mind when we test the trap with our finger.
Nothing to do except waiting, so for now we have to look for a different way of filling our stomachs. Besides pacayas, snails, shrimps and small fish, there is another important source of nutrition to be found in the jungle: the heart of palm. With the aid of our machete we cut the trunk of the palm tree until it collaps. A chore not to be completed in five minutes. Once cleaved in half, a white mass appears, similar to the a huge asparagus. The clog is big enough to eat for a few days and tastes delicious when grilled.
Hiking at night in the jungle
I have a terrible fear of snakes. Big or small. When Marcos tells us that everyone in Belize, including himself, is very cautious when it comes to the snakes that live here in Belize, I’m relieved I’m not the only one. Or should I start worrying instead since he just confesses he’d rather not encounter them as well? Fortunately, most snakes (and other animals in the jungle) are nocturnal. Including the jaguar and the tapir that we would like to catch a glimpse of. There is no other way but to go out there at night. It’s 2am when we carefully crawl out of our hammock and prepare ourselves for a night hike. About fifteen minutes later, we witness the first sign of wildlife: jaguar tracks. Only thirty meter away from our camp. ‘Only a few hours old.’, Marcos says.
Our hope for seeing a jaguar increases, eventhough our best chances are the next few days when we camp three days in the Cockscomb Basin Nature Reserve. Hiking at night through the dense jungle is way more exciting than in daytime. You can feel that is everything is becoming more active now. With our head torch that lights up the little eyes, we never noticed until now how many spiders there are around is. Not much later, we are about to see the largest of them all: the tarantula. Although it crawls back into his hole shortly after. With a small branch, Marcos lures the tarantula outside his hole giving us the opportunity to admire it.
Despite having hike for two hours in the dark and not having seen a jaguar, we have the feeling of having been very close. When the next morning we wake up (no howler monkeys this time), it’s time for us to return to the outside world. Real jungle survival experts we have not become. Time was too limited for this, but we did have a great first introduction in surviving in a – for us – completely new environment. One of which we dare to state it’s not the last time we have spend time in.
Do you want to learn how to set traps, how to build a shelter with ferns, how to get water from vines or what you can eat in the jungle? Maya Adventure Guide offers Jungle Survival training courses suited for every level. During our own three day adventure we learned a lot and the experience gave us a taste for more. For sure, we will return to Belize in the future and embark on a longer jungle survival adventure.