Yesterday, members of the Cayo Tour Guide Association visited the Mountain Pine Ridge where we repaired and resurfaced the access trail to some of the most popular destinations in the area: the Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Cave. We all boarded Mr. Jorge De Leon’s Jungle buggy, a Toyota SR5 pickup, modified with seats to carry tourists into the jungle this in its self is an interesting experience and a different way of touring the jungle. It certainly lacks the air conditioning that we are all now accustomed to but this puts the rider closer to nature.
The access to Rio On Pools was damaged after Hurricane Earl in 2016 and only deteriorated further over time. The Rio Frío Cave’s access stairs were worn and had become slippery with the humidity and rainfall, so it had to be resurfaced. Although it was hard work, we were able to complete the project that we set out to do. It was not only work, but as tour guides, the task was certainly accompanied by a lot of laughter and learning experiences. We were entertained by our own Martin Velasquez, who took every moment to lecture us on wild plants found in the broadleaf and highland savanna. He possesses a wealth of knowledge and knows not only the scientific names but also the medicinal uses for these plants.
Repairs done to the Rio On access trail were the most difficult as there were no stairs, but simply an area that was washed out. We are no engineers, but using basic tools such as shovels, pickaxe, trowels, and buckets, we were able to prepare the site, gather granite stones from the area, compact the soil behind them (which was mostly sand and clay mix) and reinforce it with Portland concrete that we took up with us. We had our delicious lunch beside the Rio On Pools which was BBQ chicken and Italian sausages with flour tortillas. Some guides also took advantage of the downtime opportunity and went for a swim.
Our focus then turned to Rio Frio Cave, where we thought it would be easier since we were only resurfacing the stairs. However, we quickly realized that walking that long length stairway with cement is no easy task. Luckily for us, sand and water were relatively accessible nearby. There is a constant inflow of visitors to the cave and we had to maneuver around them before we started the resurface. Here, while digging a drain beside the stairs for water to flow, Martin found a coffee snake. It was amazing! It was a very tiny, non-venomous snake that lives and spends its life underground.
After completing our objectives for the day, we set out on an adventure to explore the Domingo Ruiz Cave. There is an interesting story here. As the legend goes, in the 1970’s when there was a threat of invasion by the Guatemalan forces, Mr. Domingo Ruiz, a park ranger, took his family to the cave believing they would be safe. There they remained for a couple of weeks until they eventually needed to leave, possibly because their reserve of food and water had been depleted. It is a fairly large cave, not as big as Rio Frio Cave, but a very impressive cave, nonetheless. There is only a one-way access through a large mouth and there is no water flowing inside. It contains many different cave formations and plenty of fruit bats and creepy crawlies. We even saw an assassin bug in there! I am uncertain how much of the cave has been tampered with or if the Institute of Archaeology has done any documentation on this cave. There are no human remains and very little ceramic shards are visible on the surface of the cave floor.
In the end, it was a great day spent with the tour guides. We did the work and now the access to these amazing places are safer and easier for walking. We laughed and enjoyed our company and we learnt new things along the way about Belizean history and its plants and wildlife.