Belize Survivor, part 70

Within the first ten days of March, the heat intensified in quantum leaps. The sun burned down fiercely; the air felt like a blast furnace. In spite of adverse growing conditions, Max and Alexis planted tomato and green pepper seeds in peat pots in the shade on the front porch and watered them three times daily. Their hope was to nurse the seedlings through the dry season and get them into the ground in June when the rains broke. With luck on their side, they would have tomatoes when no one else did, securing them a premium price at
the market. The new water pump Max had purchased was making all the difference, and they were relieved to know that their water supply from the river would now be dependable, no matter how long the dry might last.

In the weeks that followed, Alexis and Max met more newly-arrived Americans at the Saturday morning market. Three couples, Tim and Maggie, Eric and Sheila, and Joel and Kirsten, had combined their financial resources to purchase a fertile tract of land tucked away in Baron's Creek Valley, about four miles south of Len and Betty. For the time being, they were all living in a single communal dwelling while their houses were being built out on the flat, just east of the little river that flowed alongside the sheer rock wall on the western side.

According to Maggie Davis, the southern end of the valley narrowed abruptly, marking the end of all human habitation, becoming a steep gorge of virtually impenetrable forest where even the bravest of chicléros, or chiclé gatherers, did not go. Rising into the undisturbed highlands where jaguars reigned supreme, the jungle abounded with deer and wild pig and other exotic-sounding tropical fauna such as: peccary, tapir, kinkajou, agouti, coatimundi, and paca. Boa constrictors, black-tails, coral snakes, and deadly fer-de-lance all slithered through the fragrant leaf mold of the forest floor, while great white falcons, king vultures, owls, toucans, and scarlet macaws flew in the upper reaches of the high canopy. Max and Alexis were intrigued, so when Maggie invited them to visit the valley, they accepted happily.

That night the four couples, and baby Jordan, sat together in the little communal house made of wood and thatch while the crickets and howler monkeys sang their evening song. The floor was raised about three feet off the ground and the thatch extended into an extra-long overhang to compensate for the fact that there were no walls. And other than a few hammocks and the single rough-hewn table of heavy mahogany around which they gathered, there were no chairs or couches, but comfort was not an issue. Laughing with their new-found friends, and passing a joint and a bottle of rum, Max and Alexis had at last found what they sought: like-minded people, other young expatriated Americans who had been prompted by the very same forces to seek the alternate lifestyle of a Belizean homestead.

"Tomorrow I’ll take you to the water cave near my house site," Eric said, as he readjusted the bandanna lower on his forehead. "The cave's enormous, and Baron’s Creek itself, which is really a substantial river, flows right out of the face of the mountain creating a huge blue-green pool called Nohoch Sayab. It means Big Spring in Mayan."

"Wow," said Max, impressed. "Can you swim up inside the cave?"

"Oh yeah, you bet," said Eric "The pool is cold though, and once you get around a couple of big rocks at the mouth and up into the cave itself, the water gets even colder. It's really dark too, until your eyes adjust. Then you can start to make out the details of this enormous chamber. The ceiling is vaulted like a cathedral; it must be a hundred and twenty feet high in there, at least. And there are huge stalactites everywhere, twenty or thirty feet long, and big rounded stalagmites underneath. The colors are beautiful too; all the formations are stained orange and green and brown with mineral deposits and molds."

"Sounds pretty intimidating," said Alexis.

"It is. But so spectacular,” Kirsten said. “You can feel that the place doesn't quite belong to mankind. You can see river otter tracks on the bank and there’s a heavy animal-smell, a musky, wild odor – like
it belongs to them, and we're the intruders."

Joel agreed. "I swear you can feel the presence of the ancient Maya. It's...," he hesitated, "a feeling of holiness."