Every year a cadre of calls stream into the BAS office in anticipation and preparation of the Victoria Peak season. This year was no different, a total of 20 groups, 168 individuals, were able to successfully summit the majestic Victoria Peak. Taking on the challenge this year was Dr. Henry Anderson, a former Belize Defence Force soldier and author of “The Son of Kinich” and “Sisimito”. Though he did not reach the summit, Dr. Anderson was pleased to revisit the jungle and relive a journey that started many years ago when he was young BDF soldier.
Dr. Anderson has contributed an account of his journey and the history behind his desire to take on the Victoria Peak challenge. Please enjoy his captivating story entitled “Journeys of The Jaguar Warrior”.
JOURNEYS OF THE JAGUAR WARRIOR.
(Prepared for the Belize Audubon Society)
EXPEDITION BOLD I
It was early on the morning of Holy Thursday, March 30, 1972, that the late Melvyn Hulse Sr. dropped us off at Alabama Village in the Stann Creek District. We were about to attempt a journey and everyone thought we were absolutely crazy. We were undertaking Expedition Bold, an attempt to climb Victoria Peak. The expedition was sanctioned by the British Honduras Volunteer Guard, three of our team of five being members of that Defence Force. I, Pte. # 28567, was in charge of the team. We also had Pte. Hulse M. (Melvin) and Pte. Taylor R. (Robert), and two civilians: Harry Parham, and a Barbadian named Vincent Clarke who was a colleague of mine at Medical School, University of the West Indies, Jamaica.
I had done my homework. I chose March as March and April are the months with the lowest rainfall in the area. We had looked at the approach from Cabbage Haul Gap Forest Station in the Stann Creek District, and from Baldy Beacon in the Cayo District. This latter approach was immediately eliminated as we would have to cross the Main Divide of the Maya Mountains. It is interesting to note that, in doing my research of the area, I found a passage on the Cockscomb Basin in a book called Lands in British Honduras written in 1959 by the Colonial Office and is its Colonial Research Publication # 24. One line states: To the west, the mountains become even more rugged and few people (Fowler in 1880) have ever crossed them. Thus, it would be an approach from Cabbage Haul Gap or Alabama Village. Mr. Hulse Sr. had advised us that the area of the Cockscomb Basin north of Alabama had several truck passes that had been used for hauling logs in the logging days, of which he had partaken. He said that, although probably overgrown, we may be able to locate and travel along these. So we decided on the Alabama Village route, and with only machetes, a compass, a map, and some food and medical supplies, we began our journey that would take us through the most beautiful jungles I have even experienced.
We did find some of the truck passes as we chopped our way to the remains of logging camps like Central Bank, through Juan Branch of the South Stann Creek River, then on to Campo Chico, over Lindbergh Hill, and to the Mexican Branch, also a tributary of the South Stann Creek River. It was at Mexican Branch that we came upon an old mahogany camp with thatch buildings still intact, a site with great historical significance. There were tables, chairs, shelves, and fire hearths still in place. We would have loved to remain there for the night, but as we arrived there at midday, we had to carry on and not spend time with the memories of the loggers that used that camp a long time ago.
Our surprises were not over. After passing Sali Si Puede, where the only marker was an old drum, and Curassow Creek, we came upon The Fork. This area was not only pristine like the rest of our jungle, but so absolutely beautiful that it held the hearts of us young explorers. The Fork was the confluence of three rivers that formed the Swasey Branch leading to Monkey River. Facing the west, on the left hand was Mares Nest or Left Hand Branch, on the right was Cockscomb Branch, and in the middle was Swasey Branch. Colourful bromeliads abounded on trees and heliconia lined the banks. Birds were everywhere and fish swam in schools, totally unafraid of us as we swam among them. It was here on a sandy bay that we saw a puma quietly and calmly drinking water. We spent the night there, sleeping on boulders, after swimming, walking on the rapids, catching fish with our machetes and then smoking them. Pte. Hulse M. seasoning them with ‘only salt and black pepper’, providing a very delicious supper eaten as we absorbed the beauty and serenity of the twilight in the jungle lit by the lights of the peeniwali. The Fork is a memory firmly etched within me.
The next day we walked up the Cockscomb Branch as this route would take us to the base of Victoria Peak. Again, the natural beauty was astounding as the canopy from each bank, far overhead, reached across the river and embraced each other forming a continuous arch of various hues of green and jungle life. We spent the night at where we estimated Don Pedro Camp was, but we could find no remains. The jungle blessed us again and we had fried armadillo for dinner, then unrolled our ground-sheets and slept peacefully in the deep jungle. The next morning we continued north, but at midday we decided to turn back because of time constraints. We were just three miles from the base of Victoria Peak. In total we spent seven days in that area of our jungle and those steps, if I ever have the opportunity again, I would readily retrace. For your information, my novel Sisimito uses Expediton Bold I as a major part of the initial chapters.
EXPEDITION BOLD II
Well, I am no longer twenty-two, but sixty-five, and once again some people thought me crazy as I made arrangements with the Belize Defence Force to return to our jungle and try to climb Victoria Peak. On the evening of April 6, Expedition Bold II arrived at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary base camp. Accompanying me were Officer in Charge, Lieutenant Claudio Quiroz, Lance Corporal and Medic, Pop D. (Denecio), Pte. Castellanos J. (James), and Pte. Choc R. (Rolando). Also to accompany us was Tour Guide, Benedicto Choc. As the Cockscomb Basin is a protected area and the Victoria Peak a National Monument, a Tour Guide is now required for all excursions into the area.
My reasons for wanting to climb Victoria Peak were multifold. I not only wanted to fulfill a dream I began over forty years ago, but I also wanted to live the jungle once again. The reason for this is not only for my personal experience, but to be able to provide my readers with the living experience of the jungle: its colour, its magnitude, the jungle noises and creatures of the day and the night, the birds, the animals, the ravines and the creeks, the heat and the sweat and how we smell. I am presently writing a trilogy of novels based on the folklore character Sisimito, the Cockscomb Basin and jungles of Belize, and the Maya Empire, the main city being Ox Witz Há (Caracol). The first book, Sisimito is already published. The second book, Sisimito – Xibalbá will be out by November this year, and the third, Sisimito – The Fall Of An Empire, November 2016. I also plan to use Expedition Bold II to bring focus on the Veterans of the previous Volunteer Forces and the current Veterans of the Belize Defence Force. There is also the message to our Seniors in Belize that they must continue to strive to achieve their Dreams. Finally, my wife, Stephanie, my family and I plan to use Expedition Bold II and future excursions into the jungles of Belize to assist with fund-raising for the Juvenile Diabetes Wing of the planned Belize Children’s Hospital. One only needs to DREAM: Diabetic Resources, Education, Awareness, Management. We lost our thirty-five year old son, Henry, to Diabetes just three years ago.
Early the following morning, April 7, much to our embarrassment, Mr. Choc woke us up. Technology failed and our alarm did not go off. We were supposed to be dressed and packed by five am before he arrived to begin the 27 kilometer journey to Victoria Peak, a journey that goes from Easy, to Moderate, to Difficult, to Very Difficult. He readily forgave us and we were soon on our way. I reflected on the difference with the first expedition. We were being spoiled. Now there are designated camps at 12 kilometers and 19 kilometers with shed and outdoor toilet. We had hammocks to sleep in and trails to follow. There are also helipad landing sites at 12 kilometer and 18 kilometer. Gone were the days of macheting into the wilderness, hunting and fishing for food, unrolling the ground-sheet on the floor of the dense jungle, yet sleeping without fear. I smiled at myself that morning. At sixty-five I probably did need these facilities.
Our team quickly ‘jelled’ as we began the three day journey to and from Victoria Peak, lovingly called Victoria Secret by the young soldiers that accompanied me. That first day we covered 19 kilometers and when I reached the camp, I was so exhausted I had to concentrate on what I was doing; and I must say that the constant support given me by the soldiers and Mr. Choc was outstanding. Someone was always beside me, I was regularly reminded to drink water, wet my head at the creeks, and eat all of my noodles or rice and corned beef as I needed to maintain my energy. And, of course, there was the humour. That in itself carried me a long way.
At kilometer 17 the ‘Heartbreaker Hills’ begin and I sweated profusely, but I was happy. I was sweating, doing something that I wanted to do, and I was surrounded by a wonderful group of young people that was giving me constant support and encouragement; from the constant thumbs up of Lieutenant Quiroz, the You can do it Doc from Pte. Choc R., the frequent words of reassurance from Mr. Choc, the quiet smiles of encouragement from Pte. Castellanos J., the rehydration salts from Medic-LCpl. Pop D., to the titai harness they made to pull me up the difficult steep slopes. What a difference from swinging through the jungle like Tarzan, leaping from titai to titai. I became very proud of our Belize Defence Force Soldiers, their discipline, their efficiency, their strength and stamina, their support, their camaraderie, and, of course, their humour.
I did not reach Victoria Peak. It would have taken me more that the three days allotted as my pace was slower than that needed and my ‘guardians’ did not want me to have to sleep ‘ranger style’ in an undesignated area of the jungle. In 1972 I had simply rolled out my ground-sheet and slept on the jungle floor. I did not argue, however, as I had decided from the very beginning that I would go along with any decision made by Lieutenant Quiroz in consultation with Mr. Choc. So we turned back midday Thursday at the base of The Molar, just two miles from Victoria Peak, one mile less that in 1972.
Well, Expedition Bold II was Strike II. I will be returning in 2016 and it will not be Strike III, but a Home Run and I will sit on that mountain top overlooking my jungle, feeling the beauty and power of life that lives below me in the Cockscomb Basin, having realized my Dream; and I will sit there as long as I like, thinking of the remains of a giant mahogany tree we passed, the marks still existing on the sapodilla tree made when the chiclero gathered his ware, the water fall at Kilometer 19 camp site where I had the most primitive of baths as the sweet water gushed over me, the delicious mamey fruit the jungle provided us with, the narrow ledges above deep ravines, the continuous uphill struggle, the relief in descending . . . many times on my bottom . . . and the delicious caldo that always awaits the weary hiker in Mrs. Choc’s kitchen at Maya Centre; and Yes, I will sit as long as I like even if I have to sleep ‘ranger style’ on the summit of my Victoria Peak.
I called this tale Journeys of the Jaguar Warrior and you may wonder why. It was on the third day of Expedition Bold II that leaves were placed in my bandana and in the most prestigious of Jungle Ceremonies I was named Jaguar Warrior by the young Warriors that surrounded me. As I finish this tale and I reflect, I await that future day when I will become the Jungle Warrior once again.
Dr. Henry W. Anderson ©
Jabiru Books Belize ©
April 29, 2015.