Camping for free in the Belizean jungle is about what you would expect. Kerosene lanterns, hammocks, waterfalls, and great food. We are living at Barton Creek Outpost right now and are absolutely absorbed in it. The plan was to leave for Guatemala tomorrow, but Alex and I are thinking about hanging around a little longer. We’ve got exactly what we want right now: under budget living, incredible dirt bike roads, and amazing company.
Jill found Barton Creek Outpost online and we decided to give it a shot leaving Hopkins. After visiting San Ignacio for lunch and cash, we all stormed into the jungle on Jill’s hand-drawn map. Ten or fifteen miles out of town we turned onto a dirt road leading straight into the Pine Ridge Jungle. Five miles of that led us to a big sign pointing to the outpost. Follow that road for four miles and we are here.
The last four miles are formidable. Chunky rocks and loose gravel with a river crossing thrown in. Only a dirt bike, a 4X4, or a Mennonite wagon can handle it all. Working our way in we passed an abundance of Mennonite farms. Apparently there is a stronghold population here in Belize and they are doing very well. We were polite and kept it in first gear and kept going.
Across the six inch deep river is Barton Creek Outpost. At the entrance is an orchard with a bunkhouse built into a hill a ways down. Below the hill is the river with the main lodge overlooking the watering hole. The lodge area is an open air A frame building with a room in the middle used for cooking and maintenance. The rest of the floor space is open to everyone with hammocks and Mennonite-built chairs everywhere. At night they light up the kerosene lanterns and we all hang out amidst the flickering light Swiss Family Robinson style.
Jacqueline and Jim manage this place and are currently raising three children on the grounds. The outpost is an archeological reserve and its most prominent feature is the Barton Cave. We all went to see the cave by canoe this evening and learned why it was known as the entrance to the Mayan underworld . It’s high-arching and pointed on top with long formations draping at the entrance. From most angles you can see gruesome faces in the rocks peering out from inside. It does not make the cave very inviting.
The place is owned by someone else, but Jacqueline and Jim have been here for seven years taking care of it and trying different ways to make money for it. They offer free camping to anyone and moderately priced meals three times a day ($7 breakfast, $13 dinner). We have our tents pitched right along the river just a couple hundred yards away from the cave. There is a swimming hole right at the bank with a rope swing. The far side of the river is a high rock cliff covered in vines.
The kids here remind me of Calvin and Hobbes. Every morning they wake up, go fishing, climb vines, ride horses, and play with each other all day long. They live a pretty untouched lifestyle and are home schooled on account of it. I can’t imagine growing up so immersed in the outdoors like they are. They live with limited electricity (when the generator is running), no phones, surrounded by Mennonites… in the jungle. Never Never Land with some parental constraint.
Today we woke at dawn to a five-star breakfast cooked by Jacqueline. We figure we can splurge on their meals because the camping is free, the hosting is sincere, and the food is incredible. Jacqueline told us some good spots we could go see on the bikes. We rode out the four miles of rut road and headed further into Pine Ridge. Our first stop was Rio On. Jill and Ty took a different trail out to Rio On so Alex and I ended up on our own exploring the area as deeply as we could.
Rio On is a small volume river meandering through a series of large patches of smooth rock. We started following the water flow jumping from dry spot to dry spot as it headed toward a canyon. The water carved a small path through the canyon but Al and I found a route on the left side leading down to an ending pool. We used smart climbing sense and deliberate movement to make it down safely to jungle paradise. The pool was warm and pristine. We stayed down there about twenty minutes taking in the moment before heading back up to find Jill and Ty.
The next stop was Big Rock. Rio On had been about fifteen miles down high speed dirt roads and Big Rock was on the way back to the outpost from there. Big Rock was a ten minute hike from the parking lot down into a valley where a waterfall had formed. The falls had carved out a deep cavern below them with jumping cliffs on each side. Alex immediately did a backflip and wowed the Mennonite crowd. We all ended up jumping from the high cliff, probably about forty feet. We had a great time splashing around and got worn out.
With everything but the necessities stripped from my bike it is a monster in the dirt out here. I’m really sold on the DR650. It is very capable and comfortable on the street yet sturdy and nimble even in the roughest dirt. Getting into the dirt was a blast because it changes the whole mindset. You have to hold the handlebars loosely to allow them to jerk around bouncing off the rocks while still keeping them aimed mostly forward. The throttle is always changing in order to keep the rear tire dug in. The clutch and brakes come into play a lot more too. I had a blast tearing through the dirt leaning the bike on the big turns. Like ice road trucking, there is quite a bit of traction if you’re moving in a mostly straight line.
Ty showed his impressive ridership skills maneuvering his VStrom 1000 through all of the roads with Jill on the back and no incidents. We got back and met a wild guy named Forrest and his Thai wife Nantha. A while ago Forrest told everyone here that he’d be back in Belize in three months and ended up working in Afghanistan as an entomologist for three years instead. Then he did six months in Thailand and he finally flew back yesterday and dropped by. He’s got some Chas in him.
Tonight, Friday night, Alex and I are the last men standing in the lodge. The family has gone to bed in their house and we are left with the duty of putting out the lanterns before we go to bed. I’m full of an amazing Thai dinner cooked by Nantha and gurgling in a well-slung hammock in the lodge listening to the river flow and the jungle breathe. We’re tucked deep in the middle of nowhere with nothing but candle light and it is perfect. After the constant blaring social interaction of the hostel scene, I couldn’t be more satisfied than I am here in the jungle with a tent and my motorcycle. Tomorrow I’ll go exploring the Pine Ridge again or maybe cross into Guatemala. I really don’t know and I really don’t care.