Barton Creek Outpost – our memorable jungle earthquake experience..

From Belize City we drove to Jim and Jacquelyn’s Barton Creek Outpost, near the Barton Creek cave, in the Cayo district of Western Belize, where we camped for a couple of nights. If the beautiful setting in the thick jungle, near a river and the Barton Creek cave with remains of Mayan human sacrifices were not enough, we experienced an earthquake in the middle of the night. Altogether, it was a real memorable experience…

We arrived at the Outpost just a little before sunset, after having discovered the worst road in Belize… The way there was long and in seriously bad shape.

On our way we saw again the strange-looking folks we had seen in Orange Walk on our first day in Belize; very white and skinny, wearing denim and suspenders. We saw whole families, and they look just like the Amish in Pennsylvania – they wear specific clothes, ride a horse and carriage, and do farming. These are Mennonites; they originate in the 16th century in the Netherlands, and live in agricultural communities with no modern facilities or tools, running their own schools, teaching in a kind of German that they talk.
They have been moving around a lot since the 16th century in the Netherlands; because they don’t believe in progress or in political organization, they do not wish to take part in the social order around them, nor to pay taxes or serve in the army (being pecifists). They were forced to move from the Netherlands to Prussia and Russia and eventually to the New World, Canada. Anti-German sentiments in Canada during the first World War drove them to Mexico, after the Canadian government insisted they use English instead of their traditional German. In the middle of the 20th century, Mexico insisted they take part in the social service programs, and that’s when they arrived to Belize. They were welcomed, since there was no serious agriculture in Belize and most products were imported. Today, the Mennonites supply most of the country’s dairy and poultry products and they live here in peace.
There is also another sect of Mennonites, the Mecha-nites, and they think they can use tractors and trucks, and are therefore very wealthy.
From the very little we’ve seen and what we’ve been told, the Mennonites are kind and respectable people. We saw many of their farms on the way to the Outpost. At one point there is a stream that needs to be crossed. Crossing before us was a Mennonite buggie, pulled by a horse. When we drove pass them we realized it was a boy of maybe 10 years old driving the buggie, carrying a few other kids. They were nice and explained to us how to get to Jim and Jacquelyn’s.

When we finally arrived at the Outpost, we found it almost deserted. Jim, Jacquelyn and the kids were away, and only two volunteers were there, a nice couple from the UK, Patrick and Vinnie. There was no electricity (due to generator failure), but the house is nice and the creek runs right next to it.
We set our tent outside, and after a dinner cooked by lamp-light, we played poker with Ranger Denise (Itai) and read with a flashlight (me). Late at night we welcomed a few more campers that arrived with a ride from San Ignacio. In the darkness, we saw many fire-flies and could hear the jungle at night, undisturbed (somehow the electricity fogs-away the sounds as well, it seems). All was calm…

It was about 0230 or 3 in the morning when we woke up in the tent; the dogs were barking and we felt shakes, as though a truck was heading our way. Soon enough we realized that there was no truck; it was an earthquake! We could feel the earth moving, shaking underneath us. It felt like nothing we’d ever experienced.. It lasted for at least 60 seconds continously, and was frightening but exciting. Itai reassured me that we were better off outside, in the tent, but we heard some bangs in the jungle, as though giant fruits or branches had fallen off, and the whole jungle was alive with animal noises. After it calmed down, we went back to sleep, and I was only relieved that it didn’t happen just 30 minutes before, when I got out to use the jungle girl’s toilets…

The next morning we saw Patrick and Vinnie and asked them how their earthquake experience was. Apparently, they slept right through it. Later the other girls who were also sleeping in the house told us they had woken up and were scared, and Patrick shooshed them cause they were too loud…
The word from “dad-update-online” was that the center of the earthquake was in Honduras, and was about 7.4 on the Richter scale. No small thing..

We had planned to visit the Barton Creek Cave that day, but in the morning the rangers were still checking whether it would be safe to go in, after the earthquake. Meanwhile, we slouched around the Outpost, exhuasted by the heat, with the only relief in the river, which had turned from clear blue to dark brown because of the earthquake. There were no breezes, and with no electricity – no fans to substitute…
In the afternoon we took a kayak a couple hundred meters upstream to Mike’s Place, which is just in front of the Cave. Even just crossing on the kayak near the entrance to the Cave we could feel the cool air coming from within, and we couldn’t wait to get in there. Along with the US guys who were also staying at the Outpost, we took a tour of the Cave.
It’s a kayak tour going more than one kilometer into the Cave, which continues even deeper. The Cave was used by the Mayans for different rituals, including human sacrifice. We saw a skull that remained in the Cave, as well as some pottery that was used for lighting. The whole experience was nice, riding the kayak into the darkness of the Cave, and at one point the guide had us all turn off our lights to feel what complete darkness is like. The guide had participated in excavations that were being conducted in the Cave a few years ago, and he told us that more excavating is scheduled for later this year.

That night wasn’t as exciting as the previous one (no earthquake), but we got to meet Jacquelyn and the kids, and Itai won the evening’s poker game.

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