From Placencia we headed further south, stopping in Punta Gorda overnight at the Maroon Creole Drumming School, where Jill showed us how to prepare a very mature jackfruit, It turned out to be delicious, not sticky as we'd been warned, mainly because it was so ripe.
At the Rio Blanco we visited the local swimming hole, but the waters were a little high for a dip, so we trekked through the jungle and were rewarded with the site of armadillos scrambling through the bush. Another downpour soaked us through, so time to return to San Felipe, where Juan Cho allowed us to stay on his beautiful farm, ahead of us visiting his chocolate tour. The Ixcacao factory and the informative talk and demonstration Juan gives is well worth a visit. We were in good company, a young Green and Blacks came here to learn about chocolate making and particularly the Belizean cacao variety, which is less bitter. After a tasting session we set to making our own chocolate, followed by a delicious lunch cooked by Juan's wife, Abelina. If any one would like the chocolate chicken recipe, email me!
On our way back north to Belmopan, we stopped first at the site of Lubaantum, delayed by an hour as a result of our first puncture in some time. The following day, we had a second puncture, which was fixed locally by a guy who had made most of his own tools. This repair enabled us to carry on into Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where we walked up to Ben's Bluff to catch a view of Victoria Peak. Great views from the top of the surrounding countryside and a refreshing dip on the way back down.
Back in Belmopan, it was time to get ready for the Guatemalan roads, We last had new tyres over a year ago and the ones we had were clearly life expired, so a full set of all terrain wheels was in order. A few days relaxing at Rock Farm, which is also the Belize Bird Rescue, included various sightings of previously rehabilitated visitors: toucans, parrots and the rather cheeky red-headed bird that became quite animated when Declan started washing the van below its perch. Rock Farm is bounded on one side by the meandering Roaring River, so a morning floating down the river was refreshing and fortunalty limited in the wildlife we saw - no crocodiles, other than the ones at the Belize zoo!
We then headed into the Pine Ridge region, stopping at a swimming hole and some caves along the way. Douglas de Silva, an abandoned Forestry town is an hour from San Ignacio and the last place you can drive to on the way to the ruins at Caracol, without military escort. The Belize Defence Force were very accommodating and allowed us to camp in their camp overnight as we waited for the 9.30am convoy to Caracol, a 22miles drive that took about an hour. Caracol used to suffer from Guatemalan's coming over the border and robbing the tourists but such incidents are rare now the BDF are in place, and what a beautiful place. Amazing views, beautiful ruins and spider monkeys climbing the trees as we surveyed the ruins. In Douglas de Silva we wandered around the abandoned town and the only sign of life, apart from quite a well tended vegetable garden were some huge footprints, which we were assured belonged to a Tapir.
We returned from Caracol and stopped in San Ignacio, visiting Joyce, who runs the local British shop and then into Mennonite community of Spanish Lookout. Our final stop was at San Jose Succotz, across the Mopan River from the ruins at Xunantunich, where apart from the amazing Castillo, from which you could see the Guatemalan border town of Melchor de Mencos, we also got to see more spider moneys, hear the howler monkeys and find a rather odd looking bug, known variously as a Lantern Fly or Peanut-Head bug. Overnight also proved a little exciting as it turned out a scorpion lived down the sink in the bathroom we were using!