After our tour of Caracol and a spicy Creole lunch, we saddle up the Rovers and hit the road. Our next destination is another Maya city at Xunantunich, some 20 miles to the north, but rather than bore us to tears on more pavement, our hosts at Land Rover have a detour planned: Camp Six Road, a former timber-company rail line and now a muddy two-track that snakes for several miles through broadleaf jungle. With any luck, we should be at Xunantunich in three hours, we're told-plenty of time for sightseeing before a leisurely hour's drive to our lodgings for the night.
The "entrance" to Camp Six Road ... well, let's just say we didn't find this on our Nav sy
Rain begins to fall as we turn onto the trailhead, a few miles north of Caracol. It is a good thing we have guides leading the way, for we would never have found this "road" otherwise. Barely discernible from the highway, the former rail line has been largely reclaimed by rainforest, its narrow track littered with exposed tree roots and slick grasses, and shrouded in a dense canopy of mangrove, palm, and mahogany. Even in broad daylight, the forest growth is so thick, visibility into the jungle is only some 20 feet from the trail without a flashlight. Our caravan slowly proceeds onward, headlights on, tires spinning, and ABS shuddering as our traction control keeps us inching across rain-slick clay that reminds us of winter 'wheeling in the desert Southwest.
An hour passes in low-range, and rain continues to fall, turning the greasy clay tracks into a thick morass, and our Goodyears' treads soon gum up. Lacking Terrain Response, the heavy, cumbersome Range Rovers are the first to bog down. The Rover Sports shortly follow suit, as in time do the most-nimble LR3s. The Camel Trophy vets earn their keep as they spend the afternoon using their support vehicles (which get stuck frequently too) to winch and yank our caravan from one muddy soup hole to the next. One member of our group, growing frustrated at the sight of more inexperienced drivers ahead of him spinning endlessly in the ruts, decides upon a bolder tack, pointing his Rover out of the ruts, then sliding sideways and losing traction. Mashing the throttle, his tires dig straight into the mud. Attempting Reverse, then hitting the gas in forward gear, he tries this method again and again, and in short order he's buried to the bumpers.
Daphne Green approaches the vehicle, motioning for a word with the driver:
"You like to have things your own way, don't you?"
"Of course," snaps the journo, "I'm the editor of Four Wheeler."
"Good. Try listening for a change and follow my instructions."
Keys to successful muddin': Stay in the ruts, keep the revs up and wiggle the steering whe
The journo rolls up his window, sulks, then decides to get with the program. Mud Driving 101: Stay in the ruts-don't even think of driving out. Keep the revs up, in low gear. Wiggle the steering wheel, wiggle it again, then wiggle some more until your biceps are bleeding. It seems too simple-there's gotta be a catch-but the approach seems to work, and by the end of the ride, one old coot has learned a few new tricks about muddin'-which, granted, we don't do often in sunny California.
The jungle shadows lengthen as daylight recedes, and the forest awakens to the cawing of toucans and the eerie barking of howler monkeys. By the time we clear the forest, exiting onto a semiarid savannah showing signs of slash-and-burned clearings, our three-hour tour has turned into a six-hour winchfest, and by the time we reach pavement, it's sundown. An hour later, in darkness, we arrive at our lodge at Chaa Creek, muddy and famished. We'd missed Xunantunich, but we're not complaining-not after a marvelous, and sometimes maddening, day of rainforest 'wheeling. A hot shower has seldom been more gratifying, nor a bottle of Belikin more thirst-slaking.
Our last day of 'wheeling was accompanied by a tropical storm. After four hours of this, w
The next day dawns much as the previous one had ended: Dark and menacing. Rain has fallen throughout the night, and as we prepare to head out for our day's adventure, we're told that a tropical storm warning-with as much as 20 inches of expected rainfall-has been issued for the Belizean coast. That's great news since that's exactly where we're heading today, to inspect the Maya caves in the coastal lowlands near the Caribbean.
Driving eastward on the Western Highway, past the frontier town of San Ignacio, we run smack into the storm. The skies darken, visibility grows poor, and we slow to a crawl with our wipers running at warp speed. This being farm country, we also find ourselves stuck along the way behind slow-moving tractors and the occasional Mennonite horsecart (several thousand Mennonites live in Belize, where they've prospered as rice farmers), so while it's only 20 miles of highway to our turnoff, it takes us an hour and a half to reach it. The rainfall lightens as we exit the highway. From here, it's a 10-mile jaunt down a stretch of asphalt to the trail head, but by now, the "road" is submerged in up to 3 feet of water, so our party proceeds at a slow, cautious pace before reaching the trail.
We have less than two miles to 'wheel before reaching the caves, we're told, and even with a couple of river crossings thrown in, our hosts estimate we'll reach our destination within an hour, despite the bad weather. It doesn't quite work out that way.