Vancouver-born lodge owner Ian Anderson knows how to keep his visitors busy. Caves Branch Jungle Lodge, located in the Western part of Belize, offers multi-day, eco-friendly treks for the adventurous traveller, from caving expeditions tubing underground rivers, to rappelling rainforest canopies, to mountain biking along Mayan ruins.
While there are plenty of things to do across this 58,000 acre private estate, it was the jungle survival course that piqued my interest. This day-long expedition was my chance to learn the basics of surviving in a harsh jungle environment. I’d learn how to make shelter, find edible plants, and set handmade traps to catch birds and small animals (just the kind of skills this urban dweller might need one day).
From the comfort of the lodge, I set out into the wilderness with a team of well-trained local guides. It’s a lot easier to survive when you have members of the Belize Disaster and Rescue Response Team showing you the ropes.
With heavy rains the night before, the path was slick with slippery roots and chocolate-pudding-like mud. Stepping over a swarm of fiery marching ants scurrying single file, I realized that the jungle isn’t the most hospitable of environments. There are vines with spikes, trees with thorns, and branches with natural barbed wire. There are jaguars, pumas and Fer-de-Lance snakes, venomous vipers that camouflage along the walking trails and attack if threatened. “One bite from this poisonous serpent can be fatal to humans, so it’s best to keep your eyes open and stay alert,” warned my guide Ching.
When we arrived at a clearing, the team threw down their gear and launched into their lesson plan for Survival 101.
“Constructing a waterproof shield against the elements of nature is one of the first steps to survival,” said Ching. Together, we built an A-frame structure out of sticks, bark and the umbrella-like leaves of a Bay Palm.
I learned that the sap from the gum tree can be used to heal wounds, water from the Cohun nut helps with re-dehydration and leaves from the “All Spice Tree” are good for stomach cramps.
Food was the next item on the itinerary. The guys showed me how to build rat traps from branches and improvised twine. With my trap set, I waited patiently. Sadly, catching my very own rodent dinner wasn’t easy, so I was forced to look for other unappetizing food sources.
With few fine-dining options in the jungle, desperate times called for desperate measures.
Termites are a good source of protein and much easier to catch than small animals, so I followed my main guide’s lead and cut into a beehive-like nest with a pocket knife. A handful of confused orange termites dropped out into my palm. Jungle survival means doing whatever is necessary, so I stuck out my tongue and drowned the insects in a sea of saliva. Surprisingly, termites taste just like carrots. Not only are they good for you, the nests themselves are useful in survival situations. When you burn a termites’ nest, the smoke acts as natural insect repellent.
Spending a day with the Caves Branch team hacking through the jungle and testing my endurance, I realized that the jungle has everything you need to survive. You just have to learn where to look.
Julia Dimon is co-host of Word Travels, airing Sundays at 8:30 p.m. EST on OLN; juliadimon.com.