Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Belize Excursion

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Belize Excursion

Article excerpt

SARASOTA

An international team of scientists including a botanist from Selby Gardens in Sarasota recently descended into two remote sinkholes in Western Belize.

The expedition carried all the hallmarks of an Indiana Jones adventure -- danger, difficulty and the discovery of a treasure chest full of botanical and archaeological finds.

"You don't go into this area lightly," said Bruce Holst, Director of Botany for Selby Gardens. Holst joined 19 other scientists for the 10-day expedition to the Chiquibul National Park in Belize during the last week of January and the first week of February.

Other than an expedition in 2000 by a different group, this area has remained untouched for centuries.

"We're pretty sure no one has been there since the

Mayan civilization," Holst said.

The reason is remoteness.

"The whole area is limestone, there is no surface water, it took three days traveling by tractors just to get there," recalled Holst. "It is so vast, so different."

Every member of the team was armed. Belize shares a border nearby with Guatemala and trespassing by Guatemalans to cut down trees, hunt and extract gold is ongoing. There have been skirmishes. None occurred during the team's stay.

Ahead of the trip Holst heard from another explorer that the area contains an abundance of two things -- orchids and snakes.

Once base camp was established, the team hiked up to two sinkholes every day. The largest one is 425 feet deep and named the Nohoch Ch'en Sinkhole.

"This sinkhole was a special collapse of a cave," Holst said. "There are giant boulders at the bottom, the ruins of a temple on one side of the rim and on the other side, about 30 feet down the face of the sinkhole is a cave full of large jars."

More trips planned

Nohoch Ch'en sits atop the 540,000 square foot Chiquibul Cave system described as the largest in Belize and the longest in Central America. …

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