As we turned onto Camp Six Road, an old mining route that now resembles an overgrown trail ideally suited for the TV show "Lost," and into eastern Belize's Vaca Forest Reserve, the voice of Axl Rose began echoing in my head. "Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games." Normally I'd be screaming those lyrics in my car on the 405 freeway, the volume and the A/C set to high. But on this steamy day, I really was in the jungle, surrounded by a lush canopy of vegetation and a sauna-like net that comes from 90-degree heat mixed with 90-percent humidity. Fun and games? Not exactly. With beads of sweat running down my forehead and back, it felt more like fear and apprehension. After all, our jungle expert, Nicholas Bougas, whom Land Rover hired to educate us on the perils of the jingle (Hindu for "tangled mess"), had warned us earlier about the Yellow-Jaw Tommygoff--the most poisonous snake in Central America--Morelet's crocodile, and the botfly, whose deposited larvae, Bougas was proud to point out, had been residing in his scalp for several days.
The day before, while enjoying a buffet by the waterfalls at the Five Sisters Lodge, deep in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Bob Burns, Land Rover's off-road guru, briefed us on the upcoming trek Land Rover had organized to exhibit the capability and breadth of its vehicles. He informed us that the previous day's heavy rains--seven inches in 24 hours--had altered the route. "Camp Six will be an adventure, because we don't know what the outcome will be." Adventure? Who's he trying to impress? Probably just trying to scare us, I thought. I knew what the outcome would be--I'd arrive safely and on time at that night's destination lodge, able to enjoy a pre-dinner rum punch and some storytelling.
A mile deep into Camp Six Road, entrenched two feet deep in slick mud that seemed to have the viscosity of motor oil, I quickly realized what Burns had meant by adventure. The extremely capable LR3 I was piloting was stuck, despite the best efforts of the Rover's mud-slinging Goodyear Wrangler MT/R tires, low-range gearing, and Mud and Ruts Terrain Response setting. Before entering the slick section, Burns had told me to stay on the throttle and work the wheel, giving the vehicle just the right amounts of each--not too much, not too little. "Okay, got it," I had confidently replied, having no idea where those sweet spots really resided. In the muck, though, when there's no time to delicately deliver or, more important, really comprehend detailed instructions, the off-road fallback is the simple command, "Drive it!"
"Drive it! Drive it!" Burns shouted. In his head, he knew that meant this amount of throttle and that amount of steering input. Huh? What do you think I'm doing? After several attempts to regain momentum, Burns declared we were stuck. One of the other six vehicles in our caravan--a mix of LR3s, Range Rovers, and Range Rover Sports--would have to winch us out. "See, told you this would be an adventure," he said with a smirk.
Since each vehicle required multiple winch-aided escapes from the Vaselinelike sludge, it took about six hours for our caravan to conquer the three or so miles of Camp Six Road. As darkness fell, our Belizean military escorts, identifiable by their baggy fatigues and shiny AK-47s, radioed to tell us we should hurry because the bandits from just over the border in Guatemala "love the dark." My thoughts turned from Will we make it? to Will we make it alive? Left with just enough light to discern that our LR3 looked like it had been doused with cocoa powder, we came to a tee in the road, our escorts waiting with guns in hand. Wait a second: Were these guys our escorts or the bandits to whom they had radioed us about? They were the former. Somehow we had managed to 86 Camp Six.