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Feb 1, 2018

Lost and Found Park Rangers Blame It on the Rain

The combined effort of the Belize Defense Force, the Belize Police Department and the Forestry Department led to the successful location of two park rangers who had gone missing on Monday evening in the Chiquibul.  Luis Ramirez and Elroy Villanueva became disoriented and lost their way from a camp at the Caracol Archaeological Site. And after numerous searches, on Wednesday afternoon around one-thirty p.m., they were found two point five kilometers northwest of Caracol and four kilometers east of the Guatemalan border.  News Five visited with the rangers at their respective homes in Succotz and Lucky Strike earlier today.  News Five’s Duane Moody has their story.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Today, twenty-one-year-old Elroy Villanueva of Lucky Strike Village in Belize District and forty-five-year-old Luis Ramirez of Succotz Village, Cayo have been reunited with their families after spending two nights without food and water, lost within the dense forest of the Chiquibul. The duo, both park rangers at the Caracol Archeological Site, went looking for a vegetable in the jungle and within minutes lost their path as the downpour blurred their vision.

 

Elroy Villanueva

Elroy Villanueva, Park Ranger, Caracol Archeological Site

“We just gone right off the site ina di jungle gone pick pacaya, a Mayan food, but wa hard rain mi di come in and we mi di try beat this rain and same time the rain come in and the jungle start get dark. And then we lost our track and when we think we mi di go back up we di go different way; we di go down towards Guatemala and we neva know because the jungle big and wide and yo noh know weh part yo deh.”

 

Luis Ramirez, Park Manager, Caracol Archeological Site

“Less than five minutes we get very quickly lost in the bush because of the rain, the rain was coming too and by four o’clock and the jungle is getting dark at that time and we just get lost easy as that. We are very familiar with that area; we were just behind the main plaza, B plaza and it is not far from the site and one wrong move we did and we went towards south and south was very far. And especially that night, we just continue walking until we found that we were lost and couldn’t come out again.”

 

Family and friends were baffled as to how two rangers, who are no strangers to the terrain could have gone missing. November of this year will make three years for Villanueva working as a ranger at Caracol; meanwhile, Ramirez is the park manager at the archeological site. Emotions ran high as many speculated that the men could have been hurt or worse taken over the border by encroachers.

 

Floyd Herbert

Floyd Herbert, Father of Elroy Villanueva

“The entire family came together and we received a whole amount of phone calls and everyone came here and we decided what we were going to do, the next step.”

 

Duane Moody

“That next step was to head out to the area; whatever help you can give, get out there to find him?”

 

Floyd Herbert

“Right because we couldn’t; in fact, that night we couldn’t sleep.”

 

Two nights and two days in a dense forest…Reality struck as the men were faced with the perils of the wild: poisonous snakes and wild cats, as well as Guatemalan hunters and xateros in the area. Villanueva and Ramirez, while trying to find their way back, encountered several hotspots for illegal activities.

 

Elroy Villanueva

“When we mi di go up, we almost reach Guatemala. There we meet some xatéro trap and they have lone xaté tree weh part dehn collect and take out of fi we side and go sell. And when it come to that point there, we say we know we di go too much to Guatemala so we know we di go the wrong way so we turn back and gone the next way. We find a next track and we meet up to a tapiska weh one of them mi di hunt. It look like ih mi just lef like five minutes as we reach. As we di walk come out, I woulda say like a mile and a half from we, yo hear wah gunshot then wah next gunshot. It sound like they mi di hunting close by to we.”

 

Using the skills that they had, the men made a makeshift thatch shed atop a hill to sleep at night and setting a fire, optimistic that someone would see their signal. Day two in the wilderness and dehydrated, the hope of being found began fizzling.

 

Elroy Villanueva

“We were walking at night and we walked up a hill and right there we said we can’t go anymore. So the rain is coming really hard and what we did, we build a thatch roof, but it still didn’t help from the rain—rain still went through and through it. The second night, we end up to build a better shed and we sleep better, but it mi still cold and thing. No food, no water.  We start holla and see if anybody wa hear we and then after that we decided that we have to get food cause we noh have no food or water. So we have to go way back down the hill fi get water and food. What we mi wah eat dah the pacaya, weh dah the same food weh we mi di try get from out of the jungle.”

 

Luis Ramirez

Luis Ramirez

“We stayed together we were very close together to maintain warmth cause we were very wet. And next day it was follow the same track and come back again, but we noh eat nothing the whole day until the next day we eat some pacaya. We just roast it and eat it and with that we survived. We got enough water; we went down to the creek and got some water. We tried to make smoke so that the police or the B.D.F. saw the smoke but they were unable to see it because the sky was very foggy.”

 

Duane Moody

“What was going through your head all this time?”

 

Elroy Villanueva

“All kinds of things. What will happen; mi mind deh way home on mi ma, my girlfriend, mi sister them and especially mi son.”

 

Luis Ramirez

“I was very optimistic, I wasn’t panicking. My partner was panicking and I tell him control yourself, we will get out of this. I was in the volunteer force so I know how to handle myself in the jungle, survive.”

 

The rangers were found around one-thirty on Wednesday afternoon by a joint team of Belize Defense Force, Belize Police Department and Forestry Department personnel.

 

Elroy Villanueva

“They gone weh part we mi deh and they start yell again fi we and then we gone back to them and so we gone out, yesterday evening.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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