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Sep 3, 2012

Tour companies archeological war

There is controversy brewing in the tourism industry tonight. It has to do with the construction of a rappelling platform at cave three at Caves Branch. And it’s FECTAB versus Chukka Belize Limited, the Jamaican based company with whom FECTAB was at war two years ago. At a highly charged press conference, FECTAB President Tom Greenwood accused Chukka of desecrating Nohoch Che’en, an archeological site.  FECTAB is also of the view that it is potentially dangerous to visitors. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has all sides to this story, including the reaction from Chukka.

 

The reintroduction of rappelling, as one of several activities being offered at Nohoch Che’en, commonly known as Caves Branch or Jaguar Paw, has created a stir among stakeholders in the tourism industry, particularly operators, who lead cave-tubing expeditions within the archaeological reserve.  The erection of a top deck, a hundred and fifty feet above the meandering river, has raised the ire of the Federation of Cruise Tourism Association of Belize.  Members of FECTAB allege that not only is the building unsafe but it is also sacrilegious.

 

David Almendarez

David Almendarez, Tour Operator

“The national park is being turned into an amusement park where foreign entities are allowed to come and do whatever they want to do in our national park.  Nowhere else in the world this is done but in Belize.  Again, we are talking about the unsightly piece of rappelling platform that they’ve placed on the entrance of Cave Three.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“I am at the entrance of Cave Three here at Nohoch Che’en Archaeological Site, the center of the most recent controversy involving tour operators from FECTAB and Chukka Bakabush over the construction of platform a hundred and eighty feet above the entrance that will be used for tourists to rappel.”

 

A few weeks ago TGO Designs, an international company brought in to build this floor, began drilling the vertical face of the hill.  The result is a metal surface which, according to Chukka, stands a hundred and fifty feet above ground.  Chukka’s country-manager is Valerie Woods.

 

Valerie Woods, Country-Manager, Chukka Belize

“The clients now are looking for value for money and how they can get more out of spending less.  So one of the ideas that came up was [that] we do rappelling in other locations and [we] said if we can do a tour, go back to a tour that existed there, this is not the first time this was done.  When Jaguar Paw operated as hotel they used to rappel down but as a singular tour.  So we decided to combine it with our existing zip line on Jaguar Paw and allow them to rappel down and then continue their cave-tubing experience.”

 

To arrive at Cave Three, I joined a team of guides who, together, share twenty-two years of experience working at Nohoch Che’en.  It’s a twenty-five minute hike uphill to get to a location known as Honeymoon Beach.  This is the site of the platform in question.  A photo submitted by Chukka shows that the newly restored activity takes place approximately sixty feet from the entrance of the cavern.  Luis Guerra, also known as Viejo, first saw work being done two weeks ago.

 

Luis ‘Viejo’ Guerra

Luis ‘Viejo’ Guerra, Tour Guide, Xibalba Tours

“When I came out from the cave where the park is at met my colleagues and I talked with them about this platform they are building on the front of the entrance of the third cave.  So they didn’t believe me too much right because sometimes I tell them jokes and they said you are telling lies.  So I told them, “you can check it and then you tell me afterwards.”  So they came and then we informed Mr. Tom Greenwood and then he come and see it.”

 

Greenwood, who is the president of FECTAB, says that the organization is not deliberately going after its competition but that the action taken by Chukka is objectionable.

 

Tom Greenwood

Tom Greenwood, President, FECTAB

“I am calling on whoever is giving open door policies to a company that uses an archaeological site as an amusement park to please quit.  I, Tom Greenwood, president of the cruise federation, am calling on my good friend the Prime Minister of Belize, the honorable Dean Barrow, who is a good friend of mine, I respect him, he respects me, I like some of the stuff that he is doing. But like I said, I always go to the captain—you go to the crew and you might noh get nothing done. As captain of the ship sir, we native Belizeans are grievously hurt.  We continue to get hurt.  That rappelling platform above the caves, prime minister, is going to kill somebody.  Already the drilling with pneumatic drills and everything else that took place, that stairway right across the entrance, a camera falls, a small item, a carabineer, the stuff that we hook up for rappelling or worst yet, all that drilling, has it loosened some stones?  Is something going to come down?”

 

According to Woods, proper consultation was done prior to embarking upon the project.

 

Valerie Woods

Valerie Woods

“What we do, in any of our tours in any national park, we get the authorities involved to look at what we want to do, how we would do it before we can proceed with a permit and then we have to make a request for a permit; which we did. It is not a safety hazard, Isani. This has been built by technicians who do similar throughout the world. We have been certified and the construction has been certified. There is no such thing as persons tubing under the platform. It is physically impossible to do that. They do not rappel into the river, they actually rappel to the side of an area, then they have to cross what we dub a little lagoon area and then they have to walk down to where they get into their tubes in what we dub like a beach area before they start the other portion of their adventure which is the cave tubing. On the matter of desecrating, I believe NICH would be the ultimate authority to confirm or verify, but we did not desecrate or defaced the Mayan sacred grounds. For that accusation to be made by Mister Tom Greenwood and any other persons who engage in the activity of cave-tubing within caves that are sacred to Mayas, then begs the question; should cave tubing even be allowed.”

 

Earlier today, Chukka issued a press release refuting allegations made by members of FECTAB during their press conference this morning.  The National Institute of Culture & History, the government entity responsible for the oversight of Nohoch Che’en, has chosen to remain silent on the matter. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

 

We’ll have more on this developing story on Tuesday. 

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4 Responses for “Tour companies archeological war”

  1. Observer says:

    This story has only scratched the surface of a much bigger issue affecting the livelihood of many Belizeans. Cruise Tourism is the prostitution of our beloved jewel and here we have a few small pimps in the industry fighting to protect their small corner of the market. This latest commotion from FECTAB in response to the construction of Chukka’s rappelling platform goes much deeper than a limestone cave. There is also a deep feeling of betrayal and injustice being felt by the Belizean owners of smaller tour companies who continue to feel the brutal effects of global capitalism as they face the much bigger foreigner-owned tour company who seems to enjoy a cozy relationship with the powers that be. The truth is they have more money and bigger contracts from the cruise lines (serious collateral there) and they are playing by their own rules, rules that have been designed by the rich to favor the rich. I will never understand why poor people will want to try and play a game designed by the rich man, a game that only favors the rich man. We will never win a game like that.

  2. Rod says:

    Go Thomas greenwood.

  3. Gary says:

    Of course NICH which is the government body responsible for the matter will stay silent when the person in charge there had already receive their cut to stay out of it and keep theirs eyes shut to whats happening……

  4. Liberty and Freedom says:

    Just another situation where investigative reporting is needed “to follow the money”. Is someone getting some big “pocket money” (also known as “a piece of the action”). Is the Department of Archaeology turning a “blind eye” or is some money making it’s way to certain pockets? Some one can certainly explain how this whole situation is perfectly legal, or is it? Let’s see how the story unfolds…. Hey if Minister Vega got away with preferential treatment of family members (land) because he “works harder than anyone else”, there might be more hard working people getting preferential kickbacks…..

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