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Sep 4, 2012

NICH Archaeologist says no damage by rappelling at Caves Branch

As we reported on Monday night, the Federation of Cruise Tourism Association of Belize (FECTAB) is saying that when Chukka Belize erected a rappelling platform at an archeological site, it defiled the site and is subsequently endangering the lives of visitors. In the tourism industry, that is a serious charge on any tour operator; one which Chukka quickly moved to dispel. Chukka has received support from Jaime Awe of the National Institute of Culture and History who says that the platform has no impact on the site. Engineers of the platform are also defending its integrity and News Five’s Isani Cayetano has an update to this story.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Tension between the Federation of Cruise Tourism Association of Belize (FECTAB) and Chukka persists amidst strong objections to the assembly of a metal deck high above Cave Three at Nohoch Che’en.  The popular inland destination, which has undergone several nominal changes over the past few years, now includes an additional feature that has angered tour guides, who operate in the caves below.  The contention revolves around this platform, now open to visitors who book tours with Chukka and are interested in descending the adjacent limestone façade by rope.


Valerie Woods

Valerie Woods, Country-Manager, Chukka

“It really was the brainchild of the guys in the office coming together and thinking of yet another way to excite the clients and provide something interesting and different but as a combination tour.”


The union of cave-tubing and rappelling undoubtedly enhances the Jaguar Paw experience, however, seasoned guide Yohhny Rosado, who also frequents the archaeological site, believes that the latter is a looming hazard to the safety of his guests.  Rappelling, he says, is only a preview of coming attractions.


Yohhny Rosado

Yohhny Rosado, Tour Operator,

“There is no rappelling without zip lining and there is no zip lining without rappelling, they are like married.  So we believe that the rappelling down through the cave is only the beginning to do zip lining through the cave.”


Beyond the possible introduction of cables within the cavernous system is the question of the platform’s structural integrity.  At a hundred and fifty feet tall there is concern among members of FECTAB that lives will surely be lost should the deck plummet from its perch.


Darren Hreniuk

According to Darren Hreniuk, president and chief operations officer at TGO Designs, the firm contracted to install the suspended deck, “the technical system is an adaptation of techniques used in High Angle Rescue and employed in fire departments and rescue associations around the world and all equipment used is approved by the American National Fire Protection Association and the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation.


The installation, says Dr. Jaime Awe, Director of the Institute of Archaeology, had negligible impact on Cave Three.  That affirmation, nonetheless, does little for Tom Greenwood, who firmly believes that the laws which govern archaeological sites should prohibit such practice.


Tom Greenwood

Tom Greenwood, President, FECTAB

“I think everybody in this room understands the laws covering an archaeological site.  If somebody can bring Chukka to me and show me where Chukka has gone to another archaeological site, maybe the one in Peru, maybe one in Mexico, maybe one in Guatemala and put up a rappelling platform, I think somebody would be spending some jail time, trust me.  Why does this happen here?  Why is it that seemingly anybody can come here and do whatever they want?”


While the undertaking has been green lighted by the National Institute of Culture and History, Valerie Woods, Chukka’s country-manager, says that they are adhering to all guidelines set by the relevant authorities.


Valerie Woods

“What I can speak to you is what we approached NICH with, what we approached government authorities with, the regulations we have to comply with.  There are strict guidelines and that we meet them each and every single time and we continue to do so respecting safety standards and environmental practices.  We would never jeopardize the brand of Chukka by putting any Belizean or visitor in harm’s way.”


Hreniuk, in his response to the concerns raised, says, “the descent is also designed to divert the rappelling participants away from the area directly under the platform so as to mitigate the possibility of anything falling on them from above.  The whole system was designed to lessen environmental impact by reducing the footprint of participants actually coming in contact with the environment.


Valerie Woods

“We have to go through all inspections by the authorities, by the lines and we go through them rigorously.  We have to be certified by the companies who train our system operators each and every year.  There is no such thing as us having an advantage; we just have to pay a lot of money in the investment of our guides and for the very same access incidentally for Jaguar Paw.”


While the construction of a rappelling platform is taking center stage, nothing seems to be done about the unwanted artwork that litters the caves’ walls since it is also argued that the site should, in no way, shape or form, be desecrated by operators or visitors alike.  Again, we’ve tried to get a comment from NICH but that interview was declined. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


NICH is expected to issue an official release on Wednesday. Rappelling is also being done at other archaeological sites such as Actun Tunichil Muknal in Teakettle Village, and so far no loss of life has occurred at that site.

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1 Response for “NICH Archaeologist says no damage by rappelling at Caves Branch”

  1. Rod says:

    Get them Tom greenwood. You thought barrow was your friend well his friends are the people who can pay him more get it Tom greenwood you no got enough money fu give a.

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