Land Rover adventures in Belize
Land Rover adventures in Belize. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Peter Bleakney

Cayo, Belize – A cocktail of sweat, DEET and sunblock poured down my forehead and stung my eyes as I violently swung the 2006 Range Rover’s steering wheel from side to side as fast as my aching upper body could manage.

We were axle deep in Camp Six Road – a deeply rutted mud track, slicker than tapir snot, that cut through the densest of Belize jungles. Any person of sane mind wouldn’t even set foot on this 16-kilometre mucky mess, but here we were, a convoy of two LR3s, a supercharged Range Rover Sport and a Range Rover HSE, pressing ever deeper into the green abyss.

The appropriately named Jim Swett, my instructor and off-road guru, barked orders from the passenger seat. “Wiggle wiggle wiggle! Stay with it! Good. More wiggle! More wiggle!”

For those not hip to the “wiggle”, it’s a technique used to gain traction in the slickest of conditions. By turning the front wheels a few degrees side to side very quickly, the side walls find some extra purchase in the ruts. We found yelling obscenities helped too.

So I was a wigglin’ and cussin’ fool. Then BANG! The Range Rover was yanked to a dead stop. We slammed forward against the seat belts.

“Okay. More throttle. Wiggle wiggle wiggle!”

The SUV inched ahead for a meter or so and that was it.

“Good. Back up and do it again.”

I was here in Belize, as a guest of Land Rover, to experience the true capabilities of these premium SUVs.

The disabled Land Rover LR3, squatting on its broken air suspension
The disabled Land Rover LR3, squatting on its broken air suspension. Click image to enlarge

While most Land Rover products don’t negotiate anything more treacherous than a speed bump at the mall, the object of this exercise was to assure Yolanda Yoga of Yorkville that, yes, her 390-hp Range Rover Sport can indeed crawl, climb and wiggle its way through the muddiest, deepest-rutted, overgrown jungle track she could possibly imagine.

Except we ran into a slight problem.

About six kilometres into our trek, what sounded like a rifle shot coming from the lead LR3 was in fact an air suspension hose bursting. Not good.

A slammed LR3 might look cool in a rap video, but out here in the jungle, a Landie on its bump-stops turns into a 2700 kg boulder. And a serious liability.

Land Rover off-road team leader Bob Burns announced a change of plans. Our serious off-road journey was now an even more serious recovery mission. We had to turn back and drag the stricken LR3 out before nightfall.

Apparently the jungle turns into some kind of wild party at night when all the nocturnal creepy-crawlies come out and do the jungle boogie. This was one party we didn’t want to crash.

Winching out the disabled LR3
Winching out the disabled LR3. Click image to enlarge

Luckily we had a couple things going for us. First, the lowrider LR3 had a winch, and second, the members of this crack team that Land Rover assembled for this adventure thrive on this type of work. Can you say Camel Trophy kids? These guys make Indiana Jones look like Little Orphan Annie.

First they broke out the snatch straps. These are broad woven straps that are stress-rated for 30,000 lbs. Our Range Rover HSE became the official tow vehicle, and if you’re wondering, the only difference between these cars and the ones you buy were the 18-inch mud tires.

The technique of snatching involves generating as much speed as possible in the tow vehicle before the strap snaps taught. It stretches about a metre, storing kinetic energy, which then yanks the towee forward.

Land Rover adventures in Belize
Land Rover adventures in Belize. Click image to enlarge

In this situation, it was a very violent procedure (see opening paragraphs) and on steeper grades, we were strapped to the Range Rover Sport ahead of us for some extra tug.

This was called a double snatch strap with extra wiggle. (Hey, I just report this stuff.)

Every now and then we’d get extra purchase on some stony ledges that were actually ancient Mayan terraces. Many centuries ago, this dense jungle was, unbelievably, open farmland.

When the proceedings seriously ground to a halt, Jim would grab his machete, which was parked on top of the wipers, and hack into the jungle to find a strong tree on which to attach the LR3’s winch.

At this point, we’d chew our way up the incline in the HSE and wait while the team winched the lowrider.

The Range Rover's LCD shows wheel direction and suspension articulation
The Range Rover’s LCD shows wheel direction and suspension articulation. Click image to enlarge

Time was spent swatting bugs and discovering all kinds of huge, brightly-coloured caterpillars, millipedes and centipedes that crawled on the jungle floor.

Untethered, it was astounding what our Range Rover could do and the abuse it could take. The display on the LCD screen, which shows wheel direction and articulation proved invaluable. Although it did pain me to see the lovely cream leather and satin wood interior of this $99,900 luxury ute gradually get smeared with mud and grime as the day wore on.

After nine hours, we emerged from the jungle just as night was falling. Casualty list: one snapped snatch strap, left side lower body cladding ripped from the Range Rover Sport, and of course, the LR3’s air hose.

Range Rover at the Mayan ruin of Caracol
Range Rover at the Mayan ruin of Caracol. Click image to enlarge

Bob Burns, who works with Land Rover engineers on the development of these off-road systems, said LR will be seriously scrutinizing this failure.

Day two was considerably less dramatic but equally as fascinating. We negotiated much more passable roads to the Mayan ruin of Caracol – Belize’s largest archeological site.

Evidence of Mayan civilization here dates from between 600 and 900 BC. By AD 650 Caracol maintained a population of 140,000 and covered 10 square kilometres.

Land Rovers at the Mayan Ruin of Caracol
Land Rovers at the Mayan Ruin of Caracol. Click image to enlarge

The Caana pyramid (meaning Sun Place) rises 43 meters above the jungle floor and is still the tallest structure, modern or otherwise, in Belize.

We were guests of Jamie Awe who is currently the Director of the Institute of Archeology of the Government of Belize. He has quite a personal interest in this site as he and 100 other workers spent 380 days excavating Caana. The view from the top is spectacular.

All the buildings and temples here were once covered in plaster and painted in bright colours. Awe showed us a court where captives from other tribes were forced to play a game with a large rubber ball while the city’s elite observed. No red cards here. The losers were sacrificed.

Land Rover is sponsoring the preservation of one of the few remaining large relief sculptures at Caracol.

Land Rovers at the Mayan ruin of Caracol
Land Rovers at the Mayan ruin of Caracol. Click image to enlarge

Since being excavated, weather and insects have slowly eaten away at these magnificent art works, so a new technique is being pioneered here that involves making an exact clay model of the carving from which a cast is made, and then a fibre-glass replica. The fa�ade is faux painted and placed over the original, thus protecting it as well as keeping the site looking completely original.

My last night in Belize was spent at the spectacular Chan Chich Lodge, in the heart of “La Selva Maya” – the most extensive moist tropical forest in Central America. The lodge, which consists of 12 cabanas and a central villa, resides in the plaza of an unexcavated Mayan city.

Land Rovers at the Mayan ruin of Caracol
Land Rovers at the Mayan ruin of Caracol. Click image to enlarge

I learned a lot about extreme jungle off-roading on this trip, and a couple of mantras from Jim Swett really stuck: “Go as slow as possible and as fast as necessary” and “Technique before technology.”

So don’t try to impress me with your fancy-pants Range Rover Sport unless you’ve got a winch up front, a machete on the hood, and that rarely-ordered Land Rover accessory known as the “Bumper Dumper” hanging off the rear. Use your imagination for that one.

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