|In January 97 I spent a week at
the British Army's Jungle Warfare School in central Belize. These
extracts were originally published in an article in Maxim later that
Raoul's Rose Garden on the outskirts of Belize City is a far less elegant place than its name suggests. In fact, it's a brothel, and the management make no attempt to disguise the fact. Long after nightfall the dusty patch of earth that passes for a car park fills with pick-up trucks and ancient American saloons, and the doors to the substantial, tatty white hacienda are thrown open. Inside it's a sweaty, oppressive place even when trade is slack. But back when the British Army kept a brigade of soldiers in Belize it was jammed every night with drunken sergeants chasing Raoul's legions of call-girls around the one-keyboard dance floor. It was a favoured haunt of Soviet spies, who plied loose-lipped servicemen with Raoul's warm, overpriced beer, and the bar's greatest accolade came in a mention in Immediate Action, when Bravo Two-Zero hero Andy McNab admitted that even he was scared by the ferocity of the venereal diseases Raoul's had on offer.
Maxim photographer Anthony and I are in Belize to join a troop of a hundred British soldiers as they're put through their paces at the Army's notorious Jungle Warfare School deep in the rain forest. They were supposed to arrive two days ago, but their RAF VC10 had an oil leak in Newfoundland and then caught fire over Washington. In their absence, we've kept ourselves busy scuba-diving, sailing and lying in hammocks on Belize's palm-fringed Gulf of Mexico coast. And now, on the night before their arrival we've washed up in Raoul's, the only all-night bar within staggering distance of Airport Camp, the Army's main garrison by the coast. It seems we're not the only ones expecting them. Half the hookers in Belize have turned out to welcome our boys, and found no one apart from the barman, the band, me and Anthony. They are very determined to get some trade, but even at twenty quid for twelve hours of passion, neither of us is interested. This could get ugly. We're bigger, but there's a damn sight more of them , and for the first time we curse the squaddies' late arrival..
|This is plainly a job best left
to the professionals...
I'm not sure how well I'll cope, and I don't even have to do the training. The jungle warfare school is hidden in the hills above a shallow, fast-flowing river. The views along the valley are amazing, the dense green canopy stretching unbroken over every peak, and for hundreds of miles beyond that. Once up in the hills it is impossible to see anything; we only knew we'd arrived at camp when two stubbly, irregularly-dressed soldiers clutching M16s stepped out of the jungle into the path of our truck. Most of Flash Flavell's eleven jungle warfare instructors are drawn from British special forces; the tuition the guys will receive is undoubtedly the best in the world. They direct us down another track to the school itself, a small clearing with a shelter which doubles as a classroom.
It's time for Anthony and me to start adapting to military life. Step one is to build our basha area, where we'll sleep and keep our kit. One of the instructors leads us about twenty metres into the jungle, far enough for us to become completely disorientated. Clearly used to dealing with idiots, he stretches a length of twine from our basha back to the schoolhouse, conveniently routing it past the shit-pit for night-time emergencies.
|Step two is to set up the hammock I'll call home for the next week. I crash around in the foliage for ages before finding two trees a suitable distance apart that look capable of supporting my bulk. I set the whole thing up beautifully; hammock straight and the regulation five feet from the ground, mosquito net a comfortable distance above it but protecting me on all sides , and the rainproof poncho stretched out above that. Magic. Until I try to get in. After falling out twice I finally haul myself in; the trees holding the whole thing up bend alarmingly, the hammock sags, by arse scrapes the ground and there's enough room between the mosquito net and me for a Panzer division of the little bastards to fly through and drain me of blood in my sleep.|