Wednesday, January 25, 2012

View from our hotel in Belize City

January 19 - Belize Arrival

After a very early morning flight from LAX to Houston, we boarded a direct flight to Belize. Another two hours in the air and we were touching down on the wet tarmac of Belize City International airport.

Stepping out of the plane into Belize air, the humidity didn’t feel too harsh. After winding our way through customs, we hailed a taxi, who took us downtown to our somewhat ramshackle yet comfortable hotel overlooking the Belize River. The rest of what we saw of the town had the same shanty-town character.

After getting settled into our rooms, we sat on Adirondack chairs on the hotel porch. There wasn’t much river boat traffic to see, but the Belize beer, Belikin, tasted mighty good in the warm weather. Dinner was next door at the Marlin Restaurant, where we had grouper, rice and beans and another Belikin to help down it all.  

Little girl in front of us in bus

Jan 20 - Bus Trip to San Ignacio

We got up reasonably early and had breakfast next door at the Marlin (eggs and white bread toasted - my cholesterol will be going through the roof this trip. How effective is rum as a statin anyway?). We checked out and got a taxi to the bus station.

Maybe it was because it was Saturday, but when we arrived at the bus station things seemed orderly, low keyed and not very busy. We walked right up to our bus (an old converted U.S. school bus) and found some seats. As soon as the bus got moving, the driver kicked up the volume of the reggae music, making it virtually impossible to communicate. We were grooving’ mahn!

About two and a half hours later, after making dozens of stops and driving through a number of villages, we pulled into San Ignacio. The bus driver dropped us off near our hotel, but it was still a tough last few hundred yards because Cahal Pech Resort is at the top of the hill!

of San Ignacio from our hotel - Cahal Pech

After settling into to our room, we took a walk back into town and checked out the local Saturday market. It was a very typical Central American/Caribbean style open market with booths selling houseware items, clothes, fruits and vegetables. We bought papayas, bananas and a fake pair of Crocks.

Jan 21, 2012 - San Ignacio

We had a short excursion into town and its vicinity today, but our main attraction was a visit to the Cahal Pech ruins. Located just a few steps away from our hotel, we were pleasantly surprised with the experience in spite of it not being a major Mayan site.

Cahal Pech dates back to when Mayans began to occupy the site sometime between 1200 to 1000 B.C. In its peak, it probably had upwards of 20,000 people living in the surrounding area with as many as 34 structures. Although we were able to see a number of them, it was pretty obvious that many still remain to be dug out from the surrounding mounds of dirt.

January 22 - Caracol Mayan Site

We were picked up early in the morning by our driver, Eddie. We were soon headed out of town as Eddie explained to us what we would be doing and seeing during the day. The road started out paved, but after some driving gave way to dirt roads, lined with enormous  holes, keeping our speed limit down to about 30mph. Eddie tried to avoid pot holes, but their sheer volume made the attempt a futile one. About two hours of relentless bumps through jungle terrain, we arrived at Caracol.   

Mayans lived in this area as far back as 1200 B.C., a time known as the Early Classic Mayan period (the others being Classic and Late Classic). Eddie took us through the back area first, and was very knowledgeable of the vegetation surrounding the ruins. He showed us a local tree, the Ceiba, that grows very high. It’s like our Cottonwood tree. He showed us a palm that had leaves that looked like a fish tail, often used in roofing. 

Eventually, we made it to a secondary set of structures that were pretty impressive. There were four structures built around a rectangular field, the tallest being around 50-70 feet. Built of limestone blocks, each had lots of different chambers, rooms and tombs. When you stop and think about how much work went into these buildings, it’s quite amazing how it was all accomplished without the aid of mechanization and computers. 

Perhaps as amazing and labor intensive, however, is how these ruins were discovered and meticulously excavated. Most of the structures were underneath  mounds of dirt and jungle vegetation when they were found. They required lots of careful digging, and often, reconstruction.    

The main structures we eventually came to were even more impressive. Taller and bigger than the first ones we saw, we climbed to the very top and had a grand view of the surrounding area. Only the elites and priests were allowed up here. There were residential rooms, altars, terraces and tombs.

While we walked, Eddie also imparted on us the history of the Mayans who lived here and how they traded, communicated and battled with other settlements such as Tikal, the large Mayan settlement in what is now Guatemala.

The day ended with the return tour taking us to a large cave with a river running through it and then a swim in the Macal River. The road back seemed a little quicker but was at least as bumpy as on the way in. It was a long but interesting day. 

Today we're off to visit a cave site known as ATM (Actun Tuniichil Muknai). It's a jungle hike to get there, crossing rivers and then going into the cave, which is waist water high. Should be fun! 

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