Today, Patrick (my guide) and I went off to see Xunantunich, the second-largest Mayan ruin in Belize. It’s not one of the big Mayan sites–Tikal, 2.5 hours away in Guatemala, is supposedly much more impressive–but it was damn impressive nonetheless. One massive stone temple, at least 4 stories high, a large courtyard, and several partially excavated smaller structures. The scale was amazing–I hadn’t envisioned such a giant mass of stone. Now I really, really want to see the “big” Mayan ruins. It’s too bad I won’t get a chance on this trip. (Life is too damn short, dammit.)
I’m amazed by the engineering, especially since the bottom layers appear to be haphazardly arranged bits of rock. I wouldn’t have expected it to hold up under the enormous weight of the upper layers. It must have been damn, damn impressive when it was first built…the estimates are that it was built in 800 AD and abandoned by 1100 AD. I have a hard time imagining anything that old. Angkor Wat was incredible and beautiful (and very well-preserved), but it only dates back about 600 years. 600 years I can imagine, but a thousand?
Anyway, verbal descriptions can’t do justice to the place, so I’m going to post photos once I get back. But to really “get” it, you have to go there yourself…the sheer scale of the place is hard to feel from a photo. I got vertigo several times on the way up (especially since it was a narrow staircase with no handrails).
And this is a minor ruin.
Now I must see the other great Mayan sites…aack! Life is so short. But I still must see them before I die. And the Great Pyramids, and…
Here’s a link to a webpage about Xunantunich.
We had an interesting moment on the way over to Xunantunich. I got to go on a hand-cranked ferry. The road crosses a small river, and a small wooden ferry takes the car and passengers across. The ferry is not paddled or motor-driven, however; there are cables running across the river, and a small winch is used to pull the ferry along the cables. I tried cranking it (traveling tigresses must stick their paws into everything) and it was surprisingly easy. I conned the ferryman into letting me crank it all the way across. (He probably thought I was nuts, but it was fun.)
As I was getting ready to board the ferry, Patrick suddenly said, “Hey! You want to take a photo of that iguana over there?” I looked over, and damn! there was a GIANT iguana standing not ten feet from me. Unfortunately, as I got the camera out, he lumbered off the grass and climbed lazily up a tree, whereupon I noticed another enormous iguana in the same tree–on the same branch. Two iguanas on one branch created a little iguanajam, and I snapped a photo.
(I am becoming darkly suspicious of all trees. Even the most innocuous-looking one could be secretly harboring iguanas…! I am scanning them all as I pass.)
At any rate, we made it up and over the ferry to the ruins. I asked Patrick about a lot of trees on the way–he pointed out several that had edible fruits, and I tried one–tart, a little astringent, but not bad at all, though there was only about 1/16″ of fruit over a giant seed. There was also an intriguing tree called “Monkey’s Ear”, which had giant brown seed pods in the shape of a flat curl (thus the name “Monkey’s Ear”), and beautiful black-and-red-striped seeds inside that I’ve seen in local jewelry. Patrick said there was a close relative of this tree with hypothermic properties. If you rub the seeds, they get really hot–hot enough to burn. The local kids used to have fun suckering each other into touching the seeds (dropping them down people’s shirts, etc.).
On our way back from the ruins, we stopped by a butterfly-rearing house, where the guy apologized and said he only had four or five species right now, as it was the worst possible season for butterflies. (We’re now near the end of an exceptionally long dry season, and the hot dry weather is forcing many species into hibernation.) He had some beautiful blue morphos, though, and giant owl butterflies. I asked him how they got their name, and he picked one up, gently opened its wings, and showed me an owl’s face! Two big brown “eyes” on the underside made the owl’s eyes, and the fat bottom half of the body made a perfect owl’s beak. I took a photo, which I will post later.
He also showed me their butterfly-rearing center–how they collect the eggs, hatch out the caterpillars, and rear them to the chrysalis stage, at which point they put them in the butterfly house. This is not a commercial butterfly farm–they’re breeding them strictly as an educational display. (I was a bit disappointed, as I had been hoping to buy a few butterflies as paperweights, etc.) I was fascinated by the whole thing–I hadn’t realized there were so many species of butterfly in Belize. The morpho larvae were particularly beautiful–bold shades of yellow and maroon. The owl-butterfly caterpillars looked like giant green slugs–but kinda cute in their own way.
The last stop on the trip was the Blue Hole. It’s a tiny lagoon set in lush jungle–a clear, shallow sandy slope (with six-inch fish darting about) leads gradually down into a deep blue swimming-hole lined with limestone formations. It’s wonderful for swimming–especially after a hot day among the ruins. I spent at least twenty minutes frolicking in the water, chasing the tiny sandy fish, and sitting on a crinkly piece of limestone, gazing down into the blue water.
(It was SO nice to be able to bathe in fresh water. The drought here has been so bad that I’ve been taking very spare showers–just enough to wet down and rinse off. Being able to soak in fresh water and get clean–really clean–was wonderful.)
Tomorrow Patrick and I are going fishing and snorkeling–he promised Tricia (my landlady) fish for dinner, and I want to catch and eat a barracuda. Tonight, Tricia went out looking for breadfruit for me (I was curious about it and wanted to try some)–once I get back, I’ll find out whether she succeeded.
Conch are also very common in the waters around here, and we’re going to try getting some…Patrick assures me that conch soup is very tasty, and he wants to take a photo of me diving for one. LOL! I’ll be happy if I can just catch a barracuda.
Oh, and there are reputedly 30-40 pound grouper in them there waters, too.
I’m still debating what to do about Friday. I don’t have to be at the Belize City airport until around 3pm, but the only bus out of Hopkins leaves at 7am. I’m highly tempted to wait a little later, then bribe Tricia into hitchhiking to Dangriga with me. I’ve never tried hitchhiking before, and think it would be cool to try. (Almost everyone hitchhikes around here, because there are so few buses.) But I’d rather not try it on my own (especially since I don’t understand the protocols yet), so I think I’ll try conning her into coming with me. A “hitchhiker’s guide”, if you will–but, alas, only to Dangriga, not the galaxy. 😉
From Dangriga I plan to fly to Belize City, then to Guatemala, then home. I’ve already achieved my primary goal, which is to get a really stunning tan, the kind to make all my once-and-future coworkers jealous. And have a great time, of course.