Monday, May 08, 2006

Belize: Part 1
I was able to score some internet time at our hotel Hidden Valley Inn. Man, what an awesome time so far. Everyday has been full of adventure and discovery.

First of all, it began with the flight down from Logan. We landed in Miami airport. Man, what a dump. The airport wanders around in hallways similar to my high school. Just aimless and purposeless with dust and broken ceiling tile. Once in a while you come across an actual boarding gate. I was not impressed.

The flight around Cuba was interesting. You could see the coastline and the utter lack of development. Just fields and dirt tracks. You could not see any boats or telltale boatwake in the water. The place probably looks the same as when Columbus sailed around.

Flying in to Belize - you go over the barrier reef (2nd longest in the world) and see how shallow the sea is. Small cayes sticking out from the blue sea. The international airport is out in the middle of nowhere - just surrounded by palms and scrubbrush. Our transfer to the hotel was an adventure. The GMC that our guide drove was afflicted with problems. First the engine wouldn't start. The driver tried to turn it over, but failed. He called a friend over from a neighboring touring company. He climbed under and successfully hotwired the vehicle. He said it was good training he received from his time living in the States. While driving from the airport the jimmy decided that 3rd gear was as high as it was going to go. We were taking bets as to when the transmission was going to crap out. Every minute or so the guy would speed up with the engine wailing and then have to ease off on the gas. We'd coast for a few seconds (in silence) before wailing her up again. Then while this was happening the hazard light decided to join in and blink away. The driver could not turn it off.

We stopped off at the Belize Zoo while on the way to our hotel. The zoo was very good. The paddocks were constructed of simple fencing material, but the animals seemed to be in good spirits. We saw all sorts of wildlife, howler monkeys, coatimundi, tapirs, macaws. The jaguar was cool. He had me fooled though. He was pacing the fence. I thought I had him figured out and went to catch him on the way around (so I could take a photo of him). He declined to match my expectations. I headed back along the path and stopped (I saw a wood carving of a jaguar next to the trail that for a second had me thinking it was the real thing). Next I turn around back to the fence and the jaguar pounced from the underbrush. He had me dead to rights. Had not the electric fence been there I would be cat food.

The drive along the western highway (one of the few paved roads in the country) was interesting. One of those times you thank god for the creation of seatbelts. The driver had arranged for a new car to be delivered to us while we were at the zoo. He asked if we wanted him to go fast. We said yes. I guess fast in Central America means breakneck. He'd slow down for the speedbumps that they put in the road in the middle of the roadside villages. In between he'd go 100. Or something like that. It was insane.

Paved roads are really a luxury. The last 20 miles or so to the Inn was on rutted dirt track. I think the shocks and suspension people make a pretty good business in this country. The Inn is situated on top of a pine forested plateau roughly 3000 feet up from sea level. You wouldn't know it - its still hot even at higher elevation. A pine beattle deforested the area several years ago. Its pretty wide open right now - looks like the serengeti or the outback. You wouldn't think you were in Central America. The sunset from the Inn's pooldeck was enchanting. A hot sun decending over the Maya Mountains that mark the border with Guatemala. Wildlife goes nuts at sundown. You hear birds and tree frogs and cicadas and all sort of insanity stike up a conversation. You wouldn't believe the sounds. Its like stuff coming from a Brian Eno keyboard.

Sunday was good. We took advantage of the Inn's 1000 acres of property. Went for a long hike to one of their signature waterfalls. The Inn makes sure not to send its guests to the same places - so you're pretty much guaranteed to have a waterfall to yourself. We went to Butterfly Falls. The place was better than the picture on the brochure. Yeah, and there were butterflies too. Its nice when a place actually lives up to its namesake sometimes.

We hiked on. Went past more falls, coffee groves (the Inn grows their own), macadamia nut groves. Their food is spectacular. Its really fantastic. I can't wait for the meals. Lots of hot sauce and Belizean spiced dishes. They have pork tenderloin too, but I can have that when I get home.

Took the bikes out to the 1000' Falls - the highest in Central America. Showed up at a government run site where the caretaker was nowhere to be found and a huge rotweiler was going nuts (chained up). The caretakers son was sweeping the walkways. The caretaker showed up and we paid our fare. $2 US. Or maybe it was $1 Belizean. I don't know. The exchange rate is easy. It made for a joke too. Our guide for the drive out to Caracol (huge Mayan city currently being excavated) said that for American tourists it was nicer for him to say that his age was 22 instead of 44. I guess the exchange rate works in his favor when you think about it in those terms.

The Mayan city of Caracol. A magnificent place. Right up next to the border with Guatemala. 35 miles out on a dirttrack in the middle of nowhere. We went there for a sunset visit. You walk around the place with no other visitors. The main temple is still the largest manmade structure in Belize. We saw parrots flying around. One lady got stung by ants on her foot. Our guide was skilled in knowledge of medicinal plants. He grabbed a few leaves off an allspice tree in the plaza. She rubbed her foot with the leaves and was provided a slight numbing sensation. Her pain and discomfort was eased considerably. We hiked to the top of the main temple - just in time for sundown. The fire red orb descended over the Maya Mountains. Howler monkeys roared in the distance. A terrible sound - you can hear it for miles. We heard it come from all around us. Again, amazing. You can see for miles. Caracol was one of the most dominant cities in the Mayan world. Today only 11% has been uncovered. You can't imagine what it would be like to see the rest.

Tomorrow is another full day of adventure. This one will be quite unique. We descend underground into Actun Tunichil Muknal, a sacred cave system of the Maya. They used the inner chamber for human sacrifice. Entry into the cave requires wading into chest deep water in order to reach the inner passages. Once there, you see the remains of those same sacrifices just mentioned. I guess one can tell how these people were ritualistically killed. One man's skull is cracked wide open. It is said the Mayan people believed in the afterlife and that to die in sacrifice was an honor and a privilege. I hope our presence is an honor to him.

Well, hope to write more soon. More could be written about, but it is best to save some for memory.


At 10:19 AM, Blogger Lnotes said...

wow! I feel like I just got to experience a tiny bit of this amazing vacation! Glad you both having a good time!


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