Belize, part 1

Hola from beautiful Flores, Guatemala!

Many of you knew that I was going to Costa Rica after the fall dinner party with my college friends Nate and Sandy and Christian. As it turns out, the flights were full to Miami, so we had to rethink our trip entirely. Flying by the seat of our pants, we chose to go to Belize and Guatemala.

We arrived in Belize City on Monday afternoon after a 3 hour flight from Dallas. We bargained hard for a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get us around the country, and got one from a company who would let us take it across the border into Guatemala.

We headed west from Belize City, stopping at the Community Baboon Sanctuary. Belizians call howler monkeys BABOONS, and this little sanctuary of reclaimed farmland hosts over 1000 howler monkeys who travel in groups of 6 or so. Our guide, Alvin, was well into his seventies, and was as interesting as an old codger can get. He had lived in the village his entire life, and had known this particular troup of monkeys for twenty years, and had watched the dominant male, named Bob, grow up from a tiny baby. Alvin walked through the jungle grunting and calling Bobs name. Finally, we heard a loud grunt from above us, and the trees came alive with monkeys!

Baby Howler Monkey in BelizeThey came down to our level, and a tiny baby, no bigger than a small kitten, came down and wrapped his hand around Sandy’s finger! They were precious. Bob stayed high in the treetops and grunted back and forth with Alvin.

That evening we drove into San Ignacio, in western Belize, and had curried lamb, black beans, and rice at a fantastic restaurant called Hannah’s. The next morning we drove west to the ruins of Xunatunich, one of the largest ancient Mayan cities in Belize. To get to it, we had to drive onto a rickety barge that was winched across a rushing river with a hand crank and a metal cable. Bats lived under each end of the barge, and when the barge would land at the opposite bank, the bats would fly out and around to the other side. You’d think they’d get tired of doing that all day and find a new place to live!

Xunatunich

Look real close and you can see us!

The ruins were magnificent. We climbed to the top of a 16 story pyramid that was festooned with magnificent carvings. We saw only four other people the entire morning.

Wild Iguanas Fighting in BelizeBack at the ferry, two massive iguanas (easily 6 feet long each!) came up out of the river and had a fight right in front of us. The looser, bloodied, climbed high in a tree to escape the winner. We fed the winner a banana peel and he was quite satisfied.

The slate carvers of Xunatunich, Belize

He got a WalMart watch. I got the Mayan sun god carved in slate.

I typically don’t buy things when I travel, but the villagers in Xunatunich have perfected the art of slate carving, and they had magnificent carvings of Mayan gods that were just unbelievable. I was able to barter for some with my WalMart watch…thank you WalMart!

We crossed the border into Guatemala with a generous amount of bureaucratic hassle and headed into the hinterland toward Tikal, one of the largest Mayan ruins on earth. Guatemala is considerably poorer than Belize, and our drive on the long dirt and rock road to Tikal was fascinating. Pigs were sleeping in the middle of the road, along with horses, dogs, and, sometimes, people!

We got to Tikal just in time to hike the mile into the complex and climb one of the many massive pyramids to watch the sun set. Tikal is vast, with over 6,000 separate pyramids and temples! We will return there this afternoon.

Flores, GuatemalaLast night was spent in the gorgeous little town of Flores, on a tiny round island in the middle of crocodile-infested Lake Peten Itza. It has cobblestone streets and beautiful century old buildings. Our hotel last night, the Hospedaje Dona Goya, sits right on the water. It has a terrace on the roof, covered with thatched palapas to keep out the afternoon rains, and lots of hammocks strung everywhere to lay back and enjoy the breeze coming off the lake. Our rooms were basic, but had private bathrooms and lots of hot water …a rarity in Guatemala… and cost us an exorbitant rate of $11.

Today we will visit Tikal again, and then head back to Belize for caving and waterfall hiking!

If you’re watching Hurricane Wilma, it is right off the coast of Belize. They do not expect it to significantly effect Belize at all, especially inland. But we are watching it carefully and will make sure to take proper precautions if it happens to jog to the west enough to producing heavy rainfall or flooding.

I love you all, and hope to write again before we return next Monday!

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