Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I don't Belize it...

...is pretty much the reaction I got from everyone when I told them where I was spending my next vacation.  


I brought my laptop with me planning to take advantage of the complimentary Wi-Fi offered at the resorts where Melissa and I are staying.  When I discovered there would be Wi-Fi I had good intentions of updating my blog every couple of days, since I find it takes me a while to complete my vacation posts after the fact, but my trip is almost over and I've updated my blog exactly zero times.  Oh well, the upside is that I've been too busy having a good time to be bothered with blogging.  Belize is fantastic, you should definitely visit!!!

So we began our Belizean adventure in the Cayo District in the western part of the country, close to the Guatemalan border and convenient for day trips to Tikal.  It's pretty easy to get to Belize from New York, just a 3 hour flight to Miami, followed by a 2 hour flight to Philip Goldson International airport.  From the airport it's roughly a 90-minute drive to the Ka'ana Boutique Resort located a short distance from the town of San Ignacio, the capital of the Cayo District.  

We were pretty tired when we arrived at the resort so we didn't do much beyond explore the grounds and have something to eat.  

Home away from home: our casita at Ka'ana

The lower level of the saltwater pool

A path through Ka'ana Resort lit for the evening

The most exciting part of the first half day in Belize was realizing that the resort had fancy cable and we were able to watch the 2nd episode of series 2 of Homeland on Showtime, which was showing at 8pm in Belize owing to the 2-hour time difference with New York, while enjoying the evening treats the Ka'ana team had left in our in room refrigerator.

Delicious evening treats courtesy of Ka'ana

The next morning we set the alarm for 5.30am in order to ready ourselves for a 7am departure to visit Tikal, a pre-Columbian Mayan site, across the border in the Peten region of Northern Guatemala.  

It cost us $15 US to leave Belize for the day and was roughly a 2-hour drive from the border, although that 2 hours also included the time spent frequently braking for adventurous piglets to scurry across the road and stopping en route to visit a couple of lakes: Makanche and Peten Itza.

Ladies washing their clothes on stones in Lake Makanche 

Lake Peten Itza, the second largest lake in Guatemala
It's prohibited for non-Guatemalan's to lead tours of Tikal, so we stopped en route to pick up our Guatemalan guide, Berta, who accompanied us with our Belizean guide Edgar. 

Edgar showing us how they make gum from a tree

Tikal's history dates back to 200-800 BC - carbon dating is more than somewhat approximate apparently - although it came to prominence between 200-900 AD when it dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically and militarily.

The Tikal site was apparently 'discovered' in 1848 by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut, although its existence was already known to the people who lived in the region.  Explorers and looters soon followed.  Archaeologists first started the business of recording the ruins in the 1880s, but it wasn't until the 1950s that the first archaeological project began, with major excavations carried out by the University of Pennsylvania which mapped most of the site and restored a number of the structures under the direction of Edwin Shook and, later, William Coe.  The corporation of Spain continued the initiative between 1996 and 2003.

A Ceiba, sacred tree of the Maya

This is the first structure we came upon after the 30-minute walk from the car park.  To be honest I am not sure what structure this is, my notes being somewhat lacking, but I think it might be 'Complex Q' which fits with the route we took.  I do know that it's a pyramid, as opposed to a temple, and that it was built to commemorate a new 20-year cycle, 20 being an important to the Maya as their number system was base twenty system, known as a vigesimal system. Apparently this was because the Maya used both their fingers and toes to count.

The 6 large stones in front of the pyramid (Complex Q?) are called Stelae, typically paired with flat circular altars that can be seen in front.  The pyramid shown above actually has nine stelae to represent the 9 levels of the Mayan underworld, known as Xibalba, meaning "place of fear." 

Our Guatemalan guide, Berta, showing us a stela and alter
Walking a little further along Berta had us make a right and climb a steep hill.  I later learned that we'd climbed the North Acropolis and as I rounded the corner this is the view that greeted me.  Spectacular!!  

Temple I as seen from the North Acropolis
Look!!!  There's not a soul in the photo.  The good thing about visiting Tikal - and Belize for that matter - in October is that it's the tail end of the rainy season and therefore less enticing to visitors, but if you like a Mayan ruin to yourself and couldn't give a toss about the bars and restaurants being less than crowded then October is a delightful time to visit.  I think we had 3x 15-minute long heavy rain showers during our whole trip.  Rainy season is a relative term.  I loved the fact that even the clouds seemed to co-operate while we were visiting, being on their whitest and fluffiest behavior.

Here's a site map of Tikal.  Apparently Archaeologists have only uncovered 16-Square Km of an estimated 136 Square Km site.  

Despite being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 Tikal no longer receives any financial benefit as funding was pulled when it was discovered that the money wasn't exactly funding what it was intended to fund.  Even the entrance fee to the park does not get allocated to Tikal a 100% and instead goes towards maintaining a number of sites in Guatemala.

Another view of Temple I from the North Acropolis.  Check out the stylish hats!!  Ha!! 

Tikal is as hot as Hades by the way with about 3 times as many mosquitoes, malaria carrying mosquitoes at that, although I was naughty and failed to make it to the doctors to pick up any malaria drugs, but touch wood I was okay and got away with only a couple of bites. I may well have poisoning from over use of insect repellent, but no malaria!!

And here is Temple I again.  I got a bit carried away!!

And again....So this guy would NOT get out of the way and let me take my photo, so I decided to use him to show the scale of the temple. A-ha take that annoying tourist!!

The view from Temple 4.  I later learned from a fellow tourist that this view was used in the first Star Wars movie, and by first I mean the one from 1977, so technically the 4th movie.  4th movie my arse.  Eyeroll George Lucas. Eyeroll!!

The wooden staircase upto the top of Temple IV.  Someone told us it was 188 steps to the top. It didn't feel like that many, but then there are 45 steps up to my apartment so perhaps I am just used to climbing.

Spotted by Berta...a beautiful bird from the quetzel family 

The animals above are from the racoon family and are all over a certain area of Tikal, although they do not approach humans.  They are known as hun chi'ik in Mayan which also happened to be the name of the Belizean tour company we used.  Their Spanish name begins with a P, but that's as much as I know.  When Melissa first saw them she thought their tails were their heads, so now everytime I look at this photo I see them as miniature diplodocuses (diplodocii??)

Seven Mayan temples all in a row, although you can only see 5 of them in this photo.  Berta explained to us that this area was also where the Mayan ball courts were and proceeded to describe a game that sounded an awful lot like Quidditch  

And lastly...temple V
Tikal in two words....go visit!!!


Amel said...

WOW!!! Beautiful place indeed! LOVE the cable and the resort as well as the temple sites. :-)

Actually when I saw the first pic of the temple, I'm SOOOO reminded of this horror movie happening in a temple like that hi hi hi...I forget the title of the movie, though.

That was a good thing to use the annoying tourist as a comparison with the temple. It really towers above the ground!!!

Carolyn Watson-Dubisch said...

Oh wow! What incredible pictures. The clouds add to the photos, not that those Myan temples need any help!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Amel, Carolyn, glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by!!