Exploring Mayan Ruins

Trip Start Jan 13, 2008
Trip End Jan 20, 2008

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Flag of Belize  ,
Friday, January 18, 2008

Today, the ship anchors off the coast of beautiful Belize City and we take a tender boat to shore. Of course, our first stop is the shopping center, which has practically every kind of souvenir one could want. While David and Arlette examine the stunning diamond rings, the rest of us wander through the mall and get prices on items we hope to buy when we pass through here later. For now, I'm on a mission to find a tour that will take us to the ruins so we can learn more about this lovely country.
As Ma-ma and Pa-pa rest their feet, I strike gold with a jovial fellow who says he can take us to Altun Ha Mayan ruins and give us a tour of Belize City for just $20 per person. His name is Joel and he has a sister named Anita, so I figure he's the one. He leads us to his very clean, air-conditioned minivan and we all climb aboard and settle in for a relaxing, informative tour.
Joel gives us a quick history lesson, explaining that slavery came to Belize in 1692 when 5,000 slaves were brought from Africa and Jamaica to harvest mahogany or "red gold" as it was known. In 1864, Belize became a British colony; in 1964 it resorted to self-government; and in 1981 it gained its freedom from Britain.
According to Joel, Belize is the only country in the Caribbean with English as its first language. Bordered by Mexico about 100 miles to the north, Guatemala to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east, the population of Belize is only 300,000. No wonder so many celebrities, such as Tiger Woods, have begun purchasing the 1,000 cays that surround Belize. Tourism represents about 25% of the country's gross domestic product, with agriculture making up a whopping 52%.
As we drive through town, we notice that the people are practically every shade of brown you can imagine. Some look more Mexican, while others have more African skin tones. Joel explains that there are five ethnic groups in Belize:
Mestizo: Mayan Indian descendants; probably a mixture of European and Spanish. Creole: Black African, probably from the Ibo and Congo tribes. Garifuna: African (Ibo) and Mestizo (Indian) Mayan: Original people Medonites: What we would call Ahmish. These people were expelled in 1958 by the Mexican government and given land by the Belzian government and became farmers. Their farms now supply 85% of the food on Belize.  
Speaking of the food in Belize, Joel decides to pull over to a roadside fruit stand so we can taste some of the country's bounty. He hands us a bag of bananas that he promises to be the sweetest we've ever tasted ... and he's right. These bananas beat Chequita, hands down!
A few miles down the road, we pass a haven for iguanas. One after the other these things were all over the place - on the cement fence, in the middle of the road, in the tree. It seems these prehistoric looking creatures are revered in these parts; they're everywhere, and apparently the eggs make the best omlette in the Caribbean.
After a few miles of driving down a very bumpy road, we reach Altun Ha. A US$5 per person fee gets us into the place. Ma-ma and Pa-pa sit under a gazebo, while the rest of us follow Joel to the ruins. They're amazing! Walking amid these stone structures seems like we're on the set of a movie. It's difficult to imagine how the ancient Mayans built these temples over time without the use of machinery. Joel tells us that nearly 11,000 Mayans inhabited this area and performed many religious and social activities, as well as their daily functions.  
Okay, it's pretty hot out here and it's getting late. We'd better head back and check on Ma-ma and Pa-pa, then get on back to the ship before it sets sail. As Joel drives the rocky road away from Altun Ha, he tells us he has a PhD. That stands for Pothole Dodger, so we'd better hold on tight 'cause it's going to be a bumpy ride! Of course, we're all cracking up over this. On the way back, Joel gives us more insight about Belize. They get about 90 inches of rain per year. A gallon of gas costs $5. They export sugar to the U.S.; bananas to Europe, as well as papayas, rice, corn, red lobster, crab, shrimp and tilapia; and to Jamaica they send pork and beef. The remainder of our tour consists of cruising through the streets of Belize City during rush hour before we wind up back where we started, where we bid farewell to our friendly tour guide.


Over to the shopping center to pick up some last-minute gifts, then back on the tender boat for a 5-minute cruise to the ship. We really enjoyed our day in Belize City, and look forward to a delicious meal tonight.
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Where I stayed
Norwegian Spirit
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