Lamanai Mayan Temples In The Forests Of Belize

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2010

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Where I stayed
Akihoto Hotel

Flag of Belize  ,
Sunday, October 14, 2007

We were up and about for the sunrise on the Carribbean and waited on the beach road for 5 minutes until the scuba boys picked us up on their way into town for a breakfast burrito. Andale! Andale!

Bussed out 5 hours to Chetumal, the Mexican border town and caught a first class bus to Orange Walk, Belize a couple of hours later. A stray dog took a liking to Nadine and monkey and stalked them around until i did my try to be mean to a dog to shake it off voice. We spent our last pesos on a mango carved into the shape of a flower and the bus stopped so we could get an exit stamp. Some English tourists were stopped for not having a tourist card and were shafted out of 500 pesos US$50 which the border guard pocketed. Nice one. This is normal practise and the only way around the corruption is to ask for a receipt if you are not too scared. We dealt with Belize customs easily and declared 3 cigarettes and an orange. Woo Hoo. I hit my head for the second time this week (Mexicans are shorter than me). This time on a low hanging television in the bus which i am sure was fantastic entertainment for all the locals on the bus. Ha Ha gringo hit her head laughs all round.

We noticed a change in the people immediately as we crossed the border, it was like a whole new planet. The skin is darker and some of these friendly people are Creole originating from Africa and Britain.There is less haggling for business and English is spoken as well as Spanish and Garifuna. They are so proud of their country.  We could get money out after all so stashed our US$ which are king for use in other countries and got some Belize dollars out. We are monitoring who has the cheapest taco deal and we scored 3 for 50cents in Belize. There wasn't  a great choice of hotels in the Lonely Planet and we kinda raced other travellers to make it to the good hotels in 'the book' before they got them first. The room we stayed in at Akihoto Hotel was US$15 between us and was a cement box with a bonus bed and loud moaning prostitutes checking in and out all night, we did have our first hot shower since we left San Francisco though. Ummm... dirty backpacker trashbag Sadhus. Note: we did swim in the sea in Tulum!

Orange Walk is the agricultural and social centre of Northern Belize. Most towns are small and you can walk from one end of the town to another easily without cabs. There are entertainment centres everywhere which have pull the handle down pokie machines, karaoke and very cheap Belikins (the standard beer). 1/3 of the people live below the poverty line however, they seem to know how to live happily and simply. We were told there is a festival on tomorrow where they carry a pigs head around the town. Joy. I saw pigs feet and butt bacon?? for sale, what the hell is that? We ate a large plate of rice, beans, chicken, potatoes and sauce for US$3 between us bought from a local woman in the street.
We have booked a tour to Lamanai (Mayan for "submerged crocodile") with Jungle River Tours for tomorrow with some travellers we met in the hostel. This in an archaeological reserve on the New River Lagoon near the Settlement of Indian Church.Next day we met our travel buddies including two Austrians and two Americans from the hostel and then a group of ten doctors and pharmaceutical workers who are in Belize working with HIV positive patients. We were transported from the "Jungle River Tours" office to a motorised long boat and met our guide Wilfred. This guy was an amazing storyteller and so passionate about the Mayan culture, a treasure trove of information about environment and culture.

The water in the New River was 4 feet above average so we were not expecting to see much wildlife. The river is heavily infested with crocodiles of various length from 6-14feet. We saw one straight away wallowing in the water near a children's play park which had been submerged. Wilfred pointed out to us a yellow breasted bird and then a white crane which gracefully took flight off giant lillypads where lillies of white and purple bloomed from the water.

The river's tributaries meandered many ways zigging and zagging taking us deeper into the jungle while we searched for crocs on the banks. The Mayans used this river as a trading route and then Europeans used it to transport rich mahogany and cedar downstream causing major problems in the forests of Belize. There is a fruit bat species who has it's habitat here, we saw three of them. This bat pollinates the main cactus that is used for Mexican tequila and if the bat disappears, so does the tequila...... and they won't let that happen. We witnessed what everyone on the boat called "The National Geographic" moment when a falcon flew down and attacked and killed a baby bird learning to fly. Our guide has seen jaguars here however, it is highly unlikely we would see any shy wildlife in a motorized boat making lots of noise.

 We were told the story of one of the most intriguing characters in Mayan mythology the rain and lightning god Chac. Chac is commonly featured in the masonry motifs of ruins in these areas. His behaviour is highly unpredictable and he can strike with his great power when least expected (hurricanes). Here is how the story went. Those who failed to afford sufficient honour to the all-powerful Chac would suffer his wrath. In the 1980's a famous American archaeologist disturbed a shrine hidden deep inside a sacred cave dedicated to Chac. Soon after on a clear, sunny day a bolt of lightning fatally struck the archaeologist  while he was standing atop the sacrificial pyramid at Chichen Itza. 

We could hear and spotted some Black Howler Monkeys who sound quite vicious from a distance. The temples we saw included the Temple Of The Masks where a large sculpted stucco face has been uncovered. There were more pictures which had been studied then re-sealed for the future. I like that idea of puting them back to rest and be preserved. We also saw The Temple Of The Jaguar which is uniform in symmetry and architecture and the stone layout makes it look like the jaguar face was staring at you.. This was a royal tomb. We were told stories of the murder of millions of Mayan people and of whole tribes that perished during the Spanish conquest.

We saw flint tools, pottery and other artifacts that showed an advanced manual technology. There were polychrome dishes found. These were found with images of amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, birds, deer, tapirs, other animals and insects. Mosquitoes rule the jungle here now. It is thought that mosquitoes are one of the 10 diseases (plagues) brought from Egypt and with no cure for malaria back then, it wiped out alot of people when it was introduced. Some of the artifacts found in tombs and temples are on expedition in museums all over the world however, the Mayan still own them and there are plans to return all the artifacts to Lamanai when the goverment provides a secure and guarded building to house them. Guards have been killed and whole areas looted for artifacts. Another interesting piece of ceramic was kind of like a russian doll set where each doll is opened to reveal a smaller one inside. Inside the smallest ceramic pot was a vial of liquid mercury weighing 131 grams. The excavation of ruins takes a very long time, needs the correct professionals and is extremely expensive. At Lamanai alone there is 2800 years of continuous human activity recorded in stone and 718 structure spread over 4.5km2. 

We learned that cocoa beans (chocolate) were highly prized and were  used for celebrating special events, as payment and for making alcohol. An underground chocolate fermenting area was found at Lamanai. Amongst many other interesting pieces there is a volcanic stone tree carving on site which was local to Guatemala located 1000km away. It has been concluded that only a king or very powerful person could have had the power and resources to be able to arrange to move this heavy rock that far.

We studied some heiroglyphic symbols on a stela tree stone which was glittered with quartz crystal. Wilfred deciphered them into dates on the Mayan calendar and into political symbols. One was to mark the end of a kings reign which lasted 22 years. There had been an extravagant ritual and the tree stone carving had been planted in front of a large temple. The king's profile was shown with a head dress, his face protruding from inside a serpents mouth, jade ornamental jewellery, bracelets, a jesters cap point and holding a septor with his right arm over his heart. The Mayan kings and Egyptian pharaohs believed they were living gods representing the people. One of his symbols said "Lord Of The Sky".

In 2012 on the solstice, the Mayan calendar will click over to a new cycle. Areas of the site and artifacts here show the Mayan's love for ritual and ceremony and their obsession with calendars, mathematics and astronomy. They have a dark side too, ritual human sacrifice. But then, so do we too have our own version of ritual human sacrifice, a history of intentional genocide of minority and indigenous populations. Wilfred advised us of two books to read, "Breaking The Mayan Code" and "Forest Of Kings" for 2012 information.

We ran out of fuel on the way back to Orange Walk in the boat and floated downstream until we hit mangroves where the crocodiles lurked. The Americans broke out the Carribbean Rum and the Austrians handed around chocolate biscuits while Wilfred made phone calls and fuel arrived later. 
The Lamanai ruins shed a little more light on the mysteries surrounding the Mayan culture.

 We head to The Baboon Sanctuary tomorrow.
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