The Maya - Lamanai
January 2, 2007
Just south of Mexico, and only slightly larger than Wales or Massachusetts, Belize, the former British Honduras pop. 275,000, lies at the western end of the Caribbean Sea.
I suppose that when one thinks of Belize one thinks of pristine white sand astride a clear blue warm sea, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, and strolling the beach on one of the many islands or Cayes that form the largest reef in the Americas.
I read that half of all tourists to Belize go directly to San Pedro, the seaside town on Ambergris Caye. So, did I make for the beach? Nope. I headed for the hills.
I did spend my very first day and evening in Belize City with my friend Ayumi and her friend Kiyo, teachers here in Belize. I met Ayumi in Bangkok and I promised to visit her here. Ayumi is a music teacher. Kiyo teaches sports.
The very next day I bussed north to a small town called Orange Walk and checked in to the Victoria Hotel - nice swimming pool. I arrived in time for a tour to Lamanai - an ancient area inhabited for more than 3000 years.
The tour to Lamanai, my first visit to Mayan ruins, was certainly the most fun. Along with a half dozen other visitors, I hopped aboard a long, speedy, speed boat for the 1.5 hour full throttle, hot and curvy, white wake cruise up the New River to the dock on the New River Lagoon. One of the teenage boys suggested water skiing.
We paused for iguanas and birds and orchids. Only logodiles today resting on the riverbanks. Finally a small bird called Lily-Walker. They do walk gracefully and daintily across the floating lily pads. They are also known as Jesus Christ birds because . . . . . . .
Now I can try to imagine the surprise of a deep sea diver as he encounters a huge tortoise or ray or shark or a school of ingeniously decorated tropical fish swimming along a coral reef. Perhaps his reaction is similar to my own shock as I stroll down the green arcade jungle path, a clearing ahead, and suddenly through the tree trunks and branches and leaves, a colossal pyramid of brick and stone.
Structure N 10-43, a huge late pre - Classic building rises more than 111 feet (34 m) above the jungle floor. Prudence prevails. I sit and watch my shipmates climb to the top.
It is New Year's Eve so naturally I dine at the Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant; I shed a tear at the end of Shakespeare In Love; I watch the fireworks from the balcony of my hotel. And on New Year´s Day I bus back to Belize City for a splurge at The Princess Hotel - huge swimming pool (it is raining), Casino (no way), movie theater (Rocky Balboa!?), and a delicious buffet lunch including fish fillet in a spicy caper sauce and my waitress´ favorites - milk cake and lemon pie.
Speaking of spicy, here in Belize they bottle Habanero Chile Sauce - totally volcanic! A few drops of this stuff would even make my Thai friends sweat.
The next morning, a three hour bus ride west to the mountains and San Ignacio, also known as Cayo.
By the way, most of the buses here bear the marque of Blue Bird. Ring a bell? Old, retired school buses? But they are long and not uncomfortable and the windows open and close in case there's a change in the weather.