Monday, February 18, 2008

Belize (Days 5-12) Part 2

2) Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala. This was quite an involved and long trip (7:30-5:30). One person takes you to the border. You go through customs. Another person with a guide picks you up on the other side. An hour of the trip was a unpaved road that was horrendous, full of potholes and puddles since it rained all night. The University of PA in conjunction with Guatemala have excavated a huge amount of Tikal. It was really amazing to think that this was big city at one time and then deserted by 1200 AD. The Jaguar temple is the one used on Guatemalan paper money. There were up to a million Mayans living here at its peak. Our guide was really good and shared with us lots of great information about the customs and lifestyle of the ancient Mayans. They managed to build many beautiful cities all over Central America all without using the wheel. They knew about the wheel but just didn't use it. The ceiba tree was sacred as they felt it represented the layers of the upper world as well as the layers of the under world.

Besides the temples we saw some other interesting things: a chicle tree which had at one time been harvested for chewing gum (see the diagonal slashes), a man raking with the "original rake", the nest of the Montezuma Oro Pendula, and the most unusual insect we have ever seen, the Peanut Headed Lanternfly!

Here are some pictures of northeastern Guatemala which look basically the same as the area around San Ignacio: sprouting tree trunk fence posts, solar panel on a post for electricity, a typical house, an unusual painted thatched house, and the border crossing. Guatemala is a much poorer county than Belize. There are many more people and about 40% illiterate. Just four years ago they started a plan to get parents to send their kids to school half days by giving them a free lunch. High schoolers also go only 4 hours a day. The kids are expected to work their family's land and sell their crops.

3) Tropical Wings Museum, David Simpson's house (our guide), Macal River canoeing. This is a really great natural history museum of Belize-very clear, hands-on and good for kids (and adults). They had a little butterfly garden where we saw the famous Blue Morpho among others. (There's another Butterfly Farm around here too. This one is much smaller with many fewer butterflies than the the place in South Deerfield.) Later I read that they had a medicinal plant trail and hummingird feeders but no one told us about them. Here are both sides of the butterfly.

Here are some contrasting landscape pictures on our way to David's house on the Macal River. He has to paddle a canoe back and forth to get there. His father bought this property many years ago and it has undisturbed Mayan ruins on it!! Very cool! You can see the 4 hills (temples) facing a courtyard.

One of David's guide friends helped paddle the canoe. It was a very pleasant day. We saw ant nests in trees, many iguanas, and numerous bats. We stopped at Chaa Creek Resort and did a self-guided walking tour of their medicinal plants (for a small fee). It was really interesting to see what the Mayan shamans used. We loved the story about the Black Poisonwood tree. When the Mayans were invaded by the Spaniards it wasn't uncommon to tie the enemy to this tree. The bark caused a much worse rash than poison ivy!! Talk about torture! (We were sitting in the canoe with no seat padding for almost 3 hours, just a bit longer than we would have liked. They were vague on how long we'd be in the canoe.)

4) Self-guided Tour of Xunantunich. This is the most adventuresome thing we've done so far. We took a 75 cent bus to the next town to visit a Mayan ruin. The only way to get to the ruin was by crossing a hand-cranked ferry! Then we walked 1 1/2 miles on, surprisingly, a paved road!! This site was done very well. They had a great museum which showed a scale model of the city and pictures of how the stelae's would have looked in their original form. (This is in stark contrast to Tikal where there were no visuals at all.) This city was inhabited much later than Tikal, about 630-1000 AD. It was the same set-up with temples surrounding a plaza and also a ball court. The game was played with a rubber ball, (from a rubber tree) you can't touch the ball with your hands or feet. The winner was honored by being sacrificed. If you were sacrificed it was guarantee that you were going straight to the upper world (heaven) and that was a very good thing.

Here are some other things commonly found in Belize. A bus stop. They have raised crosswalks across the highway. They're called "Pedestrian Ramps". It is common to see people, even young children, riding in the back of pick-up trucks.

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