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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

Boat Trip Bonanza / Reflections on Belize

BELIZE | Thursday, 19 February 2009 | Views [2309]

Climbing up the ruins, just don´t look down!

Climbing up the ruins, just don´t look down!

Boat Trip Bonanza

Our last destination in Belize was Orange Walk in the north of the country.  This is Belize´s second town, an agricultural centre near to the main concentrations of Mennonite communities in the country.  The main reason most people go there, however, is to go on a boat trip up the river to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai.  Our first night we looked round for somewhere to eat.  Seeing a Chinese restaurant opposite, the ´Sing Wong´, we headed over.  There was a massive iron gate over the entrance and the proprietess seemed to be surprised to that we wanted to come in and eat something!….  obviously they weren´t used to having customers after 6.00pm, and maybe they´d been robbed recently.  Hence the restaurant was rechristened the ´Sum Sing Wong´…. :)  Anyway, the meal was actually very good, and we went back there again the next night.

Morelet´s Crocodile - pretenting to be made in Taiwan

We arranged the boat trip to Lamanai and were picked up early the next morning from the dock behind the hotel.  So started a two hour trip on the slow waters of the New River.  Forest surrounds the river´s banks, and we stopped frequently to look at the startling abundance of wildlife.  This included half a dozen species of herons, either fishing in the shallows or roosting up in the trees, waiting for nightfall.  There were also spectacularly coloured purple gallinules and belted kingfishers, and cryptic Potoos (nightjar relatives), hiding on tree trunks.  Morelet´s crocodiles, some a few metres long, basked on dead branches or floated, eyes just above the surface, using the least amount of effort to observe us as we passed slowly by.  Even tiny bats clung to the dead branches along the channel, like so many speckled moths, until we got too close and they spiraled away to find a different day-roost.  There was a myriad of river channels weaving in and out of each other, and they meandered back and forth as we headed upstream.

Yep, that would be a spider monkey wanting a banana... show off!

At one point we cruised into a small bay to find a couple of spider monkeys looking down at us from a nearby tree – it soon became apparent that this was no coincidence, as the guide had bananas on offer to feed them.  I´m not so sure about the ethics of feeding the wildlife, but it was a fantastic opportunity to see them up close – the female was far more brazen than the male, and she swung gracefully up through the overhanging branches, hanging by her tail to take bananas out of our hands.  The male wasn´t so sure and snatched them quickly before running back up into the safer canopy.

This guy had a bit of an over-bite

After a long trip, the river widened into a lagoon and we moored up next to the ancient city of Lamanai – which had survived the drastic southern Mayan collapse of the C9, probably because it controlled much of the trade inland and had access to merchant boats from the sea.  Although more modest than some sites, some of the temples had fantastic stucco adornments of the rain god ´Chac´ and one of the god-lords of Lamanai.  As usual, the view from the main temple, somewhat steep, gave you a panoramic over miles of forest, as far as the eye could see...

View over the New River lagoon toward Crooked Tree Reserve

Our journey back was a thrilling high-speed ride through the meandering, steamy channels – a very suitable end to our Belize experience.

Click here for a short video of Howler monkeys growling in the tree above us - they´re loud!

For more photos of Lamanai and the New River, click here.

Reflections on Belize

We spent our second longest stay in Belize.  The overall impression we got was that of a sleepy backwater – which is what Belize has always been, ever since the Spaniards couldn´t be bothered and English pirates/loggers plied their trade in the then-wilderness.  Now, with independance, Belize is a small country, way away from the Inter-Americana, in the otherwise no-where-land of the Central American Caribbean coast, speaking a different language and with a distinct culture from its neighbours.  This lends much of the country a sleepy parochial charm (besides the gringo/condo-ville that is Ambergris Caye), where things are slow, if they get done at all....

Belize also has some of the nicest, most laid back people we´ve met, helped by the fact we (ok, I!) could have proper conversations with them.  Bizarely, this is in contrast to the rising level of violent crime in the country – every time we bought a newspaper it was filled with accounts of armed robberies and shoot-outs.  One example – the Belize bank in San Ignacio was robbed two days before we got there.  One of the security guards was shot dead, but only before he mortally wounded a robber, shot another, and then the third was badly injured trying to escape from police.

Crime, like in most places, probably has its roots in poor job prospects and poor education not helped by the moribund state of the Belizean economy – which is mainly dependant on tourism, and really not helped by the awful corrupt government administrations the country seems to have been lumbered with.  Not that any of this is much different from the most other CA countries.  Oh, and they´re also lumbered with a rubbish telecoms company (BTL), owned by an English Lord who has a monopoly, gouges his customers (phone calls and broadband are about five times more expensive here than in the rest of CA), and gives crappy coverage.  Some relics of the colonial past are better than others.

Another interesting hangover from the past is the issue of Belize´s favourite neighbour, the Guatemalans, who are still insisting that most of southern Belize is actually Guatemala.  Its supposed to go back to the British nicking Belize off the Spanish, then promising Guatemala a road to the sea which they never built.  Not that there´s any real reason to want southern Belize – its mostly fishing villages and secondary forest.  The Belizeans sure as hell aren´t going to build a nice road for them now, either (oooh! a nice invasion route!), and the local populace don´t exactly like them – many are Kekchi Mayans who escaped the systematic persecution that the elite in Guatemala have been propagating for the last few centuries.  Every now and then when the Guatemalan government gets particularly unpopular they start rattling the sabres.  Having UK troops doing jungle training in Belize has probably helped keep them in check – and the issue is temporarily on freeze as the issue has gone to an international forum.

Anyway, we´ll dream of endless forests and coral canyons for a while yet.  We might come back someday.  Besides having a different post master, I don´t reckon Punta Gorda will have changed a bit....

Tags: crime, guatemalan land claims, laidbackness, lamanai, orange walk, reflections on belize


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Argh!  Well, maybe not pirates this time, but dig the colour-coordinated bandanas!

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