We arrived in Belize this morning and anchored quite some distance from shore. The tenders took about 15 minutes to go each way into the port at Belize City, but from the moment we stepped on board there was a different—and much friendlier—vibe than in Honduras. Don’t get me wrong, the Honduras people we met were lovely, but the Belizeans have a great sense of fun. They also speak English as their main language (Belize was called British Honduras from the 1700s to about the 1970s), with Spanish the secondary language.
Our ship-organised shore excursion was to the Lamanai Mayan ruins via a boat ride on the New River. This was a 7-hour round trip, starting with an hour-long bus ride to the place where we got onto the boat for the hour-long ride along the river to the ruins (the return journey was the same).
It was a hot and humid day and expected to rain. Fortunately, we got no rain. And even more fortunately (for me anyway!), the bus was air-conditioned and the boat ride was mostly fast, so the wind blew away any hint of humidity. The tour guides were great, especially Dino who gave us a potted history of Belize for the first 20 minutes of the bus ride. Adrian, the other guide, was our nature guide for the boat ride, but we didn’t see a lot of animals, so there wasn’t a lot for him to do.
Some general facts and figures about Belize (summarised from what I remember of Dino’s talk):
- approx 180 miles long and about 80 miles wide, with a total population of about 340,000 (7 sets of traffic lights in the entire country, with 4 sets working, one of which we went through twice!)
- melting pot of colonisation and resulting cultures—first the Mayans, then the Spanish, then the British. In more recent times, the Chinese have made a name for themselves as the owners of the supermarkets, food shops, restaurants, etc. and there is quite an Asian population here. Mennonites and Amish settled here some time back after being hounded out of Mexico, and now provide most of the dairy products in the country.
- main industry is tourism, employing about 20% of the population directly and indirectly; agriculture is next. Little mining, though some petroleum extraction industries.
Some of the animals we saw on the boat ride included these birds: white egrets, cormorants, jacana, kingfishers, osprey, and lesser nighthawk; and these mammals and reptiles: howler monkeys (not howling, thank goodness!), one crocodile, and two iguanas at the place where we caught and disembarked the boat.
The river has many many tributaries and diversions and deviations, but our boat captain was absolutely terrific and was able to negotiate his way through with ease and without the use of any navigational device other than his brain. (To show the global nature of world markets, the boat captain was wearing Billabong board shorts, an Australian brand!) The river is surrounded by thick vegetation, and many plants have epiphytes (‘air plants’) attached to them. And along the way, there’s a settlement of Amish whose farms we saw and some of whom we saw fishing in the river on the return journey.
We got to the ruins about noonish, and it was SOOOO hot and humid…. I discovered sweat glands in places where I never knew there were sweat glands. By the time we got to the first ruin (a couple of minutes easy walk), I was soaked with perspiration and feeling very heat stressed. This was the Jungle Temple and those feeling energetic could climb it. Not me! I was happy to keep my feet on terra firma and let others climb the steep stone staircases to the top! (no hand rails!!).
After another short walk through the incredibly lush vegetation on each side of the walking path (I would have appreciated it much more had I not been dying of heat and humidity!),we came to the Ball Court and the High Temple behind it. Again, those without a fear of heights and a game stomach and who weren’t dying in the humidity could climb it via a staircase at the side. The rest of the group remained behind on the benches!
The final stop was the Mask Temple, which you couldn’t climb. And then it was a 15-minute walk on the neat, clean and tidy walking paths back to the boat for the ride back to the drop-off place for a late (2pm) lunch (chicken with rice and beans cooked in coconut milk—really lovely).
Many people slept on the bus ride back into town—not me; I was more interested in what was going on in the slice of life I saw outside the bus windows.
After a quick stop at the duty free area at the port, it was back on the tender for the return trip to the ship.
Dinner tonight was at the Terrace Café . We were so tired we went to bed pretty much straight after (well, after I had processed my photos for the day and written this blog post that will be published after we return).
More photos from today: