On a limestone ridge overlooking Laguna Yaxhá (green-blue water) Yaxhá is a compelling and rewarding Maya site to visit. Of all Guatemala’s ruins, only Tikal and El Mirador surpass the sheer scale and impact of this site that includes forty stelae, numerous altars, soaring temple pyramids and two ball courts. The dense jungle, howler monkeys, toucans and lack of crowds add to the special atmosphere of the place. Relatively little is known about the history of Yaxhá, partly due to a relative lack of inscriptions and the fact archeological excavations have only recently begun to free Yaxhá from the grip of the jungle. Most of structures date from the Classic era but there are also Preclassic structures. The sheer size of the city indicates that Yaxhá was undoubtedly an important force in the central Maya region and shares several archeological similarities and close ties with Tikal about 20 miles away.
George and Bill climbed to the top of this temple and were rewarded with a 360 degree view of the surrounding jungle and the Laguna Yaxhá. Climbing up was not easy but it was much easier than coming down the steep uneven steps. The rest of us were happy to watch from below.
As we drive out of the park we stop at a dwelling and immediately kids coming running out. The two-room dwelling has thatched roof, dirt floor, sides are partially open to the elements and there are no doors. Hammocks swing from the support posts, there is a scrawny dog running about, a chicken and green parrot. The family lives a real hand-to-mouth existence eating mostly what the father is able to hunt. In the yard sits a cage with dinner perhaps, a large constrictor and when I say large I mean long, it did not look like it had eaten recently. The father also earns a little money from his woodcarving; the son goes to show us some carved pieces and as he opens the cloth covering them a scorpion darts out. I bought a set of salad tongs.
Boa and Scorpion
One member of our group, a biologist notices a skull that peaks his interest; it is a jaguar skull, again probably providing food for the family or perhaps the father sold it, it is hard to tell. At any rate he wanted to purchase it and the son sold it to him. How will he get it back into the states is what most of us wonder but he doesn’t seem concerned. We thanked the kids and returned to the van; Hector reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of what looked like what we know as Chex mix with pretzels, nuts and chex. As he went to the door and held up the bag the youngest girl’s face lit up with a smile and she jumped with excitement. He motioned for one of them to come down to get the bag of treats and told them to be sure and share. About that time someone noticed a police car parked behind the van, had we done something wrong or were they also stopping to see this family? As we pulled away so did the police car. There was a little buzzing amongst us about why they were following us and then finally we asked Hector about it and he said not to worry. By the time we reached the paved road again they were still following us, of course there was no other road so maybe they were just going the same way. I held that thought until we stopped at a nearby restaurant for lunch and they also pulled in. Finally Hector confessed that OAT had hired them to get us safely to the Belize border. Apparently there are problems in this area on occasion with highway bandits so we all settled down to enjoy lunch as did they, at another table. We sent them some extra desserts in hopes of garnering goodwill. They remained our shadows until we neared the border at which point they turned around and returned to their normal duty. The border crossing was pretty easy, the only oddity was that the van had to be completely emptied of all luggage and we each had to pay $1 to the porters who unloaded it. It was then inspected as we walked through immigration and customs and were all reunited on the other side . . . welcome to Belize.
Border crossing looking more like a car wash than a checkpoint.
There is definitely more of a Caribbean feel once we cross the border. Belize City and the Caribbean is still a 2 hour drive. I actually begin to recognize a couple of places along the way that I visited in the past; a hand crank car ferry across the river near Xuantunich is still one car and hand cranked. The little town of San Ignacio where I saw an exhibit of Mayan artifacts laid out on plywood and sawhorses in an open sided arena, one guard. I have been to Belize City twice before and could not wait to leave both times; it has not changed. Belize City is not particularly attractive even though it is on the Caribbean and is not a very pleasant place due to problems with drug trafficking. Most visitors come to Belize for the diving and snorkeling so fly in and out of the city to the cays in the same day. We will be here just two nights in order to visit our last Mayan site, Lamanai.