On entering Belize City via the East-West highway divides with part of a cemetery in the median and along one side of the road . . . poor planning or an omen?
This morning, we explore the ruins of Lamanai, a Maya word meaning “submerged crocodile”. The site is nestled amid thick jungle home to exotic birds and howler monkeys and accessible by a very long and unfriendly road or by boat. We have added a Belizean guide to our group for this visit and during the hour ride north to Orange Walk he tells us about his country. From Orange Walk we travel leisurely by boat along the beautiful New River, stopping along the way to view any birds of interest and there are many that live along the river.
Lamanai is definitely off the beaten track and we felt like we were the only ones on the river, lucky to be here on a quiet day. The river is magnificent as it twists and divides its way through forest and lowlands en route to the New River Lagoon and Lamanai.
The city of Lamanai, named for the thriving crocodile population, was one of the preeminent sites around 1500 B.C. with a population exceeding 35,000 at its peak. It flourished, supported by a vast community of farmers, merchants, and traders with trading influence extending into Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Belize.
Some ruins at Lamanai are among the oldest in Belize dating back to 700 B.C.; only about 5% of the 700 structures have been excavated.
At the highest of temples some chose to climb the very steep steps, with the aid of a rope, for the magnificent view while others were content to sit in the shade and take photos.
Our boat trip back to Orange Walk was much faster, and we marveled at how the driver effortlessly navigated the twists and turns in the river.
Leaving our guide in Orange Walk we returned to Belize City to pack and say our farewells at a final dinner together. Hector made a little stop at a small nearby grocery. He disappeared inside for a minute, emerging with a cold beer for everyone, delightful!
In our two days in Belize we became quite enamored of the bar tender at our hotel, Diane, a delightful woman, welcoming, warm and friendly sharing stories and laughs with everyone; we meet one last time in the bar to begin our goodbyes.
This has been an extraordinary trip for so many reasons. First the group itself came together quickly, a fun-loving group from diverse backgrounds we shared views on world travel, politics, adventure and good humor, oh so important when traveling. The trip was filled with surprises thanks to our guide who was simply outstanding; he was a warm and caring individual with a good sense of humor and he very soon became part of our family.
The Mayan sights each offered something unique and their jungle locations were amazing adding a sense of timelessness to the visits. I loved all of the exotic flowers and birds with the background roar of the howler monkeys in the jungle and along the two rivers. Cruising among the islands in Lake Nicaragua late in the day was so peaceful and a delightful break from the heat and humidity of the city.
I love the small owner-run business we visited and seeing the handmade crafts, the colors of the Maya and the idea that they have been able to keep traditions alive and well in the small towns and villages, especially in Guatemala. I have rekindled my love affair with Guatemala on this trip, the stunning beauty of the country, the hills laced with terraced fields and foot paths connecting settlements, the volcanoes, the uncertainty of life with the looming threats of eruptions or devastating earthquakes, the warmth, resilience and endurance of the people. There is so much need here and such horrible poverty but there are also many, many volunteers in country who are doing what they can to help these people develop ways that will sustain them, it is inspiring.