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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Belize is Beautiful!

Back from a "little" weekend trip down to Central America to visit Belize and Guatemala. My first time in that part of the world and it was definitely an experience never to be forgotten. From the kind people, to the delicious food, to the stunning sites--what a way to spend five days!!

My dad and I arrived in San Ignacio, Belize, on Thursday and immediately decamped to our eco-lodge, Maya Mountain Lodge (highly recommended--absolutely sublime!). They have an amazing chef on-site who serves fantastic Belizean meals every day. After spending the first day just relaxing at the lodge and walking into town (San Ignacio is the second-largest town in Belize with a population of around 16,000), the next three days were chock-full of activities and adventure.

The next day may have included the best adventure of my life, and certainly of the most memorable travel moments I'll forever carry with me. Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave is the site of thousands of Mayan sacrifices and an adventure never to be forgotten. Just opened to the public within the past decade, you swim, hike and climb more than an hour into the cave to see the artifacts more than a thousand years old. Just the cave itself is impressive but then the fully-intact bowls and human skeletons make the trip even more...incredible. What really makes it special is that there are no ropes set up, no off-limit zones. Technically you could reach out and touch any of these precious artifacts (although this is against the rules, of course). It is a strenuous activity but again, if you're going to Belize this is a must-do. I emerged soaking wet and covered in huge purple bruises but would do it again in a heartbeat. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

In fact, this may only be available for a few more years. Already there are new restrictions going into place that forbid cameras inside the cave, and because of damage that has already occurred, it wouldn't be surprising if the cave is closed to the public sometime in the near future. Therefore: put the ATM cave at the top of your Belize to-do list.

Finally, it was off for a peaceful canoe trip through Barton Creek Cave. Certainly less impressive than the ATM in terms of Mayan artifacts but a different sort of cave and equally magnificent. Again, it's dark enough in these caves so you can't see your hand in front of your face with the lights off so very spooky, but worth getting over your fear of the dark or caves in general. The trip through Barton Creek was certainly calm compared to ATM but afterwards, we headed over to Big Rock Waterfall for a swim (my first time swimming in a waterfall). Of course, this only added to the bruises but no worries, it's all in good fun.

Over just five days, I learned a lot and experienced so much for the first time. Meeting fascinating people like Juan, a local Belizean artisan whose family has carved slate and wood for generations and creates beautiful pieces from Mayan folklore. Or talking with Sandra, our driver, who said that many Belizeans wish their country was still a British colony for the benefits being a British subject provided (healthcare and good schools, for example).

Playing with an impish spider monkey named Mango who had the personality of a 9-year-old boy; climbing a wall of solid rock to view a perfectly preserved 1500-year-old skeleton; watching Guatemalan textiles be transformed into stunning scarves; wandering briefly in circles in total darkness through shoulder-high water, only to realize our guide was playing a practical joke; and simply napping and reading for hours in an ultra-comfortable hammock.

For a small country, Belize has so much to offer and we didn't even make it to the coast or the Cayes. Full of history and natural sites, I highly recommend a trip--only two hours from Miami!

...pictures coming shortly

15 comments:

  1. I absolutely adore that country. I want to return there soon.

    It saddens me a bit to think it is going to get harder and pricier to visit places like that because of the rising plane fuel costs and the impact on the world environment.

    We could learn a lot from Belize`s eco systems.

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  2. Glad you enjoyed your brief trip to Belize. ATM is spectacular and it's good you got to enjoy it before it is restricted. When you come back, plan a visit to the coast!
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