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Chichen-Itza, Caye Caulker & Livingston
Antigua, Guatemala, 15 April 2003
This is the second part of our Maya tour through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. It covers Chichen-Itza, Tulum, Caye Caulker and Livingston.
Chichen-Itza is one of the world's most famous Maya ruins. One of the things it is famous for is the equinox shadow, when the side of the pyramid is projected on the stairs that go up de northern side of the pyramid and it looks like a giant snake is descending from the pyramid. At the bottom of the stairs is a giant stone carving of a snake's head to make the appearance complete.
As it happened this event was visible on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of March, just as we arrived in Chichen-Itza. Unfortunately the inner chamber (the other highlight of these ruins) was closed because of this event.
A well restored part of Chichen-Itza is the ball court: a place where a kind of ball game was played, the ball had to be passed through a hole in a stone wheel. The winner (or loser according to other accounts) got the privilege of getting his head cut off!!! This scene is very explicitly depicted in the carvings around the ball court.
The ancient Mayas had made a habit of human sacrifices. Places for such sacrifices often have little gutters for the blood to flow through so that it could be collected. Priest would hold the bodies of the decapitated with feet up so that all the blood would flow out. Such events always took place in public arena's where thousands could sit and watch.
Not far from Chichen Itza there is also a cave where the Mayas held ceremonies of some sort and made offerings. It is a long underground walk to a hidden chamber (no longer hidden of course) where you can see lots of pottery left there by the ancient Mayas as well as an underground river.
From Chichen-Itza we went on to Tulum, whose Maya ruins are uniquely located on the coast but are a far cry from the temples and pyramids we have seen before in Chichen-Itza, Palenque, Tikal and Uxmal. In both Chichen-Itza and Tulum, the presence of Cancun (a place we decided to avoid) could be felt through the high numbers of American and European tourist with very little understanding of Spanish.
After one day at the beach we moved on southwards to Belize in what seems to have been one of the most efficient combinations of transportation we have made. By bus from Tulum to Chetumal in 3.5 hours, waited 35 minutes in Chetumal for the bus across the border to Corazal in Belize, where we took a taxi to the airport. Twenty minutes and 70 USD (for two tickets) later we took off to the islands in a perfect flight that got no higher than 4.500 feet (1.5 kilometers) and offered great views.
We spent 5 budget breaking days on Caye Caulker (Belize is about twice as expensive as Guatemala or Mexico). It is however a very pleasant Island to be on and the sea was warm! People drive around the island in golf carts.
I got to practice my sailing again, the previous time I sailed was probably 20 years ago. All went well, as the sailing techniques I had learned in my childhood came back to me. We sailed around the Island in the cheapest and therefore smallest sailing boat available.
Belize also has the world's second largest barrier reef and it passes close by Caye Caulker. We went snorkeling in the reef.
When our boat first arrived above the reef, we looked into the water and saw several sharks swim around. Juni, our guide then told us to jump in the water. Needless to say that there was some hesitation and one person never left the boat. However it turned into a truly amazing experience as we swam with the sharks, stroked them, held them and even kissed them (at least I did).
This might seem very unlikely but there is a very rational explanation for it which you will not hear from the guides: The sharks are so used to human visitors and the guides feed them, so they have become rather tame. The sharks are nurse sharks, the least dangerous kind. They meet every new boat that arrives at the reef and leave in search of the next boatload of people as soon as they notice you are heading back to your boat. Our guide however was really great and I could sense he had a great love for these sharks.
I lost any fear for sharks I might have had. Besides the number of people attacked by sharks per year in the world can be counted on the fingers of one hand, while humans on the other hand kill tens of thousands of sharks each year. I guess to make shark-fin soup, something I vow never to eat!
We left Caye Caulker in the morning by boat for Belize City, a place that does not have a very good reputation as far a security goes, so we moved on as quickly as possible by taking the bus to Punta Gorda (Belize is one of the places where US school buses get a second life). From Punta Gorda we had to take a boat, a small one compared to the size of the waves to reach Puerto Barrios and another from Puerto Barrios to our destination Livingston. This was the only way to get there even though all these towns are on the mainland. The water was a bit rough, and the boats went quite fast, so we all got soaked. Livingston is supposed to be a special place since it is where you can find Guatemalans of African descent called the Garifuna.
We stayed in a hotel called Vista al Mar (first street left from the harbor, 4 min before the second bridge), where we were the only guests. The owner was extremely friendly and gave us a good deal on a cabana. He had clearly spent a lot of time and energy to make the place extremely cozy. The number of tourists seemed to have reached new lows, it was therefore not difficult to find rooms, even be picky and sometimes get reductions, but for the people that depend on tourism for a living it must be a disaster.
The most famous natural "wonder" in Livingston is called Siete Altares, it is a little river with 7 waterfalls, where it's supposedly very nice to swim in the pools under the waterfalls as well. But we were not to find out, since there was hardly any water flowing in the dry season and we could forget about any water actually falling from any waterfall as well. It was a long a slippery stroll through a nearly dried up river bed instead.
Disaster struck while walking back from Siete Altares, the water bottle in our backpack opened and soaked everything, including our digital camera. I immediately took out the battery and memory card, but the camera was completely soaked. Water continued dripping out of it for several minutes. We really hoped the memory chip could still be saved because it contained the last month worth of photos!
Back at the hotel the owner lent us a hair drier in an attempt to save the camera or at least the memory card. Holding the drier at some distance we desperately tried to dry the camera, making sure we would not overheat it either. We continued until we saw no more moist behind any transparent parts. After drying it we decided not to try to turn on the camera for the next 2 days, turning the thing on would likely cause a short circuit and end any hope we might still have in saving something.
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e-mail Otto de Voogd
To my knowledge the information provided here was accurate at the time of our visit. However time passes and things can change.
(ATMs for Maestro/Cirrus bankcards)
Mexico: Some ATMs
Belize - Dollar, fixed exchange rate: 1 USD = 2 BZD
Flight from Corozal to San Pedro (Ambergris Caye): 70 BZD per person.
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