Friday, July 6, 2012

#715 a morning at Xunantunich

On our first full day in Belize, we went to see Mayan ruins. MT went to the ATM cave while T and I went to see Xunantunich (shoo-NAN-to-nich). MT was gone all day; T and I had a half day adventure.

We went with a guide from duPlooy's and a family of four: Mom, Dad and two little kids. I really liked the small group.

On the way down the hill, we spotted a couple of iguanas on the the rock wall. The driver pulled over to let us see them up close and take pics (I didn't). He also pulled a leaf off a tree and told us to smell it and guess what it was. I thought it smelled like cinnamon. T couldn't name the scent but thought it smelled great. The dad of the family thought it smelled like Christmas. It was the leaf of an allspice tree!

Xunantunich is very close to duPlooy's, probably about 20 minutes. It is on the other side of the Mopan River, and the way to cross the river is on a hand-cranked ferry.

We spent time looking at one main area, but apparently the site is quite large. The area we went to had three structures, dominated by El Castillo. An interesting thing to note is that there are more structures that are buried under the jungle growth.

T is standing on the last structure. At the trees, you can see the middle structure, and in the background, El Castillo

The guide did a great job with explaining about the city and everything, but I was pretty overwhelmed by how beautiful and green everything was. I also thought about how ancient this place is; it dates back to 600 AD. The structures are huge and made of stone. Imagine what it took to construct these temples!

As we were walking, I asked the guide if there were any monkeys around. He said there were spider and howler monkeys and that maybe we would get to see some when he took us along the back of El Castillo. We didn't have to wait, though. As we were coming down from the second structure, we saw a howler monkey in the trees. As we kept watching, we noticed more monkeys. I think there were about six monkeys in the family that we saw, including a couple of babies! They didn't make any noise, though. I was kind of bummed because I was really interested in hearing the howler monkey noise.

How many monkeys can you see? I counted five.

We watched the monkeys for awhile, then the guide ushered us along to the main event: El Castillo. It's 130 feet high and very impressive, both from the ground and from on top.

 View of El Castillo from the plaza. If you look at the top, you can see people up there. They look tiny!

As you can see, there are a lot of steps. The thing about the Mayans, they didn't really have building codes  so the steps are pretty uneven in height and width. (hahaha) You don't climb straight up, though. You walk up those stairs you see right there in front, then you go around to the sides and up the back way. Here's the view from about half-way up:

This is looking back to the first two structures. The one at the end of the picture is where we saw the monkeys. T climbed everything in sight.

Then you turn from the valley view and you see this amazing frieze

Xunantunich is known for the beautiful friezes on the east and west sides of El Castillo. The friezes have been restored and they are really neat. 

From there you continue up some tiny stairs along a pretty narrow path to reach the top. I took my time and the view was worth every step.

Looking down at the valley
A look down from the top
A view into Guatemala. See that road? It's right on the border
Me and T
There was a great breeze up there, which explains why my hair looks strange.
We stayed up on top for awhile because the view was so gorgeous and the breeze was so pleasant. A few drops of rain fell on us, but that's all it was, a few drops, so nothing to worry about. 
We were really only a few miles away from the Guatemalan border at this point. In fact, when we came into the site, there were three or four heavily armed soldiers walking along the road. I asked the guide about it, and he said that there was a small Army post on the grounds because of the proximity to Guatemala. There had been incidents of looting. There was also some drug trafficking in the area, so the Belize government kept soldiers at the site.  
We came down the other side of El Castillo and saw the restored frieze on that side as well.

Then we headed back down the hill to the car. On our way out, we spotted another small group of howler monkeys. I had my new big lens on my camera so I was able to zoom in on the monkeys pretty well, but they were very high up in the very tall trees, so the pics are a little blurry. Still, I like this one because you can kind of see his face.

We went back to duPlooy's and had some lunch, then T and I took a nap in our room under the blessed ceiling fan. We were pretty worn out. T had climbed everything to be climbed at least three times each. Yes! He went to the top of El Castillo and back down at least three times.
MT got back late in the afternoon. He went to the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. It is an adventurous excursion that involves a 45 minute walk through the jungle, several creek and river crossings, and swimming into the cave itself. Our driver on the first day tried to convince T and I to go on the ATM cave tour because it is so amazing, but we decided we'd be better off at Xunantunich. MT says he is glad we didn't go. He said he was up to his chest in water for quite awhile and you don't wade into the cave, you have to swim, especially since there had been so much rain recently, the rivers were swollen. He did say that it was one of the best excursions he has ever done. It was adventurous and exciting and the things he saw in the cave - ancient Mayan pottery, remains, stalactites and stalagmites, etc - was fantastic. Cameras are not allowed in the cave because sadly, someone dropped their camera on the skull of the Crystal Maiden and dented it. That's a 1,000 year old piece of history that is now permanently damaged. MT said you could see the camera indentation. So sad. Tourists, listen! Put your camera strap around your wrist or around your neck. It will save your camera and perhaps ancient artifacts.

It was a truly splendid day for all of us!

1 comment:

emtes said...

Wow what places you have seen. I really admire you going up that high in that humidity!! I wouldn't have coped I can guarantee.
I can't stand that kind of humidity, never feeling fresh but always dripping ;-) Sometimes in southern Spain it can be the same. You shower and put on nice clothes to go out for dinner for instance, fresh and dry. Then you go outside and you are as wet as in the shower.
But the places you have seen!!
Tristan looks taller than you now. Is he? He has really grown so much.
Did he appreciate the trip? It was kind of different from the other trips you have made wasn't it?
Well, I do hope you keep blogging as I said before. I read everything with great pleasure even if I don't comment on everything.
I'm on vacation right now and we came back from Dalarna yesterday evening and are off to "our" hotel in a few hours for 3 days and then I'm going to Malmö in Scania for 4 days. Next week we are going on an 8-day cruise around the Baltic Sea with Royal Caribbean cruise line and it starts here in Stockholm. We are so looking forward to that.
We are having a terrible weather and no summer in sight :-( This weekend lots of places in Sweden has been flooded due to heavy rain. We drove home in that and we just made it. They even had to shut down the motorway becuase of flooding but we got throught just before that.
Well, take care and big hugs for you and your family.
Love you!
Mia :-)