Xunantunich - "Stone Woman"

Cayo District Travel Blog

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Sun 30 Nov 2008


Alissa, Alissa’s mom, Nick and I headed to Xunantunich (pronounced Shoon-an-too-nich, means “stone woman”) for the morning. The ride there was short and cheap - $1pp each way (except Nick and I were overcharged the way there). Then, we boarded the hand crank ferry, and Nick brought us to the other side. On the river we spotted an orange iguana hanging out in a tree overhead. At the very beginning of our 2km walk to the entrance we were awed. There were several iguanas hanging out on the rockwall alongside the road. After an uphill walk, we came to the entrance and paid our $10 fare. We planned on walking through independently without a guide, but learned bits and pieces of interesting information as we ran into some tours.


The proximity of the ruins (1sq mile) in Xunantunich is much closer than those in Tikal. Yet the height of the largest structure, Castillo, is the second highest in Belize. I took my time walking up Castillo, enjoying the view from different levels and angles. Because the ruins are on such a small acreage, it makes it more ideal for photographs. Also, these structures are more accessible than the ones in Tikal. There are few chained off areas, and you can walk almost any where you please, yet not to the full extent as Cahal Pech. Also, Xunantunich I think, it more peaceful than Tikal, yet also not to the extent as Cahal Pech – this is in part due to the amount of visitors and part because of the size. Most of the structures within Xunantunich were built between 200-900A.D.


I love the incriptions on the temples. Before seeing any ruins in Belize, I thought more of them would have Mayan symbols. However, this is not the case. On the north frieze and south frieze of the Castillo, the Mayans carved symbols. One of my favorites is the God of Water, which depicts a face with his tongue sticking out. On the opposite side, there is a figure without a head, a couple of gods, and other symbolism. According to one of the guides, the Mayans used dye from trees and painted the structures.


From the top of Castillo, you can see the bordering town of Benque and even Guatemala. A curvy road is the boundary line between Belize and Guatemala. The view from all sides was incredible. It was so enjoyable to be able to walk around and see a 360-degree view (unlike in Tikal).


Castillo takes the spotlight, but the surrounding temples and palaces are also brilliant and the different viewpoints are amazing. Alissa and her mom were a bit more quick-paced than Nick and I so they traveled back to the ranch around noon time. Nick and I stretched the visit out well into the afternoon.


Nick slipped in a tour and learned about Pacaya palm.

More info about Pacaya Palm

Even more info on Pacaya palm

One of the guides walked us to the pacaya trees and pick a stem for us. The pacaya were eaten by the Mayans, and used for their energizing properties. The Mayans would cook with it before setting off to war. It can be eaten raw or cooked – traditionally they would have mixed it with an egg dish. The whole stem is edible, but you’re supposed to peel off the outer husk. Inside, at the very bottom are slender strips of off-white veggie goodness. They are sort of like slender miniature ears of corn. The texture is rigid. If you run it between your lips or across the tongue it’s very ticklish. Nick thinks it has a bit of a bitter taste, but I think it’s pretty tasteless until the aftertaste. I’m not certain the plant gave me energy, but it was interesting to play with in my mouth.


One of the things that fascinated Nick was the Cohune nut.

Read about the Cohune nut

On an earlier tour, one of the guides had explained them. The nuts are incredibly difficult to break into. They have a thick husk and are hollow on the inside. They are used by local artisans to make jewelry for tourists. The ends may or may not have holes. The holes are what make the jewelry more unique. So Nick collected some Cohune nuts and we relaxed on some Mayan steps. Then, a random idea came to me. I was curious to know if they would work as massage tools. So I rolled them along Nick’s back and before we knew it, I was giving a full back massage with Cohune nuts on a Mayan ruin. Nick returned the favor and we decided to take them back with us.

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