12.5.08 River Boat Tour to Lamanai and to the Community Baboon Sanctuary

Burrell Boom Travel Blog

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12.5.08    River Boat Tour to Lamanai and to the Community Baboon Sanctuary


Another 5 star day!  We were so tired last night that some of us were in bed by 6:30 and the last by 8 pm!  So we started the day refreshed by 7am and were on the road by 8 am!  Unfortunately, I had lazily put off getting gas and so we had to get that in Corozal Town before we left, which put us behind schedule.


The river boat tours through the jungle to the fascinating mayan ruins of Lamanai supposed leave at 9 am.  We followed the terrific notes that we got from our Paa-Mul friends and made it to the river where the boat trips leave by 9:15 am.  Our notes clock to the tenth of a mile, so when we got there, we just stopped in the road (little traffic).  There was a man nearby in a pickup truck and when I rolled down my window, he ran across the road to talk to us. 


It turned out that he was the owner of the river boat tour company and that for $40 per person, and only half price for Lia, we could go on the tour.  Well this is a 3-star Michelin-rated trip, out of 3 stars, and we were thrilled that we made it!  We pulled in behind a van that was just delivering some fellow tourists from Belize City.  My kids did a great job doing some high-speed getting ready and although the RV looked like a tornado had hit, we were well-prepared in just a few minutes. 


Within half an hour of arrival, we were all speeding down the river!  We knew that the trip involved about an hour and a half boat ride through the jungle to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai.  We did not realize that we would have a guide, Elmir, point out all the special birds, air-fed cacti in trees, regional trees like the “bullet tree” that is hard enough to break chainsaw blades, and who knew the river like the back of his hand.  The river boat ride up the New River was terrific!


Then when we arrived at Lamanai, Elmir was our personal guide.  He gave us all iced water bottles and took us through the museum where one of his pieces was on display (he found it diving), and where he explained special features of the displays.  Then we went on the ¾ mile hike through the jungle.  We saw some amazing temples, including one that was so high and steep that a rope was attached to its face to help you decend!  That was terrific and everyone in our group made the trek to the top.  What an awesome view!  We passed a large tour group from a cruise ship that had arrived and were glad that we’d had the museum and ruins all to ourselves today.  Elmir was great and we tipped him well for his excellent guidance.


Finally, we returned to the palapa near the water for a delicious lunch that Elmir’s mother had prepared.  It was the traditional meal of Rice and Beans, stewed chicken, creamy coleslaw, roasted potatoes, and baked plantains with bottled soft drinks.  Absolutely delicious!  We got a t-shirt, a wooden bowl, gift for Ned, and a present for Lia from Charles at the gift shop. 


Speaking of the gift shop, I don’t know where all our money from the ATM yesterday went, but it evaporated somehow, and I am due for more.  We have raided our U.S. stash so much that we’re going to need dear Ned to deliver some more for us.  Fortunately, U.S. dollars are accepted at a fair rate here in Belize.  I will definitely try to get to an ATM as soon as possible in future countries before all our U.S. dollars are gone.


We really enjoyed the 7 other guests in our group, who were from Michigan and California.  It feels a bit strange to be back among Americans, but good too.  Some of them had come from Belize City and others stayed at the Black Orchid in Burrel Boom, which we later passed. 


Leonard (accent on the second syllable) is a Bird Guide from the Bird’s Eye View Lodge, but it was recently flooded, so he accompanied Andy and his Dad on the trip as their guide from the Black Orchid.  The three of them were excellent wildlife spotters and identified all the birds, making it an excellent learning opportunity.


At the end of the trip, some of our friends asked how much our trip was.  I was afraid they’d paid less, but actually they’d paid $120 each with hotel pickup.  We got a good deal! 


Getting to Lamanai Ruins by boat is the easiest method as the road there is not recommended for RV’s.  I did see read that some RV’ers traversed it to park at a hotel near the ruins, but Henry Menzies said that it was not a good road, particularly with the country-wide flooding that occurred about 6 weeks ago.  In fact, Elmir showed us the waterline on the bridge and that the boats actually couldn’t cross underneath and had to go OVER the bridge!  The water was still up 4-6 feet and we couldn’t go swimming because runoff makes it unclean.


I was asking Elmir if he knew any mechanics for our RV belt and he said that another guest in our group was a mechanic.  That nice man looked at Ciao after the trip and said that the belt was tensioned fine, the self-adjuster seemed to be working, and that I was applying the belt spray correctly.  Of course, when I started up the rig, the belt purred like a kitten with no squealing, so that didn’t help my case, but I’m glad that he didn’t think I needed to locate immediate help.  It was sure nice of him to look at it for me.


At 3 pm we headed south on the Northern Highway (the new one) for the Community Baboon Sanctuary.  We hit two official checkpoints, but I cannot remember what for.  I do remember that we told the first one how much we love Belize, the friendly people, beautiful countryside, terrific weather, and delicious food.  He seemed to enjoy hearing our listing of the traditional foods we’d tried and Lia charmed him with her smile.  Then he wished us well and sent us down the road.  The next checkpoint official seemed happy to see tourists and after checking my driver’s license (this checkpoint was listed on our notes) and insurance dates on the windshield sticker, he offered us directions to the Baboon Sanctuary, and wished us a nice trip. 


As in Mexico, we have seen zero RV’s on the road.  The RV’s we do see in campgrounds, we usually know from previous stops.  I saw Michel from Quebec in Villahermosa, Merida, and Paa-Mul!  Tourism seems way down everywhere and we are the only tourists in most places, it seems.  While it’s nice for us, it is sad for the local economies.


Burrel Boom seemed like a town where I would not want to stay.  The people, however, unfailingly smiled and waved back.  There were many potholes through town and I was worried we’d not make it to the Baboon Sanctuary by 5 pm closing at our 5 mph rate.  Also, we went over several very big topes.  One tope, in fact, made the generator exhaust pipe scrape!  That is the first time that has happened and we have been over some monster topes in Mexico. 


Finally after town, the road became good again and we sped the 9 miles out of town to the Sanctuary.  There were 2 metal bridges that became single metal bridges for each lane (still both directional), but they were so skinny and scary that I held my breath over them. 


At 4:30 pm, we pulled into the dirt drive of the CBS and paid $10 U.S. to spend the night ($2.50 per person).  While they offered for us to pull around to the side yard, it would be a really tight fit to drive beside the building and I’m not sure how we’d get out.  There was neither a gate nor a light back there, nor any reason for us to go there frankly, so we just backed under the street light at the end of their driveway.  I am again grateful for Ciao Baby’s bathroom. 


The president of the women’s society that runs the Baboon Sanctuary lives right here in a blue house.  While eating dinner, I saw a lady (the housekeeper perhaps?) and her daughter standing in the doorway, sort of watching our RV.  So remembering what Harriet advised about “always meeting the locals” to feel safe and reach out to them, I went over to say hi.  They were so nice that later I asked if they wished to see inside the RV.  The lovely 11-year-old, Lashawn, came over and we enjoyed chatting with her.  School starts at 6:30 am for her and ends at 3pm.  Her brother had arrived home about 5 pm tonight, but I was told the bus is slow delivering her home. 


Reaching out to the people around us certainly is more fun for us, makes us feel safer, and helps us be good American ambassadors, which our country sorely needs.  Our American reputation worldwide has been sadly soiled and our general arrogance duly noted by other countries, so we are attempting to overcome some preconceptions as well. It is a little intimidating at first, like “what do I say?”  But I just walk over and say, “Hi, I wanted to come over and meet you,” with a smile, then it is easy enough and I stay as long as it feels right before wrapping it up to head back to the RV.   And, if we need help later, it is much easier to ask for it if we’ve met them before.


The “nice, inexpensive restaurant” that the ladies normally run is sadly not open right now because the season is so slow.  So we choked down a terrible dinner of tacos made with Mickey Mouse hamburger, some cheese we bought that tastes like a strong parmesan, and tomatoes.  The local dogs got most of it.  Yuck!  No wonder we’re losing weight. Thank goodness for the final Chinese takeout leftovers and later cereal. 


So in the morning we’ll pay $7 per person for a guided tour through the Baboon Sanctuary where they protect over 2000 howler monkeys, called Baboons.  We could hear them calling when we drove through Burrel Boom. Chilling!  But I need to turn the fans off now to hear them.  It was pretty hot in here tonight, with bugs coming through the screens (oh why didn’t I put the 20x20 mesh in all the screens before heading south?), and so we’ve closed up the rig while the lights are on.


Medical:  Jazy’s right eye is all red.  I gave her some Benadryl and eye antibiotic and I think it is looking better, but she is already asleep before 8pm.  We all disagreed today over what day it was.  I thought it was Weds, but it turns out that Lia was right with Friday.  So we missed our Thursday Malaria pill and took it tonight.  I hope nobody is sick from it this time.


I cannot believe tomorrow will be Saturday already!  We have to be out of the country by next Tuesday for our car insurance and we need to head on toward Nicaragua anyway.  I think tomorrow we’ll go southeast the Hummingbird Highway a little ways tomorrow to swim in the Blue Hole National Park, then head west on the Western Highway toward San Ignacio, right near the Guatemalan border.  That should put us going into Tikal Ruins in Guatemala (with another border crossing and back to Spanish!), around Sunday or Monday.


There are few highways in Belize.  Don’t you love their names?!  Northern, Southern, Western, and Hummingbird highways.  That’s about it for major roads.  It keeps things nice and simple!


This is such a beautiful country and so fewer people per square mile than in Mexico!  Sometimes the towns are so small and spread out that we don’t realize they are towns.  We admittedly bypassed Orange Walk today, but it is the 2nd largest city in Belize… with 16,000 residents!  We saw fields upon fields of sugar cane today and papaya fields, I believe, with neat rows of palm trees.


Oh!  I forgot that on the river, our boat stopped alongside a Mennonite community.  There are 3,000 Mennonites in Belize and they provide 70% of the local agricultural and meat needs to the country.  Belize handles the exports of sugar, coffee, wood, etc.  It seems to be a system that works very well.  Due to the need for greater productivity, the Mennonites have bent their rules on technology for work and use power equipment for some of the more difficult tasks, but refuse electricity use in their homes.  It’s nice to see cultures mixing in harmony.


One more thing.  There is “no money” for more archeological research at Lamanai. The previous government apparently took $10 million from each of two international grants that were intended for the ruins.  Yesterday, the former leader was arrested and the second one was expected to be arrested today.  I think I understood most of what was said, but accents do affect getting the full story.  I thought it was interesting regarding the country’s politics.


Here were some of the interesting Mayan tidbits we learned:


The winners of the ball games were sacrificed.  The most beautiful lady would be sacrificed.  It was the best that was sacrificed to the gods, not the losers.


Anyone who was deformed in any way was elevated within their caste system.  Therefore, sometimes a child would be purposely deformed, making the front of their head flat with a board tied to it and a pebble to make their eyes crossed.  We saw a mask with those esteemed concepts of “beauty.”


There are 13 months in the Mayan calendar.  12 months had 30 days and the 13th month had 5 days, starting with July 17th.  Charles thought that was cool, since that’s his birthday.


They have another calendar that is also inscribed on a large round stone that is read the other direction, counterclockwise.  Every 52 years, the calendars meet up on the same point.


In the Mayan calendar, 3,000 years ago a date was determined as the end of time.  Supposedly, the world ends on December 21 (Winter Solstice), 2012.  During that time, an astrological phenomenon will occur where the sun is in the exact center of the Milky Way.


Since the wheel was so special to the Mayans with their calendar, only children could have wheels for play on their toys.  Once they were initiated as an adult, they no longer were allowed to have a wheel.


Finally, the mystery about the demise of the great Native American civilizations in NM and AZ (Anasazi, Navajos, etc) was solved today!  It was caused by deforestation in Central America.  They used trees to burn for the ash, which they used in making cement.  Lamanai had a 1.5 x 1.5 mile cement platform on which all their buildings were built.  The civilization here was around for 3,000 years.  They completely paved everything over with concrete and cut down all the trees, which resulted in a great drought that ended their civilization.  90% of them were dead by the time the Spaniards arrived.  Lesson:  Be careful with our environment!


aqhoffman says:
You write amazingly thorough Blogs!! I have some great pictures of you and the kids. I will email them eihter to you on this or to another email address if you wish. The rest of our trip was amazing. kayaking across a stormy sea, snorkeling along the coral reef, canoeing the rainforest rivers in southern Belize, and spending some great time with the Mayans in their villages. It was great to cross paths with you and your family.
Posted on: Jan 06, 2009
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