First Day in the Cayo

San Ignacio Travel Blog

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Beautiful mural in town
We slept in and didn't get to breakfast until 9. It was at a place called Pop's, which resembled a tiny diner (there were only about 5 booths). We had a spectacular breakfast: a breakfast burrito (Mark) and scrambled eggs with chaya--a kale-like leaf from a shrub--ham, refried beans and fry jacks (deep fried pockets of dough). We dipped the fry jacks in syrup and sugar, but they're good with beans as well. Very satisfied, we hopped a colectivo (essentially a taxi that picks up other customers on a designated route) to Xunantunich, a Mayan site about 10 miles west of San Ignacio.
Victor displays his slate carving with his aunt
Unfortunately we hadn't been told that it was closed due to high water on the Mopan River that prevented the antique ferry from crossing. We got out and then discovered the "site closed" sign, but made the most of it by shopping at the roadside stalls selling tourist wares, perhaps in hopes that miraculously it would reopen or suckers like us would show up and feel compelled to buy while waiting for a return trip to town.

Mark was in shopper's heaven, though. The stuff was nice, and he bought some gifts for people back home, including brightly colored bags, some jewelry and a slate carving of the main temple at Xunantunich that was hand-carved by one of the cutest little kids we'd seen, Victor. He was an active salesman, but we learned that he was related to most of the vendors.
Main plaza in Cahal Pech
No one was pushy; they just wanted to show us what they had. Considering the quality of gifts and prices, I'd say we made out well. We caught another colectivo but had him drop us off at Cahal Pech, an archeological site on the edge of San Ignacio. We spent the afternoon wandering through our first Mayan ruins.

I was a little concerned about the name of this place, which translates as "Place of the Ticks," but we only saw butterflies, birds and a few little lizards. It was relatively quiet and there was more shade than we'd seen yet, although it was still hotter than blazes. Cahal Pech is a "live" site, meaning that there is still much excavation going on, and we saw several archeologists digging up foundations, sifting through dirt for artifacts and otherwise unearthing more remnants of this ancient city that wasn't even discovered until the 1950s.
Cahal Pech plaza


Around the side of the main plaza near where some groundskeepers were working were some steep steps up to a top plinth. This was the highest point at Cahal Pech and gave us a birds-eye view of the plaza with the backdrop of whispering winds. It was very peaceful. It would have been the perfect place for a picnic. We took our time slowly browsing the site, even though it would be the smallest sites we saw. Cahal Pech had a peace about it that beckoned to linger, and it being our first full day in the country, we didn't want to rush anything. We were also taking in the plantlife--so many flowering trees and buds. We noticed some olive-shaped fruits on the ground, some red and some green. They had a pungent but pleasant scent and were slightly oily to the touch. It turns out these were copal, from where citronella is made--a natural insect repellent.

By the time we had explored Cahal Pech, we were out of water and overheated.
Corn Flakes in Spanish
We walked down the steep hill to the main road and found a grocery store called Wing Sing Super Store (almost all markets were called "super store" in Belize, even if they were tiny). The aisles were more interesting here because there were more food products from Belize and Spanish-speaking Central America. We saw a box of Corn Flakes, but they were called "Zucaritas" here. I picked up some snacks for our day trip the next day, and we loaded up on bottled water and juice. I tried a refreshing cherry juice drink while Mark got soda. The dead air followed us from the supermarket back downtown, a walk of about 10-15 minutes. It was late afternoon and we hadn't had lunch, so we stopped at Flayva's on Burns Avenue and dined outside under a thatched roof with a couple local dogs at our feet waiting for scraps. We ordered conch ceviche and stew chicken and some draft beers.
Fruit market
A small lizard darted up the tree root across from me. The decor was very tropical and had it not been off-season, I could imagine a crowd of revelers with beers in hand. Flies and mosquitoes made their appearance and we finally had to apply bug juice to our exposed ankles and neck.

We walked around town, past a park and the market, where they were getting ready to close for the day. Exotic fruit like carambola, apple bananas and pitayas decorated baskets in the stalls. After another round of showers and more walking around, we shared a burrito at a place called Erva's, which turned out to be the best burrito either of us had ever had. It was advertised as 12" but I think it was a few inches longer and filled with delicious beans and meat. Mark had a chocolate malt and I had a beer. We were exhausted, and didn't last much longer, but vowed to come back for more of that burrito goodness!
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Beautiful mural in town
Beautiful mural in town
Victor displays his slate carving …
Victor displays his slate carving…
Main plaza in Cahal Pech
Main plaza in Cahal Pech
Cahal Pech plaza
Cahal Pech plaza
Corn Flakes in Spanish
Corn Flakes in Spanish
Fruit market
Fruit market
San Ignacio
photo by: Biedjee