To Wrestle a Submerged Crocodile
Lamanai Travel Blog› entry 12 of 13 › view all entries
We woke up before sunrise, and I actually made it out to the pier to watch it happen. It was about 5:30 in the morning and while there were a handful of locals out and about (and a few partiers from the night before), I was all alone on the pier as the bright white disc emerged from under the sea. It's rare that I muster enough energy to get up to see the sunrise, especially since it would take hours to go to a place where I could actually see it happen, but here facing the ocean, it's pretty hard to miss. The thin clouds perfectly veiled the sun enough to minimize the blinding factor and maximize viewing clarity. A sailboat--one of the Raggamuffin boats from the snorkeling adventure--slowly rocked in the sea as the sun poked out of the clouds and continued its slow ascent. Within 20 minutes it was fully emerged and the sky became as bright as midday soon thereafter.
Despite the presence of people, nothing seemed to be open. Mark and I searched for food, but there was only coffee. Finally, almost seven blocks away, we saw a group of people huddled under a palm tree in front of what looked like a cart. Sure enough, it was a lady selling something. I knew there had to be something open to serve passengers for the early ferry as well as other early birds. When we approached, the woman was selling johnnycakes and bottles of horchata, supposedly all homemade. We'd never had johnnycakes, so we bought four of them and headed back towards the ferry stop, grabbing coffee at another local foodstall (which, incidentally, did not sell food until after 8). The first ferry from the island left at 6:30 and we were not the only passengers. I wondered where they all had descended from.
The ferry ride was uneventful and relatively short. Our tour guide Jorje met us at the dock and whisked us away in a real tour bus with air conditioning and at least 30 seats--all of them empty. It was a little odd to be the only two on the bus besides the driver. As a result, even the smallest pebble caused the bus to bounce and sway as we careened through town. Jorje gave us a tour of Belize City, which I didn't realize came with the "package." Not that there's a whole lot of sites to see there, but we were notified that a section of the land where we were presently driving was reclaimed from the sea, similar in fashion to the Netherlands polders.
Other highlights up the river were termite nests in the trees, a rum distillery next to a rehabilitation center, snake cacti ("air plant") growing like tentacles from tree branches above the water, and a small Mennonite village called Shipyard. Mennonites in Belize? Yes indeed! I tell you, Belize is a cultural melting pot of diverse proportions.
Due to recent heavy rains, the water level in the river was some 4-6 feet higher than normal, and as a result, there were no crocodiles, turtles or some species of birds because they had fled the area in search of a shallower refuge.
The parade of flora and fauna continued on land with sightings of cormorants, flycatchers, heliconia (lobster-tail), stemadamia (horseballs), bay cedars (crudely nicknamed "tapaculo" in Spanish for the laxative functions of its seeds), strangler figs, pheasant tail plants, wild coffee, black orchids (the national flower), guanacaste, sapodilla and cohune palms.
So, Lamanai is actually a Mayan site, which means "submerged crocodile," a pretty cool translation if you ask me. Aside from the wondrous tropical life we encountered, there were some seriously amazing ruins and views here. There were also vicious and voracious mosquitoes. I emptied a cannister of DEET on my clothes and any remaining exposed skin. As it was, I had planned for this and wore long sleeves, long pants and had already wiped down with Deep Woods Off and sprayed Bullfrog mosquito repellent, neither of which did anything to ameliorate the mosquito bloodlust. The DEET was more or less effective, albeit caustic and nearly gag-reflex-inducing. It was also about 400 degrees and the sweat kept washing the repellent off my face.
Before we actually began the trek through the ruins, we sat down at the picnic area to have a splendid homemade lunch of chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoets and rice & beans. It was a delicious meal; by far the best meal we'd had on any tour. Full and ready to go, we headed off through the jungle trail to the first site, the Mask Temple. So called because of the intricate mask carving that had been found on its facade. Unfortunately or not, the original carving had been removed and placed in a museum, and a replica placed where it had been.
Structure N10-43, better known as the High Temple, and just as aptly named, was our next stop. This was the tallest temple at Lamanai, and had been one of the tallest in the Mayan civilization, at least during Preclassic times. The climb up wasn't as horrendous as it first appeared. They had placed a rope in the center of the steps as an aid to climbing, and while the steps were much taller than the other sites and certainly steep, they were not the most arduous, and most definitely not as steep as Temple V in Tikal. Still, at the top we were gasping for breath.
When we were all at the top, an intriguing bug landed on the rear pocket of the Swedish guy, Jens. For a moment, all eyes were on his butt, watching as the bug twirled and paced before finally flying off into the blue sky. After everyone else descended, Mark and I remained for some photo ops, realizing that this would be our last ascent, aside from the mid-morning flight the next day.
What made the view special was not as much the temple as the scene from where we had approached it. Imagine the picture: a beautifully buttressed tree to the left, labyrinthine foundations of dwellings in the foreground, and the bulk of the Temple of the Jaguar in the distance, all surrounded by lush green. Sunlight streaming through the leaves, the occasional butterfly fluttering by, the scent of palm fronds and humidity, and the soft, mulchy earth below our feet.
Thus concluded the tour of the ruins, so we ventured to the museum to see the original carvings as well as many artifacts, plaques about the history, interesting maps and a really large brown grasshopper that I initially mistook for a wooden artifact. After perusing the museum, it immediately began to rain. We had a minute to check out the gift shops, which had really nice merchandise that I hadn't seen elsewhere, but we were low on money and I had maxxed out my allotment for t-shirts, so we headed back to the boat. By then it was really coming down. We ducked under another boat's canopy until the rain subsided. Halfway back to the river pier, it started to rain again and this time getting wet was unavoidable.
Despite being soaked, it was refreshing and did wonders to drive away the mosquitoes. The rest of the trip was fairly quiet, as we were all tired. We picked up the Swedish couple for a ride back to the city, since we clearly had the room. Our driver stopped at his house where we met his sister and nephew, and they handed us brochures and leaflets about other tours they offered. Apparently this was Jorje's first time to Lamanai, which is why we actually had a different guide taking us through there. Essentially, he just drove the bus for his brother-in-law, who normally did the tours. Still, we felt that we had a good time and were able to fit it all in within the confines of the ferry schedule.
Postponed from two weeks prior due to a tropical storm, the Lobsterfest had been moved to this weekend and from the looks of things must have kicked off sometime earlier in the afternoon. There were throngs of people, food stalls and vendors. One guy was selling all sorts of wine from various plants and fruits, like banana, avocado, starfruit, asparagus, and other unrecognizable things (assuming they were actually fruits). Mark and I returned to the room to take a shower, and then headed to the western part of the island to a deserted cargo dock, where we watched the sunset over the ocean. It was idyllic; a fitting way to end a day that began with watching the sunrise.
Mark and I grabbed another meal from one of the Lobsterfest vendors, a few beers from the grocery store, and headed to the benches next to Raggamuffin to dine to the sound of the distant waves and the partygoing crowd in the distance. We walked around a bit, passing by a soccer field to see if we could see the boy that we'd talked to on the ferry ride who said he was playing a match. There was a sizeable crowd, full of families and random spectators cheering.
We found ourselves in a rather remote beach-side bar called Havana Nights, far removed from the action of Lobsterfest that it was inaudible over the Cuban music. Actually I had seen this bar when I ate my lunch the other day and made a point to come back. The roast pig in all its anatomical glory adorned a ledge that also featured a fan on high, ostensibly blowing flies away.
As we ordered our second mojitos, a group of very young (possibly teenagers) came in. We'd seen several teens earlier all wearing the same shirts. I think they were from a bible camp or mission of sorts, but here they were ready to party.
Reality set in and it was time to head back. We made one last stop at the Cake Lady's for some treats for the road, passing by all the revelers in the street. As difficult as it was to accept the vacation was over, I realized we had done quite a bit and it truly felt like the kind of traveling I would undertake if I were on the road for months. Luckily, the ability to pack in such a rich travel adventure in a short time gives me hope for keeping my wanderlust and employment peacefully and appropriately intertwined. In short, I won't have to quit my job again to have an adventure!