Part 1 of this series about our trip to Belize armed you with trivia so you can nail the “Belize It or Not” category when it pops up on Jeopardy. “I’ll take Belize It or Not for $500, Alex.”
Part 2’s fascinating installment is about our day-long trek into the wild jungles to see the ancient Lamanai Mayan ruins in northern Belize. No one told me I needed to pack a machete.
We hired a tour guide/driver to take us to the boat dock where we would then hop on a boat and go up river to the Mayan ruins. Our tour guide/driver was a wealth of information about Belize and it made the hour and a half drive pleasant, if you turned a blind eye to the evidence of poverty all around. The houses became sparse the farther we went into the countryside, but the unifying theme was laundry flapping on clotheslines in the Belizean breeze.
I have to say this. Belizeans know how to keep their whites white.
The driver pulled over to a collection of outbuildings that looked like they would collapse if you sneezed in their general direction. As it turned out, it was the put-in point for our boat ride to the ruins. I had my doubts about the wisdom of taking said trip at this point. But, a dozen or so not-insane looking people also waited to get on the boat to be sold up-river. Hey, I’m game. Or stupid. Pick one.
Our boat driver/Mayan ruin tour guide was charming and knowledgeable about the river’s flora and fauna. It was a tad disconcerting that the trip took us through crocodile-infested waters and under a tree canopy filled with snakes ready to pounce (can snakes pounce?) on us, bats looking batty while clinging to branches waiting for nightfall, and spider and howler monkeys up to their usual monkey business. The iguanas looked bored with the whole affair.
It was like the Jungle Ride at Disneyland but the animals were real. Or like the movie African Queen. Or Apocalypse Now. Or Indiana Jones.
The Lamanai site was home to the Mayans for 2,000 years until the civilization’s collapse. There are burial pyramids, ceremonial temples, and the remnants of the royal quarters. Only a mere fraction of the site has been excavated. A Canadian dude did two major digs, but without for funding the project, most of the site is still succumbed to the jungle.
I’m not going to give you a lecture on the lost Mayan civilization. I’m no expert but I found the Mayan story fascinating. If you have a chance, look them up. They probably have a Facebook page.
Our boat driver/tour guide led us on an hour-long hike through the jungle to the various ruins and promised we could climb up the tallest one, aptly named, High Temple. Those Belizeans are so clever.
Anywho, our tour group gathered around our guide at the base of High Temple in anticipation of a few words about the pyramid. Here is what he said. “Listen up, guys. Be very careful climbing up the face of the temple. Two days ago a woman lost her balance and fell 85 feet. She was air-lifted out with multiple broken bones and it is likely she will not survive the fall.”
What kind of a send-off is that!? “Enjoy the climb but don’t fall to your certain death!”
Climbing the pyramid was something my husband and I always wanted to do and we weren’t about to delete it off our bucket list while standing in the ruin’s shadow.
It is hard to tell from the picture, but the side of the pyramid is precariously steep. They installed a rope to hang on to for dear life while scrambling up the side. While the steps look innocent enough, they are high and it is like doing vertical lunges while clinging to a flimsy rope.
We made it to the top but my knees were shaking from the exertion as well as paralyzing fear. The top of the pyramid was too damn high for my liking and all I could think about was the poor woman who fell. I also swear a Mayan ghost was considering pushing me off the pyramid as a sacrifice to one of his virgin-loving gods. Then he realized I was the mother of three and backed off.
I am haunted by the fate of the woman who fell and will let you know if I hear how she is doing. The tour guide fears the Belizean government will shut down the site or no longer allow tourists to climb the pyramids. Frankly, I am surprised you are allowed to even touch the pyramids. I guess they figure they have lasted this long, they ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.