HOPKINS

 

One of the last posts on the topic of Belize. While there we stayed outside of a little town called Hopkins. I always find it interesting to see how other cultures live. In the case of Hopkins, it is on the beach and it would seem that agriculture and tourism are the primary industries. One thing we noticed, there seemed to be a ton of dogs wandering around. We read a few items that stated that there is a real effort being put in place to control the population (humanely).

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The local church is right on the beach.

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I was told that they have one police officer in town. I saw one on a bike later in the day. From their web site:

We have one constable who makes his rounds on a bicycle. This is largely because we are fortunate to have little or no crime in Hopkins. The police station is at the crossroads and easy to find.

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It is a quaint town and we found the locals very friendly. One local told us about the hurricanes that the town had suffered, the worst being Hattie in the 60’s that basically wiped the place out and killed a lot of people.

I don’t think I would want to be on the coast during a hurricane … but a nice place to visit on a sunny day.

CAVING AND HOLING

 

Our last Belizean adventure was a cave and blue hole expedition. Our first stop was St. Herman cave, a 1/2 mile hike from entrance to exit.

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You climb down a 180 foot long sink hole into the cave, with it’s huge opening and then into the cave you go.

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I have never been on a hike through a cave before and would describe it as dark, rigorous and very tight at times. At one point we turned off our lights to experience true darkness, so dark that you could not see the hand in front of our face.

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I laughed when I saw this sign. Wise words.

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It was a different experience, and thanks to our head lamps, full of unique rock formation sights and more than a few left over Mayan pots and dishes.

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After a rigorous hike, climb, scramble and crawl we resurfaced into the jungle canopy and headed over to a blue hole.

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You hear a lot about blue holes in Belize, the most famous being the Great Blue Hole – one of the top diving spots in the world. Another type of blue hole are sinkholes that are created when an underground river collapses.  After the long hike, we spent an hour swimming at Blue Hole National park. The water was as you would expect, a beautiful deep blue.

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A different day hike.

MAYFLOWER BOCAWINA NATIONAL PARK

 

Another memorable excursion was the hike up a waterfall in the Mayflower National Park followed by a trip to a blue hole. The hike was not for the faint of heart. Very steep, requiring ropes to pull you up many sections with very little breeze and crushing humidity. Our family loves this type of challenge.

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Along the way to the base of the falls we saw this print. A jaguar print. This was as close as we would get to one.

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It is amazing to listen to the guides share their home grown knowledge. We stopped and the boys tasted termites (high in protein, supposedly tasted like cucumber … I took the role of photographer, not taster). At a hole the guide grabbed a stick and poked and prodded until a agitated tarantula emerged (apologies, not sure what happened to the focus)

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These shots will give you an idea of the climb. With my camera, 2 lenses, video camera, water and towels, I figured I was lugging an extra 40lbs.

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After an hour and a half up, we arrived at the top of the waterfall. It was worth the hike. The water was cooling, clear and spectacular.

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The only downside on the hike was that we did not see much wildlife. A beautiful way to spend a morning.

HALF MOON CAYE

 

One of my favourite sights in Belize was a small island in the Half Moon Caye vicinity.  The island (which the locals simply call Bird Island) appears to have no hard land, and looks like a clump of trees rising from the water. And out of those trees swarmed hundreds and hundreds of birds.

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Home to two birds, the Red-footed Booby and the Frigatebird. It happened to be mating season for the Frigatebird, and the males were showing off their magnificent red breasts in hopes of attracting a mate.

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Some were luckier than others.

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The guides mentioned that the birds have a tough time building nests, as the twigs from the trees are difficult to break off so they must fly significant distances to acquire material … unless a boat and guide were near. He put the nose of the boat near the island, broke off a few twigs and started to throw them in the air causing a flurry of activity as the birds moved to grab the twigs for their nests.

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It appeared to be a harmonious relationship between the Bobby and the Frigatebirds, they sat on the branches often side by side.

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Which is interesting considering the Frigatebird’s reputation:

Frigatebirds are pelagic piscivores which obtain most of their food on the wing. A small amount of their diet is obtained by robbing other seabirds, a behaviour that has given the family its name, and by snatching seabird chicks. Frigatebirds are seasonally monogamous, and nest colonially. A rough nest is constructed in low trees or on the ground on remote islands. A single egg[citation needed] is laid each breeding season. The duration of parental care in frigatebirds is the longest of any bird.

It was an excellent day out.

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UNIVERSITY

 

While waiting in the airport in Belize I came across a brochure for the University of Belize. It offered the international experience that one would expect, with many eco related courses. If you check out their website, the marketing strategy to attract international students is pretty clear. I am not sure how effective the site is at encouraging parents to finance the experience.

After photographing the pelicans, I turned around and realized that the island of South Water Caye has a university too ….

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Perhaps they are linked with the Smithsonian research station one island over, which appears to be linked to the University of California. Not the worst way to spend a semester …

PELICANS OF BELIZE

 

The Belize reef system is 30+ KMs off the shore. Each day we would get in a boat and travel to either a dive or snorkelling destination, depending on your preference. As our boys are too young to scuba, we snorkelled a number of times. After the first snorkel, they would take us to a small island for snacks and a quick break before heading out again. The island was beautiful, with white sand beaches and clear blue water. Very Caribbean.

On our first trip out, a pelican kept hovering around. He was not afraid of us, and let me get very close (At one point I was arms length). A majestic bird.

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It is fascinating watching him take off.

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It felt like you blinked and he was away. These frames were taken over a few seconds.

XUNANTUNICH

 

The second stop on our Mayan Ruins tour was the 2nd largest site in the region, Xunantunich, or the stone lady:

Xunantunich (shoo-NAHN-too-nich) is a Maya archaeological site in western Belize, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City (Latitude : 17.083 , Longitude : -89.133), in the Cayo District. Xunantunich is located atop a ridge above the Mopan River, within sight of the Guatemala border. Its name means "Stone Woman" in the Maya language (Mopan and Yucatec combination name), and, like many names given to Maya archaeological sites, is a modern name; the ancient name is currently unknown. The "Stone Woman" refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white, and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of El Castillo; ascends the stone stairs and disappears into a stone wall.

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The guide told us a story that the site actually wasn’t called the Stone Lady by the Mayans. A recent discovery (everything is recent, they still have so much to uncover) found that the Mayan’s called it the Clay Mountain.

Getting to the site is an interesting experience, you cross on a hand cranked ferry. We were fortunate, as we arrived the tour buses from the cruise ships were leaving.

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I found the site breathtakingly beautiful and we were fortunate, there were very few people there (perhaps due to the intermittent rain and timing). The site is riddled with buildings, six plazas center the complex with 26 temples and palaces surrounding it.

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A class of students was leaving the site as we climbed the primary temple. I am going to guess they are in grade 11.

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As you can see by this shot, huge mounds remain. Inside those mounds are more ruins, unexplored and uncovered due to lack of funding.

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Next, the pyramid known as "El Castillo".

XUNANTUNIC: EL CASTILLO

 

El Castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at 40m (130 feet) tall.

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It is quite the climb for those of us adverse to heights.

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The sides are decorated with depictions of different Mayan gods.

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The view from the top is spectacular. Again, mounds remain to either side. Our guide noted, there are more ruins just waiting to be found.

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The site itself is beautiful.

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Guatemala is off in the distance.

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The back.

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One last photo as we climbed down.

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A wonderful tour.

CAHAL PECH

 

Our first stop on the Mayan Ruin tour was Cahal Pech, embedded in a local city:

Cahal Pech is a Maya site located near the Town of San Ignacio in the Cayo District of Belize. The site was a hilltop palacio home for an elite Maya family, and though most major construction dates to the Classic period, evidence of continuous habitation has been dated to as far back as far as 1200 BCE during the Early Middle Formative period (Early Middle Preclassic), making Cahal Pech one of the oldest recognizably Maya sites in Western Belize.[1][2]. The site rests high near the banks of the Macal River and is strategically located to overlook the confluence of the Macal River and the Mopan River. The site is a collection of 34 structures, with the tallest temple being about 25 meters in height, situated around a central acropolis. The site was abandoned in the 9th century CE for unknown reasons.

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The remains of doors leading to the privileged courtyards off of Plaza B (hypothesized to be an open market). The Maya believed in odd numbers, in this case there were 9 doors from side to side.

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Back to the point on their history, we did not see many wall drawings. Perhaps due to their use of red dyes from trees .. which wears off.

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Everything in the Maya ruin centers on status. One spot for the commoner, another spot for the 2nd tier, inside for only the top level. Clearly a society built on status and hierarchy. This site was not unearthed until 1988, and even now, huge parts of the site remain underground awaiting the next stage of study. Note the way the trees and dirt remain in place over top of the temple.

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Unlike Costa Rica, wildlife was not that common. We saw a few hummingbirds and this very poisonous snake, the Central American Coral snake.

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In each ruin there was a ball court. The game’s actual rules are not known, so more hypothesis. What they do know is that they used a rubber ball from a rubber tree, which was solid and weighed between 6 and 8 lbs. If given a pass, you would not want to miss. Oh yes, and there seems to be consensus that there was a lot of ritual around the game and at times, it could lead to your being sacrificed. I can see the coach, “No pressure lads. Just get out there and do your best. Oh yes, and remember, this is the finals. So, if you lose, you are going to get sacrificed to the sun god. Really a win-win. We win, you are a hero. We lose you go to the sun god and help next years crop. So, chins high, get out there and give it your best!’.

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Next, Xunantunich.

MAYAN RUINS

 

I was most looking forward to the Mayan ruins in Belize. I love going to historical sites and learning about ancient cultures (Egypt remains my favourite trip of all time). Our trip took us to two ruins, Chahal Pech and Xunantunich.

What is very different about the Mayan ruins and culture is how little is known. Unlike other cultures which have documents (in the form of hieroglyphics or the like), the Mayan culture is quite the mystery. It seemed like much of their lifestyle, rituals and culture history is based on hypothesis. One big question that remains unanswered is what happened to the Maya civilization? Why did their culture die out?

Via.

Some 88 different theories or variations of theories attempting to explain the Classic Maya Collapse have been identified.[4] From climate change to deforestation to lack of action by Mayan kings, there is no universally accepted collapse theory, although drought is gaining momentum as the leading explanation

I also found it interesting that much of their history remains buried. It would seem that the lack of resources and funding has left many of the sites covered. Even in the large Xunantunich site, there were huge mounds to each side which entombed ancient ruins. The history of the Maya (that they do know) is that each new leader built on top of the old one, so layers upon layers remain undiscovered.

Awaiting a foreign University’s funding …..

BELIZE

 

March break time and this year we decided on Belize. Why? I am not sure. It could be because of an international property salesperson who we talked to about Belize or because we decided that the Galapagos was a bit to far this time around (that is DEFINITELY on the bucket list).

We went into the country knowing only a few facts:

  • It is an ex-British colony, not unlike Canada.
  • They speak English.
  • They have great diving.
  • Everything we read said it is safe.

After 11 days there, we learned a lot about the country. Belize is very poor. It does not come off as ‘Egypt’ level poor, but with a GDP of $2.6B and per capita income of less than $8K, you can see it in the lack of infrastructure. One story we heard as we traveled to the resort was about the road we were on to Hopkins. It was partially paved due to a politician’s broken promises (some things are the same regardless of country). The politician promised that if he was elected, he would get the road paved. He got it partially paved and 15 years later I am not sure which is rougher, the unpaved dirt part or the crumbling, washed away paved part. You can also see it in the homes you pass and the litter. It is sad to say but litter is everywhere and no one is picking it up.

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I also wondered about jobs. Tourism makes up a huge part of the economy, as does agriculture. What I noticed as we passed through the towns were scores and scores of able bodied people sitting on their front step or a common area, hanging out during business hours. When I asked about the citrus harvest (We passed many Orange orchards), it turns out that Belizeans don’t participate. They import workers from Guatemala and other countries to do the harvest as the ‘jobs don’t pay enough’. The unemployment rate isn’t astronomically high at 13.1%, so perhaps this is just an anomaly in outlying regions?

All of those ‘North American’ observations aside, one thing is very clear – the people we met were very happy. It seemed like everyone was smiling. People waving as you drive by. As one guide said ‘How can we not be happy every day? We live in paradise’

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In that he is right. It is paradise. Perhaps living on the beach isn’t a bad idea ….

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BACK

 

I am returning from a fantastic holiday with the family in Belize. I didn’t have time to blog on the topic yet, that will be this weeks topic. Until then, a couple pictures.

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And what would a trip to Belize be without a picture of a starfish?

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