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).
The local church is right on the beach.
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.
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.
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.
You climb down a 180 foot long sink hole into the cave, with it’s huge opening and then into the cave you go.
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.
I laughed when I saw this sign. Wise words.
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.
After a rigorous hike, climb, scramble and crawl we resurfaced into the jungle canopy and headed over to a blue hole.
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.
A different day hike.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
The only downside on the hike was that we did not see much wildlife. A beautiful way to spend a morning.
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.
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.
Some were luckier than others.
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.
It appeared to be a harmonious relationship between the Bobby and the Frigatebirds, they sat on the branches often side by side.
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 is laid each breeding season. The duration of parental care in frigatebirds is the longest of any bird.
It was an excellent day out.
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 ….
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 …
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.
It is fascinating watching him take off.
It felt like you blinked and he was away. These frames were taken over a few seconds.
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.
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.
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.
A class of students was leaving the site as we climbed the primary temple. I am going to guess they are in grade 11.
As you can see by this shot, huge mounds remain. Inside those mounds are more ruins, unexplored and uncovered due to lack of funding.
Next, the pyramid known as "El Castillo".