Belize….The real truth is that I am a Latin woman and a Pre-Columbian history freak! Being such a person, I have always been very keen about understanding the three, largest, ancient cultures of Latin America, the Maya, the Aztec and the Inca. After reading many books and watching dozens of documentaries, it was time to contrast media v/s reality and experience the cultures and walk in the footsteps of the ancient men. More than creating knowledge, mine was a spiritual quest. My great grandparents came from Spain, but I am sure that after four generations, the blood from these father nations run through my veins, like every Latin man and woman. And, I am so proud of it! Belize eventually had to call to me.
I have been lucky enough to fulfill many of my dreams and have visited the very core of the Aztec culture in Mexico, the Mayan world extended through Central America and climbed up an 8,000 stone stairway to the ultimate altar to the Incan Gods in the Machu Picchu mountain in Peru.
One day, I finally found the real feeling I was looking for, to experience the Mayan world as it was, unvarnished… no merchandising… no “Do Not Trespass” signs, no ropes keeping me away. I did not want freshly mowed lawns or “No Photo” signs… I wanted the bare truth! I really didn’t care if that meant I needed to go to the middle of the jungle, be stung by mosquitoes or sweat to dehydration along the way. If that was the price, I was ready to pay!
I did a lot of research because the Mayans had covered a very vast area, comprising five current countries; Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Nicaragua . Mexico has the famous Chichen Itza, one of the New Wonders of the World, Guatemala has Tikal, the highest Mayan pyramids known so far… but I found what I was looking for in Belize, in Central America.
Belize is a small country on the east coast of Central America, by the Caribbean Sea, bordering Mexico and Guatemala. As soon as I entered the country I found myself living in one of those Caribbean novels, passing by sugar cane and coffee plantations, seeing many dark skinned people speaking not English, the official language, but something else. The bus I was an old, colorful model maybe from the 70’s and the people, the bus, the dialect and the landscape made me feel like a character in one of my Sarah Lark’s novels! It was the end of December, and the Winter season had just started in the Northern hemisphere. But, who cares about winter, when one is in the Caribbean!
Belize….We arrived in Orange Walk City and got off the bus in a very small terminal with no cement on the ground. A few minutes later, I arrived on my hotel and that place was one of the highlights of my trip! As soon as we arrived, the administrator came to welcome us personally. The receptionist and the administrator looked at us with delighted curiosity. When they noticed our surprise he apologized and explained: – “Oh, I’m sorry, you are the very first Chilean ladies staying here… so… that’s the way Chilean ladies look like, hmmmm… oh!” – He apologized again and felt embarrassed at his own curiosity. And from that moment on, saying they treated us like Queens, would be an understatement!
The hotel arranged a tour to Lamanai, the Mayan site. The next morning, we were up early and went for breakfast, where we were greeted by our names, given a bottle of Belizean Rum as a souvenir and tickets for free Piña Coladas in the pub of the hotel! OMG! That was a great start to a day!
Finally, we started the Mayan adventure! We went to a dock by the river and waited for our motor boat. It was a small boat, holding no more than 12 people. It was a beautiful morning when we headed to the Belizean jungle sailing for an hour across a tangled web of rivers. Oh! I love sailing! But boating in the jungle has a whole different flavor! You are constantly surrounded by thick vegetation, there are water lilies all around and our expert guide found all kind of wild animals mimicked in the vegetation. “There is a crocodile! See? That thing that looks like a tree trunk? There are many bats on that tree! Can’t you see them? See the monkeys and the iguanas and egrets and other kind of birds I don’t know the name of? He made us feel all blind!!”
After an hour sailing in paradise we arrived in Lamanai, the Mayan word for Submerged Crocodile. By the dock there is a place for eating, restrooms and a couple of little shops, but it was small…LOL We had lunch and then started walking into the jungle, leaving the present time behind. This time I found myself in the Apocalypto movie… I was sure if I was attentive I could see a jaguar or a Mayan warrior running for his life!
If you have never walked in the tropical forest, you cannot imagine exactly what it means. My body was… how to put it… I was not sweating… I was pouring out water through every pore! I didn’t know my body could do such a thing! It was disturbing to see our guide’s skin as dry as a desert when my friend and I were soaking wet! Mosquitoes came but the repellent worked pretty well. The yellow fever shot I took before the trip allowed me to walk care free! I was already running out of water… a lesson I seem to never learn! (Plus I had no idea I could sweat like that!)
In the jungle everything is gigantic, giant trees with giant leaves, giant ferns, the high canopy creates a ceiling barely pierced by swords of sunlight. I swear I was just missing a piece of leaf on my back to feel like a complete ant walking in such a spot! In this wild world one loses the sense of time. After a while we reached the first of the three pyramids. It was not particularly high but it was exquisitely decorated with huge stone carved faces on both sides of the main stair, indeed, the most beautiful one!
After a while, we continued our way to the High Temple pyramid and this one was spectacular! I was overexcited. I had run out of water, but I still had energy and was the first one to reach the top. For all the Mayan gods, I couldn’t believe my eyes! I stood in awe and reverence on that ancient pyramid, rising like a pedestal over the canopy. It allowed me to see the green, thick jungle stretching as far as the horizon, while dozens of dragonflies flew around in a magical dance , at that moment, just for me. My heart skipped a bit. I was there, in the Mayan world! For a second , time stopped and I had that sense of completion, that incredible satisfaction you can only feel when you are embracing a long life dream!
I would have stayed there forever but after that climax moment, we kept walking through the jungle foliage heading to the Pyramid of the Jaguar. The sun was hitting us with no mercy and dehydration had taken away all my strength., So, when we finally reached this, the biggest pyramid of all three, I was not able to climb a single step! All I could do, leaving the protective shadows for a moment, was to take some photos of the enormous jaguar face sculpted on either side of the main stair.
The whole Lamanai ruins feature these three pyramids, a couple of residential areas, various restored places where the Mayans studied Math, Astronomy and other sciences, the sacrificial altar, open plazas and a small and unique ball court. I ended up hot, exhausted, stung, dehydrated and yet, that was one of the happiest days of my life!
If you find this world as enticing as I do, do not miss the many other Mayan sites spread out all over Belize, its amazing culture and wildlife. If mystery attracts you, do not neglect “The Blue Hole”. Allow some time to indulge yourself in the white sanded Caribbean beaches and enjoy the hospitality of these friendly people.
When I told my friends: “ I’m going to Belize”- most of them asked me: -“Where is that?” If the same thing happened to you… that is the reason why this country calls itself: “Central America’s best kept secret” but it is a secret that well deserves to be revealed!