AdventureBelizeCentral AmericaSightseeing

3/11/10 – Cayo District

We woke for an early 7AM breakfast before leaving to Caracol, Belize’s biggest Maya Ruins. Though the distance was probably only 30-40 miles, it was a long, 2 hour drive through bumpy, dirt-covered roads to get there. We got to practice both our manual-driving and our four-wheeling skills all in one, and we’re so proud of little Jimmy for handling the harsh terrain and for not being intimidated by the occasional passing of a bigger truck with better shocks.

Manly Mike on the little bridge to Caracol

The road to Caracol

Caracol is one of Belize’s biggest Maya Ruins. Archeologists (who are still working to excavate parts of it) have dated occupation back to 1200 BCE. That’s old. It grew into one of the largest ancient Maya cities with as many as 180,000 people. To put this into context, Belize City today is about 70,000 people. So Caracol was twice as big.

After the bumpy, dusty ride we were so happy to finally get to the ruins. The site averages 15-20 visitors per day, and today there were about 15: us, a small group from the San Diego Audubon Society, and a family-filled van. The weather was outrageously hot. We’d later learn over dinner that yesterday, today, and tomorrow are record-setting days in the high nineties to over 100. Africa hot. But let’s move on to the Maya ruins.

We spent a bit of time in the Visitor’s Center, reading placards about excavation and studying the to-scale model of Caracol, but none of that information sinks in until you actually visit the sites – so we left to explore. The first building we came across was Ca’ana (the “Sky Palace”). Incidentally Ca’ana is 141 feet tall – the tallest building in Belize. I didn’t realize this when I turned to Mike and said, “Let’s climb!” But that wouldn’t have stopped me.

The Sky Palace


The rocks of the Sky Palace

Never-ending Climb

Steeper than it looks

Mike in a tomb

The view from the Sky Palace – it was worth the climb

Back on the ground, Mike demonstrates why the “Horse Balls Tree” is called what it is

Rock Carvings

I have to say, it’s amazing to have an entire set of Maya ruins all to yourself. We’d considered crossing the boarder to see Tikal, but we were so glad we didn’t. They say Tikal has become the “Disney of Central America” with hundreds of tourists, and you can’t climb the ruins anymore. This was a much better way of experiencing the Maya culture: up close, tangible, and almost entirely alone.

Southern Acropolis

From inside a Southern Acropolis Tomb

At the Southern Acropolis

Western Acropolis

At the Western Acropolis – that’s me on top!

Mike at the top of the Temple of the Wooden Lintel


Temple of the Wooden Lintel

Mike at one of the Twin Cebas – they were huge

Top of the Ceba

We *did* see one howler monkey swinging through trees near the Southern Acropolis, but the noise he was making was an anomaly for this time and heat of the day. All the other howler monkeys are safe in their treetop nests, conserving energy for a dusk-timed noisefest.

This next paragraph is a little memory just for me – and will probably be less than entertaining for you all. But whenever Mike leaves a place or vehicle he does a mental check of what he needs to have with him: wallet, keys, sunglasses. But a few weeks ago we went to see Christopher Walken perform in A Behanding in Spokane on Broadway, so now he does this wallet/keys/sunglass check in a Walken-inspired imitation: “Wallet! Check. Keys! Check. Sunglasses! Check.” Every time we leave anywhere in Belize, I get the Christopher Walken Accessory Check, and it always makes me smile.

After Caracol we began the long drive past the ranger station and down through the dusty, bumpy park roads. The only map we had was the map in the Lonely Planet book – which isn’t as much a “map” as it is an overall guide to the area. So we had no concept of distance or time; everything took twice as long to get to as we’d guessed. At one point, after we’d been outside the car and jumped back in to avoid the ants crawling up our legs, I asked Mike the Navigator – “How far are we?” He looked at the map and replied, “Um. Looks like we’re about an ant’s length away.”

Cayo Sightseeing
We stopped at Rio On Pool and climbed down steps to see the river/small waterfall. Though we had the option to swim here, we decided to save our plunge for the Five Sisters Falls. This was against the recommendation of a “proud local” (old white American guy) was was at Rio on Pool for a swim and who suggested we stay because “that’s what the locals do”. Maybe… but hunger and a lack of sunscreen drove us away.

At Rio On Pool
We stopped 20 bumpy minutes later for lunch at the posh Blancaneaux Lodge – this is one of two Francis Ford Coppola’s lodges in Belize. We initially almost stayed here as a lodging, but decided to save the money and splurge on Jimmy instead. So instead we stopped by for a delicious lunch.

In restful lunch mode
The Italian menu is all Coppola’s personal recipes, so we started with ceviche and pasta before getting a pasta for each of us. I had a fantastic pesto shrimp pasta. Then we walked around grounds which are truly stunning. The lodge sits right on the low cliff over a river, and many of the 17 cabanas have their own views of the river. As I walked around I thought how much I would have loved a massage – especially after the bumpy roads – but we had other things to do.

We drove a couple of miles further down the road to Five Sisters Falls & Resort. The setting was MUCH prettier than Rio On Pools so we were glad we came here instead.

Five Sisters Falls

Mike, on his first swim in a waterfall pool

We had the entire area (all five falls) to ourselves. A few weeks ago I twisted my shoulder/neck, and because of our 4-wheeling it had slightly stiffened up. (I feel old just typing this) Mike suggested that I sit perched on one of the falls to let the water the pressure of the water rub my back – and what a brilliant idea. Like a free massage!

Me and my “massage chair”
We swam around the pools for a while, reveling in being the only people in the lovely spot at dusk, and then we climbed out for a quick picture session. This is when I noticed the leech on my arm. I wondered if this would happen, since the last time I played in a waterfall pool a leech had latched itself onto my toe. But this Five Sisters Leech was a little guy and so not as concerning. But I walked up to Mike and said we needed to do a quick leech-check.

He had four on his back.

After further inspection, I had five more on my arms.

And when Mike – when looking at my back – commented, “Oh my God. That’s not good…” that’s when I lost my composure and proceeded to tear off my bikini in the middle of the gazebo. I must have looked like a crazy woman, but at least (after a never-ending minute of obsessive leech-checking) I was eventually leech free.

(I still feel itchy, just thinking about it)

“Gas Station”
On the way back to the Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge we stopped in the tiny tiny tiny town of San Antonio to get fuel for Jimmy. San Antonio is a one-street, two-speedbump town, and we had to stop and ask directions from some kids to show us where the gas station was. That’s because it wasn’t as much as gas station as it was a chicken coop with two hoses and a hand-written fuel price sign. Our “attendant” was a sweet young lady who profusely apologized for keeping us waiting. “I was changing out of my bathing suit” she said after she emerged from the chicken coop area.

Mike at the “gas station”

Fuel Pumps

All-purpose store

San Antonio, Belize

After fueling up we drove the bumpy ride back to the Lodge, with just enough time to shower before dinner.

Stopping for a photo break

Afternoon light

Ron and Al made a lovely tilapia (a sustainable fish) from a local tilapia fish farm. Followed by some delicious chocolate cake and another rum punch or two. We were happy campers who were – again – in bed by 9:30. Of course there’s nothing else to do in the rain forest except sleep when the sun sets and get up when it rises.

Tiki torch, lighting our way back to our cabana