Beyond the Jungle and up the Temples at Lamanai

I’ve finally got myself sorted out, and sat down to sort through my pics of  the ancient city of Lamanai which dates back to 700BC. The only way to get there is by river, and those of you who read about my speedy and thrilling trip down the New River, will remember that I broke off my story just as we arrived.

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Before our one hour hike through the jungle, we were given an opportunity to look around the museum. Our guide was very pleased to point out a photo of a carving fashioned from a human leg bone. The Maya also made flutes this way.

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This figurine from 1500-1640 AD, portrays a man emerging from the mouth of a crocodile.

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If I could have chosen one artifact to take home as a souvenir, it would have been this ancient  incense burner, but the curator didn’t offer me even one small memento. Surely they wouldn’t have minded my taking this badly damaged bit of pottery off their hands.  🙂

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We saw many wondrous plant and trees along the way, such as the Allspice tree, which surprised me. I always thought that the ground Allspice I have in my pantry, was a mixture of lots of different spices, but it actually come from the bark of a tree. Then there was this monstrous Strangler Fig tree, so-called because they grow on host trees, often strangling them to death.

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This one made me laugh. The fruit grows in pairs, and it’s called the ‘Horse Balls’ tree, for obvious reasons. 🙂

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Our guide explained how many of the jungle plants were used for medicinal purposes by the Maya. No fancy priced pharmacies for them, but the average life span was only forty years, so maybe we are better off today.

The path through the jungle was quite uneven, with roots, branches and rocks sticking up, so we had to watch our step, which isn’t ideal for a blogger who is trying to make notes. 🙂

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Here is the ‘Mask Temple’ dating back to 200 BC, the smallest of the three excavated temples. It has a 13 ft  limestone block mask of a man in a crocodile headdress, on the west side, and a similar one on the other side.

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Hubby was up those steps in no time at all, but I stayed on the ground to get the pic. That was my excuse anyway. 🙂

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The next was the  108 ft ‘High Temple’, from 100 BC, and there is hubby right at the top again. This temple, the highest point in Lamanai, was dedicated to the rain god,  and was used as an observatory.

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From the top you get a panoramic view of the whole jungle, and the river too.

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At the Ball Court, where the Maya played a game  in which some archaeologists believe players tried to keep the ball in play by using only their hips, knees, waist, and elbows,

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was this large round stone, which is thought to have been a sacrificial altar. It was found to be hollow, and inside were discovered three ceramic vessels containing 100 g of crystalline hematite, 19 g of cinnabar and other objects such as jade, shell, and pearl, all atop of a pool of mercury. These symbolised all the forces, and were gifts to the gods.

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Stele 9 was dedicated to ‘Lord Smoking Shells’, and the base was found to contain the remains of five children between the ages of five and nine years. The pillar in the centre is a replica of the original, which has been removed to the museum, and is inscribed with hieroglyphics which are thought to commemorate either the accession or death of an important Mayan ruler.

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The Jaguar temple, dating back to 625 AD, was the only building still in use at the time when the Spaniards arrived, and not to be outdone, I did go up as far as was possible, until the steps ran out.

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We saw comical black Howler Monkeys doing acrobatics in the trees, and heard their very distinctive growl. They were regarded as sacred, and in Maya codices, scribes were often shown as monkeys.

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The Royal Complex, excavated in 2005, is believed to have been the residence of up to two dozen elite Lamanai citizens.

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After a tasty picnic lunch, we were treated to an even faster and scarier speedboat ride back up the river. Carlos certainly didn’t ‘spare the horses’, and neither did the van driver who had to get us back Tower Hill in order to catch the only plane back to San Pedro that day. We waved to the water buffalo as we sped past,

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and were  just had time to see the sugarcane truck driving along the dusty road on its way to the refinery,

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before our plane arrived and we were on our way.

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What an amazing day we had.

This post is in response to both Ailsa’s Travel Theme ‘Up’ and the Weekly Photo Challenge, ‘Beyond’.

To see more entries for these two challenges, just click on the links.

Messing about on the river – Belize

After landing at Tower Hill, in the Orange Walk district, affectionately known as Sugar City,  it’s only a five-minute drive through the sweet-smelling sugar cane fields to the bank of the New River, where we are to board our boat which will take us to Lamanai, one of the oldest sites in Belize, dating back to 700BC. Now when I knew I was going on a river cruise, I had visions of a leisurely meander through calm waters, with the sun shining brightly, and the sound of birdsong in the trees as we passed by. It didn’t quite turn out like that, but let me take you with me, and you can judge for yourself. 🙂

Carlos is to be our tour guide, and also the pilot of our craft, an open speed boat with a canopy.

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He seems very agitated whilst we were waiting for the last few people to arrive, and is pacing up and down like an expectant father. Hubby and I wander off to have a look around, and find this strange-looking fellow under the palm trees.

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He’s harmless enough, and we leave him in peace and go to try out the hammocks, which aren’t very comfortable at all., as you can probably tell by the stiffness of my pose, and the fixed smile. 🙂

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By this time, the last two tourists have appeared, a couple of Austrian girl students who are recovering from a Tequila hangover after partying into the wee hours. We are all hurriedly herded onto the boat, and off we set at great speed. After not even a minute, we swerve over to the left bank and come to a grinding halt to view a Morelet’s  crocodile cleverly camouflaged as a log. These creatures only live in fresh water and are also known as Mexican crocodiles.

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Carlos tells us that there are a great many crocs in the river, and that they are very shy and wouldn’t ever attack. I’ll take his word for that, but can’t help remembering the words of the song from Peter Pan, that I taught in school, “Never smile at a crocodile. No you can’t get friendly with a crocodile. Don’t be taken in by his friendly grin. He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin.”

After his photo shoot, we set off once more at break neck speed, only to once more screech to a stop as he pulls in to show us a colony of Greater White-Lined Bats clinging to a tree trunk on the river bank. I can’t discern them at first, until he tells us that they are ” those warty looking things.” They live on mosquitoes, which certainly makes them my friends, as long as they keep their distance.

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No sooner have we taken our photos, than naughty Carlos rams the boat into the tree trunk, making them fly in all directions. I am so glad I hadn’t fought for a seat right at the front of the boat. The youngsters get a real fright as they fly like ‘bats out of hell’, straight at them . 😀

We almost fly down the river; a most exhilarating ride, and I don’t even mind the “free, fresh wind in my hair” throwing caution to the wind and deciding to just live in the moment. “With the wind in your face there’s no finer place,than messing about on the river.” (Who of you are old enough to remember that Tony Hatch song from the 1950’s?) We stop once again to gawk at this Green Iguana, in its full mating colours, which actually make it orange, not green.

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Carlos has been working on the river for over twenty years, and obviously knows it very well. He is a confident skipper, and today he seems to be going for the world water speed record, as he takes all the bends at great speed, using the full width of the river, like a formula one racing driver around the track, and if our boat had wheels, we would have been going along on only two, most of the time. This river has more twist and turns than a John Grisham novel, and his driving scares a ‘shy’ crocodile right out of the water, and sends it scurrying into the jungle. Apparently crocodiles can can go for a year on one big meal, if necessary. Like all reptiles, their low metabolic rate means they can slowly digest meals, which is an advantage in regions of the world where food is scarce. They are stealthy hunters, using little energy when making a kill. This is why they have outlived any other creature on earth, and date right back to the dinosaurs.

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We stop very briefly to admire a Spiny Tailed Iguana on a Snake Cactus.

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He’s not easy to spot, so here’s a close-up. Cute little guy, isn’t he? 🙂

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All the while, there are vultures hovering around, and we see Boat-billed Herons nesting high up in the trees. These are nocturnal wading birds, about 54cm long, and have large bills shaped like an upturned boat.They feed on fish, mice, water snakes, eggs, crustaceans, insects and amphibians. Its call can be anything from a deep croak to a high-pitched pee-pee-pee.

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I am so fascinated by this little bird, called the ‘Jesus Christ Bird’ because it is able to walk on water. Being super light and with very long toes, it is able to perform this ‘miracle’ with ease. 🙂

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The white water lilies are plenteous, and Carlos tells us that they provide food for the many Manatees which inhabit the river. I am disappointed not to see any, but I suppose the noise of the boat engine would have discouraged them from popping their heads above water.

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We pass by a Mennonite community, and see some of their agricultural buildings. These people are a multi ethnic religious sect, and contribute to the carpentry, engineering and agricultural industries of Belize. Their mode of dress is very old-fashioned, with the women wearing bonnets and long brightly coloured dresses, whilst the men are dressed in denim overalls, or traditional suspenders with dark trousers and brimmed hats.

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We espy a boat carrying several Mennonite fishermen, but are going too fast to get a pic. I found this one on Wiki, which is almost identical to the one we saw, and could even be the very same people on it. They remind me of the Amish which I’ve seen in America.

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We also see several other fishing boats along the way. The locals fish for whatever they can catch.

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After about an hour of river racing, and being drenched by a sudden rain storm which seems to come out of nowhere, Lamanai finally comes into sight and we sail across the lagoon to begin our trek through the jungle to see the Mayan temples, but those pics will have to wait for another day.

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