Current Date: Sunday, June 29, 2008 12:30p.m. (Boquete, Panama)
Current Itinerary: Staying put here in Boquete for the next month before we continue on through Panama and head to South America
Note #1: Well, big news from down south...we have decided to stay in Boquete for a month. We are volunteering at a place called Paradise Gardens, a wild life rescue and rehab center just outside of town. It’s a beautiful place and we are having a great time. This breaks my continuity rule but I love this picture of me and my new buddy Monty and have to post it!
Hmmm...it’s never a good sign if you’re in a picture with a monkey and the monkey looks better than you do! During the next month I’ll get videos of all the animals and post them.
Note #2: This journal is light on events (some cool pics though) and heavy on philosophy...consider yourselves warned. Any and all comments are welcome as usual.
Monday, March 24, 2008
We got back to the main road just outside Cockscomb Wild life Sanctuary at 11:30. It was the day after Easter and in Belize that is a major holiday as well...we were told it might be tough to get all the way to Orange Walk where we were headed. Very few buses run on the holidays down here and the ones that do run after a long weekend fill up quickly. When you're in more remote areas like that, you just wait on the side of the road for a bus to come by and you flag it down...it's not like there is a bus station and a schedule. The locals sort of know when buses should be passing, and on a non-holiday, we would have no trouble on a main highway as buses pass every hour, but that day we were a little worried. While waiting, a bus coming by that was going South dropped off the same Canadian couple that we had had seen last Wednesday in Dangriga (remember, they were headed to Tobacco Caye). It was funny to be waiting for a bus on a random highway in Belize and run into a couple of familiar faces. We gave them some tips about the park and some prices but before we could exchange information with them, our bus showed up and we were wisked away. I hope they enjoy their time at the park.
We spent the next 6 hours or so making our way to Orange Walk via Dangriga and Belmopan, and then catching a lucky connection by about 15 minutes in Belize city. We arrived in Orange walk just as the sun was going down...I usually like to get places earlier so we can search for a place to stay in the daylight, but it couldn't be helped this day. We found our hotel with no trouble though, and although it was a bit expensive (USD $35), it was probably the nicest accomodation we've had on our trip so far. I guess it was good to have that after being without electricity in our "rustic" cabin the past few days. More great news as we checked in...we came here specifically so that we could visit the Mayan ruins of Lamanai and we were able to book our trip right in the hotel lobby as we checked in. It was a pretty expensive 10 minutes, paying for the hotel and the tour all at once, but booking the tour for the next day was exactly what we wanted. Even better, the hotel also told us they could do our laundry while we were away on the tour and we were in desperate need of that as well. Just a few minutes back in civilization and all our problems were fixed just like that!
After we dropped our stuff off, we went in search of food. Since it was a holiday, a lot was closed, so we ended up getting some hotdogs from a few street vendors around the main plaza of town. Back in our room we had a couple beers and each took nice hot water showers for the first time in a few days. We had a TV as well so we just relaxed and enjoyed our night of luxury.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Our taxi showed up just before 9:00 to take us on our Lamanai tour. We left our very filthy laundry at the reception and then zoomed off down the road. We were dropped off about 3 or 4 miles outside of Orange Walk at a boat dock. We had decided to do the tour this way and enter the site by river instead of bus...a bit more expensive but my experience is that a boat ride beats a bus ride about 100% of the time. This was no exception. We waited for about 45 minutes for a van load of people that were coming in from Caye Caulker. While waiting, we met a nice couple Andy and Carloline/Austria that had just arrived in Belize and were heading to the Yucatan. I gave them a quick rundown on where to go and did not forget to include Rio Lagartos, of course. When the rest of the people showed up, we boarded our boat and we were on our way.
It was about 30 miles down river to get to the ruins, and our boat probably could have made it in about 45 minutes, but we spent about 2 hours going down slowly. The guide (as well as a woman on our boat from Minnesota) pointed out a ton of different bird species along the way that were really interesting and we got a glimpse at a Jabiru stork, the largest bird in the Americas. We also learned a bit about this part of Belize. We passed a Mennonite village that he said had about 3000 inhabitants. Belize has some 20,000 or 30,000 Mennonites and Amish population here, which is interesting...but even more amazing is that our guide told us that they produce about 60% of all the food the is consumed domestically. Looks like everybody wins on that one. While passing the Mennonite village, we saw several people out on the banks of the river...I couldn’t help to think about how different there lives are. They live in such tight knit communities and maybe in a way they have a leg up on us folks who have to deal with all the “evils” in the world. I mean, they really have a stress free, simple existence which in some ways, despite their lack of technology and other modern conveniences, is probably better than what we have in some ways. I remember having the exact same thoughts about the folks in the Amazon...and wondering who really has it “better” (using the term VERY loosely...but I think you know what I mean). I just went back and looked at my Amazon journal and I think I said it better then than I could ever say it now, so I’m gonna post it here, exactly as it was taken from this journal. It’s wordy and overtly philosophical...but it makes a very good point that I hope everybody can take a few minutes to think about:
Written Thursday, April 10, 2003
Just to add one last thought to all that...what I wrote back then is a huge reason why I travel...although I don’t think I realized it until after I did my first South America trip. When you step outside of what we consider a “regular” life, you are constantly presented with ideas and concepts that are radically different from everything you know. You gain a perspective on life that could otherwise not be seen because the alternatives were unimaginable. It forces you to open your mind and think about life and how you want to live it. You gain such an appreciation for all the little things that are fantastic about your life that you never thought about before. It’s god damn amazing and it feels great. I had to all the way to the Amazon to finally understand that, but what I have learned though, is that you don’t necessarily have to go half way around the world to realize these things...all you have to do is learn to stretch your comfort zone a little. Step outside of your circle of everyday life and you will start to see things from a different perspective. It can change you as a person, and I guarantee it will be for the better. I really feel like, in the USA, we get so wrapped up in so many things that don’t matter...the train of life just keeps speeding along on autopilot and we end up not appreciating how awesome life is for us! Well, if that’s how you’re going to live, you might as well just be living in a shack on the Amazon, because you’d probably be a lot happier.
(stepping down off the soap box...)
We arrived at Lamanai and had a nice lunch of...you guessed it...rice, beans and chicken. It’s a good thing that I love this meal because if you don’t and you come to Belize...you will 1) be very disappointed, and 2) eat a lot of Chinese food. During lunch, we had a pretty good chat with the family from Minnesota...which was a Mom, Dad, and daughter in her first year of college that was with them for her spring break. I don’t think it was the ideal Spring Break for her and I doubt she appreciated getting to do this as much as she will after it’s done. It always sort of bugs me a little when I see that because at 31 I still have never been on a vacation with my folks. That is not an exaggeration...it has never happened. Hopefully they will find a way to visit us at some point on this trip...it would be a dream come true for me.
After lunch we walked to the first temple, the Temple of Jaguar and FINALLY I was able to climb on a ruin (sorry, bad light in the picture).
I didn’t go to the top or anything but it was refreshing not to see everything roped off like in Mexico. It is one of the oldest Mayan Temples that has been excavated...it was built in 1500 b.c. Now that we keep seeing so many ruins, I am gaining an appreciation for the layers upon layers involved in the temple construction. Basically as the Mayans evolved and new generations and new kings arose, rather than build new buildings, they would cover the old buildings with a newer style. The Jaguar Temple showed some of these layers but most of it had been uncovered to it’s first stage. It was pretty impressive.
Our guide was really good at explaining a lot and gave us a nice detailed account of Mayan history. He knew a lot about the surrounding forest and pointed out many different trees and animals. I have noticed a lot of the same things I saw in the Amazon and I have now heard the speech about the Chicle (gum) tree (although they don’t let you taste it here like we got to in the Amazon) and the rubber tree several times. We’re not experts by any means but I guess some of this stuff is soaking in. It’s weird how the mind works...I am VERY good with numbers and I remember a ridiculous amount of useless information...I know the words to over 1000 songs and could recite almost any Seinfeld episode ver batim (note...I don’t consider that useless!)...but when it comes to history and what occurred when, and who attacked who and why, or what type of flower or bird something is...I’m horrible. I never remember that stuff. It’s cool that some of it’s sticking in there (alteast for the moment).
We moved on to the second temple and the tallest at Lamanai and we actually climbed all the way up to the top of the very steep stairs!
It was pretty awesome to get all the way to the top...it was about 112 feet up and from the top you can see for miles and miles around.
I also took this cool video from atop the temple so check it out! I was one happy guy literally feeling like I was on top of the world...nothing brings the kid out in me like being able to climb around like a monkey and run around on huge stone structure.
Back at the bottom we actually saw what unexcavated temples look like and you get an appreciation for how much work it must take to uncover these things. I didn’t grab a picture of it but I will get one at some point...it is literally a mound of dirt covered with trees and bushes...it just looks like an out of place hill...you would never suspect there was a Mayan temple underneath. It is amazing what archeologists do...I definitely never appreciated that before.
We got to finally see another major highlight of Lamanai...the mask temple which was really amazing. Apparently it is one of the only full intact masks in all of Mayan country.
Around 2:00 the tour was over and we headed back. We had paid $40 for the tour which included taxi transportation to and from our hotel...it was a bargain actually. In fact, I’d say the boat ride alone was almost worth that. For anyone coming this way, we organized this at the St. Cristopher hotel in Orange Walk...this is one case where you don’t want to skimp and take the bus directly to the site. Our guide was very knowledgeable and actually taught us quite a bit (and we have seen a lot of ruins at this point) and the boat ride beat the hell out of being crammed onto an old school bus...plus a fantastic lunch was included as well as all the drinks you would need. If you come this way and even if you’re on a tight budget, hit this tour and just skip something else.
We were back at our room at 3:30. It’s nice to have accomplished a lot already and still have so much of the day left. We both needed to hit the bank and I really wanted some internet time...I have used it for about 45 minutes during the entire last week. Unfortunately, the internet at our hotel was barely as fast as dial up...so I was only able to read a few e-mails and it was painfully slow. So much for the journal I wanted to send out, but at least I had some contact with the outside world.
We hung out in our room most of the evening, just watching TV and chatting (and putting away our CLEAN clothes!). We finally went to find dinner around 9:00 but virtually nothing was open. We ended up getting some subpar Chinese food. By the way, I already brought this up a couple times, but there are a crazy number of Chinese food places in Belize!! I did not see one restaurant in Orange walk that was not Chinese or Mexican food and even that ratio was atleast 6 to 1. Very strange.
Back in our room I crashed rather early but then woke up in the middle of the night with the urge to write today so I stayed up for hours catching up on journals.
We had decided that we would move on the next day...we only have about 9 days left to spend in Belize before our 30 day Visas are up and there is still a lot left we want to do. The time is really flying by! We still have more ruins to see on the way out and we want to get in some more hiking. The pace is quickening these days, that’s for sure, but we are still loving it.