If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know how much we've enjoyed traveling around Belize. And some of the highlights have been our visits to the tropical rainforest in Stann Creek and Toledo Districts for hiking and birding. There's just something about the jungle; it's quintessentially tropical -- moist and green. It smells and feels so earthy, as if all the massive trees forming a canopy above your head are shielding you from all things wrong in the world. Even with its inherent dangers, the jungle feels safe, almost womb-like.
There's no arguing that Ambergris Caye is beautiful, but it tends towards a sandy, beachy environment. So, we were awfully surprised (but delighted) to find a little jungle oasis right in southern Ambergris last weekend.
As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we took a long bike ride south on Sunday
, and after going as far as we could, we turned around and headed back just a short ways to the Marco Gonzalez Archaeological Reserve/Maya Site
, which we'd never checked out because we don't get down that far south very often, and when we do, we don't always have bug spray with us. Today we did, so we decided to venture in and have a look around. As we learned from the sign below, this is a very ancient site. And it became the first Maya Site National Park on Ambergris Caye in 2011.
The attendant booth is closed on Sundays, but you can still walk in and have a look at the site.
Our bike parking
Although we slathered ourselves with bug spray, we really didn't notice any mosquitoes -- a lucky break.
Applying bug spray
Entering the site
To get to the site, you first must traverse a quarter-mile boardwalk over a swampy mangrove area. According to the link above, this marshland was created after 2000 years of ocean rise and the resulting mangrove encroachment. The boardwalk was only built in 2010, allowing public access to the site. Just traversing it is an adventure in itself, as it was built with various sizes of lumber, probably mostly salvaged or donated, along with some newer parts. You definitely have to watch your step, but I enjoyed walking it.
A newer section
Gotta watch your step here!
Still kinda low, scrubby growth here, but just wait!
Getting into some taller foliage
Entering the site
The site, once we got inside, was much bigger than we expected. However, there was enough standing water in parts of it that we couldn't access the entire site.
Map of Marco Gonzalez site
There were some nice fans made from palmetto (?) leaves near the entrance we borrowed for our walk in case of spider webs blocking the trail or to whack bugs away, though we didn't notice any webs or bugs.
The signage in the park is very educational. We learned all about the Gumbo Limbo tree, the bark of which can be used to as an antidote if you are unfortunate enough to get too close to a Poisonwood tree. Sounds like the Gumbo Limbo bark has other uses as well -- for burns, insect bites, and even for gout, among other things. It's an attractive tree and a good one to know about, just in case!
Here's a better shot of the Gumbo Limbo, also called the "Tourist Tree" since its bark peels like a sunburned tourist!
The site is also home to a bevy of Poisonwood trees -- fortunately marked. It would have been just my luck to grab onto one and end up burned and miserable. This blog post
gives an excellent description of the dangers posed by the Poisonwood tree. The warnings on this sign should not be taken lightly. DO NOT TOUCH!
As we got a little farther into the site, it really started to feel like being in the jungle. Sure, the trees weren't quite as tall as the rainforests of southern Belize, but for Ambergris Caye, it was a welcome haven. The temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler in here than out in the open.
Poisonwood (note the black sap) on the left, Gumbo Limbo right beside it. Mother Nature is wise, no?
The Maya structures in this site are un-excavated and not very large, so it's no Lamanai, but it's still an interesting site if you enjoy history. There are forty-nine structures total on the site. Here are examples of a few:
This limestone and conch shell mound was quite impressive. I've certainly never seen so many conch shells in one place.
Here are some nice collections of Maya pottery shards we came upon:
The going got a bit wet in places! We ultimately had to turn around when we encountered a larger wet area that we didn't feel like slogging through (not this one).
From our photos, it appears that we didn't see another soul on the site, but that wasn't quite true. We did run into a small group of tourists with a guide, much to our surprise. We thought we were alone in there!
We also enjoyed watching birds as we trekked through. There were a lot of them! But we didn't have our binoculars, so birding was a little frustrating since we weren't able to identify too many of them other than just general categories ("flycatcher"). We also saw quite a few hermit crabs crawling about. I've seen more hermit crabs in Belize than anywhere else in my life!
We finally finished our tour and emerged from the jungle into the light once again.
It was an interesting visit and definitely worth checking out if you're on Ambergris Caye. For further information, click here