There are several areas in which vendors ply their colorful wares in on the street or in booths in the charming city of San Cristobal, Chipas, Mexico.  Today's post features photos from the "merchandise" markets (mostly textiles) from our December trip.  The fruit and vegetable markets will be featured in Part 2.  

I very much enjoyed strolling around these colorful markets and bought a few items at excellent prices.  Even Barry seemed to enjoy himself, and he usually hates shopping.  Bargaining is expected, though if the first price offered was very low, I usually just went ahead and paid it.  These people surely don't live easy lives, and I feel guilty if the price is too low.  These markets are just another reason to love Mexico!

Some vendors simply set up along the streetside...
while others have simple stands to display their wares.  I bought a small zippered change purse here, and just look at this lady's smile.  Priceless!
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Here is where I bought my pretty shawl/scarf for a great price -- no need to bargain
Here's a view of just a small portion of one of the larger markets.  I could wander around here for hours!  One thing that amazed us most is that these vendors have to set up and tear down their displays every night, hauling the clothing and other merchandise home in large bundles both ways.  It's a hard life, and that's one of the reasons I didn't want to haggle too much.  
I wish we'd had room to bring back more -- with prices so good, I would have loved to pack a bag full of these cute blouses!
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I just love all the color
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Love these bedspreads (tablecloths?) Whatever they are, the colors are gorgeous!
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Busy marketplace -- not only for tourists but locals too, especially with Christmas right around the corner
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Love these!
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And these -- look at the peacocks!
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Something for the kiddies -- and to keep all the Mexican dentists in business!
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Another purchase -- the turquoise scarf for less than $5 US
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And a fresh-squeezed OJ for Barry for 10 pesos (80 cents!)
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Birds and peacocks are a recurring theme - beautiful!
On our last night in San Cristobal, we finally decided we had bought enough small items over the course of our trip that we really needed a duffel bag since we were only traveling with smallish backpacks, and they were already very full when we left Belize.  So we bought this one, and we did have to bargain hard for it.  Compared to the other items we purchased for a lot less, we probably overpaid for this at approximately $16 US, but it was a godsend for the rest of our trip.  I guess zippers drive the price up!
Stay tuned for Part 2 as we explore the fruit and veggie markets of San Cristobal!
 
In addition to Maya temples and other structures, there were plenty of other interesting sights at the Palenque Archaeological Site in Chiapas, Mexico.

We saw one of our favorite tropical birds, the Blue-Crowned Mot Mot. These birds must like hanging out at the ruins as the first one we saw was in Cahal Pech in San Ignacio.  I love the way they just sit still on a branch for so long, allowing us to take multiple shots.  Wish more birds would behave that way!
And this tree, on a closer look, revealed a fascinating fruit (reputed as a possible cancer cure), soursop.
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Soursop (graviola)
Here's a pretty tree -- no idea what it is, though.  Anyone?
It was interesting to me that vendors were allowed inside the park; we hadn't seen that at any parks in Belize.  We bought a refrigerator magnet with a hand-painted image of a Resplendent Quetzal.  Big spenders, I tell ya!
I didn't know exactly what this was until I did a little research.  Turns out that the Palenque site included an extensive system of aqueducts and channels used for water management by the Maya.
In addition to engineered waterways, there was a lovely river running through the site.  The stairs to access the river, which was much lower than the rest of the site, were extensive, but worth all the sore quads.  The jungle in this area was impossibly beautiful!
There was a very cool swing bridge over the river.
After enjoying the beautiful river walk, it was time to head back up.  By this time my quads were screaming.  It was not only the structures that had steep stairs, it was the park itself.  I was definitely "undertrained" for this site!
We got very lucky and got to see a troop of Howler Monkeys very close up at the site.  I always get very excited by a monkey sighting!
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Baby howler on momma's back
Before we leave the ruins, here are a couple of my favorite shots of multiple structures from up on high.
After a great day at the site, it was finally time to leave.  But not before a little shopping!  I bought a beautiful embroidered Mexican blouse from one of the many stalls in the parking area.  Little did I know, I'd later see the exact same thing available in San Cristobal for half the price.  Oh well, it was still quite inexpensive (approximately $14 US).
We then caught a collectivo back to town.  We were the only gringos in the van, as usual.  
Similar to taxis in San Pedro, Belize, the collectivo vans are old US mini-vans, and not in very good condition.  Rattle-traps!  And where's the license plate?  Hmmmmm....
Stay tuned...the Palenque food post is coming up next!

A note to our readers:  I thought it was odd that we hadn't gotten any blog comments in about a month.  I now realize why.  For some reason, Weebly has stopped sending me the email notifications of comments.  When I finally thought to poke around and see if I had any in a pending status, I found 50!  So, if you've commented on the blog in the past month, my apologies that you were ignored.  I am going to try to get these posted (and responded to, where warranted) as soon as I can.  Your patience and understanding is much appreciated!
 
Our main purpose in visiting the Mexican city of Palenque in the Chiapas state was to visit the Palenque Archaeological Site (Maya ruins).  This site is medium in size compared to huge sites like Tikal, but is one of the most widely studied, written about, and well-known Maya sites.  

After breakfast we walked out onto the main highway to catch one of many collectivos to the site.  These are inexpensive vans that run back and forth all day long.  There are no set stops, you stand by the side of the road, and before too long, one will stop for you.  In addition to tourists, they also transport vendors carrying their wares to sell at the site.  There were a few vendors in the collectivo that we caught.
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Riding in back of a collectivo

Entering the site.

After paying our entrance fee, we entered the site.  Unfortunately we did not have a printed map and did not see any available there.  If you're going, you may want to print a map before you go, because it's easy to get disoriented -- this is a large place!  Another tip:  there is plenty for sale to eat and drink right outside the entrance for very reasonable prices, so you don't need to buy bottled water or anything to eat in town to bring along if you don't want to.  We bought some water and a couple of snacks to supplement what we'd brought along.
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Entrance to site
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What lies ahead?
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This map would have been really handy to have in hand. There are no more of these billboards once you pass here.
I wish it had been a sunnier day for photographs, but it was hazy and overcast for most of the day.  That did help keep temperatures down.  Here are just a small (?) selection of the many, many photos Barry took of the various structures at the site, in no particular order.  

The Palace.

The Ball Court.

Temple of the Cross.

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Temple of the Cross in the center of the photo
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Temple of the Cross (right) showing all the stairs. Yes, we did walk to the top. In fact, Barry walked up them twice in pursuit of photos!

Temple of the Foliated Cross.

Temple of the Sun.

Temple 13.

Temple of the Skull.

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Emily climbing the Temple of the Skull
Please stay tuned for Part 2 of the Palenque ruins and much more!
 
Continuing our adventures in Mexico...

On our first full day in Tulum, we caught an inexpensive collectivo from the main street through town to the Maya ruins and beach nearby. This is the number one tourist destination in Tulum, and it is well worth a visit.  Although you can take a private taxi for just a bit more ($50 MX, or about $4 US), collectivos run every few minutes and cost just $40 MX for the two of us (approximately $3.20 US).  Just ask them to take you to the"ruinas" since many of the drivers don't speak English.
Be forewarned, however; the collectivo dropped us on the main road about a quarter-mile from the entrance to the park, so we had to hike in the rest of the way.  A taxi will presumably take you right up to the entrance.
We'd been warned to get to the ruins early as the tour buses would start to arrive around 10 am, but unfortunately, we arrived right about that time.  And one of the most striking things about the entire day was how many people there were, everywhere.  After getting used to visiting Maya ruins and national parks in Belize, where we sometimes had the place to ourselves, or were among just a handful of others, this was a real shock!  Since these ruins are just south of Cancun and Playa del Carmen -- and with end of the Mayan calendar just days away -- it seemed that everyone and his brother, aunt, and cousin wanted to see the ruins and the gorgeous Tulum beaches on this day.  I recognized a lot of French being spoken in particular, but there were certainly people from all over the world visiting the well-manicured site overlooking the beach on dramatic cliffs.  We heard almost no English being spoken in the park.
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So many people!
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Certain parts of the ruins were roped off to keep tourists on paths -- different from Belize
When we glimpsed the beautiful turquoise water and wide white-sand beach for the first time, it took my breath.  All the hype I'd heard about Tulum's beaches was justified.
A closer look...
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Ahhhhh...gorgeous!
The ruins were nice, though not as dramatic as some we'd already seen, like Lamanai.  And unlike in Belize, quite a few of the structures were roped off and could not be climbed on.  A little disappointing, but I guess this site gets so many visitors, they have to be really careful to preserve the structures.  This reminded me much more of a well-manicured park in the US than one in Belize, where pretty much anything goes.
From one of the structures high on the beach-side cliff, there was a staircase allowing people access to the sandy beach below.  This was definitely the most crowded beach we'd seen in a long, long time.  We didn't bother going down; we planned to hit the less-crowded beach after leaving the ruins.
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Tourists everywhere!
This guy didn't mind the crowds one bit from his sunbathing post.
Your intrepid reporter...
These cliffs were so beautiful and rugged.
One more shot of the crazy gorgeous view.  Barry did a great job with the photos today!
Once we'd seen the entire site, it was time to leave the worst of the crowds behind.  
We walked down the road south of the ruins for quite a bit and finally found a public access to the beach.
Now this is a beach!  Super wide, with incredibly soft, white sand for walking, and stunning blue water.  Enchanting!  And the best part?  Not many people at all.  They were all back on the little beach below the ruins.  Ha!
It was still a little too early for the numerous beach bars and clubs to be open, so we eventually cut back to the road to start walking to a restaurant for lunch. 
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View from the road -- stunning
This proved to be a long -- and very warm -- walk (though quite a few taxis offered us a ride along the way).  We'll share our eventual destination in a future post.  Stay tuned!
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We were glad to finally get to this sign and see exactly where we were!
 
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.
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The attendant booth is closed on Sundays, but you can still walk in and have a look at the site.
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Our bike parking
Although we slathered ourselves with bug spray, we really didn't notice any mosquitoes -- a lucky break.
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Applying bug spray
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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.
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A newer section
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Gotta watch your step here!
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Still kinda low, scrubby growth here, but just wait!
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Getting into some taller foliage
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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.
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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.
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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!
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Black Catbird
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.
 
We arrived at Lamanai Maya site at the perfect time to eat a delicious traditional Belizean lunch that Allan set up on a picnic table for our group.  Most of us also enjoyed our first Belikin of the day along with lunch.  
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Entering Lamanai
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Our group heading to the lunch palapa
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Stew chicken, coconut rice & beans, cole slaw, salad, fried plantains, and hot relish
The park was absolutely beautiful, with towering trees and lush green foliage everywhere.  There were also a few gift shops and a museum.  Unfortunately, time was tight due to the travel involved getting there and back, so Barry and I didn't actually make it into the museum, which was disappointing.  I looked very briefly in a couple of gift shops but didn't buy anything.  I knew we'd want to tip our guides at the end of the tour, plus pay for the water taxi back home, so I didn't want to overspend.  One key I've found to sticking to our retirement budget here in Belize is simply not to take too much money anywhere, just a little more than the minimum needed.  Since Belize is primarily a cash-based economy, I don't even bother carrying a credit card along in most cases, which makes it much easier to resist temptation than in the US!
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Lamanai Museum
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Looking back towards the dock where we entered
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Black Orchid -- the national flower of Belize
After lunch it was time for a short walk to the first two structures we would see on the Lamanai site: the Jaguar Temple and the Royal Palace.  Isidro, our tour guide, did a wonderful job at explaining how the structures were excavated.  One of the most interesting facts he told us was that the Maya built most of these structures on top of previous structures that now lie below the grass and topsoil.  So if one were to continue digging down, an entirely different, and more ancient, structure might be found below some of the behemoths that have already been excavated.  Mind boggling!
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Jaguar Temple
To a person, our group could hardly wait to start climbing the many stairs of the Jaguar Temple to reach the top.  From young to old, slim to heavy, every single one of us wanted to do it.  I was really impressed with our group as I am sure not all groups are so adventurous!
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Barry makes his way to the top -- and yes, I was already there taking the shot!
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At the top of Jaguar Temple
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One last view of Jaguar Temple
Our next stop was across from the Jaguar Temple and was called the Royal Palace.  Apparently this was where the royalty would speak to the peasants, who would gather in the large field below.  I believe Isidro also told us that human sacrifices would have been chosen at this site, though actually made elsewhere.  It wasn't as impressive as the other structures nor nearly as high, so we didn't spend a lot of time on it.  We wanted to climb!
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The Royal Palace
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Interior of Royal Palace
Isidro made all the women in our group come up and try out the "tools" for grinding corn and making tortillas.  Yes, it was sexist, but I guess that was the way it was in those days.  Because the corn grinding involved moving a heavy rock over the corn kernels, I think I'd assign this job to Barry!
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Emily crack corn...
On the walk through the jungle on the way to the next structure, Isidro heard something up high in the trees and sure enough, there were Howler monkeys!  We only saw one adult and one younger, smaller monkey at the time, but when Barry and I blew up this photo, there were three monkeys in it!  Unfortunately, they never did howl for us.  
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Howler Monkeys
The walking portions through the jungle were absolutely breathtaking; I could have hiked there all day.  Based on research I did after the trip, I think these have to be Cohune Palm Trees, which can reach heights of 90 feet tall, and these had to be close to that.  The pictures don't begin to do them justice; they are truly majestic.  One of the guys on our tour said "Jurassic Park", and I thought, "Yes, that is exactly what this feels like"!
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Lamanai Park jungle walk
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Cohune Palm tree "grapes" contain nuts that are used for making cooking oil
The next structure, to the top left in the photo below, is the Ball Court.  This is where the Maya played a deadly game -- we were shocked to hear that the winner of the game was beheaded.  Isidro explained that this was because the Maya believed it was such a high honor to go to be with their gods that death was welcomed.  This was definitely a game I would want to lose.
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Ball Court ahead
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Walking through the ball court
Just when I thought we had already seen the most impressive of the structures at Lamanai, we walked from the jungle out into another field, and there it was, the High Temple.  It is the highest structure in the park at 108 feet, and took my breath away at first sight. The panoramic view from the top is the best in the park, so of course our entire group was determined to climb it.  It was also the most difficult climbing as the stairs are very steep.  There is a rope down the middle of the stairs to assist in climbing and descending.  I am pleased to say everyone in our group made it, even people who had fear of heights, and it was a real thrill!
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The High Temple
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These stairs are steep. I didn't use the rope but just my hands to scramble up.
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I am at the top on the right side.
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Exhilarating!
Fancy seeing our friend Dale, who runs the Funky Monkey restaurant in San Pedro, here with another tour group!
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Dale made it to the top too
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Now it's Barry's turn. This shows you how steep it is.
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I'm waiting and watching him climb up
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View of New River Lagoon from the top of High Temple -- this is how we came into Lamanai by boat
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Barry took a photo of me taking a photo of the family group on our tour
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Happy at the top of High Temple
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Everyone had their own techniques to climb back down. Mine was butt-scooting!
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Side view showing steepness of the descent
After everyone made it down off the High Temple, we proceeded through the jungle once more to our final structure, the Mask Temple.  Isidro explained that the masks on either side of this temple are reconstructions, as the originals became too eroded.  This temple wasn't nearly as high as the last, but I still decided to skip climbing it as I was afraid my legs were going to really be feeling it in the morning.  Only a couple from our group decided to climb this one.  I think we were all getting pretty tired by this point.
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Mask Temple
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You can see where the original's nose broke off above the lower reproduction mask carving.
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Yep, that's Barry up there on top -- he was one of the few who couldn't resist one more climb!
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That's my guy!
Finally it was time to bid our goodbyes to Lamanai and make the arduous journey back to San Pedro in reverse of our morning's travels.  We took very few photos on this leg of the trip since we'd been there, done that before, just a couple of notable ones.
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Relaxing with Belikin #2 on the return leg
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Local fishermen on New River
On the bumpy bus ride back from Lamanai Outpost to Bomba Village, which felt even longer than the first time, we were served a delicious and ice-cold rum punch.  Fortunately, Allan had huge cups to serve it in and only filled them half-way; otherwise, punch would have been flying everywhere with the bumpy ride.  It was still a slow process to drink it, but we managed somehow!

When we arrived back at Bomba Village, I paid for and picked up my painted sun.  Here's the Suya Tours boat we took for the last leg of the journey on the North River back to San Pedro.  
And here's a not-so-friendly fellow we saw peering out of the brush at us along the way.  
Allan was kind enough to take Barry and me all the way back to the Coastal Xpress water taxi dock.  I had noted that we would probably miss the northbound taxi by five minutes, were it right on time leaving, and end up having to wait nearly an hour for the next one, or walk home.  Fortunately, the boat had not left yet, and Allan called over to the captain to hold it for us.  We quickly jumped off the Suya boat, paid for the water taxi, and boarded.  That was a real stroke of luck and got us home earlier to take Paisley out and for some playtime after a long day inside. 

What an amazing and unforgettable adventure we had!  The Lamanai trip is a must for anyone visiting Belize, and we can highly recommend Suya Tours.  They were extremely professional, and we thought they had more interesting, authentic food and friendlier guides compared to some of the others we noticed who were at various spots at the same time as our group.  They were a class act!

Tomorrow: Birds of Lamanai (unfortunately, we saw a lot more than we got photos of, so it will be a short post).