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.
Our group heading to the lunch palapa
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!
Looking back towards the dock where we entered
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!
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!
Barry makes his way to the top -- and yes, I was already there taking the shot!
At the top of Jaguar Temple
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!
The Royal Palace
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!
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.
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"!
Lamanai Park jungle walk
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.
Ball Court ahead
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!
The High Temple
These stairs are steep. I didn't use the rope but just my hands to scramble up.
I am at the top on the right side.
Fancy seeing our friend Dale, who runs the Funky Monkey restaurant in San Pedro, here with another tour group!
Dale made it to the top too
Now it's Barry's turn. This shows you how steep it is.
I'm waiting and watching him climb up
View of New River Lagoon from the top of High Temple -- this is how we came into Lamanai by boat
Barry took a photo of me taking a photo of the family group on our tour
Happy at the top of High Temple
Everyone had their own techniques to climb back down. Mine was butt-scooting!
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.
You can see where the original's nose broke off above the lower reproduction mask carving.
Yep, that's Barry up there on top -- he was one of the few who couldn't resist one more climb!
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.
Relaxing with Belikin #2 on the return leg
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).