We decided to start the day with breakfast at Mr. Greedy's, where we'd eaten pizza the night before, as we noticed that the prices were a bit less than at Ko-Ox Han-Nah. We had delicious breakfast burritos, orange juice, and excellent coffee. The burrito was only $8.75 BZD (approximately $4.36 US), which included one large mug of coffee, a great deal.
Our plan for today was to rent mountain bikes in Bullet Tree Falls, just a few miles from San Ignacio, and to ride up to El Pilar
, an Archaeological Reserve and partially excavated Maya site, which we'd read had many hiking trails, excellent birding, and few tourists. Perfect! Our Lonely Planet guide suggested that mountain bikes could be rented at Cohune Palms River Cabanas to navigate the eight-mile gravel road to the site, and we thought that sounded like a perfect way to burn off some of the restaurant meals we'd been eating.
It was too early to catch a bus to Bullet Tree Falls according to the schedule we'd seen, so we hopped into one of the many waiting taxis on Burns Avenue and asked the driver, Mike, to take us to Cohune Palms. Unfortunately, upon arriving there and talking to a worker, we found out they did not have any mountain bikes to rent. Perhaps they had in the past, but no longer. Kinda reminded us of the Mexican restaurant being closed the day before -- was this trip doomed to be one of many disappointments? (Answer: no.)
So, we moved onto Plan B and asked Mike if he could take us up to El Pilar. At first he seemed a bit unsure, as his taxi was a small Geo that did not have 4WD, but I guess he figured he better give it a try as the fare would certainly be much better than he'd make in a day hanging out in San Ignacio with many other cabs competing for not many tourists. He quoted us a price of $50 US to drive us there, wait for us to hike and bird-watch, and drive us back to San Ignacio, so we decided to go for it. This ended up being a great decision as it was a very difficult slog up a messy, rocky road, and even on mountain bikes would have been a challenge. Had Plan A worked out, we might not have had any energy left for hiking after biking the mostly uphill, messy road, as it turned out. This photo does NOT do the road justice. Many portions were steeper, with deeper ruts and larger rocks. Mike really had to take it slowly and carefully in his little car, and he bottomed out on some of the worst parts. Fortunately for us, he made it to the top!
The rocky road to El Pilar
We got to the check-in point and paid our $10 BZD entry fees. We found out later that we were the first visitors to the site in three days! And we were the only ones here this day as well. Our own private 100-acre park -- what could be better for a couple of tourist-weary island residents?!
El Pilar entry building and Mike's taxi
We bid Mike goodbye and took off into the jungle. This place was amazing! Trails, stairs, overlooks, ruins, huge shade trees, and birds galore. You'll notice in the photos that I am wearing my biking clothes since we'd thought we'd be getting here on two wheels instead of four.
Looking for birds
Maya Ball Court (unexcavated)
Stairs and railings crafted of wood and sapling trees keep things natural at El Pilar
It actually took awhile to start having bird sightings. In fact, the first wildlife Barry spotted up in the trees was a couple of Howler Monkeys! They weren't howling or calling (just making a racket by climbing in the branches), but did come closer to get a good look at us from up there. I had heard that they could be mean, so I didn't hang around for too long, worried that they might come closer.
This guy was checking us out very thoroughly
Barry got some great shots with his 12x zoom lens, but the monkeys weren't as close as they look in the photos (good thing!) since these have been cropped.
I hadn't even thought of seeing monkeys here, so I was very excited that we had this opportunity. Soon thereafter, we started seeing birds, and plenty of them, including this exotic Black-Headed Trogan, another new bird for our life lists.
As I mentioned in yesterday's entry
, we'll do a blog posting showing many more bird pictures at the end of this trip report, since there are already tons of photos for each day without including them here.
There were signs like this scattered around El Pilar giving details on different portions of the site. They were right about how nice and cool it was under the tree canopy.
We got quite a workout climbing and descending many sets of stairs over unexcavated mounds
Barry watching birds at the lookout
There were a couple of excellent lookouts
We finally found a trail map -- we'd been flying blind before this point
There were a lot of trails -- we hiked all of the ones that didn't go off to never-never land, since we had Mike waiting for us with the taxi!
Though most of the trails were pretty short, like this one, it took awhile for us to hike them as we had to stop to look at birds many, many times
And sometimes we had to stop to look down -- like at this interesting jungle bug
We saw a cave up in this unexcavated mound and thought it deserved a closer look.
Cave near top of mound
Back of cave
Barry went into the cave on the front side to scout it out...
...but found this bees' nest inside, so decided he'd seen enough!
Part of the ruins that had been excavated
Another overlook ahead
This overlook had an amazing view of Guatemala to the west. Barry took these photos panorama-style.
We came upon a rest area with picnic tables and decided to sit for a few minutes and eat the snacks we'd brought -- peanuts and fiber wafers. It felt good to sit down after all the walking.
Lunchtime for our weary hikers
These wasps were hanging on the roof of the shelter -- eeek! Fortunately, they didn't bother us, nor we them.
There were pit toilets and even a nice sink with soap for hand-washing
Termite nest -- you see these often in Belize. They eat the deadwood from trees so are actually considered beneficial!
This natural jungle garden was very pretty
See? Really lush...
We came upon this sign near the end of our hike. I guess we did it in reverse of what a lot of people do.
Our last trail went way down low to a creek, then way up high a zillion stairs to a 360-degree overlook. I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest after climbing all those stairs straight up!
This is the lower part of the trail
Lovely views from up high
Near the very end of our hike, Barry spied this feather on the trail. Since we'd just seen and identified our first-ever Blue-Crowned Mot-Mot the day before at Cahal Pech, we knew it was a tail feather from this wonderful bird. I felt sad because I doubt the bird could fly or live without this beautiful feather, so assume it had met its maker.
Blue-Crowned Mot-Mot tail feather
After nearly five hours of hiking and birding, we returned to Mike and the taxi. Fortunately, he was taking a little snooze, so I didn't feel quite as bad for making him wait so long. I am sure it had to have been pretty boring, but probably still decent money for his time, considering the typical taxi trip and fare. And going back down the rocky road was not as difficult as coming up for his little Geo.
We did, however, run into a bit of road traffic on our way back to San Ignacio...
We had to wait until they'd all safely crossed before we could get going. So cute!
After our big day of hiking, we were pretty lazy for what was left of the day. We walked up the under construction section of Burns Ave. for dinner at "Flayva's". Barry got the jerk chicken, and I had grilled fish. We both chose rice and stewed beans and sauteed veggies for our sides, so we ate healthfully, since our entrees also came with veggies atop. It was absolutely delicious! After dinner we stopped for a little gelato at a stand along the road. It wasn't nearly as good as at Tutti Frutti's in Placencia, but it was nice to have a little taste of something sweet after dinner.
Burns Avenue in San Ignacio
My grilled fish
Barry's jerk chicken
I'm enjoying the "flay-vas"