April 17, 2011
I had the opportunity to be a tourist this weekend. Several of us Peace Corps Trainees got together and traveled to two different places. Fortunately for us, this country is very small, and buses are easily accessed and cheap. On Saturday six of us met at the bus terminal in Belmopan and hopped on a bus to the Blue Hole where we met up with four others. The photos here don’t really give this remarkable place justice. It is a national park with hiking trails and a swimming hole that is fed by a natural spring, trickling into a limestone sinkhole. The color is a brilliant turquoise, and the water feels so refreshing in this 90 degree plus heat. We hiked for about a mile on a well-marked trail through the jungle, and relaxed while eating our picnic lunches. It was a beautiful day!
On Sunday, a few more of us made our way by bus out on the Western Highway past the relatively large town of San Ignacio, to a quaint little village called Succotz. From there we took a ferry across the Mopan River and hiked about a mile to the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich (pronounced “shoo-nahn-too-neech”). This archeological gem is from the Mayan Classic period (300-900 AD). It has a ceremonial center, with large plazas ringed with pyramids. The tallest is the 130 foot "El Castillo," which is large by Mayan standards and is only exceeded by the Caana pyramid at Caracol, which I also hope to visit one day. The site was occupied until around 900 A.D. and was likely abandoned after an earthquake, the evidence of which was discovered by archaeologists in the mid-1900's. After climbing to the top of El Castillo and taking these photos, we hiked back down while listening to the howler monkeys in the trees. These monkeys (referred to by the Belizeans as “baboons”) are large and produce a loud “howl” or growl. Howler monkeys are widely considered to be the loudest land animal. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, their vocalizations can be heard clearly for 3 miles (4.8 km). The males use their howls to warn other males to stay away from their territory. Unfortunately, my photos of the howler monkeys do not show them very well, so I didn’t include those pictures. They hide themselves well in the tall trees.
From atop the pyramids of Xunantunich we were able to gaze out on Guatemala. We returned to the village of Succotz and ate our lunch in a little outdoor restaurant called Benny’s and then caught a bus back home. Now I’m relaxing on a Sunday evening, enjoying the cool evening breeze and getting ready for a busy week with lots of work in our technical and language training sessions. I wish all my family and friends a wonderful Passover and Easter this next week. Love, Ava