Belize: Mayan Ruins, Jungles, Caves, and Sharks.

If you have ever seen the movie ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ with Julia Roberts, you know the wise man from Bali, Kitut.

Well I have one of those now. He is a 5’2ish Guatemalan with 2 missing front teeth, and a balding head. This ‘wise man’ turns 60 in June and is married to a pretty 18 year old with a 5 month old baby. Which sounds creepy, but he wasn’t… just that intriguing of a man. He likes to read and believes in natural medicine from his backyard, the jungle. He swears that’s how Mayan men have babies up to the age of 80. He’s not rich, so clearly he’s doing something right. Well my Kitut goes by the name of Luis, and he said that our energy would stay with each other for 15 days and then we would most likely forget about each other. I feel the need to document our trip to Belize before the amazing energy I felt is gone.

It was such a random trip now that i am looking back… Things fell in line perfectly. Kitut said, ‘we were all together for a reason that day, that we 4 girls went on that trip… Out of all the places in the world… For a reason.’ I believe it.

The side story:

Getting there was fairly easy… We took united from Fort Lauderdale to Houston on down to Belize City. We immediately left Belize city, as I would recommend anyone do. Caught the 2 hr water taxi ride to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. We rode alongside the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world nearly the whole ride. That night before dinner, we had talked to our hotel about setting up a sailboat tour the next day. They couldn’t find any company’s running that specific catamaran tour. So walking to dinner, along the beach (which Is a busy ‘road’ on the island… There are only 3 roads to begin with), I randomly ask Coral if we should stop in this one tour guide store (after passing many) and see about the sailboat. After she agreed, it turns out a lady was being told her families sailboat trip was cancelled because they didn’t have enough ppl to go. It was the exact excursion we were wanting to do. Clearly that couldn’t have worked out any better, and we went to dinner with set plans for the next day. Dinner was the best lobster ceviche I’ve ever had. The random guy sending free drinks my way didn’t hurt either.

The main event:

Belize is known for its diving and snorkeling. I understand why. We snorkeled the Hol Chan Marine Reserve first, and saw the most vibrantly colored fish I’ve ever seen. Sea turtles, spotted sting rays, and multiple schools of fish were literally at our fingertips. Prettttttty cool. Then we get back on the boat, and head to Shark Ray alley. I read this about the area before we went-This area came to be because fishermen used to clean their fish and drop the errr… leftovers into this one specific area on their way back to the dock. The nurse sharks and sting rays are used to boats and humans because of it. Regardless how used to humans they may be, I was still in awe when our guide swam down to the ocean floor and grabbed a 6′ shark, turned it over, and started rubbing its belly like a baby. I figured that is a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity, so I accepted the shark when he passed it off to me. Literally just like a baby. Well that was the 2nd attempt. The first attempt, apparently I didn’t hold it right and it started squirming and flopping around before it swam off. I peed my pants a little. But, one of the coolest things I can say I’ve done. In case it ever comes in handy… Sharks feel like sandpaper, and apparently like to be rubbed under their fin. FYI.

Back on the sailboat, the unlimited rum punch and Belikin beer started flowing. We cruised over to Caye Caulker… The sister island of Ambergris Caye. There are no cars on this island. And just one sand road. That’s an awesome feeling. Knowing there is no where to go and no quick way to get there. Back on the sailboat we snorkeled a shipwreck and then headed home in 100% relaxation mode watching the sun set. A day on a sailboat with our own personal server would have been an awesome day. Throw in everything else, we were happy girls when we headed to dinner that night.

Side story:

After dinner we wanted ice cream. We knew we wanted to leave early the next morning to head inland, but really had no plans and weren’t sure if we were gonna have to take the public bus (also referred to a the chicken coup), or what. So, when a man struck up convo and then ended up having a tour guide company, we were curious what he could do for us. We ended up getting our transportation and ATM cave excursion for the price of just the ATM tour. Saving each of us around $100. That poor guy didn’t stand a chance… He set up everything for us at 10pm, and then had bfast ready for us at 6am. Fast forward through the water taxi ride, a van that broke down, and a 2 hr trip inland.

The main event:

Google ATM (actun tunichil macal). Seriously. It’s a cave literally in the middle of the jungle. How a hunter stumbled upon it years ago, I have no idea. Why someone decided to walk/swim/climb deep into it, I don’t know either. Miles into this cave there are skeletal remains, pots, and alters set up by the Mayans who lived over 1,000-1,500 years ago. The most amazing part (aside from the actual beauty of the cave itself), is that people had to climb through this cave with these giant pots with nothing but a flame to see by. Drop the flame in the water… you’re dead. Us doing it with a headlamp on was not an easy task. We had to swim at points, were squeezing through narrow passageways, climbed up basically a cliff, and thennnnn an aluminum ladder to get to the ‘Grand Room’ and to the skeleton of the ‘crystal maiden’. She was believed to be royalty and sacrificed to the gods, most likely the rain god. The remains are calcified to the ground in perfect skeletal form. Insane to think about people being in that same spot so many years ago… How they arrived there with just a flame, i really will never understand. Again, i can say its one of the coolest things I’ve ever done…. And probably will ever do. I’m thankful we had the chance, we were told it probably won’t be open to the public for too many more years.

Side story: Carlos the caveman deserves a shout out. This man is one of the few licensed guides who can lead this tour, and he knows his stuff. First off, walking through the jungle, he can point out an entire Walgreens pharmacy worth of plants you can use. He led the way with a machete and smile. He learned the jungle from his grandfather, and he literally grew up there. He calls it his office, Home Depot, and Walgreens. Carlos is one of the few people we met who has been on an airplane before, & he told a great story about getting lost in Houston’s airport. I can’t imagine a caveman making his way through the hustle and bustle of an international airport. He’s pretty well known too. He was on the discovery channel for an episode called The Bone Detective, and I doubt he would ever admit it, but seems to be the sot after man to lead archeologists etc in the cave, and he even teaches jungle survival to militaries. And yet to us, he was the always smiling guy who would tell us to ‘follow our heart,’ and leave us (so we thought) in the cave only to reappear around the next turn, or instruct us to turn off our headlamp and ‘keep right along the wall… But watch out for the sharp rock.’ Which seems a bit mean now that I think about it, but certainly added to the adventure. We loved it, and him. On the way to the cave, he turned off the dirt road to go mudding through the orange grove letting us pick the best oranges straight from the tree, & stopped to let coral and I steal a license plate tag stuck to a tree limb. He also took us to a local place for dinner after our tour. That’s where we were introduced to Eddie, his brother. Real brother, not a ‘cave brother’ which is how he referred to every other cave guide we saw.

Main event:
Eddie agreed to give us a tour of Xunantinich, the ruins nearby the town of San Ignacio. Turns out, they grew up and still live basically across the street from the site, and Eddie has either worked on excavating or been giving tours for 20 years. Soooo, we lucked out. Again. Even better… They have 5 sisters, so he was an excellent photographer in addition to being very informative and answering our questions. Xunantinich was a major city in the classic period of the Mayan rule. 500-900 AD, give or take. I can’t remember exactly. The huge temples and area excavated were mainly built for royalty. Basically, we toured a courtyard where the peasants would gather for events and ceremonies, and the living quarters for the royalty and their family. We learned about the alters they would set up with the statue of a god behind it. The alter being there for sacrifices to the specific god. Most of the bases of the building were original, but some of the stones have been replaced. Still, it was a pretty intense feeling to stand at the top of a temple, 140 feet high, look around the jungle and at the huge courtyard below, and imagine someone doing the same thing thousands of years ago. We took like 500 pictures and then Eddie took us to a local spot for lunch. Rice and beans, tostadas, and cow foot soup. Seriously. That last part was Eddies meal.

Next. Same day… The Big Rock Falls. We didn’t realize we were gonna be driving nearly an hour into the mountains on dirt roads in a little 90’s jeep something. But, it was surprisingly relaxing and the views were great. We got to the falls, hiked for a bit, & jumped off the first jump. It was maybe 15 ft high, and then climbed the slippery rocks to the waterfall. This is where I almost died. I decided i wanted to jump off the next jump. 25 ft. That’s not the scary part. I should have know not to follow the way Eddie climbed to the top. He is half monkey. I got stuck. Halfway. Scared to death. It was big slipper boulders wet from being at the edge of a waterfall… Not jagged edges you can grab. I wanted down but was told there was no way to get down at that point. I don’t get scared easily, but I really thought I was going to fall and crack my head open. I wish I could say that after jumping in, and being able to sit under a beautiful waterfall in the middle of the Mayan Mountains made it worth it, but my arms and legs were definitely still shaking when we got out of the water.

Side story: we 4 girls like Tequila. It’s kind of like our unspoken vacation drink. So how funny was it that when we got back to our clothes, Eddie had a friend there who owned a bar and had brought a bottle of patron with him and his girlfriend to the falls. Duh, we had to. We also happened upon frank copolas resort and private air strip on the drive up. There was a plane on this random dirt air strip and we decided we just had to stop and take a picture with it. Of course, somehow our timing was absolutely perfect and the owners come driving up while we are posing. They chat with us for a while and wanted a picture… They had just flown in for lunch. Tough life.

Main event: our tree house hotel. When we first arrived, it was dark and after a very strenuous day. We were led (by flashlight) through the trail to our room. There really are 2 literal treehouse rooms built into a giant tree, but we had a little cabin with a king bed and a roll away. We are all good friends and clearly it’s cheaper that way. It was tiny. I mean room for all of us and our bags was pushing it. Annnnd we then realized there was a bathroom, outside. 2 thatched hut buildings with a toilet stall, a shower stall, and 2 sinks outside. Annnnnd bugs. Our room and the bathroom both had places where bugs could come and go freely. Samantha (the prepared one health wise… 1st aid kit present, and local diseases researched) was pretty convince one of us was going to get malaria. It was all part of the experience though, as was waking up with open windows to what sounded like a soundtrack used on those soothing sleep sounds cd. Birds, a little rain on our tin roof, and sounds of the rainforest and river right beside us. It truly felt like a different world. Which it certainly is compared to what most of us are used to. After that morning experience, and the good coffee served in the main building, the shared bathroom became just fine by us… And how many people can say they stayed in a place like that?! I can tell you one thing, if any man accuses any of us of being high maintenance… We can bring up having no A/C, having to use outhouses, and walk through mud trails in the jungle to shower. Not to mention not wearing make up for 5 days… And going on a trip with just a backpack. Okkkkkkk.

Main event: Tikal

We were supposed to book our flights for the next day after Xunantinich and the falls… But, once we talked about it… We ended up deciding we were so close to Tikal, Guatamala that we just had to go. The trip just didn’t feel over yet. So instead of booking out flight home, we booked transportation and the trip to Tikal. Up by 7 am again, we started the trip… Maybe 45 min to the border, and another 2 hrs after we crossed. Guatemala was interesting. I had no idea it was so big and had 14 million residents. Compared to Belize’s 350,000. Belize actually is the size of 1 of Guatamala’s 9 departments (like out states). We pick up our Kitut and arrival at Tikal just in time to watch a telenovela being filmed.

Tikal is phenomenal. It’s a UNISEC world heritage site, and considered a runner up to Machu Pichu for ancient ruin cities to visit. The most awe inspiring moment for me was when I found out only 1% of the ruins have been excavated. It took us 3 hours to walk around 1% of a city. You see mounds and hills everywhere covered by the rainforest, and to think that under every one of those hills and mounds is a building is amazing. It’s still a pretty dense area and you can’t see every building clearly like Xunantinich, but once you climb (or run up as we did) the 1827811 stairs to the top of the highest building, you can see the tops of 3 other buildings sticking up above the treetops.

Kitut (Luis) brings a whole new level of interesting to the experience. He told us a little about the ancient city of Tikal of course, which was home to estimated millions of people, but once we started asking questions and he realized we weren’t a group of dumb blondes only there for the pictures, he introduced an insight into the Mayan culture. He, along with our other guides Carlos and Eddie, are of Mayan decent as well as Roman Catholic. Kitut opened my eyes to a completely new world. I was raised in a small town in the Bible Belt, so it was very new to hear facts about the similarities in all religions from around the world, and the Mayan beliefs. We discussed how he can be Catholic and follow Mayan beliefs (which I won’t get into), but his view on the earth and human life in general were intriguing and very selfless. Things are simple to him. If you cut down a tree, then you should plant a new tree to maintain the earth for future generations. If you trip over something, you better consider what it is you’re doing wrong and fix it… That was your sign. If you get a bad feeling, follow your intuition. Everyone and everything has an energy, thats what causes attraction. We are gardeners by nature, we are meant to live off of and take care of the land. We learned about what Americans deemed ‘the end of the world’ on the Mayan calendar. Which according to Luis, is really just a rebirth of society into a time of rediscovering and appreciating the earth, and a generation of technologically educated youth who will put knowledge to good use. I can’t explain anything the way this man did tho. The dates he spit out, the statistics he rattled off like it was nothing, and examples and activities he gave us to experience our own energy blew my mind. I wish i had recorded all of it, it was way too much to take it all at once and really impossible for me to explain. The Mayans calendars and concept of time is only so many seconds off, while our current is a few more seconds off. They predicted every eclipse for 4000 years, and built reservoir systems in cities like Tikal where there is no water access nearby. They constructed buildings that have stood for 1,000-2,000 years, and their farming system still proves to be efficient. Their architecture was so advanced that in a building with halls the length of a football field, you can whisper and hear the person at the other end of the hall… Still to this day. They have buildings designed to align & project specific shadows on temples and buildings to signify time for harvest. Everything was calculated perfectly in a time with no calculators or computers. Their buildings still stand! What will we be leaving behind for 2000 years from now?

Clearly I can’t wait to visit the next city & learn more.

As impressed as i was with the excursions that we were lucky enough to do, I was double that by the people. It’s a 3rd world country where they called a house that I’d consider a little below average a mansion… But you sure wouldn’t know that the vast majority people have nothing by their attitudes. By far the kindest and overall happiest people I have met. Every day we met someone new who went out of their way to help us and show kindness. Frank our first hotels maintenance man was, ‘114% good’… With a huge smile on his face every time you ran into him. Leroi the excursion guy was called, ‘the happy man’. Carlos was going to come by the hotel just to say hi after we finished our excursions with his brother. Kitut telling me to ‘relax and just enjoy everything… There is no real need to ever rush’, when I was apologizing to him for us being slow. Max, our San Ignacio guy who set up Tikals excursion, found out we were running late that morning & took it upon himself to check us into our very last minute hotel for our added night. He even took our bags up for us. Nothing missing, no issues. He also gave us an unbelievable deal to get us to the airport the next day so we didn’t have to take public buses…. And that’s not all, even insisted on treating us to a pancake breakfast before his brother drove us. Although i know it help us out by being 4 pretty girls and not your average tourists, I’d imagine all of them would act the same to anyone who came to their town.

It made me take a long look at myself, and my culture. Carlos had never even heard of Facebook…. We couldn’t believe it! Even my parents keep up with me through social media. It’s sad that they have to. It’s sad that when they honked once at each other as a hello, and we all thought it meant otherwise. It’s sad that I don’t have the same mentality to try and maintain the earth as Luis, and I wish I had the pride they all did. I know this is a super long post, but I wanted to share how amazing the people and places were in Belize. I hope I was able to portray the admiration I felt traveling around and spending full days with the locals and the nature. I will end this crazy long story with a quote that Carlos said he read and has always stuck with him… And me now…

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

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