We left crooked tree, jumped on a bus and headed again for Belize City. Belize City is not exactly a place to visit for more than a bus swap, or to catch a ferry to the Cayes. Belize City has a bad reputation for gang and drug related crime and a lot of poverty, largely due to Hurricane Hattie. In 1961 hurricane Hattie devastated Belize City so badly that the government decided to build a new capitol City, Belmopan. This left the city’s population, particularly the Croel, feeling neglected and forgotten. This led to an increase of emigration of those trying to escape the overcrowding, sudden unemployment and poor sanitation.
This in turn led to a plague of drug use, gang violence and again poverty. This all contributed to the tough conditions for the city’s working class, who mostly are now unemployed. The 21st century has brought a dramatic transformation to the city, albiet in a small area. Increasing from zero in year 2000, Belize City now welcomes around 850,000 Cruise-ship passengers to its “purpose built” tourist village per year.
In short, Belize City (often referred to as just Belize) is still rippled with drug and gang related violence, bringing warnings from travellers and governments to stay away.
We jumped on our bus in the city and headed for San Ignacio. Without wifi the night before, we showed up with only a couple of recommendations up our sleeve, and a lot of hope that there was some vacancies.
Welcome to San Ignacio @ San Ignacio
Our new friend Jean had recommended a guest house called Pacz. It was cheaper, had private rooms and cleaner than the hostel recommendation, Bella’s, from our American friends. After checking out both, Pacz was the perfect location, not to mention there was no one else staying there for the night, giving us the perfect opportunity to Skype friends and family and to catch up on some blogging!
We dumped our bags, took advantage of the first hot water we had had in over a week and half and then went wandering around in the rain. We booked a tour to the Actun Tunichil Muknal, ATM for short, caves. These caves are a Mayan archeological site that have skeletons, pottery and stoneware. The best known is the “crystal maiden” chamber, where the remains of an adolescent girl, possibly a human sacrifice, whose bones have been calcified to a sparking, crystal like appearance. The ceramics at the site are significant partly because they are marked with “kill holes”, which indicate that they were used for ceremonial purposes.
We ate a late lunch at Authentic Flavours, a locally run restaurant serving traditional Croel dishes. We had Mayan fish tacos and a traditin Croel vegetable curry, which we will never forget as some of the best food.
That night, we caught up on photos, blogs, Skypes, beers and snoozes. Excited for the next days activities!
Well, pouring rain is an understatement. Torrential was far more accurate. It would seem as though Chaak, the Mayan rain god, had followed us to San Ignacio. The next morning we were not surprised to hear that our tour had been cancelled. We chose to wait out the rain for a day and go tomorrow. We spent the day wandering around the city, admiring all the beautiful murals and streets that San Ignacio had to offer.
A history of Belize @ San Ignacio
Fresh fruit and vegetable markets @ San Ignacio
The next day, unfortunately again, Chaak blessed us with torrential rain, to the extent that the locals couldn’t Belize for this time of year. We jumped in a cab, and headed to the little town of San Jose Succotz. Here we jumped on a small hand cranked ferry across the Mopan River and walked about a mile up a dirt road to the Xunantunich Mayan ruins.
Xunantunich, also known as the stone woman, which refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892. She is dressed completely in white and has fire-red glowing eyes. She generally appears in front of “El Castillo”, ascends the stone stairs and disappears into a stone wall. She wasn’t around the day we went.
Jess clinging on @ El Castillo, Xunantunich ruinsAlice taking in the view @ Xunantunich ruins, San Ignacio
View out of a chamber in El Castillo @ Xunantunich ruins San Ignacio
We had the privilege of being able to climb El Castillo, which sits at 130ft high. Atop this beautiful Mayan pyramid, we climbed through chambers and ancient hallways to reach the peak. With the most incredible 360 degree views of the jungle, Guatemala (as we were a mere 1km from the border) and a stomach churning (for me) drop. As well as the height, the remarkable hieroglyphics and buildings left both of us speechless.
Black Howler Monkey and baby @ Xunantunich, San Ignacio
On the walk back down to the ferry, we were lucky enough to spot a family of black howler monkeys playing above us, including three babies.
We got back to San Ignacio and went to a recommended locally run restaurant, “Carries”, for the best traditional Shrimp Croel in existence before heading to Ajaw, a traditional Mayan chocolate making tour.
We were shown and taught how the cocoa bean was first made into a drink for the Mayan royalty. The taste was grainy and bitter (dark chocolate), which was much more up Alice’s palette than mine. They added chilli flakes and honey, making it more bearable, but even as a non dark chocolate lover, we loved seeing the process and hearing the history of the cocoa bean. We had the opportunity to grind the roasted cocoa bean in a traditional Mayan stone grinder, taste the cocoa bean in every stage of the process and, of course, we bought a block of the chilli chocolate to take home “to share”.
Señor Choco @ Ajaw Mayan Chocolate , San Ignacio
We left our chocolate tour in time to look through the beautifully colourful food markets, pick up some groceries and head back to our accomodation before the heavens opened up once again.
As expected, the next day our tour was cancelled again, so we packed up and caught a bus to Belmopan. Hopefully the birds, even if they are a bit soggy like us from the rain, will be around. So off we went, bird-nerding calls!