Western Belize

April 21, 2016, Trip: Belize
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It’s Tuesday the 19th today and we have less than ten days left on our visa for Belize. We drove the Western Highway from the cave tubing excursion as far as San Ignacio today and are parked in a campground just outside the main part of town. It has power, Wi-Fi, a nice cement floor palapa with chairs & hammocks (right by the modem!), showers and is walking distance to the market and shops. We hope to hear from Christine and Mark soon to arrange doing the #1 attraction in Belize, which is the ATM cave trip.

We met a few other overlanders here: Ford from Georgia travelling in his SUV and he had a few “hitch hikers” from Comox, BC with him and a couple of other guys to help share the gas; Roberto and Laura from the Cancun area who are on a road trip to Guatemala and back into Mexico only.

We went for a walk into town to find a bank and we met up with Chad & Jeanny from our Hopkins campsite sitting at a restaurant patio. There are staying with a friend of his mother’s here in San Ignacio.

pic of downtown:DSCN1283 downtown

San Ignacio is a nice little town with a good vibe.  The people are used to tourists and there are a lot of things to do in this area as well as excursions a little farther afield.  There is a nice market very close to us which grew gigantic on the Saturday we were here.

Wednesday morning we awoke to full sunshine again (they apparently did not get all that rain here that we drove through yesterday) and it’s not quite so muggy (yet) today as it was on the coast – thank goodness! We spent the day chillin’ in the campground, Doug got a hair cut, got our camp chair and Fran’s sandal repaired and Fran had a pedicure. We heard from Christine and Mark that they were headed our way and ready to do the ATM tour on Friday.  We had heard from others that the guide that you can book through this campground is excellent and a good price. So we arranged that and look forward to hanging with them again.

That night, a young German couple, Kye & Carina, pulled in driving a VW camper. They were heading in the opposite direction to us so we gleaned a little intel from their experiences and vice versa. We were finding it so different to speak mostly English so after coming through South America and all of Central America, we can’t imagine how strange it was for them!

There was also a older man travelling alone from the UK, Adrian. He had been in the British Navy and had served some time here in Belize 40 years ago and was back to see Belize. He had flown in and rented a car and was staying in one of the cabanas here. He was full of stories of old Belize.

We took a day trip on Thursday the 21st to see a few local natural sites in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve: Rio Frio Cave, Rio on Pools, Big Rock Falls & 5 Sisters falls. We had been told the 28 mile road to the first attraction was really bad and you had to have 4×4 and high clearance – no problem we have that – and that you should rather use a guide or rent an SUV. Well, after our Belize spending, we opted to do it ourself. It was a ridiculous how good that dirt road was – way better than that Manatee (aka Coastal) Highway was to Hopkins.  The only problem we had was because we followed maps.me to get to the Rio Frio caves and it took us the wrong way and that road was BAD! We figured it out about 2 miles down that road and turned around (a 16 point turn!) and went a different way.

Rio Frio Cave is cool – it’s a huge cave with a river running through it and you can see the exit of the cave as well.

DSCN1231 blog

Rio On Pools has a couple of waterfalls and is potholes in the river – kinda reminded us of Sooke Pot Holes or the Burkes Luck Pot Holes in South Africa. Here we went for a dip – it was cool and refreshing.

DSCN1243 shot for blog

Big Rock Falls was quite pretty and had lots of water flowing down.

DSCN1262 blog

Five Sisters Falls was accessed through a private lodge (that must cost a fortune as it’s very luxurious) and here they had a small “beach” in the middle of the river with 3 palapas for meals or just lounging.

DSCN1273 blogWe left around 7 am and got back around 3pm.   It was a good day. Well worth the “bad road”. We have updated iOverlander to let people know you don’t need a 4×4 at all if you go from San Ignacio.  We learned the next day from Christine and Mark, that they tried the road from Georgeville (further east) and it was terrible. If you continue past Rio Frio Cave 22 miles you come to Caracol – a large Mayan ruins site in Belize but we have decided not to do any ruins in Belize.

Friday morning, Christine and Mark joined us at our campsite and our guide, Luis, picked us all up to take us to the ATM – Actun Tunichil Muknal, or the “Cave of the Stone Sepulchre”. This site was recently deemed the #1 Sacred Cave destination in the world by National Geographic.  It is not only beautiful geologically, with its crystalline stalactites and stalagmites, but also historically, as is a natural museum of ancient Mayan artifacts, as well as a sacred burial place.  This is the final resting place of the “Crystal Maiden”, an ancient Mayan ceremonial victim (which is actually a man), as well as the remains of 13 other sacrificed men, women, and children.   You swim and wade through the first part of the cave and then walk through various “rooms” and caverns to see the skeletons and artifacts.

Luis was a very informative guide and told us much about what archeologists and have found here and what they believe and about the Mayan culture. This is unfortunately a site where cameras are prohibited (due to a tourist dropping a camera on a skull back in 2012) so we could take no pics but we did find some online which must have been taken pre “prohibition” days. The drive to the Caves took less than 45 minutes and went through some agricultural fields farmed by the Mennonites. There are quite a few communities of Mennonites in Belize.

This was a very unique experience. You wear clothes you can swim and walk in, good water shoes and get helmets with lights. Luis led our group of 8 to the entrance, crossing three streams first, (about a 40 minute walk) and then we entered the water and swam into the cave. The water is cool but not freezing. You then wade in varying depths of water through caverns, slot canyons, over rocks and under stalactites to the sacred rooms where rituals and sacrifices were performed. In this area, you are asked to walk in socked feet to minimize damage. These upper chambers have a large number of cave formations and are quite beautiful.

title

map:

map

Entrance:

entrance to ATM

First pool:

entry pool

one of the slots:

one of the narrow sections

a chamber:

one chamber

cave formations & a Mayan pot:

beautiful formations

Mayan pots;

more Mayan pots

The Crystal Maiden in a dance trance:

skeleton in trance dance pose - Crystal Maiden

(again, none of the above photos were taken by us – we got them online)

This cave was discovered in 1989 and opened to the public about ten years later. It’s quite amazing that it is open to the public as the skeletons and many artifacts remain there for viewing without a lot of protection. Once you reach the furthest spot the public is allowed, you return the same way. The whole things took about 4.5 hours. We then changed into dry clothes, were served lunch and Luis drove the four of us back to our campground.

We spent Saturday chillin’ in our campground and taking walks before moving a little closer to the Guatemala border to the campground where Christine and Mark were staying (our spot had better Wi-Fi and hot showers). We planned to join them crossing the border on Sunday.

When we arrived at Clarissa Falls, we set up camp and went for a dip in the river/falls. We met a lovely Belizean woman and her children who was there visiting with a family that had just moved to Belize from Guatemala. So we practiced a little Español and cooled off.

Clarissa Falls:

DSCN1290 Clarissa Falls

Upon drying off, a couple from Austria arrived. Helmut and Bridgette had come from South America and were doing the Pan AM in the space of eight months. We asked them about what they did for maps (our GPS was no longer useful as a GPS once we left Mexico and we’ve been using and planning to use maps.me for the rest of our trip – although we did pick up an SD card for a number of countries in South America but not all). Helmut told us he had downloaded OSM (open street maps) and transferred them to his Garmin and they worked well. We had tried this before but are not tech savy enough to get through it. Helmut kindly offered to give us not only the maps, but the software, Basecamp, that is required and taught Doug how to use it including installing iOverlander data on it. That was a very generous guy and he said if we ever come to Vienna, we have a guide. Danke, Helmut!

Christine and Mark returned from their excursion and the six of us enjoyed happy hour before splitting off for our own dinners. Once we get into Guatemala they will be pushing for Lake Atitlan quickly as they have a house sitting gig starting May 1st and our plan is to cross northern Guatemala and go back in Chiapas, Mexico for a few weeks.We had power at this campground but it was not strong enough to run our air conditioner but we did run our fans all night; it was bearable but still did not cool off much overnight. At least San Ignacio is not as humid as Hopkins was.

Sunday morning we were up early to head for the border. We took off around 6 and Christine and Mark followed shortly afterwards; plan was to meet at the first gas station after the border.

So we spent 27 days in Belize, drove a whopping 580 miles, took four water taxis, one scenic flight, two amazing snorkeling trips, saw two different types of caves, spoke mostly English for the last time for a long time (nice to be understood and understand completely!) and thoroughly enjoyed the people of this mostly poor but friendly commonwealth nation.  This is a country of diverse topography with hundreds (if not thousands) of caves. The Yucatan peninsula is full of cenotes, Belize has caves and reefs/atolls.

 

Side bar:  Beer of Belize is Belkin – in heavy but smaller than normal bottles

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