Adventure in Belize

Some people come to Belize for sunshine and sun worship.  Others come for the Caribbean Sea and fishing.  I came to Belize because my niece, Tana, wanted to paint a mural with me – and then to explore a few Mayan ruins.  With the mural project completed, it was time to see some history.  To do that, my sister and two of her kids joined me on a trip to San Ignacio.

I visited San Ignacio last year.  I looked at a map of Belize and picked it as the spot where I wanted to paint a mural.  Alas, again and ho, ho, no.  Trying to find a mural project during the Christmas season was impossible.

I guess there are lots of ways to get to San Ignacio if you have a lot of money.  I don’t.  Some people rent cars while others charter private rides.  Not me.  The last time I traveled, the tourist van was wonderful.  When you cross into Belize from Mexico, on an international bus trip, however, the ride only stops in Belize City.  There are no other stops along the way.  It isn’t allowed.  We drove through San Ignacio.  I knew it was San Ignacio.  But, the driver wouldn’t let me out of the van.  I had to go all the way to the Belize/Guatemala border and then find my way back to San Ignacio.  It involved a lot of walking in blistering heat before a taxi charging a reasonable rate showed up.

On this second trip, I had another kind of ride.  This time, we rode in a local bus as the only tourists in sight.  They are called “chicken buses” but there were no chickens in site this time.  The bus was packed with people though.  Some had to stand.  I was very thankful for a seat and leg room as well as a cool breeze the entire trip.  And, our chicken bus stopped in San Ignacio, after stopping in at least thirty-five other places along the journey.  It was all a part of the chicken bus experience and not meant for chicken-hearted travelers.

Cahal Pech

There are many Mayan destinations across Belize.  At one point in time, there were a million Mayan people in the region.  They had to live somewhere, and they left a lot of history behind them.  On this particular trip, we headed to Cahal Pech, just outside of San Ignacio, as well as a little farther away to Xunantunich.  We probably would not have gone to Cahal Pech except a very friendly waiter pointed us in that direction.  And, it’s a whole lot easier to get anywhere in San Ignacio if you have a friendly waiter call his taxi driver buddy to get you there.

“The City of Ticks” was much better than its Mayan name might lead you to believe.  It was not discovered until 1950, which surprised me.  It really is right on the edge of town.  But, I guess it was not so in 1950.  Compared to other sites that I’ve seen, not that many people appeared to visit Cahal Pech.  There was a lot of peaceful time to wander around the ruins, explore passage ways, roam the sports complexes, and climb to the temple tops.  Nothing was too high, nor too steep, nor too dangerous.  It was a relaxed exploration that was just right, Goldilocks.  And, the proof is my legs didn’t hurt the next day.

If you walk downhill from the ruins, the complex security guards will most likely direct you to the city’s best ice cream shop at the foot of the hill.

Climbing every Mayan mountain in Xunantunich

Now, no matter how you pronounce Xunantunich, it was so worth the visit. Some local people said it started with a “zoo” sound while others said it was “shoe”. How could you know what to do under those circumstances?  I do know the second syllable is the one with emphasis.  So, my best guess is to try and say “zoo NAN tune ich”.  Fortunately, a taxi driver told me that it doesn’t matter how you say it.   Everyone knows what you are talking about.

Our first step was to go to a travel agency to see about a trip to these mysterious ruins that begin with an “X”.  It was $45 dollars per person.  And, much to my shock, the guy at the agency said, “Why would you want to spend that on a tour when you can so easily do it on your own?”

I never heard a travel agent say that before!

And, he was right.  This trip was very easy to do without a tour.  We took a taxi to the ferry crossing.  The original plan was to get dropped off at the ferry and find our way back somehow.  However, plans change when you have a friendly taxi driver.  He suggested that he drive us up the mountain to the park and wait an hour and a half for us.  The more I thought about it, and especially after I saw that hike, I was so glad we didn’t walk up the mountain to the site that once flourished in 600 AD.  But, with a little experience under my belt, I would have negotiated for two and a half hours at the ruins.  Our entire time there felt rushed.   I kept asking, “How soon do we need to return to the taxi?”   Yep, spend a little extra money and thoroughly enjoy the moment.

Xunantunich was well organized.  The grounds were clean, the ruins were in good condition, and there were even a few educational buildings.  As my niece and nephew ran on to climb every Mayan mountain, my sister and I wandered into one of the educational units that almost everyone appeared to ignore.  I must confess that my greatest motivation was to continue walking on level ground for a moment.  Even the small climb from the ticket office to the monuments was a little tiring.  So, we went in the building to get educated.

And, I’m so glad I did!

A Little Education in Xunantunich

At one point my sister looked at one of the educational posters and said, “That looks like something you could have drawn.”  IT WAS SOMETHING I HAD DRAWN! In fact, three of my cartoon archaeologists were used to decorate different posters.  Was my name there?  No.  Did I get paid for my art used for commercial purposes?  No.  I even had to pay to enter the park.  None of it mattered.  My art was used at Xunantunich and I was simply delighted.

Yep, some people come to Belize to worship the sun and burn.  I put on number seventy sun block.  Others come to fish which, to be honest, is just beyond my comprehension.  I came because my niece wanted to paint a mural with me.  But, after that, the absolute highlight of my trip was seeing my art used at Xunantunich.  So, plan a trip to these Mayan ruins that are just impossible to pronounce.  Take the detour that nobody else seems to take.  You, too, will then agree that I am probably the most non-famous, world-famous artist whose work you’ll ever see.

How you might feel after climbing every mountain.