Belize December 2003
December 2 - December 22
Return to Paradise
Rough Draft (December 28, 2003)

Click on each image to reveal the full size (and quite large) image.

Lamanai Outpost Lodge, on the New River Lagoon.

We arrived in Belize City on Wednesday evening to find a dark brooding sky. Our guides for Lamanai picked us up at the airport, and we drove up the Northern Highway to orange Walk town for about an hour, sometimes through heavy patches of rain. At Orange Walk Town we climbed aboard an open motor boat for a trip down the New River to the Lagoon and Lamanai Outpost Lodge. The moon was out, and the evening had potential for a lovely cruise, but a few minutes into the ride the downpour struck, and continued for the next hour and a half. We were drenched, but our spirits weren't (too) dampened.

The lodge itself is lovely, and offers a number of guided tours into the surrounding wilderness for wildlife observing and cultural history. The Mayan ruins of Lamanai are only a half mile to the north, and a maze of rivers, creeks and channels feeding into the lagoon surrounded us.

Our cabana (#10, the ant eater) at Lamanai Outpost Lodge.
A black orchid, the national plant of Belize, on the grounds of Lamanai Outpost Lodge.

The view from the dining room at Lamanai Outpost Lodge.
The entrance to the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai (from the lagoon). A new visitor center was under construction and should be open by early 2004.

The Temple of the Mask, Lamanai.

Elayne before an original mask. Like most Mayan centers, the temples at Lamanai underwent drastic changes on a regular basis. This particular temple has threen known major phases: the first with classic Mayan masks (not visible), the second with the Olmec style masks (shown here), and the third with no masks at all. As each modification was made, the old incantation of the temple was typically preserved beneath the new construction. Often the latest layer of any given temple has been radically erroded by time and the jungle, while the older layers remain relatively well preserved.

The canopy around the Mayan ruins. The average Mayan only experienced his world beneath the trees: the vistas provided by the temples were reserved for the priests and social elite.
The High Temple, Lamanai.
Leonard (neither a priest nor social elite) at the very top of the High Temple, Lamanai. Jose, our guide and a native Mayan, is visible in the background.

On and around the High Temple.

This temple is currently undergoing archaeological study (as it has for some time), and some of the equipment from this activity is visible.

Indiana Jones would have felt right at home here.

An original mask from the High Temple.
A trench dug into a small temple adjacent to the High Temple. Most Mayan ruins appear as small symmetrical hills covered by jungle, and to determine what's beneath the earth archaeologists often dig an exploratory trench through the center of a mound.
The main ball court at Lamanai. Mayans played ceremonial games in these courts with a hard rubber ball made from latex rubber. The outcome of these games could have been used to predict some future event or determine who was to be sacrificed (it might have been either the winners or the losers of the game).

The Temple of the Crocodile and its associated stella (well, a reproduction of it).
A plaza surrounded by a residential area for the priests and nobility of Lamanai.
The Temple of the Jaguar, as seen from a residential area of the city complex.

The Temple of the Jaguar, and a Jaguar mask on the front of the temple.
The view from on top of the Temple of the Jaguar.

An sunset boat trip around the New River Lagoon.
A sunrise bird watching trip across the lagoon.

One of our tours was a guided walk through the jungle looking at medicinal plants used by the Mayans (many are still in use today, and some are used in or lead to production of western medicines). Along the way we encountered a couple of frogs, and old English sugar mill overtaken by a strangler fig, and lots and lots of mosquitos!
We took some time off from hiking and touring about to indulge in some of the ammenities of the lodge. Here you can see Elayne's henna dragonfly.
We flew back to Belize City from Lamanai on a small plane, and the 20 minute flight back to Belize City, while scenic, had none of the trauma of the boat trip out.

We next took off with Slickrock (along with 8 other travellers and our guides Bones and Neri) on what they call their Adventure Week tour. A full week of river running, mountain biking, caving, surf kayaking, sail boarding, snorkelling and (for us at least) diving.

Our first stop and home for the next four days was Ian Anderson's Jungle Lodge in the Cayo district. Ian's place is right on the Caves Branch River and is absolutely wonderful. The bird life is active and plentiful, the cabanas are comfortable, the toilets are flush, and the showers (outdoor though they are) have hot water!

Our cabana was comfortable and homey, and open on all sides (with lots of screening to keep the mosquitos out (as it turned out we had wonderfully chilly nights at Ian's , and mosquitos simply weren't around the lodge area at all).

Always thinking of both the local flora and fauna as well as his guests, Ian raised and released over a hundred tarantulas into the cabana thatch roofs to help control the insect pest problem (we didn't see any bugs in our cabana, but we also didn't see an tarantulas, although we would have loved to have seen them).

For our first day at Ian's we rafted down the Caves branch and into a series of caves. The Caves branch flows out from the Mayan Mountains and into the nearby limestone foot hills, where clasic karst topography is in abundance. Caves and fantastic limestone formations fill the area, and some of the rivers can be rafted through quite a few caves -- some of the caves extend for several miles downriver!

The weather was perfect and after the first series of caves we had to portage around an unrunable cave. The rafts were deflated and they plus all of the gear was lugged over a half a mile of steep muddy bank to our lunch spot, and where we would reenter the river and cave system.

The caves were quite stunning, the air warm, and the water cool. I can't think of a better way to spend a winter's day.

The next day we jumped on mountain bikes and rode up into the same foot hills we had rafted under the day before. The mountain bike trail was a bit muddy, and it began by going uphill steeply for a long way. At the top of the hill all but four of our group opted to go back down and back to camp, while the rest of us plunged on into the jungle.

The bike path was lovely, although difficult by our standards (its official classification is only moderate, but we're not active bikers) and for much of its length it parallels a small stream.

By the end of the ride we were hot and tired and ready for a little rest, but we had another activity scheduled for that afternoon.

After lunch we piled on back of a trailer and a tractor pulled us farther up the Caves Branch River, where we entered another cave and half swam and half floated (in intertubes) up into the cave.

Like many caves in the area, this one was used for Mayan ceremonies, and artificats were located about the cave.

Although the cave was stunning, we were tired and the water was cold, and so we were happy to get back out into the day to catch the last rays of the setting sun.

On our last day at Ian's we trekked deep into the Mayan Mountains for an all day white water rafting trip through class 4 rapids. And by all day, they really did mean all day -- we began just after an early breakfast and were on the river until dark.

The highlight of this trip for us was a wildlife encounter made halfway down the river. As we were drifting along through a tranquil section of water, an agouti raced down the bank pursued by a tayra (a member of the weasel family, and therefore a close relative of the ferret). The agouti splashed into the water and towards one of our rafts, while the tayra stopped on the bank and glared at us. The tayra procedded to display its anger by pouncing up and down on the rocks while staring at us as we drifted away downstream.

The river was rough enough that we didn't risk taking a camera with us.

Next day were were off to Dangriga, a small town on the coast where we would catch our boat ride out to Long Caye on Glovers Reef.

On the way out to the island we were treated to picture perfect weather, calm seas, and a special treat: a very rare (for these waters) pod of pilot whales, who came right up to our boat!

Soon our destination and home for the next ten days came into view.

An ideal vacation.

Lucky Bunny, the island mascot.

The kitchen: island social center and source of wonderful food.

On the sea.

Goodbye to our fellow Adventure Week guests and the guides.

Middle Caye Research Center.

Volleyball: not just a past time, but a passion!

Under the sea.

A snorkel photo shoot.

A week of bad weather followed by a respite.
Goodbye to Long Caye and Glovers Reef.

On to Gales Point and the Mantee Lodge for a planned day of looking for manatee and a tranquil walk on a sunny beach.

Our last day: cold, rain and wind. Run away! Back to Belize City.
On our way home: of course now it decides to clear up and look nice.