Tag Archives: San Ignacio

Take me to the river

In San Ignacio, I found myself a cheap room in a buggy guesthouse which was run by a bossy Spanish speaking lady. A long cool shower for a hot & sweaty (and not in a sexy way) girl and then off to find dinner – which ended up being pizza in a bar while listening to David Bowie and Creedence Clearwater.

The next day I moved to the guesthouse next door (Mallorca), which was much cleaner and run by a lovely Spanish speaking lady.

I ambled about the little village, taking photos and chatting to people in the street. I found a proper coffee shop above the street run by an American ex-pat, Sean who made a very decent latte. I spent a bit of time catching up on emails, writing and reading.

I later went to Maya Walk office which had been recommended to me, and booked myself on the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour. The manager invited me to come back for happy hour at their newly opened bar, run by a lovely, softly spoken man by the name of Smokey. It was there I met London Mike and Canadian Steve, who’d met each other somewhere along the way and become traveling companions for the time being. Mike was also on a career break (few of us out there) and was headed to Guatemala as well. They had done the ATM caves that day and were raving about it.

I’ve regressed back into nana-dom again, rising at 6, going to bed at 10 – so I called it after just a few drinks and a feed at a gorgeous lil restaurant called Ko-Ox Han Nah where I had a terrific lamb curry. Been a while since I’ve had either lamb, or curry. It was good on the entry. Not so good on the exit.

On the morning of Thursday 18 August, the tour group convened at Smokey’s bar.

A cool cat with a big ‘fro called Jay sat next to me. He was from Harlem and we struck up an instant rapport. He ended up being gorgeous on all accounts.

On the bus I got talking to a vibrant young thing from Toowoomba – who looked like your archetypical surfer chick. She had gone to NYC to try her hand in the cut-throat fashion world there.

As the gringo trail / small world would have it – it turned out she had been traveling with Nathan, prior to him joining me on the sailing tour. He had spoken to both of us about the other, but I hadn’t known her forward travel plans and she was under the impression I was heading south along the Honduras coast line. Which had totally been the plan up until I’d gotten to Placenta.

* * *

Actun Tunichil Muknal means cave of the stone sepulcher. It’s a significant Mayan archaeological site, which is only accessible in the company if an official guide. We started off with two mini buses, but one of them broke down shortly into the journey, so all the people on the other bus piled onto ours. It was a bumpy, squishy ride over rough roads for nearly an hour.

It was then a gentle hike through some pretty bushland. We got to the site and were given helmets with flashlights, which Jay got pretty excited about. No briefing. Just off we go. What’s a waiver?

We crossed three small rivers to get to the mouth of the cave which was just pretty as you please, with cool crystal clear fresh water. The lighting through the trees gave the water a gorgeous translucent green color.

We strapped on our helmets and waded through neck-deep cold water for a few meters into the pitch black. If I’d had a hat and a stock whip, I would have felt like Indiana Fucking Jones.

We then followed in the footsteps of the great Mayans, scrambling over limestone rocks which were speckled with crystally flecks, shimmering under our headlights.

Every now and then our guide, Danny would stop and point out unusual rock formations, some of which had been altered to look like, or cast shadows of certain gods or animals…

He shared with us his comprehensive knowledge of the ceremonies that took place here. It was like a ‘living’ museum in that there were many remains of relics from the rituals. We saw skulls and bones which stone had ‘grown’ over (i think this is called calcification) and various pieces of ceramics and stoneware which had been utilized in the ceremonies.

The highlight of the tour was seeing the full skeleton of a teenage Mayan girl, who is known as the Crystal Maiden and who was sacrificed to the gods.

The whole experience was simply spectacular. I think one of the things that made it even more amazing for me was the thought that up until 1986, the cave had been undiscovered. Just call me Frontier Girl.

I met up with Jay and the two Carolines for a few drinks later that eve. I asked Smokey to deal a game of Blackjack for us, and he was happy oblige.

My ATM crew left the next morning for Flores. I met up with Smokey to visit a small but pretty local ruin at the top of the hill with amazing vistas; and then I spent the afternoon just chilling out.

On Saturday morning, I went to the markets with a bloke called Pices (or something like that). I had been under the impression it was was going to be this massive Mecca for artisans, but it was more like a farmer’s market. We had brekky and Pices told me his dreams of escaping to a big city. He wished it was him who was leaving, and me who was staying. I had enjoyed the little village of San Ignacio but I was glad that wasn’t the case.

I had spent 3 weeks in Belize and loved my time there. I would recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different (it’s a really multicultural country) but easy (everyone speaks English). The Caribbean coastline is just gorgeous. It’s warm all year round. You can have lobster for breakfast. The diving and snorkeling is stunning. It’s steeped in a really rich Mayan history. The people have a great sense of humor. And most importantly, the beer is cheap.

Having said all that, I was looking forward to getting my Guatemala on.

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Islands in the stream

I met my hotel neighbors the next day, Jessica and Andy – two friends from the States, both teachers. Adventurous spirits with amicable demeanors. Jess was on a 5 week vacation, while Andy was also taking a sabbatical. We shared some laughs and a meal that night. As it turned out, they were also going to take the Raggamuffin sailing trip on Friday.

In the meantime – Nathan, who I’d met when he was interning with the Opera House had been in touch and was talking about linking up.

The trip was a 3 day island hopping tour all the way down to Placencia  with a crew of local reggae-loving lads. The tour would include various snorkeling stops and camping on remote cayes in the Caribbean.

There were 18 of us boarding a 50 foot yacht. It seemed really small for how many we were.

There was a Dutch couple. I had dived the Blue Hole with Peter: he was a little eccentric but completely likable & Lariesa, who was just a doll.
Kelly – a smart, sassy, well-travelled Canadian, who I took a real liking to, and her gorgeous Mexican beau, Santiago. Then there was Jess and Andy; me and Nathan – who had made it at the eleventh hour!

Also on the boat were a pair of Italian doctors on their honeymoon, who mostly kept to themselves. 5 private school boys on their gap year / bromance holiday, who were carrying with them a satellite phone and GPS system (maybe they had plans to go to the Antarctic after the Caribbean. Dunno.) Another pair of English lads, who played a lot of chess. And a rather uptight Irish girl who told me she didn’t like reggae and insisted I didn’t get any sand in the tent we were sharing. (Umm. Hello. We’re on a freaking island, love. Jesus wept.)

I had two Firsts that day: as I was boarding – the Captain asked me if I fancied a foursome. I just laughed. I was starting to realize that Belizean men will have a crack at anything that is female and remotely single. They’ve got a Beavis & Butthead sense of humor, are very cheeky, can handle a heckle back, and are in essence – absolutely harmless.

My second First for the day was at the initial snorkeling stop. Everyone was faffing about, so I jumped in and was half-way around the little round reef, when I saw a big flash of grey-white sea-animal swimming, maybe 5 meters away from me. A manatee! I screamed out to the others who were on the boat still.

I had hoped to see one, but didn’t think it was actually going to happen.
I’m normally a lot more respectful, but i got a little crazy curious and finned fast & furiously to get a closer look. I think I was scaring her a little, as she started speeding up and away. She had a bulbous body shaped a bit like a seal but around 2-3 times the size. She had a small whale-like tail, that reminded me of a mermaid. I didn’t catch a look at her face. I suddenly realized what I was doing and stopped pursuing her, and watched her glide gracefully off into the distance. I was absolutely thrilled as sightings of these strange creatures are quite rare. I petulantly wanted more.

We stopped that night an island called Rendezvous Caye (northern) but not before picking up a random who was out in the middle of nowhere on this big fuck-off boat with a bunch of chairs on it. Quite strange. He was wearing a bright orange life jacket and boardies. He was very happy to see us. He came with us to the island, opened the toilets for us, and took on the role of our security guard for the evening. Pirates, maybe?

Rendezvous was tiny. As in you could walk around it in 15 minutes tiny.  There was a jetty, two palapas, maybe a dozen coconut trees and that was it. Population: zero. We were all so thrilled to get there. There was a lot of squealing from us girls, and backslapping from the boys. I think we all felt like proper pioneers!

We set up our tents while the crew did their thing. Another snorkel and we were called for dinner, a simple but delicious meal of ceviche and jerk chicken with the omnipresent rice & beans. The fruity rum punch flowed, we all got rather pissed quickly and ended up falling into our beds before 10.

The crew of the boat were a real highlight for me:
Raf was our relaxed Captain, who was clearly very knowledgeable about the entire area we covered in our trip and had done this dozens of times before. He ran a pretty tight operation, all things considered. He told me at the end of the trip, he didn’t usually socialize as much as he had done with us.

There was Shane, who sported a massive smile on his dial, had the ohccent yah mohn, and loved a smoke but I’m not altogether confident he abided by the other laws of the Rastafarian religion though.

Jacob was my favorite. 24 and covered in an array of tatts including a couple of distinct ones on his biceps: Fuck U Haters; and Trust No Bitch. But he was a real example of never judge a hook by its cover. He nicknamed me Vegemite and we developed a playful brother-sister relationship, tormenting the shit out of one another the whole time.

He gave me a compliment which made me swell with pride when he told me I could skin dive better than some men he knew and that I could potentially become a good spear fisherwoman. He gave me a gun at one point, and told me to go out on my own – but I didn’t find a single fish. They must have known i was coming. There’s a part of me that quite likes the idea of catching my own dinner. I blame my Dad for that. He raised me a bit of a tomboy. Albeit one who likes getting a pedicure.

Our second day was much the same: sailing, sunning ourselves & snorkeling. That night we set up camp at a place called Tobacco Caye. This place had a lot more infrastructure. Enough for the 20 residents and a few visitors anyway. A couple of simple cabanas, a store, 2 bars, and a dive shop.

5 of us took the opportunity to dive with Eric, a quietly spoken man who showed us one of the most unvisited parts of the Reef. Sadly it wasn’t as fishy as I had hoped… There are a lot of lion fish down these parts… They’re an introduced species, who eat a lot of the local fish, but they have no natural predators of their own, down here. They mature within a 6 week period and are causing a lot of exponential damage to the Reef. We also saw a lot of pollution caused mostly by fertilizers. Algae is spreading, so visibility wasn’t so great. Having said that, I’ve never seen such lush underwater vegetation.

Afterwards, tired of the sickly sweet rum punch, we consumed many many Belekins at one of the bars close to our campsite and enjoyed another great dinner (curry shrimp) prepared by our trusty crew.

We later went and watched a Garifunan drumming session at the other bar, and danced with the locals under the light of a full moon. I shook what my mama gave me, while Nathan shook the maracas. The English lads let loose as well, busting out a few moves on the deck.

I laughed my arse off with the unassuming Jess who I diagnosed with a form of sex turrets: She would just very suddenly yell out something completely inappropriate as a response to anything that could be misinterpreted. Case in point: Eric was trying to describe the size of something (it was “Big.” “And Black.”) And Jess’ loud response was “What?” “A donkey dick?” The thing that got to me was she just didn’t seem the type. I loved the juxtaposition. I was doubled over, clutching my belly and crying with laughter. Meanwhile, I think Eric was a bit confused. I still have no idea what he was trying to describe.

I woke up the next day with an absolutely shocking hangover. I drank some water and immediately felt like throwing up. I stood up and immediately felt like throwing up. I sat down and immediately felt like throwing up. The wind was quite literally making my head hurt. The gorgeous Dutch girl gave me some ibroprofun. I tried eating breakfast and immediately felt like throwing up. This. Was. Not. Good. I had to get on a boat, for goodness sake. I went and saw the Captain and got some seasickness tablets. I went for a swim. About an hour later I stopped feeling like I would throw up. I spent the whole day out on the deck in the partial shade, snoozing and being quite unsociable.

We eventually arrived at Placencia (which I kept wanting to call Placenta) mid afternoon. We were all a wee bit weary and keen for a shower and a comfy bed with AC.

Peter, Lareisa, Jess, Andy, Santi, Kelly and Nathan and I all scored rooms at a nice hotel on the beach with a bunch of hammocks under a palapa. We spent the next day chilling out, chatting and planning the next legs of our individual trips. Well, they planned. I got as far as deciding between Honduras, Gautemala and Costa Rica.

On Tuesday, we said our goodbyes and went out separate ways. I missed the first Hokey Pokey Water Taxi because I had got chatting to some dude who had spent 7 years in jail for a murder he said he didn’t commit. I bought a book of his poetry. I ended up getting the midday boat. I was the only gringo in this dinky tinny of a thing that I kept thinking was going to sink. We motored up Mango Creek at breakneck speed with me beaming all the way.

I made my way to Sherl’s Diner where an old John Wayne western was on the telly. I ordered the pork stew and waited for the chicken bus to the Belmopan, Belize’s capital.

The bus took us through lush green rolling hills, spotted with shacks and houses in varying shades of pastel and varying degrees of dilapidation. The cute little kids with their cornrow hair stared at me the whole time on the bus. I amused myself by trying to get a smile out of them by pulling funny faces.

I picked up a connecting bus into San Ignacio which arrived just before dusk.

Wed 17 August