Monday, July 20, 2015

7/16 & 17 -- Back home

Since our plane didn't leave until 3pm, we had a leisurely morning to pack and make our way to the airport. It was too early for lunch at the hotel, but we discovered that the Belize City airport dining options are what you might best call 'limited'. Jim scouted around and found a bar selling hot dogs, so I went and got one, but when he went back, they were all out. They had had chicken sandwiches too, so I urged him to get one of those, but somebody else got the last one, so he had to subsist on doritos and coke. Fortunately, we scored business class seats, so we got fed an early dinner on the plane.

The flights were the best kind -- uneventful and on time -- and we got back to SF at 11:45PM and made it home by 1:30AM on the 17th. 

It was a fun trip, and I was especially glad to get to see Francia again. Now as we recover, we get to plan our next trip.....North Vietnam, Bali, Java, and the Komodo Islands which starts in early August! One challenge will be to find quick-dry long pants to replace the ones I tore when I tripped walking over a speed bump in a Guatemalan village.

7/15 -- Lamanai Ruins in Belize

Today we headed to our last archeological site, Lamanai in northern Belize. The site was continously occupied from about 1500 BC until 1700 AD. It only started getting excavated in the 1970s and is in a more 'natural' (i.e. not dug up) state than the other sites we visited. Part of the fun of this trip was a 1.5 hour boat ride up the New River.

Unfortunately, this was also the most mosquito-ridden site. Despite my liberal use of bug juice, they apparently found a site at the bottom of my right sleeve that I missed and got me 4 times in a small area. Plus they bit me through my shirt and pants. I'd forgotten how nasty they were!

Our group of 14 plus guides fit comfortably in one of these boats.

Some sort of egret, probably

Called a Jesus bird because of how it appears to walk on
water, this beauty is really a Jacana.

Three little swifts or swallows.

The black things on the tree trunk are sleeping
bats. There are no caves in the area, so they
have adapted. Given the number of mosquitoes
we encountered, we say "hooray for the bats!".

The site name is a slight corruption of the Mayan, meaning
submerged crododile.

Temple of the Jaguar Masks

Jaguar closeup

Living areas for royalty

High temple

Mask temple. The mask looks more Olmec than Maya. Olmecs
are now thought to be Mayan progenitors instead of a
completely different group. The mask was covered by a later
layer of temple and the one on the left has been left hidden.

Climbing up the stone steps to the top. They
appear to be made too tall to walk up so the
priests would be bowing to the gods all the
way up and back down.

View from the top looking at the folks who didn't climb.

View from the top to the jungle and the river.
A museum on the site had some interesting displays. What
caught my attention about this one is that talks about research
done by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh,  my alma mater.

The yellowy green stuff is vegetation clinging to a tree, but
at first glance, it looks like a BIG snake.

Another bird
Howler monkey
After the boat and bus ride back to Belize City, we had time to rest (or start to pack) and attend the Farewell Dinner. It has been a great trip!

7/14 -- Yaxha and Drive to Belize

This morning, we set out for Belize City, and stopped at Yaxha (Ya-sha), another archaeological site near Tikal that is the 3rd largest Mayan site in Guatemala (after Tikal and El Mirador). It was first settled in 1000 BC and did not suffer the rapid collapse that hit other cities, lasting nearly 2000  years. It abuts Lake Yaxha and was a critical line of defense for Tikal. One particularly insistent enemy general attacked it 21 times in 19 years. 

Fiberglass copy of a stela, allowing the original
to be kept safe. You can see the feet and body
of a person. The top part is an elaborate headdress
that probably would have been too heavy to
actually wear.

One of the pyramids, with the central steps not cleared.

Industrious paper cutter ants at work. We had to be careful
not to step on their trails.

Cicada -they were here in the thousands and VERY noisy.

View to Lake Yaxha from the top of a temple.

Jim at the temple's top

That skinny path was created by the ants.

A strangler fig well on its way to killing its host.

Howler monkey

Bright orange centipede

Plastered artwork originally hidden under a layer or 2 of
more recent construction.

Luis pointing out three layers of building.

Lynn at the top of a temple, staying away from
the outer edge.

Central plaza

Black-headed egrets (?)
 After lunch, we headed to Belize, where all our luggage had to be removed from the roof of the bus and walked past immigration before being reloaded on the bus. The roads in Belize seem to have greatly improved since we were here for Dan's wedding in 2006, but the landscape is still pretty dull. The population here is quite small -- only about 350,000 -- even though it is a bit larger that El Salvador, which has a population of 6 million. Literacy in these two countries is the best in Central America -- 91+% in El Salvador, 90+% in Belize. It appears that most people live near the coast, however.

Belize City, where we stayed, has one third of the country's population and is located right on the Caribbean Sea. Our hotel faced the sea, and the lighthouse below was about 100 feet from the hotel.

7/13 -- Tikal

Our day started earlier than usual because the hotel is over an hour away from Tikal and we wanted to arrive before it got too hot and busy. The park actually opens at 6am. but fortunately, we didn't get there quite that early. The weather on the trip has generally been hotter than we are used to (at home, a day that gets to 70 is quite toasty), but the lowlands of northern Guatemala have really tested our stamina. Both the temperatures and the humidity are in the 90s and mosquitoes are more of a problem.

We spent several hours exploring Tikal, which  is really big. However, archaeologists have stopped digging things out and clearing the jungle, because the structures weather much more quickly when exposed. The new way of excavating is to build tunnels and then fill them in. We learned several interesting things here. Everything we have seen in these stone cities was built for the royalty. Normal people didn't have stone dwellings, so nobody really knows much about their lives.

Most of the pyramids are solid and are not tombs, but appear to have religious and propaganda purposes (my temple is bigger than yours). In addition, many of the temples overlay earlier structures: sometimes as many as 4 structures are hidden inside the top layer. This appears to have been one way to build bigger quickly, and may also have served to obliterate the  memory of previous rulers.
Our first view of the most famous temple at Tikal.

A grey fox was exploring while we were there.

The slanted parts of this building and the round decorations are
more typical of Teotihuacan in Mexico. The slanted sections
improve seismic stability, a concern there but not here. It seems
that a baby queen was quickly deposed and instead of being killed
was moved to Mexico, where she grew up and married.  Her son
came back to Tikal, took over, and built temples in the style of his hometown.

That's Jim in the middle, climbing up the temple.

Above and below: Views from the top.

On our way back down, we met these two
young ladies who happen to have come from
the same part of Denmark where the
Hansens originated -- possibly long-lost cousins!

The homes were only used for sleeping. This
is a royal bedroom.

A coatimundi decided to check us out.

View across the jungle from another temple, with temple
tops in the distance.

Lynn & Jim at the top.

A tree called a 'naked Gringo' because of how
the bark peels in the sun. Gringo is used here to
describe any non-native, not just us.

The hole was enlarged by archaeologists who discovered this
was essentially and underground silo to protect food stores
from marauders.

A stone face hidden inside the outer layer of the temple.

Howler monkey

Lynn at another temple

Ceiba tree
After a late lunch near the park, we headed back to Flores, and took a quick tour of the main part of town, which is on an island. Back at the hotel, we got the first serious rain showers we have had despite this being the rainy season. The biggest impact us was that we decided not to walk the mile plus to the island restaurant for dinner. Dinner was in a lakeside restaurant and capped by a rousing happy birthday rendition for me with outrageous costumes. I had hoped to have a photo, but Luis' phone died as he tried to send it to me, so you'll will have to use your imagination.