April 10, 2010

OAT Belize: Lamanai Ruins and Wildlife

Crossing over the border from Guatemala into Belize was challenging because of the strained relationship between the two countries.  Guatemala believes a significant portion of Belize belongs to Guatemala and boundaries continue to be disputed.  We had to take all of our luggage down from the top of the bus, walk it across the border ourselves, and then load it again.  The Belize population was clearly more "Carribean" than Spanish and if the Belize immigration officials spoke Spanish, they were not admitting it.  This "English-Only Spoken Here" made it easier to remember that Belize used to be British Honduras.
Belize City was rather seedy and the hotel food especially uninspired.  But the approach by boat on the New River to the Lamani ruins made visiting Belize worthwhile.  We saw 24 species of birds (list at end) including two "10,000 pointers" : Laughing Falcon and Barethroated Tiger Heron.  We were amused by the osprey that was clearly conflicted - it wanted to fly away to safety but it did not want to stop eating the fish it had caught - it finally decided to stay.  We admired a number of pretty birds and a pair of mottled owls. 
Enroute, we saw Mennonites fishing.  There are about 2500 who live here.  They wear white hats and the women wear long dresses.
Ivania caught a great shot of one of the raucous howler monkeys that greeted us as came ashore
Lamanai means "Submerged Crocodile" and has been continuously occupied for 3500 years (1500 BC until recently when Lamanai was declared a national park and the Mayan residents were relocated). 
We passed by the Jaguar temple and through a small ball court (where mercury and cinnabar were found)
The High Temple is 32 meters high and is the 2nd largest pre-classic structure in the Maya world.  We pulled ourselves up by clinging to the metal chain.  Our reward was a view of the river and jungle. 
After our picnic lunch, I set off on my own to explore.
I found the Spanish Church ruins
and the British Sugar Mill abandoned in 1864

 Lamanai Bird List * 10,000 point bird
1) Swallow, Mangrove
2) Osprey
3) Hawk, Black Collared
4) Falcon, Laughing *
5) Falcon, Bat
6) Trogan, Slaty Tailed
7) Owl, Mottled
8) Heron, Barethroated Tiger *
9) Heron, Little Blue
10) Heron, Boat Billed
11) Heron, Great Blue
12) Heron, Green
13) Jacana, Northern
14) Kingfisher, Green
15) Kingfisher, Ringed
16) Kite, Snail
17) Trogan, Blackheaded
18) Limpkin
19) Anhinga
20) Cormorant, Neotropic
21) Egret, Cattle
22) Aracari, Collared
23) Kingbird, Tropical
24) Blackbird, Redwinged

April 09, 2010

OAT Guatemala: Yaxha

Yaxha is the 3rd largest Mayan complex in Guatemala and provided several climbing opportunities.

April 08, 2010

OAT Guatemala: Lake Peten Itza

As it started to drizzle during our "Sunset Tour" of Lake Peten Itza, I was beginning to think the highlight of this excursion was going to be the complimentary Chilean "wine-in-a-box".  But Ivania managed to capture the sun peeking through the storm clouds.
We paid a surprise (for us) visit to a small family-owned museum in the middle of the lake. 
There were plenty of authentic Mayan artifacts
and a conch blowing demonstration
A happy ending!

OAT Guatemala: Tikal

  Tikal reached its zenith from AD 300 to 900 and was home to as many as 100,000 Maya.  Tikal has an estimated 3000 structures including the 144-foot Temple of the Grand Jaguar, tomb of "Moon Double Comb" who was buried with 180 carved jade pieces. We climbed three very tall temples that day for an excellent cardio workout and breathtaking views.

April 07, 2010

OAT Guatemala: Antigua Paseo de los Museos to Flores

We spent a morning in the Paseo de los Museos contained within the only 5 Star hotel in Antigua,  Casa Santo Domingo.  If you can afford it, you should stay here.  It sparkled!

Ivania kept us enthralled as we meandered through the hotel tunnel art gallery, past convent ruins and down into crypts, into a chocolate shop for a treat, and then into a series of museums: pre-colombian artifacts, colonial art, native arts and handicrafts,  apothecary and glass.  In the glass museum (my favorite), a Mayan artifact was paired with a similar object in modern glass.  For example, a Mayan rabbit might be placed next to a Lalique crystal rabbit.  Of course, no pictures allowed and my postcards don't scan well!

It was now time to drive to Guatemala City and catch our flight (a propeller plane) to Flores.

April 06, 2010

OAT Guatemala: La Antigua Guatemala

The city we know as la Antigua de Guatemala was founded on March 10, 1543 and named "Santiago de los Caballeros".  Spain was tempted to move this colonial capital when a 7.4 magnitude earthquake destroyed over 3,000 buildings on September 29, 1717.  After the Santa Marta earthquake struck in 1773 and destroyed most of the city, Spain made the decision to relocate everyone to Guatemala City in 1776.  There are historians who argue that the government destroyed what the earthquakes did not, in an effort to convince reluctant citizens to move to the new seat of government.  Known now as la Antigua (the Old) Guatemala, the city languished until some Spanish Language schools were formed.  Now, learning Spanish is a thriving industry that has attracted many tourists to this quaint city and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our city tour took us past many churches in various stages of restoration.
People still do their laundry (free water) by hand in the center of town
I found the McDonald's garden to be an oasis in the hustle and bustle of the city.  Free computer access and those delicious McCafe capuccinos were a bonus.
We visited the reputable "Casa del Jade" where we were assured that Guatemalan "Jadeite" [pyroxine NaAlSi2O6] is rarer and far superior to Chinese "Nephrite" [actinolite Ca2(Mg,Fe)5Si8O22(OH)2], although both are known to us as "Jade."  .
The textile factory was more touristy than interesting
Market Day in Santa Maria de Jesus was colorful.  The shoe sales were compelling for many but we thought the ducks were adorable. 
 Ivania caught great shots of shoppers.
I attended Elizabeth Bell's "Behind the Walls" lecture in the evening while others enjoyed a folkloric show and dinner.