Monday, March 4, 2013

Research Trip to Belize and Mexico Part One

This fall I went on a research trip with my husband to Belize and Mexico so that I could research the landscape, Mayan ruins, and ocean to make paintings. It was our first such trip where our trip rested somewhere in between being full on back backing and just easy going about it. (we were the only 2 people traveling around on buses and staying in these small towns with rolling bags even though they can convert to backpacks if it got weird, but it never did) I wanted the experience to be somewhere in between tourist and exploring so it was hard to know what resources would work and what wouldn't until we were actually in the country. I will share some of the tips we learned along the way in future posts.

First off, I can't go on enough about how much we LOVED Belize! It is beautiful, the people are super friendly, it has almost no tourism in comparison to Mexico, 26% of the country is protected,  cheap, and easy to navigate once you get used to the fact that everything runs on "island time" like the rest of the Caribbean (even though Belize is actually nested between Mexico and Guatemala). P.S. they speak English. 

I fell in love with the Mayan sites in Belize that are nested in the jungles and on mountain tops. They are not nearly as excavated as the sites we saw in Mexico, and you can climb to the top of everything with stairs.  I loved wardering through the jungle and coming to an area with a temple that is 147 ft high (The famous Chitzen Itza pyramid is 97 ft high) plus ruins that are covered 1000 year old jungle growth.

Xunantunich (sounds kinda like tuna sandwich). 

This is my finished sketch on a temple in Xunantunich. I wasn't on the top to do it because the ledge wan't super wide and it kinda freaked me out to be up there for too long. You can see Guatemala in the background.

You can get to Xunantunich on a short bus ride from San Ignacio then is is a short half mile walk. We saw people taking expensive tours from fancy hotels but we liked taking our time about it and met some nice locals along the way.

That guy has a weedwacker.

Cahal Pech is a small Mayan site that is walkable from the town of San Ignacio that we stayed in. It is beautiful and completely worth the visit.

Me sketching in Caracol which is now believed to be the largest and most powerful Mayan city that ever existed with the estimated 150,000 people at its hight. (Don't believe the guides at Chitzen Itza)

These are the buses that you ride around the country in and they are the ONLY ones unless you get an expensive shuttle service from a tour outfit. We met some people who did that and I guess it is easy to hitch a ride on one with some extra seats. But unlike chicken buses in certain countries, these are safe, and a great way to meet some locals and backpackers and enjoy the country.

This is the path that takes you through the protected jungle rain forest to the main Caracol ruins. It is magical.

Small ruins in Caracol

The best part of the Caracol trip (it takes about an Hour and a half to get there because it is on the top of a mountain in the middle of a national park reserve) was standing on the high temple and seeing the misty, rolling mountains of rain forest. It was impossible to get a good picture to do it justice, but we did see a toucan.

This was the highest temple in Caracol. It is so large that there are 3 more temple on top of the platform that are hard to see. 

This is the Rio Frio cave that we were able to stop at on the way to Caracol. The mouth of the cave is at least 75 ft high. Most of Belize is said to be like swiss cheese made up of a huge labyrinth of unmapped cave systems (they're working on it). We also went on the A.T.M. cave expedition but they no longer allow photography because a tourist damaged a priceless artifact by dropping his camera on it. But rest assured, it that cave was the #1 best experience of my life! It is the most beautiful place Dave and I have ever been. The Mayans believed it was where the water goddess lived and to see it you understand why. Plus all of the Mayan artifacts have been left where they found them so it is full of pottery and bones with no roped off walk ways.

This is Caye Caulker off of the coast of Belize. It's one mile away from the worlds second largest barrier reef. It's a true hippie island, it's small, cheap to stay and get to, and you can arrange snorkeling tours. 

We stayed here at Yuma's place. It's a hostel which means no bathroom in the room but that is a very American notion anyways and we never miss it considering you're in paradise for $30 a night with a full kitchen and it's very clean, safe, and cute.

Thay have a large protected coral park that gives a place for fish to repopulate


This was our view in the morning. 

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