Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Day 4 - Xunantunich (Shu -non - too-nich) in Belize

I've looked forward to THIS day for over 30 years. In fact, we chose this tour so we could visit Belize (which I've heard great things about from anyone who visits) and see some of their Mayan ruins. In looking over the reviews of tours THIS was the one people mentioned being allowed to get close to the ruins and explore them.

A word before I write any further. I KNOW some are wondering why we are out traveling the world if Michael is disabled. Pure and simple his neurologist asked what he wanted to do with his life. She then told us to go do it. He has a degenerative neurological disease and any minute could be the peak of the rest of his life.  She felt there was no trouble with traveling - even felt we could eventually go to Japan if we can figure out the VA/civilian/Japan care plan. The VA neurologist/motion disorder specialist told us in August to go "do what you want to do, NOW!" They all knew we planned to cruise. They know we plan to drive America in an RV and said I need to learn to drive our rig. They know we want to go to Alaska and overseas. He has 4 appointments and labs scheduled for the three days after we get back to Oregon. We are not being stupid. Michael knows what he can do. In fairness, they probably didn't think he was going to climb Mayan ruins - but he always had something in mind to grab as needed, he didn't go near the edge and we planned slow days after this day. It worked fine. I DID have to tell myself to quit worrying and let him do what he wants to do - now! It was great. I think all patients diagnosed with Parkinson's should go climb ruins in Belize. πŸ˜‰ 

Belize is 31 years old. It was formally the British colony called British Honduras. English is spoken. The country is breathtakingly beautiful!

We had to take a tender from the ship to shore. Remembering my Catamaran experience in Hawaii, I was armed with oil behind my ears, sea bands and Dramamine. I was fine. We were met by our tour guide at the port and proceeded to drive in an AIR CONDITIONED bus the two hours to the national park less than a mile from the Guatemalan border. 
Lynn was a great guide
Our guides, Lynn and Jeronimo (Mayan), filled the two hours with interesting Belizean facts and history tidbits. All schools are private - it costs $3,000 a year to send your child to school. There is no welfare system in Belize. If you want to eat - you have to work - and they encouraged us to support the local economy by buying from the vendors. Many Americans are settling in Belize. You are allowed to live tax free for a year if you move all your stuff to Belize and are granted citizenship after you stay for 5 years. They allow dual citizenship with America.  Iguanas are  called "bamboo chickens" in Belize.  They take boarder security very seriously and we saw many guards armed with M-16's  patrolling various areas. Many comments were made about "Guatemala" coming across the border. The Ramada Inn has the only bowling alley in Belize and one of two theaters in the country. The population of the entire country is approximately 300,000.

We drove through cities, small towns, lush jungles and savannas. We were on the look-out for monkeys, tropical birds and jaguars. We saw none. We saw CREEKS bigger than rivers in West TX and CA. No drought here at all. We saw many Assembly of God churches, Mennonite farms, ranches and the Chinese section of Belize. 
One of many private schools - all wear uniforms

Mennonite Farmers

Open air market
As we neared Xuantunich (Shu -non - too-nich), we got out of the bus and loaded on to a ferry. The unique aspect of this ferry is it is a hand crank ferry.

At the park, we were asked if we could all handle a 5 min uphill hike. Off we went.  It was a workout. The park is 80 miles west of Belize city and less than a mile from the Guatemalan border. It served as the Maya Civic and Ceremonial center.   Xuantunich means "stone woman" after a local legend about ghosts and the mountain. Xuantunich (Shu -non - too-nich) hosts the second highest structure in Belize - El Castillo. It was IMPRESSIVE.  There are four plazas with many temples and ball courts. The excavation continues - University of TX and AZ send teams each summer. It was interesting to see the various stages of excavations. They are still uncovering more. It was eerie to consider how many lost their lives on this spot. The ruins date from 600- 700 A.D. with evidence of a community on the spot from the pre-classic period. 

As we gazed at El Castillo - 130 feet high - I realized though we'd considered Michael and the challenges of the tour,  I'd not considered my fear of heights when I campaigned for this tour. Much like I didn't consider my motion sickness when I campaigned for a catamaran ride in Hawaii. πŸ˜ƒ 

I was not the only one with this problem. It was ironic that Michael - who we were concerned about  - zipped right to the top. I was not the only one leery of the 130 foot climb to the top - - no guardrails.....dizzying, terrifying and amazing!  I stayed behind and started my climb - encouraging the others. All but one of us made it to the top. 
Yes, there were parts I crawled up rather than walked up
 View from halfway up

Looking up 

Looking Down

The gal who didn't make it to the top,  made it over  half way and then looked down....yikes it was BREATH TAKING!  She told me, "If the good Lord wanted me to be up this high, He'd take me to heaven." I couldn't argue. One of our guides went back down with her.
Visiting with her later in the day
View from the top - spectacular! 


A ball court
Click here  for a video view from mid way up.

I asked about the railing you see in the photo above. There were these and a bit further down to the right some more. I was told they were new. The American university teams put them in. It seems that lots of people were falling. The attitude seemed to be, "It happens." The Americans, however, thought some steps and rails should be put in and, "Visitors do like them." πŸ˜‚ There must not be a Belizean OSHA.

And then I realized, I would have to climb back DOWN 130 feet with no handrails or guardrails.  There was a distinct moment, as I looked down, when I wanted to cry....but then I remembered, "COURAGE....Strength and Courage....Courageous Joy." I remembered what we were doing - having fun, doing something we wanted to do and conquering our fears/challenges. The guides were nice to let me sit and think and make a plan before I headed down - and I DID head down before many. 😏 They suggested I back down  - but that was awful not to SEE where I was going....I decided to sit down and scoot when needed, cling to the wall as needed, express my exhilaration as called for.....Michael hugged the wall and went right down. But then HE only had Parkinson's balance and tremors to battle - I had stark fear. πŸ˜›
Jeronomo (R) is full Maya and was with with us all day
He is a retired teacher
 I was THRILLED to get inside the temple and have some stairs for 10 feet or so. Jeronomo said his ancestors could not figure out how to make a curved arch - and this arch is typical for this period.

Do you see the person on the left - a bit further down? Narrow, windy....exhilarating. 

Still finding new sites to excavate
 Jeronomo explained all the hieroglyphics, but I can't remember what they all meant. It centered around the goddess and their worship. 

Both safely at the foot of El Castillio
I've not tried anything really high - other than the top deck of the ship - since this outing; but I'm going to remember how wild this was and know that I can climb high and not fall.


We started our 5 min hike back down to the vans, over the ferry and back to our bus. We had a yummy Belizean lunch at Hodees. I bought a bottle of Hot Mama's Sweet Hot Sauce. Many slept on the two hour drive back to port.  Here are a  few more sights from the drive back to port. 

School girls

A Class C - hmmm.....could we drive it? 
 This is an amazing site and we highly recommend the tour! It is the first one to leave Carnival and the last one back.

We had 30 minutes to freshen up for dinner. It was fun to swap stories with Sheldon and Melinda. I realized I didn't get a photo  of them - though Melinda's pops in and out of this video from dinner.

After dinner we strolled the decks, and stopped to watch Independence Day: Resurgence under the stars. A very fun day in Belize.

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