One of my favorite day trips EVER was the time we joined a small tour headed for the ancient city of Lamanai in Belize.
The first part of the trip was by jeep which covered miles upon miles of rutted roads . This is where we really were able to see and experience life in the back country of Belize. The poverty was immense and all encompassing. Children dressed in rags ran out of their small houses to wave at the strangers passing by with smiles taking up the majority of their sweet small faces. They were delighted to have something to see and break up their day.
It was also during this ride that I saw my first ever cashew tree. Colorful cashew apples dressed in yellow and red hung from narrow branches and swayed in the breeze. A single prized cashew nut protruded from the bottom of this apple which would soon be collected and roasted. The oil from the shell is caustic and can burn the skin so handling the nut is not advised unless you know what you are doing.
After a two hour ride we finally arrived at the New River where we took a small boat and headed for Lamanai. Along the way we saw crocodiles, jacanas, hawks and many different types of waterfowl. Little boys in dug out canoes were everywhere fishing and delighted to show off their catch from the safety of their boats. As the river meandered along we were surprised when we saw a family of Amish along the river. Seems that there is a colony of the sect living in the area. It was amazing to see people whom I had seen in Pennsylvania Dutch country all the way out in the wilds of Belize.
Finally we arrived at Lamanai. Ancient Mayan temples surrounded us but it was the errie never ceasing cries of the howler monkeys hidden in the trees that got our immediate attention. Never in my life had I heard such loud screams and haunting howls! We watched the monkeys scamper in the trees for a time before heading over to the High Temple.
The High Temple (N10-43) climbs 108 ft from the jungle floor allowing for never-ending views along the river. It was the highest building at Mesoamerica at that time it was completed. Construction began in 100BC and the temple was built over an existing neighborhood that dates back to 300 BC. But it is the opulent Central Stairway that is really the star of this show. It is a tough climb to the top when you are encased in the sticky humidity of the jungle.
The Jaguar Temple (N10-9) was given its name due to the two jaguar masks that lie at its base. It is one of the newer temples and was constructed during the 8th century. One interesting fact is that the niches in the jaguars eyes, ears, nose and cheeks were where the native peoples left offerings to the Jaguar God.
In all the site contains 8 Ceremonial Plazas along with five Temples and an ancient harbor. Other original buildings include Stella-9 and The Mask Temple(9N-56). The site also offers a small museum in which pottery and other ancient artifacts from the area are displayed. Even more amazing is that only 5% of Lamanai has been excavated. Oh, the hidden treasures that are waiting to be found. Makes me want to go back to college and study archeology!
This is one trip that I will never forget. While I cannot remember the cost I can say that every penny was worth it!