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Dave and Jan's travels, day 235:

9th January
From Tikal, we headed east into the country of Belize, formerly known as British Honduras. The only Central American country without a Pacific coast and the only one that speaks English.

We eventually spent two nights in this fine country. The place has an air of quiet affluence for the most part, although the capital city is a little more earthy. There isn't much in the way of earth-shattering monuments, but there's plenty to do and it's quietly appealing. Allegedly the diving and fishing in the offshore islands is stunning, but we didn't go there so you won't hear any more about that.

First stop - after a rather lengthy but basically harmless bureaucratic interlude at the frontier - was a small national park built around the delights of the Guanacaste tree. A fine tree with things growing in it, but what was altogether more interesting was the antics of the cutter ants. Click here for a short run down.

Enough of ants. Belize Zoo was originally founded around some unfortunately overtame animals left over from a film, and since has only taken on other animals unable to fend for themselves in the wild. This ethical approach is combined with a remarkable zeal for teaching to make a fun site with a lot of info for kids or ignorant English tourists.

We passed a night in Belize City, which had a truly Caribbean feel. Lots of reggae, no-one moving above a slow walk, creole that sounds like English until you listen carefully enough to realise that it's incomprehensible. Quite a lot of poverty, but with a pleasant enough atmosphere.

The next day we opted to visit Lamanai, Belize's most famous Maya ruin. This lives well into the jungle, so we took a combined boat and guided ruin tour with the aptly named "Jungle River Tours". After a rather painful series of confusions, we eventually encountered our man at riverside in the absolutely pouring-it-down rain and boarded our vessel, a medium sized outboard motor thing with the other half of our party inside - a Texan couple breaking their diving holiday. The boat had a roof canopy that was entirely decorative, because at ten miles an hour the rain comes from the side. Fortunately the rain was already easing up by the time we boarded - not much help to Mr and Mrs Wet of Texas, but good for us, and we enjoyed the trip through the jungle, with a few stops to admire some of the local birdlife. One that deserves special mention is the Jaciru stork, which grows to be five feet high with a ten foot or more wingspan. OK, so a belting great wading bird? Well, the startling thing about this creature is that it actually lives like a normal bird with a nest in a tree. The nest is clearly visible, along with occupants, at a quarter of a mile's range. We'd seen one of these things in the zoo and it hadn't occurred to me that it might be able to fly, much less stand on a branch. Quite a sight.

Lamanai itself was a fairly unrestored site, nice enough although not that exciting so soon after Tikal. It was rendered a little more memorable by our guide, one "Wilfredo", who knew an awful lot about the site and wasn't afraid to tell us. Twice, or even three times. Apparently a zigzag floor plan was the label of the local architects. Their blueprint, their pattern, their organisation, their style, their signature. Here Wilfredo paused for breath. Their layout, their fashion, their preferred form, their autograph, their stamp. Is 'thesauristic' an adjective? And if he'd told us one more time about how archaeologists put cemented stones on top of walls to show that they've been dismantled there would have been some more dismantling going on.

Still, amid all this we did learn a little more about the Maya, and it certainly made a change to be ferried around. Wilfredo also provided a jolly picnic lunch.

The journey back was enlivened by rain that made the previous effort look like an April shower. Fortunately David's waterproofs were up to the task, so only some of us got wet, and a couple of hours found us back in Beluga and heading for the town of Corozal and our last night in Belize.


   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

Jaciru Stork

Belize's national animal