Today we decided to grab the early morning 90 minute water taxi over to Belize City. We only had 2 days to spare on our busy schedule, so visiting several Mayan archaeological sites in the heart of the country best suited our desires and time constraints. We opted to visit San Ignacio, a mere 9 miles east of the Guatemalan border.
Known locally as “Cayo”, San Ignacio is located along the Western Highway about 70 miles west and is an adventurous 90 −180 minutes bus ride time from Belize City. The bus we caught from the terminal in Belize City happened to be the ’Sunday stroller’ in that it stopped at every single bus shelter along route. Made for a very long trip. However, we wouldn’t trade that cultural experience for the world! As soon as we boarded the already burgeoning Blue Bird school bus, we knew that we were in for an adventure. slaDE~ ended up standing about 40 minutes before shuffling to an ‘available’ seat, whereas within 5 minutes I was sharing a bench with a bountiful woman and her two small children. Remarkable how many people both the conductor and driver manage to cram into such a tight area. And then the music began. Oh my. Old time country and forlorn 90’s love songs blared through the loud speakers scattered along the bus’s ceiling. I was smiling at the inaneness of it all until several young women started singing along with the tunes. Thankfully, we didn’t have to endure that for the entire 3 hours. Only 2 :~/.
We received some excellent tips on several places to stay whilst exploring the area. In the end, we chose the J&R Guesthouse (John and Rosarita) … an extremely clean and affordable quaint little house, run like a B&B. It was ideal and truly lovely to stay with this resident couple so full of local Belizean character and knowledge. John was extremely kind in offering to drive us to our first Mayan site at Cahal Pech. The walk would have been a 45 minute uphill climb midday with the sun beating down. It felt wonderful to bypass the heat, enjoying the surrounds of the outstanding legacy of palaces and temples.
It was fascinating to learn more about the Mayan civilization and their history. The Mayan culture began as early as 1500 BC and to this day, a significant population is still scattered throughout small villages within Belize, which is considered the epicentre of the ancient Mayan world. The whole area of San Ignacio is crawling with Archaeologists, Peace Corp workers, many retirees from North America and plenty of tourists seeking the thrills of the area (ATM cave exploration, Zip Lining through the rainforest, Cave Tubing through the sacred Mayan caves, visiting the Belize Zoo housing over 100 different species of Belizean wildlife, Xunantunich Mayan ruin; San Ignacio is also a Belizean gateway to the ruins of Tikal — an ancient Mayan city buried deep within the Guatemalan jungle). The name of Cahal Pech means “Place of the Ticks“. I must have been bitten 5 or 6 times by what appeared a tick. Annoying at pest ;).
Cahal Pech began as a solitary forest farmstead and over the centuries grew to a hamlet and ultimately to an imposing hilltop citadel. Cahal Pech “is a collection of 34 structures, with the tallest temple being about 25 meters in height, situated around a central acropolis. The site was abandoned in the 9th century CE for unknown reasons.”
It truly was a spectacular expanse of structures. A photographer’s delight indeed! What made our experience complete was standing on the tallest temple and spending a ½ hour talking with a couple local fellows who were visiting with their families. It was fascinating to hear their perspective on life in Belize, about their sense of safety with living in this area compared to the dangers lurking in Flores Guatemala, specifically targeting Tikal (with the current volatile situation associated with the rampant drugs and violence. I felt very blessed to live in Guatemala when I did, even though I left because of the brutal violence experienced by 2 fellow travellers at my Spanish Immersion school).
What a fabulous day!