Part three of my honeymoon cruise around the Caribbean. Previously I described the murder ship we sailed out on, and our first port of call – Costa Maya. The next day we descended on the small third world country of Belize. Unlike Costa Maya, they did not attempt to cover up the poverty.
Belize City, Belize
For those who are unaware, the country of Belize used to be called British Honduras. It’s roughly about the size of Massachusetts with less than half a million people living in it. Belize was officially given independence in 1981 due to the place being a money pit. But despite the poverty, the place has two things which the standard American tourist will appreciate:
1) Plenty of cheap booze.
2) Everyone speaks English.
There wasn’t much going on at the port, so we had booked a tour of the city, culminating in a trip to a Mayan ruin. My newly minted wife wasn’t too interested, this was the part I had insisted upon. The pyramids in Egypt have become too commercialized for my tastes and this was the next best thing.
We began by leaving our beloved murder ship with its constant air conditioning, and settled on a rattling ex-school bus where the air cut off after every jolt over a pot hole. The tour brought us through what I initially took to the ruins of a town, only to discover the place was their capital city. Apart from some standout government and business buildings, the place looked like Sarajevo after six months of siege. To be fair, some of it was due to a typhoon hitting the city two years earlier.
Most of the buildings were left over from British rule, having been constructed in the 1940s and 50s, then patched up with various floating debris in further decades. There were a large number of unfinished cement foundations, where story or two had been laid out, then abandoned. Rusty cables stuck out of tops of pillars where the next floor was intended to go. It was as if they started construction then suddenly ran out of money.
All the while, my wife noticed one particular detail. A lack of businesses, or at least chain businesses, in the city. While an occasional market or small taxi ring popped up, there didn’t seem to be a lot of jobs flourishing. Which may have been why our tour guide was so upbeat and happy. They actually had employment.
Due to a snafu with misplacing the tickets (not my fault), we were placed in one group and then transferred to another upon reaching our destination. So we had two tour guides, but they were speaking off of the same script and made the same corny jokes.
“You better Belize it!” was repeated over and over again.
Eventually we hit the highlight of the trip (for me, someone else wasn’t too impressed), the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. After a nice rum coconut- they cut a hole in the top and filled it up with rum for $5- we took a mud skip over to the island were the Mayan’s once held dominion. Our new guide, a former member of the Belize Defense Force, explained to us that while the once Mayan Empire had collapsed, the culture had never really gone away. It had simply been suppressed and ignored by first the Aztecs and then the Spanish. The theoretical reasons for the collapse vary from climate change, to civil war, to disease, to famine. We will probably never know.
I know my demeanor in these blogs tends to of a disinterested sarcasm, but I have to admit getting all giddy on witnessing these structures built over three thousand years ago. Ancient houses, temples, courtyards, game courts. Several million feet must’ve trampled across that ground over the millennia. High priests, princes, slaves, and laborers. Lost, gone, and forgotten in time’s void. God damn, I’m depressing myself.
It was damn hot in that jungle, surprise, surprise, and I was blinded by constant sweat that dripped off my forehead. Yet I heroically pushed on to the climax of the trip, The High Temple of Lamanai. We’d already gone past the Jaguar and Mask Temples, but this one was special because we got to climb it.
One hundred and eight feet tall. Those steps you see in the picture are incredibly steep and large. Considering the average Mayan back in the day measured about 5’4”, it would’ve been an ordeal for most people. The last set of stairs to the top were so steep that we can to crawl up them. Our guide said that this was deliberate, so everyone was forced to prostrate themselves in the presence of the Gods.
As you may not know, I have a problem with heights. Specifically looking down from them. So the moment I reacted the top, where no safety railings dwelled, vertigo hit. My wife was fine, dancing about, taking in the view. But I stood up, grew dizzy, and nearly fell off the top. I crawled down to the bottom. But for those few seconds I had done it.
Mission accomplished, we went back to the ship to indulge our drinks package and playing bar trivia with questions asked by someone who could barely speak English.