Henry from Belize VIP transport, drove us the thirty odd miles to the town of Orangewalk, inland towards Guatemala. Orangewalk is the third largest city in Belize, with a population of over 16,000 and even boasts traffic lights. There we boarded a 30-foot long, outboard-powered boat for the 26 mile trek up the New River, through the jungle to the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai. Actually called Laman aiin by the Maya, the Spaniards converted that to Lamanai when they found it still occupied in 1500AD.
Founded in 1500BC, Lamanai grew to be one of the richest cities in Belize, with a population of 35,000 at its zenith around 600 AD. One of some 80 Mayan centres in Belize, it is located on the New River Lagoon, upstream from the Mennonite settlement of Shipyard. It can be reached either by 30 miles of unpaved road, or the way we did it, by 26 miles of river safari through the jungle.
The Mayans invented cement in about 1000BC and this both made and killed their civilization. It allowed them to cement stones together to build their awe-inspiring cities, but at the same time,required the use of green trees to get fires hot enough to burn limestone for the production of lime to make the cement. This meant that thousands of square miles of rain-forest were harvested around each centre for that task. Eventually, one million square miles of rain-forest were burned up. No rain forest, no rain. When drought hit, times became tough indeed and the people descended into inter-city fighting for resources. By the time the Spanish arrived, the population had plummeted from about one million to only one hundred thousand.
But first, we had to get there. Our knowledgeable guides were quick to pull the boat to shore whenever an interesting plant or animal appeared and the ride was delightful and informative.
Lily pads. The flowers were sacred to the Maya and appear on many of their carvings. Because of their many dialects, the Maya couldn't always understand each other. To ease trade, like the Chinese, they developed a standardized alphabet and became the third people in history with a written language.
A Jacana or "Jesus Christ" bird (because it appears to walk on water) striding across the lily pads on its enormous feet.
A Snail Kite perched beside the river. This large bird has what appeared to be a four or five foot wingspan and is equipped with a hooked beak that allows it to scoop the snails out of their shells without the bother of having to crack them. It feeds on only one type of snail which lives in the river. The snails climb out of the water to lay their eggs on trees overhanging the river. When finished, they drop back into the water, but because their buoyancy has been disturbed by unloading the eggs, they float for a while. That's when the Kite dines.
Snake Cactus growing parasitically on a riverside tree branch.
Nocturnal Boat-billed Heron waiting for nightfall.
Jesus lizard resting before taking off on his amazing cross-water dash. He wasn't in a miracle-performing mood when we passed.
Crocodile giving us the evil eye. We don't know how big they can get; they continue to grow as long as they live and they can live 100 years.
Flower of the Provision plant, used to control high blood-pressure.
Jabiru Stork, standing 5 feet tall with a nine-foot wingspan, the biggest bird in Central America.
Green tree snake lurking.
Howler monkeys feasting on wild figs.
Jaguar Temple, Lamanai. The Jaguar was sacred to the Maya whose legends held him responsible for saving the twin boys, Sun and Moon, from a fire which scorched his coat, leaving it spotted with black marks.
Lamanai Temple of the Masks. Unusually, this temple actually contained a burial chamber, complete with mummified corpse in a sarcophagus. The masks show an Olmec influence.
Built in layers, wrapped and enlarged by successive kings, this temple grew to a height of 66 feet.
After a buffet luncheon under a thatch-roofed patio, we boarded the boat for a 30 MPH howl downstream to our landing, where Henry Junior was waiting to drive us home.
Now for some of that lovely Belizean rum.