By 2:00 pm on Thursday, I was snug on a James Bus next to a woman and her two babies heading towards Belize City. There was no express bus that afternoon so we were in for a long ride. Traveling north along the only paved high way in Toledo, we stopped frequently to pick up passengers along the side of the rode. In larger towns, we would pull into the bus terminals and stop for 5 to 25 minutes while passengers exited and boarded the bus. Our driver would step out and take a break for the length of his choosing, all the while people of all ages, though mostly children, would march up and down the center isle selling snacks, usually plantain chips, tamales, mango, or juice in a bag, once even bootlegged DVDs. The ride was bumpy and after about 5 minutes of being pummeled by wind off the highway coming through the open window, I looked like I’d been traveling for days. My second seat mate was a delightful young construction worker from the north coast of Belize, but working in Placencia. He said he made the trip home every fifteen days for the weekend. And boy was be chatty. We pulled into Belize City around 8:00 and taxied to our hotel for the night. Once checked in, we spent our evening at a nearby karaoke bar with an interesting mix of ‘90’s country, Sinatra, Elvis, and a boat load of songs in Spanish. All I’ll say is some people should karaoke, others should not.
The purpose for venturing to the city was to attend the 2013 Chiquibul Symposium, the first national symposium on the Chiquibul Forest, a protected rainforest on the Belize/Guatemalan boarder. The symposium had quite a collection of people in attendance, government, private sector, and NGOs alike, and was held mainly to bring attention to the many illegal activities being conducted in the region, Illegal animal poaching and illegal land cultivation to name a few. Calling for the protection of the Chiquibul also highlighted the importance of strengthening the border protection between Belize and Guatemala, where much of the illegal activity is generating. And though the symposium allotted little time for questions, MMC found a way to lend a few suggestions, including using agroforestry and cacao farming as solution and rehabilitation to the illegally and incredibly destructive current cultivation practices.
Post conference, we booked it down the street to snag a glimpse of Moho Chocolate’s factory, one of our domestic buyers, and pickup some treats for the ride to Guatemala.
With chocolate in hand, we were back on a bus and headed for the border. Oddly, along the way, I just kept thinking how much Belize looks like south Louisiana: fields of sugarcane (and corn), houses raised on stilts from flooding, above ground grave yards, friendly people on front porches just saying “hi”. Passport stamped and straight to Flores, a small town on an island in a lake next to Santa Elena. We easily found our hostel, a retro youth hostel, because we’re so young and retro, where we were in for the night. Tikal en la mañana.
Before heading to Tikal we explored the little island appreciating the narrow streets, the waterside views, and the colorful buildings.
Tikal, the largest Mayan ruin site, which at its peak was home to 100,000 Mayans around 800 A.D. (At there same time, London had 30,000 residents), is truly an incredible place to see. Yet the most challenging thing for me was forgetting what I was seeing and trying to picture the landscape as it was when inhabited. Image: the area was all hand paved white, there were no trees on or near the temples and the structures themselves were painted elaborate, luxurious colors like bright reds and blues and yellows. This is what it looks like today:
Definitely worth the trip! Plus there were so many monkeys!