|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 12
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The island of Belize was a British Crown Colony until 1981. Belize City is the largest city and was the capital of British Honduras but the capital was moved to Belmopan after the 1961 Hurricane. The Queen Victoria anchored alongside Carnival Magic in the shallow bay surrounded by the Belize Barrier Reef. It is the second largest barrier reef, after the one in Australia. Belize City provides a service of fast catamarans from the anchorage to the Tourism Village with its craft and souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.
The most popular tour was to Altun Ha, an impressive Maya trading and ceremonial site which is 31 miles north of Belize City. From the Tourism Village the bus showed us the area of Fort George then travelled along Marine Parade Road to rejoin the main road north. We saw the Central Bank of Belize and the beachfront landing spot for the Spirit of St Louis on its tour of the Caribbean in 1927. The modern airport is nearby. The main road was suffering from extensive road works which meant the journey was slow and there were then 14 miles on minor roads. The journey to Altun Ha was 1 hour 20 minutes. Unfortunately we got few pictures from the bus as there were no stops and the sites were always the wrong side!
Altun Ha means "Stone Water" and is the translation of the name of the nearby village of Rockstone Pool into Yucatec Maya. There are two areas to visit. The structures which have been excavated are A1 to A7 in Plaza A and B1 to B6 in Plaza B. The path passes the steps to the top of A6 but the first structure to explore is A1, the Temple of the Green Tomb. All the structures can be accessed by steps. Temple A3 is lower than A1 and easier to climb, with a good view of Plaza B and its structures from the top. The pictures roughly follow the order of our visit.
Plaza B contains the tallest structure on site, B4 the Temple of Masonry Altars. The Temple of Masonry Altars is sometimes called the Temple of the Sun God and there are Sun God masks carved into the wall. The view of the site from the top of B4 is well worth the climb. The most impressive of the seven tombs found in structure B4 was the last tomb to be discovered. Located in the stair block visible at the top of B4, and dating to AD 575-600, the tomb of an elderly male contained many spectacular jade objects, including the famous Jade Head which depicts the Sun God Kinich Ahau. The Jade Head was found in 1965 and is a national treasure and is kept safely in the Central Bank of Belize but there is a replica in the Visitors Centre and Museum at Altun Ha. The albite jadeite comes from the Motagua River Valley in Guatemala, and it is almost 6 inches in height and weighs 4.43kg.
The Visitors Centre was between the coach park and the tenders so there were no excuses for missing the opportunity for souvenir shopping. There were also many bars and restaurants, and free access to a large swimming pool. After sampling the local Belikin beers sitting in the sunshine overlooking the water it was soon time to catch the fast transfer back to the Queen Victoria.
It was busy in Costa Maya with three cruise ships in port and there was a steady procession of people strolling along the long pier to another specially constructed Tourist Village on the outskirts of the village of Mahahual. Costa Maya was created in 2001 close to the border with Belize solely to attract cruise ships. It was rebuilt following Hurricane Dean in 2007. There were many bars and restaurants, free access to a large swimming pool, and the extra option of swimming with dolphins. There were several groups of local dancers to entertain as everyone passed through to reach their transport.
This part of mMxico has more Mayan remains to visit, and the closest is just 90 kms away, at Chacchoben, the "lugar del maiz colorado" which translates as place of red corn. This is because there is still original red paint on the stucco walls of one of the pyramids. It is very popular with cruise ships . The site is larger than the one at Belize, there are three pyramids, and the first site is Templo 23 which overlooks Plaza B. It is not allowed to climb to the top of Templo 23. The first view of Templo 23 is a back and a side view. There is a large important tree by the path which sounded hollow when tapped. Walking as signposted towards Las Vias and Plaza B there is the front side of Templo 23 and it is possible to climb a few steps. A Chicozapoten tree in Plaza B has been cut to release the sap used to make chewing gum. The sap, chicle, was the main crop of the region of Quintana Roo. The marked footpath continued along the side of Las Vasijas towards the Gran Plaza. The site is in a jungle setting and there are many trees around Las Vasijas which must have been an important meeting area because of all the walls and steps. The map showed two places named Las Vasijas so presumably both were where vases or pots had been found.
The highlights of the visit are seen from the Gran Plaza where the steps climb up to the ritual plaza of Gran Basamento and to Templo 1, then walk across to the smaller Las Vasijas pyramid, before going down the steps by the Los Gemelos to the Gran Plaza. The trees around Las Vasijas are home to a family of spider monkeys, who were swinging through the trees eating fruit. There are a few signs of the original red paint on the smaller pyramid
Driving back to town there was more chance to look at the local houses and notice the number of stalls with women selling pineapples. One truck was selling stuffed childrens toys from the roadside. The entry to the cruise terminal was marked by a tall pair of stone pillars but we would have found it anyway because there was our red funnel ahead. The Tourist Village had bars, lots of identical cheap clothes and souvenir shops, and walkways with aviaries above the swimming lagoon.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 28th March, 2018