The Sunken Crocodile, Lamanai

To get to the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai you can take a boat all the way along the river from Orange Walk. Our guide/captain for the day slowed or stopped by the shore at several sections along the way to show us loads of the surrounding wildlife. He explained how the locals called one bird the Jesus Bird due to the way it walks across small lillypads, making it look like it is walking on water.

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At one point the boat pulled up to the side of the forested riverbank and our guide pointed us to the bark of one of the trees when suddenly the bark came to life and what were in fact a dozen bats flew off and down the stream together.

But the highlight of the boat ride has to be when I fed a spider monkey! He was just chilling in a tree by the waters edge when we found him. No one in the group had any nuts or fruit, but a German bloke had bought some jalapeno flavoured crisps, despite not actually liking them, and was perfectly willing to offer them up as a snack. The spider monkey was definitely interested in us and with surprising strength he the pulled the boat in towards his branch. I went up with the crisp offering and he happily took it and munched away. We left him contently licking away at his hand and I think he was a definute fan of the salty, spicy snack.

Once we arrived at the lake we went to the edge of the site where we had a delicious home cooked lunch of rice, chicken and fried plantain. The chicken was cooked in a traditional Balizean spice mix that try as I might I can’t track down in the shops! We then had a little time to check out the museum with a basic but informative display of Mayan artifacts and then we were off on our tour.

The guide himself had great historical and archaeological knowledge and kept pointing out different plants and their uses to the ancient Maya. The give and take tree was particularly interesting. It’s trunk is covered all over in long, sharp needles. If these pierce your skin they will cause great pain and make your nerves spasm, but the sap from tree itself is its own antidote . Thus ‘give and take’. In Lamania human sacrifice rituals it was used to cause the victim’s to convulse and therefore loose blood quicker.

This was luckily the only dangerous tree on the site! One tree is dubbed by locals the tourist tree because it’s red and always peeling. Anothers name is translated intomthe ‘Horse Balls’ tree due to its distinctive pairs of hanging fruit. We also learnt that the leaves of the All Spice Berry tree have a numbing agent when chewed and was used as a Mayan remedy to toothache.

The city of Lamanai itslef is wholely unique as it was constantly populated and fully functioning for 3000 years. The Maya were still there when the Spanish invaded in the 17th century. They alone were unaffected by the 80 year drought that killed and drove out all their neighbouring cities, oh the Maya either to north into Mexico or the south and east to Guatemala. This was all down to the fact that they had the lake for water and natural irrigation for their crops. The other Mayan sites we visited had the same issues of deforestation to create cement and other building materials, along with the soil drying up and being unable to grow alternatives or crops they wee forced to abandon their cities and thus ending the Classic Age of Maya.

Just while walking along we found pieces of obsidean on the ground, possibly from weapons or onamental blades. The finding of such artifacts has proved that they traded far and wide because obsidean comes from Guatemala and volcanic landscape and is not naturally occuring at all around Belize.

Watch out for the Howler Monkeys asleep in the trees. Don’t stand underneath or they might make a dirty protest!

Matt climbed to the top of the tallest temple and said the view was spectacular. I didn’t make it all the way to the top but I was happy with my view anyway. The ball court was a lot smaller than the one at Chichen Itza but it was also as important to society. Royalty would play in one to one matches where it was the winner who was killed in a sacrifice afterwards. These special matches were held only once every 52 years (a Mayan age)

For the ancient Maya the jaguar was an extremely important God, and was carved into the temples front facades. If a wild jaguar walked around the perimeter of your field of crops it was a sign that you were blessed by the God and you will have a good yield. There’s actual evidence that they domesticated some jaguars and would have them walk the parameter of themselves.

The whole day was incredible and we saw and learnt so much, I actually fell asleep on the boat ride back!

Wildlife Notes:

Spider Monkey

2 Howler monkeys

Black-Collared hawk

Double-toothed Kite

Anhinga

Great white egrets

Turtle

Hummingbird

Sleeping bats

Loads of diving cormorants

Bare throated tiger heron

Ringed kingfisher

Mangrove swallow

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