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Belize is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy: The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title Queen of Belize. It is bordered on the northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. It has an area of 22.970 square kilometres and a population of 408,500. Belize has a very diverse society that is composed of many cultures and languages that reflect its rich history. 40% are Roman Catholics, 32 Protestants, the rest Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons or not religious. 38% Black Africans, 31% Mestizo/Spanish/Latino, 17% Mayan, 8% white and a few others.
The Maya Civilization was spread into the area of Belize between 1500 B.C. and 300 A.D. and flourished until about 1200. European colonization campaigns began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the Gulf of Honduras. European settlement and genocide of indigenous peoples was begun by English settlers in 1638. This period was also marked by Spain and Britain both laying claim to the land until Britain defeated the Spanish in the Battle of St. George's Caye (1798). It became a British colony in 1840, known as British Honduras, and a Crown colony in 1862. Independence was achieved from the United Kingdom on 21 September 1981.
While over 60% of Belize's land surface is covered by forest, some 20% of the country's land is covered by agriculture and human settlements. The savannah, scrubland and wetland constitute the remainder of Belize's land cover, and around is the mangrove ecosystems found. The Belize Barrier Reef is a series of coral reefs straddling the coast of Belize, roughly 300 metres offshore in the north and 40 kilometres in the south within the country limits. The Belize Barrier Reef is a 300 kilometre long section of the 900 kilometre long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is continuous from Cancún on the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula through the Riviera Maya up to Honduras, making it one of the largest coral reef systems in the world. It is home to 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral species, 500 species of fish and hundreds of invertebrate species.
There are approximately 145 species of mammals living
in Belize. Some of the more interesting might be the jaguar, tapir,
manatees. There are 139 species of reptiles and amphibians that have so far
been identified in Belize, including 56+ species of snakes. Belize is also a
birder’s paradise, with over 530 species of rare and beautiful birds
thriving in its many distinct habitats.
Belize has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and
dry seasons, although there are significant variations in weather patterns
by region. Temperatures vary according to elevation, proximity to the coast,
and the moderating effects of the northeast trade winds off the Caribbean.
Average temperatures in the coastal regions range from 24 °C in January to
27 °C in July.
This is an typical former British colony, where things just tend to work better. And people do speak English, and Queen Elizabeth is on the bills. Here is not a central square, but a clock-tower in the centre of town. There are no small joints on the sidewalks and roads, and restaurants have several types of black tea - and it is raining. But they do use the American power sockets and drive in the right side of the road. I finish up work before one, and head out in the drizzle to see the little cosy town - and find something to eat!
I get a good veggie burger and a mug of tea, and then the sun is back in full strength. I do several loops around the centre of town, across the river and out in the domestically areas. Here are quite some old wooden houses, as I know from Guiana and many of the Caribbean Islands. The market down at the river is a bit dead today.
Here are quite some elder American tourists, and US dollars are accepted. And the young Canadians and Americans use the word "like" in-between all another words. It sound like stupid. One tell me about an archaeological site within town. Well 20 minutes walk outside the centre, but quite nice.
Cahal Pech is a Mayan town with several big buildings, It is not Tikan, but for only a tenth of the price, I don't feel cheated. All the buildings are in good shape, and can be climbed. I'm here with two girls and the birds. The little museum have some nice pottery. Outside, the trees have some huge orchids and a few other interesting plants.
Back in town, I get the cheese cake I've been thinking off, all day. Unfortunately, it was rather tasteless, but I did enjoy the tea. While walking around the town, I have sorted out where to find my car in the morning, and when. I even know where to buy a bus ticket back to Flores. Back at dusk to work a bit, before dinner, which is made up by four tacos and additional adding. Some heavy showers are passing during the evening. I have found some bags of tea, and sip a cuppa while I catch up on the Dakar Race. Then I spend the rest of the evening, trying to get my plans to work in real life - in theory. San Ignacio and Cahal Pech.
14. I'm up early to do some office work, and then I pick-up my Jeep at eight. It might be a 4X4, but it have slicks and sound real bad, when I engage 4X4. Well, it is a small country. I buy some water on the way out of town, and set the GPS for Bullet Tree Falls village. I think it is a great name, but it is just some houses, scattered around the Mopan River. It is a truly green landscape - but it is raining. My original plan was to sleep here, but I rather drive back to my former hotel.
Nearby is the ruins of El Pilar; a huge Mayan pyramid complex. Well, after two kilometres, the road turns bad, and I meet two Americans, stocked in the large 2X4 car. I have a real hard time getting through the mud, which is so sticky, but try to drive their car free. Not a chance! A local farmer turns out with a 4X4 pick-up and a long chain. He struggles a lot, but get it free, after I cleared the wheels.
I offer the real nice people a lift, and when me meet the next hurtle, they are ready. Then the road turns less slippery, but still a bit challenging. They pay my ticket, and I follow them around the waste complex. Here have only been done real little excavation, and what once was impressive temples, are now just steep hills. They are made from limestone, and the outer, decorated parts are now a deep layer of soil.
We see a few tunnels, and some interesting plants. One is only the caudex, but it is a Dioscorea and could be D. bernoulliana? Here are several epiphytic cacti, Peperomias and orchids along with the numerous bromeliads. Everything is found under an dense canopy - which does let the rain through from time to time. As no surprise, we have it all to our self.
Some of the pyramids - or hills, offers a nice view over the canopy. On the forest floor, near clearings, I find quite some familiar plants - and I do suspect them to be planted here. After an long walk, we are back at the car, found on a lawn. The lawn are steaming! The recent rain and the present sun creates instant clouds.
As we drive back to their car, they offers lunch, and we find a little (8 person) restaurant nearby. Great local dish with salad, rice & beans and burritos. They will head on to another set of pyramids, and I have to figure out ,what I have next in line, as the days program is done.
Well, I have the same set of pyramids: Xunantunich. I
head back through Bullet Tree Falls and San Ignacio. Just as I turn off the
main road, I meet a cable-ferry. It can hold four cars, and is wrenched over
the rather narrow river.
Again, they are made by the local limestone, fare from as strong as volcanic rock. Many of the structures have the degraded gravel removed, and are fitted with a new surface. That way, their magnify can be enjoyed way better. Here are several court yards and other minor buildings as well.
Although the biggest one is only 43 metres high, it does truly look impressive. And one are aloud to climb it almost to the top. Up here, several small chambers and tunnels are found. The sealing have their share of small bats, and I spot a huge moth, way bigger than the bats!
Like the previous part of the day, sun and rain swap all the time. Getting pictures are real hard, but at least, here are only a single little group of other tourists. Well, until my new American friends arrivals. As the ferry stops at four, I head back before the sun reach the front of the large pyramid. Well, it rains anyway.
stop by the river, and here are real beautiful. My planned bed for tomorrow
was in a camp nearby, but after having seen it, I figure the 15 kilometre
drive to San Ignacio is worth it: Cosy hotel, hot shower and
restaurants. Might use it for base for a larger area. I get my room back,
and head out to get a huge burritos with tofu and a huge amount of fresh
vegetables. Back to work and plan the next days with San Ignacio as base.
15. It is another rainy day, and I check yr.no to see, if it is worth waiting a day. The next week will be with showers, and I have to bite the bullet. Right outside town, I hit the gravel road. I had not expected that. Part is washed away, some are flooded and some are only the larger rocks, exposed by time.
It is a huge area, and apparently, all roads are un-sealed. The day is a combination of a scenic route and the sights I have found along it. The huts are humble at first, but here are some small resorts too. My first stop is at an aquatic turtle, found on the road. Here are some citrus plantations, but not much else is farmed.
I give a local a lift, and Karma bites me right away: I reach Green Hill Butterfly Ranch, which also should have a botanical garden. Well, used to. And I don't feel like paying €10 to see some butterflies in a dark barn. I see the few plants they have left, and all the hummingbirds, being fed.
I enters Elijio Panti National Park, and have a long chat with the gatekeeper ranger. My next planned stop was the 1000 Feet Waterfall, but the ranger tells me; no chance you reach it in that car. And the guy I rented it from, said: That is the only place, you can't go. Well, here are other waterfalls. The park is famous for its pine trees, which are all over the area. I spend the entire day between 300 and 500 metres, but here, they dominates.
I find two clusters of strange fruits, which seems to originate from a vine. A bit further down the slippery clay road, some huge bushes are flowering white. I don't feel like leaving the car that often, as my flip-flaps tend to stick to the road. Well, when I see something I haven't seen before, I do struggle to get to it. At one place, it is some strange flowers, which I can't place at all.
I cross a little creek, and it is slowly carving it selves down into the granite bedrock - slowly! The pines and mud continues, so do I. I find an even smaller road, leading part of the way to Big Rock Waterfall. It is found at a great looking river, which have carved itself deep into the granite.
I see the main fall, and then drop the flip-flops, and jump from rock to rock, downriver. Here are so many great motives - which look so alike in the evening. I find several species of orchids, two are even flowering. Here are also Sundew; Drosera sp.
I have seen several Anolis in Central America, but not bothered to make photos of these shy animals. These striped ones, I have to try. I think I have cornered one, as I didn't expect it to run on water. I find another Dioscorea, and this one got fruits. I do "one more bend" way too many times, but finally, I head back.
Almost back at the car, I find a little wooden sign; hiking trail. 20 metres in, it start to drizzle, and if I was in doubt: It is not interesting at all. I head deeper into the waste area by car, and now, the road is real slippery. I could do with some pattern on the tires. I stop a single time to make a photo of a bromeliad, and another to try to capture the aquatic plants.
I now enters Chiquibul National Park, but the landscape seems unchanged. Well, the forest is not pines anymore, and it is more dense. The only car I have seen is a new military Land Rover, and it is now parked at the side of the narrow road. I have red; the military escorts guests in every morning at nine, but I didn't think it was mandatory.
It is not, it is just because some smock have forgotten to gas the car. I give two soldiers a lift back to base camp. Karma haven't punished me yet... The road turn real narrow, with grass in-between the tracks. I check-in at a military checkpoint, but get to continue alone. I thought my target was here, but I still have 38 kilometres to go. It is going to be late! And I have not had anything to eat since my little breakfast.
The road have been sealed for the last half - many years ago. Now, it is even more challenging than the clay road. I don't get to see that much of the surroundings, but it is generally dense rain forest. A bit before two, I reach the Archeologically site of Caracol. Here are a ticket boots, a little museum and toilets, but nowhere to buy anything to eat or drink. Well, I got water enough.
Besides from two soldiers and a team of maintenance guys, cutting back the greenery, I have it to my self. The sun have gone once again, but it remains dry. I see the two major court yards and the real impressive pyramids around them. The biggest one is kind of three pyramids on top of one - on top of a fifth. In total, they are 50 metres high, but seems way higher.
Besides from the well restored ones, here are many "gravel hills" around the waste area. Besides from the ancient buildings, here are huge bromeliads and small orchids. I walk a lot around the area, and I am almost pleased the maintenance guys are here; else it would be a bit eyrie. It took 300 men several years just to restore the bigger pyramid, and I had expected to find visitors here. I climb the big one, and are rewarded with a view over the rainforest. The court yard on top of the big one, surrounded by three other pyramids is huge, and I fail to really capture that.
Close to three, I realises; I have 82 kilometres home, but only the last five are sealed. The GPS estimate two and a half hour - and I'm hungry. I might speed just a little bit on the 20 m/h road - around 100% in some areas, and I make it home before dark. And I even got a blurry picture of some real great looking wild turkeys.
I head straight to a restaurant, and get four
Queasdillas: Kind of tortillas with cheese, onions, sweet basil,
tomatoes and capers. Real tasty and filling. Home after dark to delete
pictures. Road trip with Big
Rock Fall and Caracol Pyramids.