Don't Ignore Ignacio

Sunday, November 15, 2009

We took the slowest possible public bus from Belize City to San Ignacio. We stopped, it felt, every 500 m to pick somebody up from the side of the road or drop them off. Apparently, there are express busses for the same price that don’t make these stops. We were most definitely not on one of them. So it was that we arrived in San Ignacio just before 5:00. I’d read about this place called Barton Creek Outpost and we inquired at Pacz about how to get there (Cayo Cafe is no longer open for information). Instead of finding a way there however (the guy that drives in was not going until tomorrow), we were offered a free room at a local family’s home. Well, he was an ex-pat, an American tax lawyer living abroad named Antone, married to a Belize woman named Rosa. They just like to take in travellers to have some company and speak proper English at home, and after dinner and booking an excursion for the next day, they drove us to their home in a small village called Succotz about 3 miles from the Guatemala border.

This is a great way to start in any backpacking location. Staying with a family in a small village outside the more touristed town. For free. And they were very gracious, we had a room and two beds to ourselves (since I volunteered to take the single bed in Caye Caulker, Phil took some cushions on the floor this time) and plenty of company. Their sons, age 5 and 8 (Shannon and _) were very excited to have us there and play around and we basically spent the evening visiting with the family and particularly entertaining the kids. The next morning, we set out on our excursion to Actun Tunichil Muknal (aka ATM), a cave that was used by Mayans to give offerings for the dead. They would haul in bodies, bowls, and ceramics and leave them there. To this day there are several skeletons, including the famous crystal maiden (an 18-year old girl) whose skeleton has formed reflective crystals on its surface. It’s a bit of a dark journey, literally of course, through what the Mayans considered the underworld, to these sacred places, but it’s a worthwhile one.

We had worked very hard to get the trip for $65 US and they picked us up in Succotz and brought us back into town. From there, we set out on what was probably a 1.5 hour trip into the Belize countryside, making our way on back roads and through farmers’ fields to the cave area entrance. From there, we had a 15 minute walk through the jungle to a picnic area where we had the lunch they’d packed for us (including plantain chips, yum!) before we set out into the cave. The cave is river-formed which means getting wet and swimming at points to get through. For the most part, aside from a few slippery river crossings, it was pretty easy getting into the deep part of the cavern with only a few squeezes. Eventually we stopped traversing the cave and climbed up to where the offerings were laid. Here we had to walk in socks to avoid unintentionally breaking anything. It was pretty cool to see so many artifacts simply laying there as they had been discovered, and as they had been laid by Mayans originally thousands of years ago. What can I say but cool?

Back in town, we wandered around and grabbed a bite at a little place outside the centre. The food was good though I had asked for a burrito and wound up with a burger. Then it was a question of finding our way home. We had only a name and a little bit of information, but I wasn’t too worried about getting home. On the ride in that morning I’d noticed how close we were to the ferry across the river to Xunantunich (yet more Mayan ruins) so I knew we could get there. We’d also asked our driver what the name of the town was but we all forgot. Amy remembered to ask our server what town the ruins were in and we all remembered when we heard “Succotz”. So back home, a bit more visiting for Phil and I with Antone (Amy was beat and went to sleep) and then we had to finish our rum. Can’t bring it across the border, after all. So Phil and I cracked a case of OJ and finished the last half of the rum, chatting in the courtyard until we’d run out of juice and falling asleep pretty quickly thereafter.

Our final day we woke at 8:00 and went for breakfast at Benny’s in Succotz. On the way, we passed a local church that was packed out the doors and singing loudly, which was pretty cool to see. For breakfast, I had some great cuchinita (they called it Pibil here) AKA roast pork cooked underground and served with salsa, avocado, and tortillas. It was delicious. We hadn’t been travelling long with Amy (5 days or so), but spending day and night with the same person can be a quick way to get to know them and I realized it hadn’t sunk in that we were parting ways that morning. She would be missed, it was a lot of fun having a third amigo along, dress shopping and all. Our last activity together was the ruins of Xunantunich, a short ferry ride (and one mile walk) away from where we were staying. With all the ruins to date and Tikal still on the horizon, it wasn’t a priority but it seemed a waste to not visit when we were sleeping at the doorstep, so we wandered around the ruins for the rest of the morning. Then, back to Antone’s and Rosa’s to collect our stuff, profuse thanks and farewells, and it was Phil and I again, on the road, 3 miles from the border in the blistering sun, with one heck of a walk ahead of us to Guatemala.

San Ignacio Photos

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