Our second port of call on our cruise on the Navigator of the Seas was Belize, and what an adventure this day was! From a blown tire on the bus, seeing tigers, Mayan ruins, getting sick, and the kiddo successfully haggling for the first time, this was a day we’ll not soon forget.
Our day started with a quick breakfast in our cabin because we had to be up early to catch the tender to shore for our all day excursion to Xunantunich, an ancient Maya archaeological site about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City- or basically all the way across the country to just about the border with Guatemala. One of the things we wondered about before the cruise was how would we find our tour guides once ashore. Have no fear, you’ll find them as long as you’re paying attention. Our guides had signs and it was pretty clear who we were to go with. Plus there are lots of other tours meeting at the same time so you can ask any of them for help. They’ll help you get where you need to be.
Once we met up with our group we were quickly led through lots of shops (again with the diamond stores), onto a waiting coach and we were underway for our drive to the ruins. As we were driving our guide was really good about giving us a little history of the country so of course, keener than I am, I had to take some notes. And I’m glad I did. Our guide gave us a little “test” at the end of his talk and because of my notes, I won a map! So what are some fun facts that I learned about Belize? I’m so glad you asked so all my meticulous note taking wasn’t for naught. :-)
I learned that –
- There are only seven sets of traffic lights in the whole country…and only five of those actually work. Instead they rely on speed bumps to slow folks down. Lots and lots of speed bumps.
- Mayan is still spoken a little, but mostly people speak “Spanglish”. and all the signs are in English.
- All the graves need to be above ground because if you dig more than a foot down then water seeps up. We even saw these graves that were in the median on the main road out of town. Seemed like such and odd place to put them. Or maybe the road was built around them?
- The toucan is the national bird, mahogany is the national tree, and the black orchid is the national flower.
- In 1981 Belize gained its independence from Britain and is now led by a Prime Minister. They have two political parties- Republicans and Democrats with the Democrats currently in power. The national anthem is Lands of the Free by the Caribbean Sea and the royal anthem is God Save the Queen.
- The population is about 340,000 with lots of US expats, although those Americans have to do without their chain restaurants and Wal-Mart because there isn’t either in Belize.
- An acre of land goes for about $1,000 to $10,000 USD, a gallon of gas is $6.00 (ouch!), 10¢ for a gallon of water, 1¢/second for wireless calls, and 8 bananas for 50¢. Mmmmm…bananas! My favourites.
….and then the tire blew on the coach. Yep, we’re cruising right along, speed bump after speed bump, learning all about Belize and bang! One tire blown. ‘This could put a kink in our plans’ we thought, as we were still only about halfway to the ruins. The driver and our guide hopped out, made some calls, and it was determined we’d limp along to a big gas station up ahead to stop there and wait for a replacement coach, if it didn’t get to us first. It didn’t.
So we stopped at Westar Truck Stop for a little break to wait for the replacement coach. And this is where we saw the tigers. Because yes, you’d expect to see tigers at a truck stop in Belize right? Turns out the circus was in town and they had stopped for a break too so we got to get up close to these guys. But not too close. Not only because, well who wants to lose a finger, but my goodness tigers stink!!! Maybe not out in the wild they don’t but these ones sure did. But they sure are beautiful animals eh?
After gathering a few snacks and making good use of the pit stop (Quick tip– have some change available to buy toilet paper, or better yet, bring some wet wipes with you, because they might have a lady selling it outside the toilets like they did here), we were then in our new coach and back on the road.
One of the things mentioned in the description of our shore excursion was that we’d be taking a “hand-cranked ferry” across the river by the ruins so were looking forward to seeing this. We kind of had to laugh though- if the ferry was even 20ft longer it could have been a bridge! It could carry vehicles but our coach didn’t drive on it, so we all stood on it, and then were met by some vans to take us the rest of the way to the ruins.
Once up to the visitors center for the ruins we were let out to hike the rest of the way up to the ruins, which really wasn’t all that far. Unfortunately this is where the day went downhill for me. Presumably due to the heat and humidity, when we reached the base of the ruins I found myself lightheaded and feeling pretty lousy quite quickly. The guide stopped at this point to give us a little more information and then some of the people on the tour decided to check out one of the ruins. I figured if I just sat for a few minutes the feeling would pass and then I’d join the guys to head up the main pyramid, El Castillo, but it wasn’t to be. I ended up laying down in the grass at the bottom while the guys got to climb the 130 foot pyramid for great views of the site and out to Guatemala. Unfortunately I didn’t get to lay there long as I also ended up sick to my stomach and back down at the visitors center to wait for the guys. :-(
Quick Tip for this excursion- wear the lightest clothes you can, stay well hydrated, and if you end up feeling ill, well so be it. Just stop and rest. Don’t risk climbing the pyramid. There aren’t any handrails and it is quite steep. The last thing you’d want to do is take a fall.
Fortunately for me, L and the kiddo did a great job taking photos of the pyramids and the views from the top of El Castillo. The Mayan site of Xunantunich is made up of six major plazas with more than 25 temples and palaces. The tallest pyramid on the site, El Castillo (the Castle), stands 130 feet tall with detailed frieze carvings on the east and west sides and dates back to about 800 AD. Xunantunich’s modern name means “Stone Woman” in the Maya language, and comes from stories from people who have claimed to see the ghost of a woman dressed completely in white, with fire-red glowing eyes, that appears in front of El Castillo, climbs the stairs and then disappears into a stone wall.
After our time wandering the ruins it was time to get back on the road with a stop along the way for a Belizean style lunch with Marimba band. I can tell you that lunch looked good, but I’m afraid I only ate a couple of bites of rice so I’m not the best person to comment on it. This was also where the kiddo learned the fine art of haggling and I have to give him credit because I hate haggling and pretty much refuse to do it. I either want to pay the price on the tag or not. But he found a stone Mayan calendar souvenir he thought he’d like to have. The price started at $20 and ended with the guy selling it coming on to the coach looking for “the kid” because he had change for him and sold it to him for $5! Needless to say the kiddo accepted that offer and it now hangs proudly on the wall of his bedroom as a memento of this trip.
It was a pretty quiet trip back to the ship in which I, unfortunately, spent most of it with my head on L’s shoulder trying to feel better. I did take a few photos though along the way of the houses and stores that give a glimpse into the way of life in Belize.
Once back on board it was a low key evening for us. With not much of an appetite we ended up in the Windjammer café for dinner and then turned in early after our very eventful day in Belize.
If you’re interested in doing this shore excursion with Royal Caribbean in Belize it is called “Xunantunich & Marimba Lunch – BE60” and was priced at $89.00 per adult and $72.00 per child
To read more about our Caribbean Cruisin’ adventures, please feel free to check out these posts: