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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for September, 2007

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Today we went on an exciting adventure to the above named cave - I’m afraid I’ve already forgotten what it means - something about caves and stone or somesuch. After a 40 odd minute trek through the jungle, including wading across a river three times (the same river, strangely) we arrived at the cave entrance which is guarded by a pool of beautiful blue water (oh dear, I sound like a travel brochure!). To enter the cave we had to swim across to some rocks at the back of the entrance.

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We then walked for another forty minutes through an underground river which varied in depth from ankle height to neck level - all very exciting. What made it more spectacular were the hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites, along with my favourites - the glittering crystal limestone - so sparkly. The whole place is a geologist’s heaven.

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In actual fact, caves are regarded by the Mayans as entrances to the underworld where spirits and the gods live, and therefore they have a huge significance in the Mayan culture - before entering caves, and this one in particular, they would spend months gearing themselves up mentally, physically and spiritually (we only had about 12 hours to prepare unfortunately).

Archaeologists started exploring the cave about 20 years ago and have left almost all the artefacts as they found them. These include lots of clay pots which probably contained grain, water and blood as offerings to the gods. They also found the remains of 15 human skeletons all of which have signs that they were killed as sacrifices - probably to the god of rain during a drought that is thought to have significantly impacted on the Mayans about 200o years ago (but don’t quote me on that). Some of the sacrifices were children and babies, although we didn’t see these. There is still one skeleton completely intact - that of a girl aged between 18-22 - she’s in an odd pose, and it’s very strange looking at these remains knowing that this was once a living person - it all seems a bit surreal to be honest, especially since there are none of the usual barriers or glass cases separating the tourists from the history - all very interesting.

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Enough of the history lesson - to enter the large cavern part of the cave we had to climb up onto a ledge and remove our shoes and walk around in socks to help ensure we didn’t accidentally damage anything. The huge expanse of the cavern was amazing - full of stalagmites, stalactites and glitter - the sights were helped a lot by our guide’s powerful torch, although at one point we turned off all our lights and sat in complete darkness for a couple of minutes - I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced such pitch black before - a strange sensation.

All in all it was a great experience and definitely worth the wet trainers!

Swimming with mermaids

As we are having such a terrible time on this round the world trek, as many of you keep alluding to, we decided to treat ourselves with a snorkeling trip from Caye Caulker. The second largest coral reef in the world is three miles offshore (so this is not quite paradise) so a boat is needed. There were many tour operators in town touting for our business but for me there were two considerations:

  1. The type of boat
  2. Whether they would lend me a prescription mask

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in fast, rigid launches of late so when Ragamuffin Tours presented the opportunity to go sailing and snorkeling and had a prescription mask for me to borrow we signed up with all haste.

The boat was a 15 m ketch called Ragga Queen - a lovely motor sailor - just the kind of boat I would like.

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Wind seems to be an afternoon phenomenon here so we motored to the reef. At the first stop we jumped in were happily admiring the fishes - lots more than we had seen at Utila - when a strange grey beast lying on the sandy bottom loomed into view - a manatee! After seeing them from the surface last week this was a real treat. I dived down to have a closer look and swam alongside the beast for a while. It was beautiful in its own special way, but I say ungainly and fantastically ugly at the same time - I have no idea where the myths of manatees being mermaids come from.

My extensive observations of marine mammals lead me to conclude that if I was such a beast I would opt for two hind flippers rather than the single big tail that manatees have - it’s not a fast moving, efficient looking beast - perhaps they adhere to the official motto of Caye Caulker “Go slow!”.

At our next two stops along the reef we swam with nurse sharks and sting rays and loads of big ugly fish - it was really rather special.

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On the way home we sailed which was lovely. The peacefulness was only disturbed by the loud reggae music blaring from the stereo, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter.

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Hammock swinging on the beach

We’re on Caye Caulker - we couldn’t keep away from the seaside for long. It’s a very peaceful place with no cars, just golf carts, and lots of palms. We’re staying in a shack right on the beach, with two hammocks slung between coconut trees just outside (but carefully, so that a nut can’t fall on your head).

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We bumped into Aussie John from Opwall yesterday and had a fine time with him. Tomorrow we are going snorkeling on the second biggest barrier reef in the world.

Crooked Tree, Crooked Tree

Fiona with her long and strongly felt love of the cashew nut was desperate to get to the location of the famous Cashew Fest in the village of Crooked Tree.  As it happens, Crooked Tree is in the middle of an internationally important area for birds so I was happy to go there too.

We spent a couple of nights in this sleepy little village wandering the trails and admiring the birds and cashew trees. I particularly liked a tiny bit of marsh that had Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis’, Great White Egret, Snowy Egret, Green-backed Heron, Bare-faced Tiger-Heron and Northern Jacana all feeding together.

Fiona liked the spoonbill because it was pink.

We also saw the Prothonatory Warbler, notable simply because of its ridiculous name. Marvelous. I don’t even know what prothonatory means can anyone enlighten me?

We searched the shops for Cashews but too no avail (actually, we searched for the shops too - they were camouflaged as houses - this is a local village for local people). Cashew season is May apparently. Only when we were disembarking the bus in Belize City did Fiona spy what she was looking for. She accosted an poor man who was off to market and just happened to have a large bag of cashews. Purchase made, Fiona was happy.

Google map data improves

I’ve just noticed that the Google Map we use in the bottom right of the page has recently acquired much more detailed data for Central America. How pleasing. Zoom away!

Independence day

Today is Belize’s day for celebrating independence from Britain which happened 26 years ago.

Celebrations in Placencia have been timid but we were very excited about the prospect of a duck race in the harbour - but it never happened - very disappointing. Very little is happening in fact. It is all rather anticlimactic.

Perhaps a few rousing choruses of Rule Britannia would get them in the mood?

Mad women, premonitions and manatees

Upon finding ourselves unexpectedly in a different part of Belize we mulled over our options in a spartan yet perfectly acceptable Chinese restaurant in Dangriga. The guidebook, coupled with a look around town indicated nothing to detain the passing tourist there, so we made haste to the bus staion to correct the offset in our intended location of the day.

We took the bus southwards to Placencia where we met an American woman who suggested to us that we might like to stop at the town of Hopkins en route - it indeed sounded interesting, and she seemed a little batty, but nice enough, and conveniently had a place for us to stay on the beach.

Hopkins was lovely - a very relaxed little Garifuna town on a long sandy beach. Our accomodation was fine, if rather eccentric and the owner cooked for us, which was great.

The only downside was that our host talked at us incessantly. Utterly non-stop. She didn’t converse, she just rambled endlessly, mostly about her misfortunes. It was rather tiresome at first, but provided amusment after a while.

On our last morning we had tentatively planned to take an inflatable kayak into a nearby mangrove lagoon. It didn’t look a very sturdy craft so I had slight reservations about paddling through crocodile infested waters in it, but when both Fe and I dreamt about being eaten by crocodiles we wimped out.

It was a fine still morning, so I sat on the beach and watched the sea. After some time had passed some curious lokking black lumps surfaced 100 metres offshore - manatees - the leviathan of the mangroves! We finally succumbed to the crappy kayak and paddled out to say hello (manatees are herbivores and whilst they may be able to suck us to death, I think it unlikely).

We were treated to little ugly heads bobbing up around us, blowing lightly as they surface, then fine views of their big rounded backs as they rolled, and occasionally their great big single flippered tail would pop up.

The boat was indeed a piece of junk, but who cares? We paddled with manatees!

Transportation quandries

After being abandoned at the roadside by a broken bus en-route to San Pedro Sula we were keen for an easy passage to Belize. We planned to leave Honduras on the Gulf Cruza, alledgedly a 45 passenger boat, and cross the Caribbean from Puerto Cortes to Placencia in Belize.

The Gulf Cruza was broken, but another vessel, about half the size would take us. Hmm. When that boat cried off due to insufficient passengers our only option was a even smaller boat going to Dangriga.

Now, ordinarily for a 60 mile sea crossing I’d be slightly nervous about going in an open fiberglass boat, its only safety feature being duplicated outboard engines, but we were desperate not to spend another night in Puerto Cortes or endure the long bus ride to the shorter crossing in Guatemala so threw caution to the wind and jumped in.

All went well, but I’m glad we don’t need to do that again.

A break from the norm

We spent the night in Puerto Cortes - the only thing of interest was a nice Parque Central so after 15 minutes we searched for alternative entertainment. We chanced across a cinema - Ocean’s 13 was billed, and it was in English! Before the show we needed feeding. It was a sleepy Sunday and all that was open was fast food joints so we succombed. One chicken place even had veggie food.

The cinema was funny - 30 Lempiras (75 p) took us into the pitch black room where we had to find a seat by feel. The film was fun, but the sound quality was awful. I don’t suppose it matters if all you are interested in is the subtitles.

Afterwards we needed pudding so headed to the only likely place - Pizza Hut. We ordered a small pizza and a couple of deserts assuming the young waiter would work out our order of requirements. Needless to say he didn’t and we got our meal backwards.

I think the waiter was as amused by us as we were by him.

It was this big…

Although we have now been lucky enough to see the largest fish in the sea (yes, we’re still going on about it!), whilst sunning ourselves in another Bay Island - Roatan, their annual fish festival took place and we were able to admire their huge catches - the biggest fish they caught was a 270 pound Blue Marlin - these are massive fish (as the weight might suggest) and have a long pointy nose (like a swordfish) - certainly wouldn’t want to have met one of those whilst diving! The thing that amazed me most about these fish was their eyes - they were bright blue, but looked like fake glass eyes, weird. Unfortunately we had left our camera at home on this occasion, so no photos - I’m sure google will provide though.

The rest of our trip to Roatan was pretty uneventful, if rather expensive - the North Americans have adopted it as a tropical resort, hence the prices have risen accordingly. We managed to save a few bob by walking to the “world’s second most beautiful beach” (according to our hotel owner) - it was lovely - white sands and crystal clear water, and definitely an improvement to Utila’s lack of beach, however it was spoilt somewhat by the large number of resorts and hotels that have been built along it. Oh how ungrateful we are in paradise!

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