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Belize : Pooks Hill

Pooks Hill


Belize July 25th – August 7th 2013

25th Flight from Heathrow to New York
26th Flight from New York to Florida/ Florida to Belize City. Drive from Belize
City, via Belmopan and Teakettle to Pooks Hill Lodge. Trail walk. (4 nights) 27th Horse ride from Mountain Equestrian Trails to Barton Creek. Canoe trip
through Barton Creek Cave. Lunch and Greenhills Butterfly Farm
28th Pooks Hill morning rainforest walk; afternoon own walk and swimming 29th Guatemala and Tikal
30th Leave Pooks Hill for a canoe trip on the Macal River. Arrive Hidden Valley Inn (4 nights). Butterfly Falls
31st Hidden Valley. Rio Frio Cave, Caracol, Rio On Pools
1st Hidden Valley reserve. King Vulture Lookout, Tiger Creek, Lake Lolly Folly. 2nd Chechem Ha Cave, Xunantunich, hand cranked ferry, Cahal Pech
3rd Drive Belize City, Greenhills Mall, Maya Air San Pedro, boat Tranquillity Bay. 4th Snorkelling Tranquility Bay
5th Boat trip San Pedro
6th Tranquility Bay, snorkel & kayak
7th Maya Air San Pedro to Belize City/ Belize to Texas/ home.

Thursday 25th July Arrival
We had a very civilized AA flight at mid morning to New York in America. We arrived late evening and used the Sky train to get to a bus to spend the night in a hotel.

Friday 26th July Pook’s Hill Arrival

arrival-in-belize_31125219472_o.jpgWe left New York on an early flight to Miami, Florida (no food), with a quick transfer to the flight for Belize City. It was a short flight over the Caribbean and the sky was very clear, giving us a wonderful view of the sea (window seats are always good) and islands below (including Ambergris Caye).
We came in along the Belize coast, lower and lower until we landed. It felt weird that we arrived in Belize before left Florida, due to the time differences! The airport was small and we walked from the plane, across the tarmac and into the airport. Ahh, slight problem- we should have filled in two forms, no, three forms (they gave up on us in the end since we were confused). The rep (Issi) from Pook’s Hill was there for us with his placard and as he had no one else to collect we set off in the 4x4 immediately. The car drove along the edge of the airport and almost immediately out of Belize City itself. The drive, along the George Price Highway was straight and we had an excellent view of the Maya Mountains for almost the whole way. As we left the city, at first the terrain was slightly marshy, with a mix of housing types, many built on stilts (though not as high as Cambodian villages along Tonle Sap). Then, as we left the Belize City area the houses and terrain changed. We went through the town of Hattieville, which (we were later told) was originally a tent city, erected when the famous hurricane Hattie destroyed much of Belize City and forced people to move. Over time, houses replaced tents and it became a town.

The Macal is a slower river than the Mopan. They join just past Xunantunich to become the Belize River. A cross-country canoe race, La Ruta Maya, goes all the way along it.

Belize is in the belt that can be badly affected by tropical storms and hurricanes. Hurricane Janet in 1955 was particularly devastating for Belize City
and Corozal, reducing Corozal to near rubble with winds of 175 mph. The most famous hurricane, however, is Hurricane Hattie (1961), with winds
between 155-200 mph. Several people we met commented on how they remembered it, even though they were just children. It killed over 400
people and nearly half of Belize City was flattened. It was this hurricane that prompted PM George Price to move the capital inland to Belmopan. The islands of Caulker Caye and Turneffe were temporarily submerged by a 12-foot wave and the fishing village of Stann Creek was wiped out. The people were moved to a new tent village, later Hattieville. Our host at HVI said that, although a very young boy, he remembered every minute of this storm. Hurricane Fifi (1974) and Greta (1978) showed how the improved early warning system was saving lives, if not property. Hurricane Iris (2001) was a whooper, destroying nearly 4000 houses and causing nearly $10million worth of damage to agriculture. Soon after, Hurricane Richard reached far inland into Belize, extensively damaging Belmopan, Teakettle, Ontario, Roaring Creek and Unitedville.
On our way we passed the famous Belize Zoo. It was founded when a film, Raingods of Belize, was shot in Belize in the early 80’s. The biologist who looked after the 17 animals realised they had become too tame to return to the wild, so she began the zoo. It contains animals native to Belize, both as permanent residents and as passing friends.
When the road bifurcated (La Democracia) I decided to move to the front seat for a better view as we joined the Western Highway, and after 11⁄2 hours we arrived at the edge of Belmopan, the (newish) capital of Belize. On the outskirts, which were pleasantly tree-lined, we saw a large market (Friday is market day) with stalls and our first view of the large local Mennonite community, with their horse-drawn buggies filled with produce. We drove into Belmopan itself (surprisingly small) to collect one of the lodge employees from the supermarket. Then off again down the Western Highway for 30 minutes until we reached the village of Teakettle, where we turned off onto an unpaved road/track. Now I understood why the windscreen was covered with chips and cracks- it was inevitable given the roads off the main highways. We travelled through the village with its stilted houses (many with the cars under them), small farmsteads, chickens and happy children (school holidays, of course) and after some 5-10 minutes left most of the village behind. After another 10 minutes we reached a fork- left to ATM cave, right towards Pook’s Hill, which we took. We passed a large plantation of hardwood trees, apparently owned by a Canadian, but managed locally. He certainly was not keen on trespassers- the point was made several times. He had acquired the land some time ago and had planted crops in succession. This meant that the first crop of indigenous mahogany trees (also Belize’s national tree) took 15 years to crop, and the non-indigenous teak took 18-20 years, then it was a rolling programme. Carrying on up and down a rutted road, past some locally constructed houses (palm frond roof), over some streams and down a steeper path, we arrived at the Lodge itself.
The owners (Kat and Ray) came out to welcome us and offered us a drink (a Belikin, the only beer brewed in Belize) in the upstairs open-air part of the lodge (explaining the honour system of helping ourselves to drinks). They had kindly kept a warm lunch for us, so we could have a good meal. We then went to our Bird Walk cabana, which was down the hill, over the bridge (over a river), across a bird walk and to the end cabana (constructed in local style but with a lovely wet room added), which overlooked a small clearing 12-foot below.
We were keen to stretch our legs, so we decided on a walk in the private reserve, using our trail map. We headed back over the bridge and immediately right along a sandy track.
The noise of the insects was incredible! At first we were under tall palm trees with huge hanging bunches of palm nuts, making it seem quite dim, but soon we climbed up over some roots and along the river edge, over a plank and rope bridge to a small grassy clearing. The twisting strangler figs are amazing in Belize, really spiralling around. The path bifurcated, so we headed straight on first and after climbing over a muddy tyre arrived at the river rock pool. It felt quite hot and sticky, so we took off our shoes and had a paddle in Roaring River, which was not roaring there. Then we backtracked to
the clearing and headed the other way (right), which was lovely as it was, unintentionally, a butterfly meadow. We saw a wonderful variety of butterflies, including Long-tailed Skippers, Euselasia euripus and loads of Banded Peacocks flitting from bush to bush. We even spotted a lizard, which was presumably on a butterfly-eating prowl. We carried on towards to the Roaring River path and found more insects and birds. On the path as we walked a large palm nut tried hard to hit our heads (but missed) before we came across a very popular purple-red fruit smashed on the path with insects and birds relishing it. We saw loads of termite nests, some quite large.
We finished our walk in the large garden in front of the lodge and discovered we had come full circle, so we went to freshen up for dinner. The Lodge is very friendly and when we went to the veranda we immediately felt at home as everyone happily chatted together. We tried a rum and lime cocktail, which was delicious, so obviously needed a second to check. Dinner, served below was a buffet- staff and guests together.
Then back up to the veranda for drinks, games and general chatting before bed. A local, David, who’d lived there many years, had some interesting stories to tell. I thought his take on Belize hospitals/ doctors particularly interesting. Apparently doctors “on duty” would clock in, go home and wait for someone (probably a nurse) to call an emergency and then go in. I assume Belmopan doesn’t have a lot of patients! As we went across the “Bird Walk” to our room we were unencumbered by light and the Milky Way stood out so well we just sat on out balcony looking at it.

Posted by PetersF 18:52 Archived in Belize Tagged animals birds insects belize butterfly pooks_hill Comments (0)

Belize : Barton Creek, Butterfly Farm

Barton Creek and Butterflies

Saturday 27th July Horse ride, Barton Creek and Butterflies

We woke up so, so early, it was barely dawn. I went to the private balcony to watch the sun come up and (because of our Peru rainforest trip) we knew most of the birdlife would be more active now than later. The mist rising over the forest as the dawn slowly broke lent an air of mystery to it and the birds, at first, were silhouettes. First up was a Keel-billed Toucan who sat in a tree eating fruit. Soon he was joined by some jays and blackbirds. When it was light enough (and late enough) we headed over the stilts and bridge for breakfast. It was far too sunny and beautiful to have it indoors (after all we can eat indoors all year) so we sat on the patio.
We had a sort of English and lots of lovely fruit (favourites were papaya and zapote).
Whilst we were eating breakfast, some pretty butterflies flitted round us. We (well, I) had pre-booked a horse ride for the morning to Barton Creek ($300 for 2), so we got ready in sensible clothes and were driven back to Teakettle. About half way down the track, we stopped for two older children who jumped into the back pick-up. Our driver said that it was the “Belize taxi” system. Basically, if you have a car/pick-up truck and someone is walking, you slow down or stop for them to hitch a ride. They just give a knock when they want to get off! We briefly rejoined a paved road to go through the somewhat larger village of Ontario (our driver’s home) before shortly after turning off onto Chiquibul Rd (unpaved). It was a long, but wide road, very bumpy and switch backed. We stopped for a moment to let a young turtle cross the road (this care for local wildlife was really apparent in Belize- they are genuinely concerned about them). We watched it safely into the ditch before leaving. On our way we saw some government workers doing some land surveying, as well as passing the Butterfly farm we would visit later.

We finally turned left, off to Mountain Equestrian Trails ranch. They welcomed us into the open-air veranda and made us coffee (and themselves breakfast) whilst they got the horses ready. We watched the beautiful hummingbirds come and use the feeders- a beautiful iridescent blue and green
one with a white breast and back (White-necked Jacobin) as well as some quick others. We had a chat to the owner and were surprised at their
Internet connection- through a satellite of course and quick but pricey. After about 20 mins our leader, Rico, came to say the horses were ready. We found some helmets and were handed water bottles to attach to the western saddles. We found them a bit odd (as usual- we’ve had “western” saddles in other rides around the Americas) compared to the English (traditional) saddles we are used to. My horse was called Fuego (Fiery) but wasn’t like that at all, except when Steve’s horse once tried to overtake. Steve’s horse was Rosie (so, obviously a lady!). So, off we set down the path and into the countryside. I asked if just two people on a ride was common, but Rico said it was generally 10-12 (peak season), so we were really lucky to effectively have a private ride. The nice thing was that he could talk to us and point out things we were interested in, rather than having to hurry a group on.
Initially we went through muddy grass, along hedges and through small streams, very much like our own landscape, but then came out from under the trees into a “field” with massively tall grasses, over our heads (that is horse + person head). This grass was clearly delicious to horses as they were very keen to eat it. Rico said to let them (as it saved food bills!). We went through these fields for some time, walk and trot, until we came to a higher, more open area littered like tumbled down ruins, but were totally with rocks (they almost looked natural). Then we joined a wider track (buggy width) and headed into the Mennonite area. Rico reminded us not to take photos of them (but I wouldn’t anyway- it’s always polite to ask permission and I knew they feel uncomfortable about photos so I don’t). As we headed along Rico signed us to stop and pointed out a bright red spot. We looked more carefully and saw it was the rare (relatively) Vermilion Flycatcher- a really striking bird.

The Mennonites are a Christian group that grew out of the German/ Dutch Anabaptists. They were inspired by the teaching of Menno Simons (1496-1561). He lived in Friesland (still part of the HRE) as a Catholic priest, but his brother had converted to Protestant Anabaptism. The Anabaptists believed in pacifism and when a group attacked and killed his brother, Menno left his priesthood to become a leader in the Anabaptist church (1536). The Anabaptists were not well tolerated in their German/Swiss/Dutch homelands and were often attacked. Some Anabaptists became violent (Munster Rebellion) but this group were ultimately replaced by those with a total belief in pacifism. Interestingly, when Countess Anne of Germany expelled all Anabaptists, she made an exception for the non-violent Menists (presumably Mennonites). When William Penn was looking for Non- Conformists to join him in the New World, a large number of his followers were Quakers and Mennonites (1683). The area they settled in Pennsylvania became known as Germantown and the settlers as Pennsylvanian Dutch (from Deutsch). The Mennonite book, Martyrs Mirror, 1660, documenting the persecution of early Mennonites/ Amish/ Anabaptists is considered, after the Bible, one of their most important texts.
In the following years more Mennonites followed to America and, inevitably, disagreements between each wave led to a fragmentation. One group, mainly from the Prussian area, wished to retain a very conservative form of Mennonism and moved out of America and down into Belize. All Mennonites believe in
- adult baptism (they feel infant baptism is inappropriate as a child cannot commit to God)
- pacifism
- the rejection of transubstantiation
- excommunication for anyone leaving
There are quite a number of different groups of Mennonites today, from the Moderates/ Brethren (who seem very similar to American Protestants), to stricter groups like Reformed/ Holdeman (limited cars/ internet allowed, children at school; but strict clothing rules and no photos), to a very strict Old Order Group. The Old Order Groups (there are several) tend to have very conservative dress codes, will not become involved in politics, school their own children and reject much of modern technology. Some speak English, but many cling to their original German, The Horse and Buggy Order, for instance, stick to the use of horses for transport/ farming, while another group will accept lifts if necessary or use plain cars for essentials. The Belizean Mennonites are particularly conservative.
In Belize there are about 10,000 Prussian Mennonites and a further 2000+ Creole and Mestizo who have converted. There are a number of different Mennonite churches in Belize (e.g. Alktkolonier Mennoniten Gemeinde with mainly German Mennonites, Caribbean Light and Truth with mainly Creoles or Iglesia Evangelica Menonita de Belice with mainly Mestizo as well as several others). The main Mennonite areas are Shipyard, Spanish Lookout, Little Belize, Blue Creek, Upper and Lower Barton Creek, Progresso. They practise agriculture and carpentry. The ladies wear long coloured dresses and aprons, with bonnets; the men wear denim overalls, suspenders and wide brimmed hats. Those in Barton Creek area use buggies (although some accepted a lift in our car), deal with their own finances and school their own children.
By now we were well into Mennonite country. We saw their farms first. They do not hold large plots and only grow reasonable amounts of anything. Any excess would be sold at market. Their knowledge of land management and natural production was unequalled. We particularly noticed brassica (especially cabbages) and fruit being grown. We could hear their animals from quite a way, calling, and were not surprised to turn a corner and see a small herd of cows, with a calf calling for its mum. Outside it, on the road, was a Mennonite buggy with a dad and his children dealing with two foals. Since they rely on horsepower, both for their buggies and wagons, as well as any “machinery” they use (ploughing, lumberyard). Rico thought their lumberyard was the only one in Belize run by horsepower alone, but it’s hard to know. Several buggies needed to get past us and we had to pull in a few times, especially when the buggies needed to do a U-turn, as the road was quite narrow. As we opened into flatter, less hilly country, the farms became slightly more adventurous, including small ponds.
Shortly after this we found ourselves at a junction of our track and a road (unpaved) by a small community called Calico Jack’s (I love the piratey idea). We passed through the neat houses, down through the wood towards the river. Passing along we came across larger farms, not owned by Mennonites according to our guide. We could well believe this judging by the curt signs on some of the gates (which had seen better days) like “No help needed, EVER”. Suddenly our guide said “STOP” very abruptly, so we stopped. There, in the middle of the road was a very large snake indeed. The horses, amazingly, were unfazed (not like England then!!). I recognised the pattern from our wildlife books- it was the infamous Fer-de-Lance; reputedly the most bellicose and poisonous snake in the area. Rico went to check and it was then obvious that someone had mostly decapitated it and left it there. When the locals come across a Fer-de-Lance they almost always kill them as a matter of course. I appreciate why they do this (for human/ livestock safety), but it might have an effect on Fer-de-Lance numbers in the end.
Fer de Lance (aka Tommy Goff) Bothrops asper (Viper family) has a fast acting haemotoxin and is not scared to attack. Generally, when attacking humans it will be because it’s been disturbed and it will usually dry-bite or only partially envenomate. Its bite is designed to start digestion, so there is plenty of time to seek help. Most of the deaths (and this is the most common snake for deaths) are because people leave the bite without seeking help.
We ended at the bottom by a small creek and crossed the river to the other side. On the lower road we now took we saw quite a few farms for sale. The “For Sale” notices were an odd choice- they would say “6 hectares or 64 hectares”. We wondered how you could offer this choice. Apparently the 6 hectares could be sold to a small farmer with a farm attached, or the whole 64 to a speculator to grow on a more industrial level (generally trees and fruit). Generally these speculators did not live in Belize but handed it over to a local farm manager- local Belizeans we spoke to were not sure if they really liked this. Anyhow, clearly the Mennonites did not, as many of them were considering moving to the less busy south of Belize (this is less busy in relative terms, since this area did not look at all busy to us!).
We then found ourselves joining a road large enough for a car, with a bridge over a large stream. The horses were much keener to go through the pool created next to the bridge and Rico said as they were hot and thirsty, to let them. It was quite deep, but very slow and safe. This led to a long, grassy, tree-lined entrance to Barton Creek itself.
We parked the horses and dismounted. We had been riding for over 3 hours, though it did not feel that long. We walked down to the area that was the Barton Creek entrance and, as usual in Belize, were greeted by some friendly managers. “Would we like lunch or to go through the cave first?”, we were asked. Well, there was no-one else around as the last group were just leaving and we decided it would be nicer to go
through when it was empty of people (for a more authentic feel). So, let’s go now, we replied.
We put on our life jackets and Carlos led us to the canoes. I believe we were lucky here, as Carlos turned out to be hugely informative about the cave and deeply interested in both the Maya’s use of it and the cave itself. He had been very involved with the recent cave archaeologists and had wanted to go underwater caving with them to the deeper levels (they had gone without him last time but agreed he could go next time as he was now qualified). He put us in the canoe at the pool entrance to the cave (technically a “wet” cave as the river ran through it). We had a torch each and Steve had a spare one in case one failed. We set off from the sunlight glinting on the water, through the fronds of trailing vines, scraping over a large rock and into the cave itself. Technically the cave had several levels, but we only accessed some, as the rest were flooded permanently.

Apparently there were Maya artefacts on ledges above us, but we could not see them from the boat. The cave was certainly used, ritually, by the Maya in their later period. There is evidence that some human sacrifice took place there. The Maya believed that to reach Xibalba (a sort of heaven or afterlife) one had to fight monsters and win to gain each new level. The only way to bypass this was to be the Lord (or “King” but this concept was not really known, so Lord is a better title) or to be sacrificed- this would ensure instant top level. Half way through a huge bridge of rock above us (natural, but slightly worked by the Maya) joined the two sides of the cave- Carlos called it the “Maya Bridge”. This then opened to a large pool area, where we turned all our torches off to admire the glistening rock. Steve and Carlos did the paddling and I did the photos- a fair division. We got right to the end of where the canoe would go (almost 2 km) before silently turning round (just before one torch failed). In the water we could see huge numbers of fish and large prawns. On our way out Carlos pointed out various natural formations, which had been given names like “Tooth” (a large crystalline rock) and “Elephant” (which did look very similar to an elephant’s trunk). There were some amazing stalactites (no stalagmites, obviously) of shining white crystal. All over were lumps of black embedded in the rock.
A note about Barton Creek Cave- the limestone cave has been surveyed to 8km with over 6,500 metres of passages. Sadly quite a lot of the cave artefacts have been looted from the 10 Maya ledges. However, what pottery and other artefacts have been left gives the date of Maya use as Early Classic (200-600 AD) and Late Classic (600-900 AD) and includes the remains of at least 28 humans.

As we paddled out we could see the entrance sunlight growing larger and larger until we were back out, blinking. I was up for a swim, but Steve was hungry, so we had lunch (wraps with dips) outside the cave instead. Then Issi met us with the 4x4 and we drove past the horses and up, up out of the creek. The road was deeply rutted and we had to take a few hairpins to get up the hill and back to the “road”. We drove back Chiquibul Road to a turn on the left, Green Hills Butterfly Farm. We parked on their green lawn and, again, it was empty. A chap came to welcome us and show us round the farm itself.
He apologised for not being one of the official guides- he was a researcher (now I thought this was better, as he was more knowledgeable). He’d actually only started at the farm when his brother (a guide) had asked him to fill in for a week- he’d enjoyed it so much he had stayed for 12 years! We had to go through one door, shut it, wait to check, then a second door to get into the enclosed butterfly area. The profusion was amazing. A section on our right contained the eggs, pupae and just emerging butterflies, and to the left a branch was covered with Glasswing butterflies (Pteronymia cotytto). The main area, next, was filled with butterflies- green Malachite Siproeta stelenes, orange striped Mechanitis polymnia, black with orange spot Catonephele numilia, black and orange stripe Catonephele Shoemakers. We had carefully washed all the DEET off ourselves so as not to damage the caterpillars or butterflies and many of them landed and sat on us. Our guide said these were “tame” butterflies and were never let out, as they were hopeless in the wild (having always had access to nectar). That was the reason for the double doors- to ensure none escaped.
The guide went to the far end of the enclosure and showed us a plant- the fishtail palm (well named- it looked exactly like a fish tail). He carefully turned it over and showed us all the eggs underneath- it was the favourite plant of the Blue Morphos. At this end we saw some colourful yellow, orange and black Heliconius hecale, blue and black Myscelia ethusa, huge winged Swallowtail Thoas along with giant Blue Morphos and the largest butterfly of all, the Giant Owl (Caligo memnon)- the reason for the name is obvious. We spent some considerable time in here as the butterflies kept landing on us and staying, which is a magical experience.
No one tried to move us on and push us out. When we finally left, a few butterflies tried to escape, but our guide gently shoed them back in. He took us to a hut to show us how they farm the butterflies. When the eggs are laid, they are collected 16 to each pot. When they hatch they are transferred to 5 caterpillars per pot, then as they grow, 3 to a pot. When they begin to pupate straight sticks are put in to ensure they are not deformed. They are then transferred to the enclosure so they can hatch straight into the air. These particular ones were Morpho Peleides (Belizean Blue), but the others were just the same. The farm also sells eggs/ pupae to farms around the world, as well as undertaking research. It has a mission to observe the interaction between butterfly species in its 2,700ft2 flight area. We sat for a while and admired their hummingbird feeders- they were especially popular with the hummingbirds- we saw Jacobins and the beautiful, smaller Green-breasted mangos (Anthracothorax prevostii). The farm had beautiful flowers too, especially orchids, bromeliads and passionflower, although there were cycads, heliconia and aristolochia (butterfly favourites).
We then drove back to Pooks Hill.
On the way back we saw a young hawk with a kill (probably a mouse). Steve asked how often cars needed changing in Belize due to the road condition and apparently the shocks went first- usually a once a year replacement needed. Luckily the shot-to-hell windscreens could be (to an extent) ignored, because there was no MOT.
We freshened up and headed to the Maya plaza to chat before going to the bar area for some cocktails and then we headed to dinner. After dinner all the lamps were lit and we played some board games before finally going to bed.

Posted by PetersF 19:00 Archived in Belize Tagged cave horse snake belize butterfly maya pooks_hill Comments (0)

Belize : Rainforest Walk

Into the Rainforest

Sunday 28th July Into the Rainforest

We again woke super early (Steve insisted the noisy gecko bug-hunting in our ceiling had kept him awake, but personally I was pleased he was eating the biting bugs). We sat outside with our binoculars and telephoto lenses to capture the forest waking up. I watched the Keel-billed Toucan in the tall tree eating nuts. Then some doves and a sharp-nosed bird (Jacamar). A cheeky jay came right down to us and proceeded to preen him/her self, unbothered by us. Then, the other side, a flash of crimson, and we had the more glorious view of a Crimson Tanager. We did not rush to breakfast, but again had it outside with lovely papaya and mango. A little Rufous-tailed hummingbird came to say good morning, followed by a larger iridescent green hummingbird, a bit more nervous. Several butterflies came to join us, particularly a large Eueides Isabella. When we got back an ant column was busy seeing if our cabana was comfortable, but by the time management had looked they’d decided against it and moved on.

We had asked if we could have a guided forest walk in the morning, so Issi came to find us and
off we set on the high trail. As we walked along the track to enter the forest a caterpillar on the end of a silk thread came wriggling down from a tree, saw us and went up again. A Belize pigeon watched it. As we entered the forest, Issi pointed out some of the different palm types and their local uses, such as the Maya Broom Palm (obvious use) or the two types of huge Roof Palm (traditionally used as a roof due their huge size and good waterproof qualities). The Give-and- Take Palm was an interesting one- the needles had a +tive and a –ative. On the minus side they were so sharp they would rip you, but on the plus side they could be made into very effective needles (for clothes and skin- Issi had a scar he had mended using one of these). The Palm’s bark could even be used to make thread and an anaesthetic!
We saw the All-Spice tree/bush (I had no idea it was a bush- I’d always assumed all-spice was a mix of lots of spices!!) and the smell was gorgeous. The huge Ceibo (also the Cotton or Sabre) Tree is the Maya Tree of Life. A somewhat unassuming Mint wine tree (nice smell) was used by the Maya in their rituals, as its sap is psychotropic. Issi said, as he was Maya, he remembers his grandmother still performing some rituals. At the top of the track we found some Maya pottery and definite Maya ruins. The local area was extensively settled by Maya peoples and there is a lot still to find. We know of at least one lost Maya city (i.e. It is in historical texts, but can’t be found) and this mound (not natural, but Maya-made) looks like quite a substantial settlement, though probably not a city. Pooks Hill itself is built round an excavated Maya villa (more on that later).
Issi pointed out some tracks just as we turned onto Caracalla track. Two tapirs had been along in the night. He was quite sure it was a sow and her piglet first, then a boar later. These would be Belize’s national animal, Baird’s Tapir. Later on Kat showed me the pictures from the infrared motion-detecting camera and Issi was right, except it was 2 boars later. We followed their track until they turned across the road and the track was lost. We saw a star apple tree with its purple fruit (can be eaten as a sweet, the leaves as tea treat diabetes and rheumatism, the bark for stimulant and cough medicine).
Baird’s Tapir is the largest mammal in Central America. It has an elongated flexible upper lip, almost like an elephant, and is almost a living fossil, having hardly changed in 35 million years.
Close by, next to some amazing fungi, we saw a bright coloured, almost luminescent, caterpillar. Then down towards a more open track with higher banks where we saw all the holes dug in the banks by the Mot-mot birds, who like to nest in them. Steve saw a flash of red and we followed it to a small hole in the bank, wherein was curled a Coral Snake (red on yellow OK fellow), very beautiful.
Central American Coral Snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) has a strong neurotoxin (unlike Fer-de-lance which is haemotoxic). It does not strike with fangs (unlike Fer de Lance) but bites and chews the venom in.
On returning towards the lodge we saw a Tourist Tree, so nicknamed as its bark peels just like a sunburnt tourist! When we got back at lunchtime we chatted about Bush medicine (and we added what we’d learnt in Amazonian Peru). Issi said he’d prefer bush medicine to conventional any time and that both his son and daughter had been bitten by snakes (Fer-de-Lance and Maya Coral) and he’d cured them using natural ingredients. Just as we were talking a Basilisk Lizard came to say hello. She (Issi thought) came walking right in front of us, then did that basilisk thing of whizzing off on two back legs at speed.
We had a relax after lunch just sitting and reading in the sun, until mid afternoon, when we decided on a leisurely walk around the reserve. We took our cozzies with us and headed down to the river where there were rock pools and water chattering over stones. The river is not deep, although you can swim in the rock pools, so it was a freshening experience. A cute bird sat outside our cabana as we got back.
It was late afternoon and someone had asked if we could have a tour of the Maya ruins. Ray was very happy to oblige, and fetched his book of excavation photos. The ruins were of a Late Classic Maya villa (in the same sense as a Roman villa). There were living quarters, a typical Maya plaza and a particularly fine early example of a sweathouse. A very nice ocarina had been found in the excavation, but the Lodge had not been allowed to keep it (sadly). As it got dark we headed to dinner, then spent a pleasant evening chatting and playing games. We were warned to make an early get away the next morning as, the earlier we left, the longer we’d have at Tikal. A friendly American from West Point decided to join us.
Early Preclassic +2000-1000 BC
Middle Preclassic 1000-400 BC
Late Preclassic 400 BC- 100 AD
Terminal Preclassic 100-250 AD
Preclassic Collapse c 250 AD
Early Classic 250- 600 AD
Late Classic 600-850 AD
Terminal Classic 850-1000 AD
Post Classic 900-1500 AD
1. Early Preclassic (Formative)-
The earliest distinctly Maya settlements date to c2000/1800 BC. However, the Maya settlement, which included stone buildings, at Cuello, Belize, has been dated to 2,600 BC, so possibly the culture is older than previously thought. The Maya Calendar begins on 11/8/3114 BC (but is based on the Olmec Meso American Long Count, so may not be so useful an indicator). The scattered farms began to settle more into small villages and practise agriculture (mainly corn, beans, squash, cassava) and start to produce ceramics. These people were probably already speaking an early form of Maya. The first undisputedly Maya settlement is Soconusco (Pacific), but the Olmec Culture was clearly a great influence on the early Maya.
2. Middle Preclassic- Maya farms/ villages began to expand into larger settlements, some with plaza and earth platforms and into new areas (the central American highlands). We begin to see early trade in prestige goods, such as obsidian and jade ornaments, c1000 BC. That agriculture was developing is evidenced by early canal, reservoir and irrigation systems. Masonry was increasingly used and carved stela (depictions of nobles/ lords but no writing yet) began to appear. Evidence of warfare is shown in the stelae, weapon caches, mass graves and mutilated (usually decapitated) skeletons. The early La Blanca polity (heavily influenced by the first Mesoamerican civilization- the Olmecs) rose and fell 900-600 BC. It was replaced by El Ujuxte and Chalchuapa, but the power house of this period was the city of Kaminaliuyu (now under Guatemala City, so hard to excavate). Kaminaliuyu clearly had an administrative structure in place and a trade network (mainly in obsidian to make arrowheads, knives, mirrors, etc), The stelae show rulers engaged in war and dominating the Guatemalan highland Maya. As the Maya expanded north the cities of El Mirador, Tikal, Nakbe (first ballcourts and sacbeob), Calakmul and Tavasal were occupied. The city of El Mirador, c.800 BC, was dominant during the later part of the Preclassic. This period was the zenith of the Olmec culture (capital La Venta), after which they began to decline. Olmec-style stone heads are known at several Maya sites and they influenced the Maya in their jaguar worship and many words, particularly the word ajaw (lord/ ruler).
3. Late Preclassic- This period saw the addition of glyphs to stelae, 250 BC, and the move into the lowlands. In other areas we see the rise of non- Maya civilizations- Zapotec, Teotihuacan, Aztec. The Maya cities show increasingly monumental building of pyramid- temples. The main city of this period is El Mirador (still VERY difficult to reach)- a huge city that makes Tikal look small! El Mirador dominated the lowlands 400 BC- 100 AD, when it began to decline. By 300 AD the city had been abandoned. It’s probable that its rulers became the Kaan (Snake) dynasty at the city of Calakmul (great rivals with Tikal).
4. Terminal Preclassic/ Preclassic Collapse- Around 100 AD the great Preclassic cities collapse; both Kaminaliuyu and El Mirador were abandoned. There is no obvious reason as to the cause.
5. Early Classic- The period we think of as Maya really begins at this time- some 40 Maya cities, including Tikal, Xunantunich, Calakmul, Naranjo, Caracol, have their roots here. At its peak, Maya civilisation may have reached 2 million. We now see typical Maya buildings: pyramid-temples, plaza, palaces, ballcourts, stelae (called tetun or tree stones), altars etc.
6. Collapse- Maya civilization in the late 8th/ early 9th century underwent a collapse- cities in the lowlands were abandoned (but in the highlands continued). There is no stand-out cause. Environmental changes, endemic warfare, drought have all been postulated (or maybe all three). Perhaps the large numbers of people supported in a favourable climatic period (Tikal for instance relied on rainwater) was an issue during a prolonged drought, leading to revolts and warfare over resources. At one point disease/ plague was suggested; but evidence does not bear this out.
7. Post Classic 900-1500 AD – In the Yucatan highlands Maya civilisation did not collapse. The cities of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and the dominant Mayapan (which probably gave the Maya their Spanish name) were still flourishing when the Spanish arrived. The three remaining Maya books (Madrid, Dresden and Paris codices) date to this period.

Maya Religion- Maya belief was probably primarily one of nature and seasons. Their calendar was important to tell them when to do what. Like Celtic religion this meant that God/desses were not “good” or “evil”, but had characteristics that could be interpreted differently according to the time. Like the Green Knight, it was dependant on the seasonal needs. Hindu mythology is very similar in this outlook. They believed in a 3-plane of existence (Heavens, Earth, Underworld). The heavens were “ruled” by the Sun God Kinich Ahau (yes, lots of rulers incorporated this in their names) with Itzamna, the elder Sky God. The Underworld (linked with caves, hence the pottery and sacrifices in Barton Creek, Chechem Ha and other) was in the control of the gods of death and decay, including one still called God L (name unknown). A corn god, usually a young man, was a central part of their religion, unsurprisingly given their reliance on the crop. In addition there was a profusion of greater or lesser gods, as well as deities more specifically linked to your city. The Diving God, for instance controls the movements of the sun over buildings (linked to equinoxes) or a Jaguar god looked after Caracol. The Maya did practise human sacrifice, both as a willing sacrifice (see Barton Creek entry) or unwilling (a priest would cut you open and remove your heart).

Posted by PetersF 19:06 Archived in Belize Tagged animals birds snake belize butterfly maya Comments (0)

Belize/ Guatemala


Monday 29th July Guatemala and Tikal

We woke at a normal time for a change and went for breakfast, lovely fruit (a white, sweet one called breadfruit from the mulberry family) and scrambled egg. Our American colleague came to join us and off we set. As we went down to Teakettle, then Ontario I remarked on the number of old yellow American school buses we saw. Ah yes, Belize imports them when the Americans no longer want them. The same with cars- no one in Belize has a nice car (apart from the most wealthy in Belize City) because the roads make it not worthwhile.
We drove along the Western Highway, passing rivers (Roaring River was indeed roaring now), farms, villages, and an interesting shopping area (Orange Gallery), then Georgeville. We passed a large Government Agricultural Innovation Centre and Issi told us he had worked here as a beekeeper for years. Steve asked what kind of bees (as he has a fascination with African bees) and he said yes- hybrid African-American bees. Surprisingly it turns out that these hybrids can be trained like our English bees to live in hives and produce honey. Issi still occasionally went to teach local farmers how to keep bees. We tried the honey later and it was OK (though not as good as Alpine honey IMO). Then through Esperanza and Red Creek. The road joined a river and for many miles we drove along the banks of the Mopan River to San Ignacio town. Here the Mopan and Macal Rivers meet and become Belize River, which itself heads down to the coast at Belize City. I loved the sign with its ‘Town Centre this way’, ‘Beyond turn right’. We turned to Beyond and past small stall- shops to a one-way bridge a few feet above the river (still the Macal). Once over we headed up and out of town along the river, past the Hand-cranked ferry, to Benque Viejo town and shortly thereafter, the Belize-Guatemala border (taking 1.5 hours). Our taxi, being Belizean, was not allowed to be a taxi in Guatemala, so we got out and headed to the border hangar by foot. All very easy- a stamp and we were through. We went right through to collect our Guatemalan taxi on the other side.

Now we were in Guatemala. The roads were good and we sped into the countryside towards the Maya Biosphere. It was higher than we expected, but then the Maya did live in the highlands in Guatemala. We passed quite a number of reasonable sized lakes, including Laguna Salpeten and Lake Peten Itza and its island town of Flores. We did notice quite a number of children in school uniform (cute- little checked dresses) and were told it was not school hols in Guatemala. After a number of smaller settlements the paved road suddenly unpaved itself. Then it was paved again, then unpaved... until we reached the Maya Biosphere Reserve park entrance arch where we bought a cheap map. Our entrance fees paid, we drove to the car park at Tikal itself and parked in the shade (about 2 hour drive).
Our guide, Francisco, found us at once and off we set. Now, Francisco cared deeply about Tikal and how it was managed. We noticed, throughout our trip, the lack of people there. It was SO empty- in Europe an attraction like this would have been heaving. I wonder how much advertising the Government/ local authorities did- they could have loads more people, as the area was vast. Francisco himself, whilst very knowledgeable about the FACTS of Tikal and the Maya, was hugely opinionated too! He had his favourite (and otherwise) archaeologists, depending on how much they agreed with his pet theories. He was also a tad obsessed with astronomy and the Long Count.
twin-pyramid-complex-q_31381754976_o.jpg Twin Temple Complex Q
Tikal comes from ti ak’al (Yucatec Maya- waterhole or Itza Maya- place of voices), but the ancient Maya name was Yax Mutul. The emblem glyph of a mutul (hair knot) refers to a kingdom. Most rulers (ahaw/ahau) are shown with this distinctive style. Tikal was one of the largest Classic Maya cities- temples, palaces, ballcourts, pyramids, platforms, maybe even a jail.
Firstly we went to the museum/ shops area to look at the models of reconstructed Tikal (over 3000 excavated structures alone), then past the stalls to the outer area by the crocodile pond. We saw a small group of Ocellated Turkeys as we headed up the main tourist path. The path led past the most enormous sacred ceibo tree and bifurcated at an information sign as we headed right towards Twin- Pyramid Complex Group Q. We saw the back of the pyramid as we came around the corner to the plaza. Then we saw movement in the trees- a troupe of Geoffroys Spider monkeys were swinging towards us. The twin pyramids were in a good state as we looked at them, as they have been well restored, with accompanying stelae and altars in front. This twin pyramid complex, built by Yax Nuun Ayiin II in 771 to mark the 17th K’atun, is the largest in Tikal. Our guide called us over to a tree- against the back was a HUGE hairy tarantula. Its OK, he said, it’s just a BABY. Good grief- I’d hate to meet the mum! Close by was a small building with a corbelled arch. The Maya never invented proper arches, so corbelling was de rigeur. Inside the building, under a small thatched roof were two pieces of carved stone- Stela 22 (AD 771 Yik’in Chan K’waiil) and Altar 10 (AD 771- shows a captive tied to a scaffold). Our guide pointed out (green spot on picture) the royal (lordly) glyph on the stela.
There are 9 twin pyramid-temple complexes at Tikal of various sizes. They are almost unique to Tikal except for a few in satellite sites. The first was built in the early 6th century (East Plaza) and the last at Group Q. They all feature two opposing flat-top pyramids (with excellent acoustics in the plaza between), rows of stelae and altars, and a long corbel vaulted south side building with a nine- doorwayed room. Each complex was built as a whole, marking a 20 year K’atun end.
We walked on through the jungle (paths were either badly marked or non- existent- thank goodness for a knowledgeable guide), past a pyramid mound (unexcavated but probably a Twin-pyramid complex- Group R; dated 790 AD and near the Mahler Causeway) and tumbled stelae. All Maya cities are based around a centre (usually plaza, acropolis, platform/pyramid-temple), which as it grew, had sacbeob (causeways) running out to the newer parts of the city. In Tikal these are the Maler (Mahler) Causeway (Temple I to Group H- interestingly it has a bas-relief of 2 bound captives), Maudsley (Temple IV to Group H), Mendez (Temple VI to East Plaza) and Tozzer (Temple IV to Great Plaza).
Then we passed a thatch protected Stela 19 (AD 790 Yax Nuun Ayiin II) and Altar 6 in the corner, went down tiny jungle paths to the rear view of Jaguar Temple. This temple head reared over the jungle impressively and made for a great start to the centre of Tikal. The East (Merchant) Plaza was to our right. The most interesting building here was 5D-43, an unusual temple of the late 7th century (Nuun Ujol Cha’ak or Jasaw Chan K’awiil), built over a twin pyramid and ballcourt. It only has three stairs, as it was too close to the Central Acropolis for the fourth. The talud-tablero design of flowers (?Venus) and discs is greatly modified from earlier styles. Part of the roof frieze was still visible (a snake- like tongue).

From here we headed up a path to the main Royal Palaces (Central Acropolis) area. Yes, Places, plural. This area, the Central Acropolis, had palaces built and extended over many generations. Few of the lord’s family would move out, so new sections were always being added. The Mahler Palace was very fine with beautifully cut stonework, which is amazing when you consider that the Maya had no metal tools (only stone) or wheels to move things. The Central courtyard of the Palace looked impressive as we headed up the steps at the far end and across towards Five Storeys Palace. The views of the temples (particularly Temple V) rising above the jungle were especially fine here. Temple V was a mortuary pyramid-temple to an unnamed ruler. Just lower than Temple IV, at 57m, it stands out. Its date is c700 AD, which places it around the reign of Nuun Ujol.
As we crossed, a coatimundi casually walked across our path, so we stopped and watched as it left. The Palace here was covered (outside) with small niches. We went inside the palace here to have Maya air-conditioning demonstrated. Each small bedroom area had a niche where their books, etc would have been kept. Unlike the Inca, the Maya were a literate society and what evidence is left suggests that there were a LOT of scripts around. Sadly, the invading Spanish determination to wipe out any non-Christian text meant that most of it was destroyed.
The are three (maybe four) surviving Maya codices- Dresden, Paris, Madrid and ?Grollier. They deal mainly with astronomical events, making them of only limited use to our understanding of Maya society (which is a shame as they clearly had thousands of books). The famous Popol Vuh (Maya Book of the People) only survives because an 18th century Franciscan friar, Ximenez, decided to translate a now lost work by the K’iche Maya- it tells of the Hero Twins (Hunahpu & Xbalanque). Likewise, the books of Chilam Balam are by a Yucatan Maya writing in Yucatec Maya using Latin script.

Then we walked around the back of the Mahler Palace and its second courtyard (no less fine than the first and with even nicer doorways), to arrive many metres above the Central Plaza. The view at this point is super- pyramids I and II (it is, at heart, a twin-pyramid complex), the giant pyramid-temple of the North Acropolis and the plaza itself. After a few pictures we headed down the stone steps to the Central Plaza itself. Our guide talked about the area briefly, then left us to explore ourselves. In front of us were a group of stelae and altars, some protected, others not, in two lines. Notable were Stelae 11, 10, 18, 40, 7 and 5. See below...
Stela 11- 869 AD Jasaw Chan K’awiil II & last stela at Tikal
Stela 10- records the accession of Kaloomte’ B’alama as well as his previous successful military career. It shows the capture of a prisoner. It links with Stela 12, the Lady of Tikal (see rulers below) c514 AD.
Stela 40- AD 468 portrait of Kan Chitam
Stela 7- 28/1/495 Portrait of Chak Tok Ich’aak II.
Stela 5- 744 AD Yik’in Chan K’awiil.

Stela 22 19 18 40 10
Looking up to the two temples we could see the remains of the decorative roof combs and the standard 3-room temple top. Temple I (to our right) is often called the Temple of Ah Cacao/ Great Jaguar and was built by that lord, now known to be named Jasaw Chan K’awiil. The pyramid temple is 47m high and Jasaw was entombed in the pyramid (as was common with Tikal rulers) in AD 734. His burial (B116) was in a large vaulted chamber with jade offering and a nice vessel with his portrait. The pyramid was finished with a roof comb c740, which was originally decorated with a giant sculpture of him. This roof comb shrine has three chambers, as normal, in a row with decorated lintels. To our left was Temple II (also known as the Temple of the Mask) built by Jasaw c700 AD for his wife. It matches Temple I exactly, but was 9m lower. His wife’s tomb has not been found.

As well as the two temples, straight ahead was the North Acropolis, a huge sprawling set of buildings started in the Preclassic, c350 BC and developed during the Classic period as a temple and funerary complex. A new temple was added on top for each new royal burial, leading to a mass of buildings. Temple 33 (slap- bang in the centre) is the funerary pyramid for Siyaj Chan K’awiil II (tomb burial 48, AD425), built over the Early Classic platform with the stucco masks/ late Early Classic added decorated panels (see picture). Siyaj’s tomb has a king’s skeleton minus its skull, femurs and hand! The chamber contained 2 sacrificed men and a nice stuccoed wall with the date of internment 457 AD. In the Hiatus a 3rd stage was added and an unidentified ruler (Burial 23) buried in a demolished stairway. As the new pyramid was being completed (Temple 32) a royal/noble burial (B24) was put in. To the left of Temple 33 is Structure 34, a pyramid with a three-room temple on top built by Siyaj Chan K’awiil II over his father, Yax Nuun Ayiin I’s tomb (Burial 10- included a nice incense burner (picture), nine sacrificial men, a dog and Maya-Teotihuacan pots). On the Northern Platform a row of pyramids were added at the rear, c 400 AD, then eight temple-pyramids in the 6th century (all with god-mask decorated staircases). By the end of the period there were 43 stelae/ 30 altars (18 inscribed) in the plaza, mainly still in situ. Deep in the heart of the North Acropolis is Burial 85, a corbel-vaulted Late Preclassic tomb of a skeleton without a head and femurs. It may be the tomb of Tikal’s founder Yax Ehb’Xook. His head was replaced with a green stone mask with shell teeth and eyes, as well as the royal emblem headband.
To the front of us was the huge temple complex, decorated with giant stone god-heads.
We walked up to the first platform for a view of the jungle, then realised it was time to find the guide again. As we rejoined him the plaza was particularly empty, so he demonstrated the brilliant acoustics of the plaza (as with all Maya plaza). A clap reverberated and grew around the whole Plaza- it would have made the ceremonies held there captivating. The Great Plaza ballcourt was right next door.
large_temple-i_49187407772_o.jpg Temple 2
A stall (selling water) was inevitably set up in toilets! We headed straight past on our way Perdido complex (when we remembered this World, Conan-Doyle jumped straight to mind added to the effect). Francisco told the story of how it acquired this name (true or not)- a group of American researchers wanted to do some work on this complex. “Do you need directions or a guide?” asked the locals, “as its quite hard to find”. “No, no”, replied the Americans, “we’ll have no trouble.” ... Three days later... “Where are those Americans? Let’s see where they got to.” Three days more. “Aha, there you are. Did you get lost? Do you need a guide yet?” “Yes”; no surprises there then!!
Past the ruined Temple III (currently unsafe as it is partly collapsed internally) and the Temple of the Skulls, we arrived at the side of the Lost World Temple. A vine made a natural swing and amazingly held S weight. Temple III (Temple of the Jaguar Priest) was the last one built at Tikal. It is 55m tall and shows Lord Dark Sun 810 AD. The roof comb shrine is, unusually, only two chambers.

EL MUNDO PERDIDO/ LOST WORLD We came into the Lost World complex, in the SW of Tikal’s main site, past Structure 5D82-89 (Temple of the Skulls/ Plaza of the Seven Temples) and The North Lost World Plaza (5C39/43/44-47). The Lost World Complex remained fairly un- impacted by later building (post Early Classic) at Tikal, except to serve as a royal necropolis AD250-378. It was certainly the original main city focal point. Originally the complex was an E- group (astronomical observatory). In front of us was the famed Lost World Pyramid (5C-54). This is, by far, the largest building in the complex. It was begun in the Late Preclassic, at which time it was one of the largest Maya structures known, and added to throughout the Early Classic, reaching this form by the 4th century AD (Chak Tok Ich’aak). It is 30m high and has stairs on all four sides. The flat platform top may well have had a superstructure, now lost. The temple was originally decorated with stucco sun god heads/masks. To the side was an odd raised grassy platform (5D-53), which was a small Teotihuacan style platform c AD600. There are grassy stairs on four sides, but never held any superstructure. There is a thought that it may have held banners (post holes). We walked over to the Talud-tablero Pyramid (5C-49), which is the most Teotihuacan influenced pyramid in Tikal. It dates to the 4th century (300 AD) and has a Teotihuacan balustrade and talud-tablero façade. We continued round the complex, passing the West (Low) Plaza and the East (High) Plaza. Of most interest was the Plaza of the Seven Temples central temple (5D-96) and its skull and crossbones decorations and the nearby triple ballcourt.
The Lost World Pyramid/ The Talud-tablero Pyramid

Then off again to find the tallest temple in Tikal- Temple IV. We saw Bat Palace (Palace of the Windows) and on the way we passed a reservoir modernised by recent archaeologists. A little Grey Fox ran over the top. Before getting to Temple IV, we saw Complex N, an AD 711 residential complex. We stopped at the concession at the base for a drink and toilet break, before starting the steps to the top (cleverly arranged in an up and a down side).
el-mundo-perdido-lost-world-pyramid-area_31273004272_o.jpgel-mp-5d-87-temple-of-the-skulls_49187543971_o.jpg Temple of the Skulls

TEMPLE IV was built by Yik’in Chan K’awiil in AD741, and is the tallest in the Maya world, visible clearly over the tree tops.
At the top, 70 metres above the forest floor, the view was quite spectacular. We sat in the central room of the roof comb and admired the sight of Tikal’s Temples towering above the jungle foliage. We just enjoyed the views for a while before making our descent. A quarter way down I stopped to help a couple take a photo and this was fortuitous as a small group of Black Howler Monkeys took just that moment to visit the tall trees by the temple. They were not noisy as the adults were trying to sleep whilst three young ones were determined to play. At the bottom, we headed quickly through some areas we had missed to end up back at the entrance area for lunch. Sadly we did not get time to visit Group G (Late Classic palace with a giant mask frame) or Temple VI (AD 766 aka Temple of the Inscriptions due to its decorating glyphs). Next to our café was a Japanese research lab, but Francisco thought the money would be better spent on promoting the site. We had a fajitas style lunch with some super hot dipping sauce (which we later purchased for M to try). Outside some noisy birds sat and squawked at us. We decided to have a quick look in the shops for a souvenir before leaving. S found a nice jade dagger he fancied (since the Maya only used stone they were experts at utilising the properties of different types of stone). Then we saw a pretty jade pendant and earrings in a shop. We asked how much and they told us. Before we’d even said yes, they were put into a bag. No, no we said. We have only got a little bit of Guatemalan money and some Belize money- no credit cards (we’d forgotten them). We knew it wasn’t enough. But they kept trying to do a deal, as if we could magic up more money. We tried to explain we weren’t haggling- we just hadn’t brought much money! In the end they took all our money and gave up and let us have them. OUR guide said we’d got a bargain! It was late afternoon, so we drove back to the border and crossed over back to Belize (and boy, was it hot and humid outside the taxi).

The first known leader at Tikal dates to the Late Preclassic period and the last lord to the Terminal Classic. Note- many of Tikal’s rulers have a variety of names. This is due to improvements in deciphering Mayan glyphs. The earliest excavators simply used the pictures to differentiate rulers e.g. A Lord decorated with a jaguar = Decorated Jaguar. As more glyphs were deciphered the early attempts to render Mayan names were refined. The latest attempts are the first name I’ve used, with bracketed names being earlier attempts.
Tikal’s site shows evidence of early agriculture c1000 BC (Middle Preclassic), a cache of ceramics c700-400 BC in a cultun (underground chamber) and early monumental building (pyramids/ platforms influenced by the Chikanel culture) c400-300 AD. The Maya world was still dominated by El Mirador. Two early temples show corbel vaults and well executed paintings. As El Mirador declined, Tikal’s fortunes rose, as evidence by richer burials c 1st century AD.
1. Yax Ehb’Xook (Yax Moch Xoh, Yak Chaket’l Xok, First-scaffold, Step-shark,
Ruler 1). cAD60-c90. Yax is regarded as the founder of Tikal or maybe the lord who led it to independence. A jade ear-flare excavated at the earlier Maya city Kaminaliuyu (date 100AD) may suggest he came from Kaminaliuyu, perhaps gaining Tikal’s independence from this city. The Late Preclassic Burial 85 may have been his (see burials later) and is missing its skull, suggesting a death in battle. The replacement head-mask has the 3-pointed royal headband and emblem.
2. Siyaj Chan K’awil Chak Ich’aak (Stormy-sky I) c2nd century AD. Little is known of him
3. Yax Ch’aktel Xok c200 AD. Little is known of him. 5C-53
4. Balam Ajaw (Decorated/Foliated-jaguar). AD292. Balam is the first ruler with an exact date (though from later texts). His exact place (along with the previous two NAMED rulers) in the dynastic sequence is unclear. He is probably the ruler on Stelae 29 (AD 292 1st stela at Tikal- king faces right holding the head of the underworld Jaguar god as a patron god of Tikal) and 31. Certainly the use of the royal emblem on this stele makes it clear that Tikal was an independent polity with its own rulers.
5. K’inich Ehb (Animal-headdress) cAD300. He is also mentioned on Stela 1 at El Encanto. Ruler 10
6. Siyaj Chan K’awiil I. An exact date of AD307 is possible from Stela 1 at El Encanto. Ruler 11
7. Ix Une’ B’alam (Lady Une’ B’alam, Queen Jaguar). AD 317 (Stela 31 and vase fragment). Queen in her own right and Ruler 12.
8. Leyden Plate Ruler c320 AD. Nothing certain known or even if one of the known rulers. No context.
9. K’inich Muwaan Jol I (Mahk’ina-bird-skull, Feather-skull). AD359 (from Stelae 39, 28, a dynastic vase and a Corozal stela), Ruler 13
10.Chak Tok Ich’aak I (Great-paw, Jaguar-paw I, Ruler 14). c AD360- 16/1/378. Chak is one of Tikal’s best-known rulers and the end of the first dynasty. He commissioned Stela 39 (AD376 K’atun ending), which shows him standing on a bound captive. His palace 5D-46 (later the core of the Central Acropolis) was, unusually, never built over, but repaired by later rulers as an important building. We have excellent evidence for the events leading to regime change on Stela 31 (erected 425 AD). Chak’s death date is the exact day that Siyak K’ak (literally Fire-is-born and named ‘Lord of the West’ on the stela) arrived from ‘the west’ (certainly he went through El Peru city). The most likely conclusion is that Siyah K’ak was a non-Maya general leading troops for the ruler of the non- Maya city of Teotihuacan. The ruler of Teotihuacan at the time is generally referred to as Spearthrower Owl (his non-Maya, non-deciphered glyphs give this name). Possibly Siyah was a conquering general, possibly he had inside support from a fraction inside Tikal (?local elite ?Teotihuacan natives living in the Lost World complex) but this is obviously conjecture. The result was that Chak was captured and killed. Siyak captured the Maya city of Uaxactun, where he became king, and the throne of Tikal was given to Spearthrower Owl’s son, Yax Nuun Ayiin. Stela 39’s lower part (in the Lost World) dates to AD 376 and shows Chak trampling an elite bound captive.
11.Yax Nuun Ayiin I (Curl-nose/snout, First- crocodile, Ruler 15) 13/9/379- 404/425 AD. Yax was a son of the Teotihuacan (non-Maya) ruler Spearthrower Owl. Tikal having been taken by Spearthrower Owl’s general Siyak K’ak (now Ruler of Uaxactun), Tikal was given to the young Yax. While Siyah K’ak lived, Yax remained under his control. Despite being non- Maya, Yax made efforts to link himself with the previous dynasty, taking his wife, Lady K’inich, from their royal family. He conquered north, opening a trade route to the Caribbean and maintained strong relations with Teotihuacan. He is on Stelae 4, 18 and 31. Stela 4 (AD 396) is interesting as it is a mix Maya/Teotihuacan. It portrays the Maya underworld Jaguar God with the Teotihuacan God Tlaloc. Yax’s helmet is from the Teotihuacan War Serpent and he is full face instead of profile (profile= Maya, front= Teotihuacan). His palace is 5D-34 and his burial is Burial 10. Around this time Tikal appears to have sponsored the founding of Copan- the founder K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo is referred to in a Tikal text, his stelae call him ‘Lord of the West, his bones show he spent his early life in/near Tikal and his tomb is Teotihuacan style.
12.Siyaj Chan K’awiil II (Stormy-sky II, Manikin-cleft-sky, Ruler 16) 411/425-456 AD. Siyaj was the son of Yax Nuun Ayiin and a Tikal princess (his or his father’s name choice of a previous king was probably very deliberate). He erected Stela 31, depicting the events leading to his dynasty taking control. It also mentions the death of his grandfather, Spearthrower-owl, 439 AD. He, too, married a Tikal princess, Lady Ayiin. Temple 33 was his burial pyramid (Burial 48). He erected stelae 1, 28, 31.
13.K’an Ak (Kan Chitam, Kan-boar/peccary, Ruler 17). AD 458-c486. He was the son of Siyaj Chan K’awiil. He erected stela 9 (475 AD) showing him standing with firestick and jaguar mask cape. He married Lady Tzutz Nik.
In AD 486 he seems to have attacked the city of Maasal. He erected stelae 2, 9, 13, 40.
14.Ma’Kin-na Chan late 5th century, otherwise unknown
15.Chak Tok Ich’aak II (Jaguar-paw II, Jaguar-paw-skull, Bahlum-paw-skull,
Ruler 18). AD 486-508. Chak was the son of K’an Ak and seems to have taken the throne during the Maasal War (maybe his father died in battle). His wife was Lady Hand. The capture of a ‘Tikal lord’ is mentioned by Knot-eye-jaguar I of Yaxchilan in 508, and Chak’s death by the distant city of Tonina in 508. His stelae are 3,7,15,27, but after this the deliberate destruction of stelae make the dynastic record less secure.
16.Kalo’mte Ix Yo K’in (Lady/Woman of Tikal, Ruler 19). AD 19/4/511-c527. She acceded from her father, Chak Tok Ich’aak II, aged 6 and is always associated with a male co-ruler (Kaloomte’ Bahlam). The evidence suggests that when Chak Tok died his son, Wak Chan K’awiil, was an infant, so his young daughter, Kalomte Ix, took the throne (whether in her own right or as regent with Kaloomte’ for her half brother is unclear). Stela 10 refers to Kaloomte’ as defeating the Maasal in 486, so presumably he was a successful general. Stela 23 (showing her) was deliberately broken and Stela 6 (514 AD, partly eroded) mentions her name and title (Gi, IX= woman, nahbnal k’inich = ruler Tikal). Stelae 12 and 25 also mention her. NB- A Lady Six-Sky of Naranjo is often called Lady of Tikal (probably because Naranjo made many efforts to claim the name) in AD 682.
17.Kaloomte’ B’alam (Curl-head, Ruler 19) c511-527 AD. He seems to have co- ruled with Kalo’mte Ix (above), whether as regent or husband is unclear. His stela 10 records his accession and prior career, including the capture of a prisoner. Stela 12 records him and a queen performing rituals.
18.Bird Claw (Animal-skull I, Etel, Ruler 20). c AD527-537. His link to Kalo’mte Ix or Kaloomte’ B’alam is unclear. Stela 8 refers to Bird Claw, but crucially does not give him the royal Tikal emblem.
19.Wak Chan K’awil (Double Bird, Ruler
21). 29/1/537-562 AD. Wak Chan was the son of Chak Tok and Lady Hand (and a half brother of Kalo’mte Ix). He may have been exiled during Bird Claw’s rule. His reign saw increasing warfare from Calakmul, Naranjo and Caracol. Both Tikal and Calakmul’s rulers claimed the title kaloomte (high king/ bretwalda). When Naranjo allied with Calakmul (Naranjo War of Independence as technically Naranjo was a colony of Tikal) in AD 546 Wak Chan attempted an alliance with Caracol (even overseeing their ruler Yajaw Te’K’inich II’s accession in AD 553). His efforts failed when Caracol joined with Calakmul. Wak Chan enacted a Ch’ak (Axe war) in retaliation in 556 AD, but in 562 AD Caracol’s led a Star war against Tikal when he was decisively defeated, captured and sacrificed by Caracol (Caracol Stela 17 and Altar 21).
20.Lizard Head II c562AD. Position, date, demise unclear. Certainly at this point, the polity of Tikal underwent a great decline. Monuments were not built, stela production stopped. It was nearly 150 years before Tikal saw resurgence, and by then Caracol was the power in the area. Interestingly, at first Tikal’s building copied Caracol styles.
21.K’inich Waaw (Animal Skull, Ruler 22) 593-628 AD. Waaw was not the son of Wak Chan, but claimed legitimacy through his mother Ix Ajaw B’alam. Tomb 32.
22.K’inich Wayaan- possibly a reference to K’inich Waaw above.
23.K’inich Muwaan Jol II (Ruler 23 or 24) c628-c647/50 AD. Evidence from ceramics only. In AD 629 Tikal founded an outpost at Dos Pilas, putting a young brother, (age 4) B’alai Chan K’awiil in charge. B’alai remained faithful to his brother until Jol II’s death. However, despite having a claim, B’alai was not made ruler on his death, so when Calakmul took Dos Pilas in 655 AD, B’alai changed sides.
24.Nuun Ujol Chak (Shield-skull, Nun Bak Chak, Ruler 25). 657-679 AD.
Married to Lady-throne-jaguar. Mentioned on Temple I lintel. B’alai of Dos Pilas attacked Tikal (AD 657) forcing the new king, Nuun, to abandon the city. B’alai again failed to be made ruler of Tikal and Nuun, counter- attacked in 672, driving B’alai out. Calakmul, El Peru, Naranjo and Caracol attempted to defeat Tikal, but failed when Jasaw Chan became ruler.
25.Jasaw Chan K’awiil I (Lord/Ah Cacao, Heavenly-standard-bearer,
Ruler A, Ruler 26). 628-734 AD. Probably one of Tikal’s best rulers. He defeated rival Calakmul in 695 AD, which saw a revival of Tikal’s fortunes. He is associated with a resurgence of monument building and stelae. He built Temple I (also his tomb- burial 116) and Temple II (the tomb for his wife Lady Twelve Macaw d704). Erected Stelae 16,30.
26.Yik’in/ Yaxin Chan K’awiil (K’awiil-darkens-sky, Sun-sky-rain, Ruler B, Ruler 27). AD 734-c766. Yaxin, the son of Jasaw, was a highly successful ruler. He conquered Calakmul in AD 736 and its allies El Peru (743) and Naranjo (744). He married Princess Shana’Kin Yaxchel/ Lady Yax Ahau Xoc of Lakamha (a political match probably). Possibly Burial 196 in 5D-73 little pyramid south of Temple II. Built Temple IV and Stelae 5,20,21
27.Ruler 28 AD 766-768. Built Temple VI
28.Yax Nuun Ayiin II (Chitam, Ruler C, Ruler 29). AD 768-790/94. Little known. Stelae 19 and 22, Altars 6 (which shows a captive) and 10.
29.Nuun Ujol K’inich (Ruler 30). C800-c810 AD. Little known, mentioned on Temple III lintel.
30.Chitam II (Dark Sun, Ruler 31) c 810Ad. The 810 Stela 24 in Temple III (the last one built) mentions Dark-sun. He probably built Temple III where he is buried- a damaged roof lintel shows him in a ceremonial dance. A second hiatus in stelae erection (around 60 years) is marked by the rise of former satellite polities (several taking the Mutul emblem glyph formerly in Tikal’s control).
31.Jewel K’awiil 849AD (Ceibel/Seibel Stela 10 mentioned him as a visitor) 32.Jasaw Chan K’awiil II 869-889 AD. Little known. Stela 11 (AD 869) and
Uaxactun stela 12. Last monuments erected at Tikal date to his reign. 33.Increasing warfare combined with other factors (probably a prolonged drought) saw a Maya collapse in the area (though not in the more northern Maya areas). By 900 AD Tikal was occupied by squatters and by
950 AD had been abandoned.
POST MAYA- Spanish friar de Avendano mentions a ruin, which may have been Tikal in 1696. 1848 Commissioner Mendez and Governor Tut of Peten visited Tikal and began to map the site. It features in the 1977 Star War New Hope film.

We returned through San Ignacio over the other bridge, a suspension bridge many metres above the river, arriving back at the lodge at early evening. S was too tired, he headed straight to bed, but I was hungry and not tired at all.
So, I went to find everyone- in the hut the night cameras were showing the animals that had been there last night, including a jaguar only a few hundred feet from our cabana. We all sat on the steps to admire the Milky Way- it was a moonless night so the stars were especially clear. No light pollution here meant an amazing view. As we chatted Ray set up a moth trap for later. We drank Belikins until it was time to eat. Buffet style as usual. We ended up having a strange discussion about contraception and abortion rights; how local people felt about them etc. The Mennonites (according to one staff member who was Maya but whose daughter had married into the Mennonite community) did use contraception, but he was amazed that abortion was fairly easy in England. He, and other staff/ guests (none English except us) really admired our system, saying it saved a lot of heartache. Don’t know how, but this discussion ended up talking about evolution and the ridiculous idea that the earth was only 4000 (or whatever) years old. I had not realised what a hot potato topic this was in America.
Suddenly one of the kitchen staff screamed and we investigated. A huge (yes) snake was winding its way through the dining area. But it was fine- a harmless King Snake, which only wanted to leave.
We headed back to look at the stars and see what was in the moth trap. It was amazing how many types of moths were there. At this point I realised that wearing white might be a disadvantage. The moths thought I was great, especially with the fluorescent lamp close by. I was literally covered with big, small, medium, brown, black, blue, green, even iridescent moths.
I did feel like I should check on Steve, so headed back (with many moths still attached) so find him.

Posted by PetersF 19:11 Archived in Guatemala Tagged birds ruins guatemala belize tikal maya Comments (0)

Belize : Hidden Valley

Hidden Valley and waterfalls

Tuesday 30th July afternoon Butterfly Falls

We drove out of San Ignacio with Issi from Pook’s Hill, and soon turned onto the usual unpaved road. As we headed upwards we passed the turn to Caracol and the forest gave way to pine trees and red, sandy, rutted tracks. The pines looked poorly, and apparently they had had a pine-beetle infestation, and a huge storm in 2009, which had decimated the area although it was beginning to grow back. The track led across the top of an escarpment and finally up a long hill to Hidden Valley Inn. The beautiful ranch was hidden behind flowers- orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and begonias, to name a few. We were greeted and shown to the main lounge for a greeting and then given an orientation walk. A group of very noisy Chachalacas followed us round the gardens. Our luggage was taken to our room, which was out of the French windows, down the path, through the gardens and past the pond and the end cabana on the left. As lovely touches a little personal welcome note was on our bed and flowers arranged all round the room.
Hidden Valley Inn was built in the 1970’s by Julian “Bull” Headley and stayed in his family until 2001. His grandson (I think) lives on a part of the estate that was not sold to the Roe family. They have done a wonderful job in restoring it in Victorian Plantation style. There was beautiful mahogany furniture everywhere- the bar looked so shiny and polished we could see our faces in it. There was a comfy longue with fireplace, well stocked with books, a quality dining room, a spacious bar and an in-between area where you could get hot drinks, towels, etc. The stone terrace, currently occupied by a resident Chachalaca flock, led to a pool and hot tub. Opposite was the Mantra room for Yoga, with a visiting yoga lady (who we saw in the dining room).
Out of the lounge French windows down a gravel path, were the cottages, beautifully done with plants outside (orchids) and a box of firewood (which we knew we wouldn’t need). The mahogany and leather furnished rooms had a fireplaces, comfy settee, desk, safe, huge bed and lovely bathroom. There were even complimentary bathrobes, which we made good use of for pool swims. We even managed to pick up the free Lodge Wi-fi.
We were still in time for lunch, so we sat in the dining room to have a chicken salad. As it was only early afternoon, we fancied a walk, so asked for a lift to Butterfly Falls Trail, hoping the waterfall wouldn’t be too busy (it was supposed to be the most romantic of the waterfalls.)
We were dropped off at the trail entrance and we picked up a stout stick each before heading down towards the falls. Up and down roots and over a
small bridge (isn’t that the one with the picture of a jaguar on it?) and along the creek before it opened to the most glorious (and empty) crystal pool with an 80 foot waterfall at the end. Down the walls hung a profusion of bromeliads, hot-lips, ancient tree ferns and orchids. In the clear pool we could see lots of tiny fish in the shallows.

Obviously we’d brought costumes and towels, so we spent a wonderful hour or so relaxing and enjoying it. The shallows had rocks, almost like rock pools, with little fish in who were happy to nibble us. Then striking out into the deeper waterfall pond, cool water but refreshing. As it was empty we didn’t really bother too much with cozzies! Then it felt like it was darkening so we headed back up the hill. We were really surprised to find someone waiting for us at the top so we didn’t need to use the radio to call for a lift. Freddie, the driver, said he knew we’d gone there, so he’d just worked out when we’d sort-of be ready and waited.
When we got back it was pleasant to have a walk around the garden of Inn. It had been beautifully planted with colourful flowers. A friendly Green Jay flitted around the pond, calling out. When we later remarked on the jay to Freddie and how unbothered it was with people he told us its story. It had been orphaned a few years earlier close to Belize Zoo, so they had reared it by hand. When it was old enough they wanted to reintroduce it to the wild, so they asked Hidden Valley to take him and help as a halfway house. This would have probably worked well had the kitchen staff not got a soft spot for him. Every time he strutted around or looked hungry, they’d feed him (in case he starved because he hadn’t yet learnt to forage). Consequently, he had no intention of ever learning to feed himself! F said they needed to be hard-hearted and that he’d soon learn, but I suspect this was never going to happen!
We watched a film before going over to the bar. The special was a Jungle Cocktail (loads of fruit and coconut), yummy, before finding a table for dinner. Gorgeous food, and as we’d prepaid we had a choice of anything. So we had a 5-course meal with wine. Caribbean Snapper baked in Banana Leaves with Banana Salsa (me) with plantain and Lime Mint Pork Tenderloin with Pineapple Relish (Steve). The tables are all candlelit and very romantic. This first night had few guests, too. That evening was the most terrific thunderstorm over to the sea with lightning and thunder everywhere.
Hidden Valley Inn is in the unique Mountain Pine Ridge area of Cayo. Unlike the rest of the area (broadleaf jungle) it is a pine forest. The nice thing, for us, about this hotel is it was in the centre of its own private reserve (the oldest park in Belize) with exclusive access to trails, secret waterfalls, creeks, pools, rivers, etc. The reserve covers the sandy red pine forest (above 2000m), the grassy savannah (by the lake) and the tropical rainforest. It is on a huge geological fault line, as Mountain Pine Ridge was probably what is left of a granite volcanic island that hit the mainland aeons ago, with a 1000-foot escarpment (hence the Thousand Foot Falls). A complimentary bird-watching guide was in our room and we began to fill it in. Because the pine ridge is a specific, isolated, eco-system some species (flora and fauna) are unique to the area. We were lucky enough to see in Belize a Keel-billed Toucan (Pooks Hill), Green Jay (HVI), loads of hummingbirds, King Vultures (HVI), Turkey Vultures (everywhere!), Orange-breasted Falcon (near Chechem Ha), coatimundi (Tikal), grey fox (Tikal). The reserve has a total hunting ban.

Posted by PetersF 19:23 Archived in Belize Tagged animals birds river waterfall iguana belize reptiles hidden_valley macal Comments (0)

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