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Belize : San Pedro, reef

San Pedro and Tranquility Bay

Monday 5th August San Pedro

We’d had enough of the beach, so asked for a taxi ride (i.e. the boat) to San Pedro. This was BZ$5 each so not expensive, but we had to go/ return with the provisions boat. No problems, so we left at 9.00 and got to San Pedro before 10. San Pedro is on Ambergris Caye (Island) also known as La Isla Bonita (yes, like Madonna’s song). San Pedro is the main town on the island- a Caribbean meets Key West feel.
We agreed to return to the jetty at 3 pm and set off into town. Luckily San Pedro is a small town and easy to navigate. We went to the main street and got our bearings, then went to find a supermarket to buy some food for lunches and snacks. We quickly found one and bought some crisps, biscuits, drinks, super noodles and some super-hot chilli sauce for M. We did notice that most people went about in golf carts and there were very few cars (I suppose it is a small island and generally not rainy). Then we wandered to see if we could buy E something too. We tried some stalls with cheap jewellery and ummed and aahed over some anklelets, but decided against. Then we found a little gift shop in Pescador Drive with more quality stuff in and got some earrings, necklace and chocolate for her instead. Then we were getting hot, so I suggested we head back to the alley I’d seen which seemed to lead to a bar. Great choice! We ended up in a large open-air (but covered) restaurant Fido’s and sat by the giant anchor overlooking the white sand beach with our Belikin beers. We watched the dive boats going, the pelicans fishing and the children playing long enough for it to be lunch when we had chicken burgers. There were some more up-market shops around the bar edge/ couryard, so we popped in to Belizean Arts. We wanted a January Maya pendant, but Steve fell in love with an original canvas and we negotiated this instead!
The canvas is by a famous Belizean artist, Eduardo “Papo” Alamilla. He is a local to San Pedro, who loves its streets, beaches, mangrove swamps and
everything.
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After this we went to walk along the silver sandy beach and co-incidentally found the EXACT place that the painting had been done at, so we took some photos before going. We ended up walking the opposite direction, past the airstrip and into a cool looking garden. This turned out to be the edge of a resort Black Orchid, but the bar was outdoors and covered and COOL, so we had a drink. Some cute children came along selling bracelets etc. We’d seen this all over Belize and when we’d asked it was because in Belize you have to buy your own school books, so children often sold things to raise money. The trade in 2nd or 3rd hand books was thriving! Anyhow we had no change at that moment, so we asked the waiter to change a note, then went back to find the children and Steve bought me some things! Everyone happy.
As it was nearly time to return we headed back to the boat, we walked back. The boat was waiting but one of the men had not returned from the food market, so we had to wait. We talked to another local about the fish milling around the boat. Finally everyone was back, so we set off. As we got into the reef, Steve asked if he could have a go driving the boat and the driver let him- it was really fast and Steve had a huge grin. When it got trickier to negotiate the reef, he had to hand it back.
Back at the ranch- a swim, snorkel and read in the sun before a light salad dinner and coco plum ice cream. This night was very busy for fish- some huge rays, in particular the Spotted Eagle Ray.
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San Pedro town is the only town on Ambergris. Most people speak English, Spanish, Kriol and a mix form called “Kitchen Spanish”. The island was not heavily settled by the Maya, although a small settlement must have existed as evidenced by their ceramics. The first settlers were 4 fishermen families
c1848/9. More joined as the village became larger with 50 inhabitants. Ambergris itself is a beautiful island, little affected by humans. The caye is 40km long and 11⁄2 km wide. The central part is a mangrove swamp and the edge is white sand.

Tuesday 6th August More Snorkelling

Our last full day at Tranquility Bay. We spent the early morning snorkelling around more widely. We saw even more amazing fish!
Then we managed to grab a kayak and paddle out to the further buoys. We tied up to a buoy. The coral heads got larger with a greater variety of fish, many quite a bit larger. Then, as we headed out to the reef edge, it got more and more shallow (counter-intuitive for us) until the reef edge was actually above the water with the Caribbean shooting off deeply the other side. We made our own lunch in the microwave and spent a lazy afternoon.
BELIZE BARRIER REEF is the world’s second longest Barrier reef and the world’s longest unbroken one. It is 185 miles long with visibility 60-100 feet. Outside the reef is the famous Blue Hole- 130 foot deep sunken depression.
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Maya Architecture
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The most recognisable feature of Maya building is their stepped pyramids with their temple tops. These would be rebuilt/ extended every 52 years (Long Count), every 20 years (K’atun endings) or when needed (funeral/ political). Each pyramid was aligned on an axis (e.g. North-south, east-west) making it the axis mundi. Close to these would be a plaza, and around that a royal acropolis or palace. The ballcourts would be near the edge of a plaza. Local limestone would be the basic material, with crushed lime (quicklime) making a type of cement and stucco. Caves and subterranean chambers seem to have been important too, as a portal to Xibalba, the Underworld. They did not invent the arch, relying instead on the corbel (false arch). Maya cities grew according the local topography. From the centre sacbeob (causeways) would run out to connect the outlying areas. Wells (cenotes) or reservoirs would provide water. Further out would be the lesser nobles houses and artisans.
• Pyramid-temples- these were the most important buildings in any city and invariably the tallest, rising over the top of the jungle. A twofold value- close to the gods/ very visible propaganda to others. The pyramid part was frequently used as a burial tomb site. The decorated roof comb or temple-shrine on top was usually a three-roomed chamber held by lintels, often decorated. Most pyramids were aligned to an axis.
• Platforms- these were an early development. Originally large raised grassy areas, they evolved to low stone platforms. They were used for ceremonial rites and often contained an altar, decorations and a stake (tzompantli) for victims heads to be displayed.
• Palaces- larges, sprawling, decorated, they occupied the central parts of the city. They would be extended over time, often over several stories (an acropolis). The royal family and major nobles occupied them in smaller chambers. The palaces usually had inner courtyards (one would not want to mix with the hoi-polloi after all).
• E-groups- named after the E group at Uaxactun. They were astronomical complexes, specifically aligned to astronomical, especially solar, features. Often decorated.
• Temples- non-pyramid temples were common in Maya cities, many were also observatories with doors that line up to various phases of the Moon or Venus. Round temples were more often linked to the god Kukulcan.
• Ballcourts- every city, town and villa would have at least one ballcourt. The ritual ball game of Maya (and Mesoamerican) culture is not fully understood, and not all ballcourts have the same characteristics. The long, thin court had steps on each long side and markers at each end.

Wednesday 7th August Goodbye to Belize
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We said Goodbye to Ambergris and had a short hop with Maya Air back to Belize City. The pilot seemed to spend most of his time filling in paperwork, rather than flying. I wanted to say, Watch the sky, please, but he seemed to know what he was doing. I guess if you fly the same route 4 times a day you really get to know it. Then a wait in Belize for our flight to Austin and home. By odd coincidence we met the owner of Hidden Valley Inn there too! We avoided the large group of singing evangelists and bought some books about Belize birds and sea life, as well as a Maya pyramid and black earrings. Then a flight to Austin over Mexico and Texas, a nice meal in the airport there, a near-loss of Steve’s canvas (thanks goodness I got back to the security in time to get it before it was impounded or something- Steve took better care from then on not to loose it!)
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Posted by PetersF 14:05 Archived in Belize Tagged fish tranquility belize reef coral san_pedro

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