We woke up very early today to catch the 6:30 AM water taxi back to the mainland. Chip met us at the dock with breakfast burritos in hand, gave us our return tickets and told us that our tour guide would meet us in Belize City. One and a half hours later, we arrived in Belize City, where we were met by our gold-toothed tour guide, Mangar (who I kept wanting to call Magnar in my head). Mangar loaded us into his beat up Jeep and began the long drive out to Xunantunich (that “x” is pronounced like “tsu”), the largest (?) Mayan ruin in Belize, located in South-Western Belize. Xunantunich translates to “Stone Maiden,” and is named for a Mayan maiden who appeared to a local at the site. It costs $10 Belize to enter the park, and inside are information centers that explain what we know of Mayan culture and beliefs, as well as the history of excavation and restoration of Xunantunich. We started by exploring the smaller temples and structures around the grounds, including a playing field, which Mangar informed us was where the Mayans likely played a ball game that I understood to be a cross between soccer and hacky-sack. The winner of this game was sacrified as an offering to the gods, and supposedly people played to win. I had always assumed that human sacrifices were expendable peasants and not skilled athletes, so I found this bit of information interesting.
Xunantunich, herself, is quite impressive. It’s basically a pyramid in shape, with carvings in the side and stone stairways and alcoves throughout. Some small bats had made their home inside one of the hallways and from the top we could see into Guatemala. As we made our way down, we encountered an iguana and a snake sunning themselves on the stones and could hear the howler monkeys calling to each other in the trees.
After the ruins, we had lunch in San Ignacio, followed by a zip-lining tour through the jungle. I’d never been zip-lining and I’m glad we went, but at that point, I was pretty hot and wishing we’d decided to cave tube instead. Our guides gave us a run-down of the basics and then sent us zipping across the canopy. I was surprised by how much momentum I actually needed to make it from one platform to the next, and so I didn’t have the time I thought I would to absorb what I was seeing, but the view of the jungle and the river was pretty amazing. Afterwards, we had just enough time to make it back to the water taxi, where we said our farewells to Mangar and returned to Amergris.