(This is part 3 of the story Caribbean Ahoy!)

In locations where adequate port facilities aren’t available, ships anchor off shore and tinders are used to transport passengers to shore. All cruise ships are forced to use this technique when visiting Belize, City.

IMG_8778The tantalizing water of Cozumel was not to be found upon arrival in Belize City. The waters were murky and rather unappealing. Good thing we weren’t planning on beach activities in Belize. There are nice beaches around but a ferry ride to nearby islands is going to be the only real option for good ocean swimming. Upon arrival we walked across the Pier and began haggling with the tour sales people on the street. The pressure was intense and uncomfortable. We continued walking trying to ignore the pleas for business. Our goal was to find a taxi that could take us to the Mayan Ruins of Altun Ha. After walking about a quarter mile, we met another group that had turned back. They were going back to the cruise ship because they didn’t feel safe. We decided we had gone far enough too and weren’t going to find any traditional cabs. I found one of the tour sales people who had made an informal agreement to take us round trip to the ruins for $80 US dollars. This essentially is renting him as a guide for the entire day. Although it was a little more than I expected to spend, it was well worth it. Our guide, I’ll call him Darius, was extremely knowledgeable about Belize, not only its history but also its current political state and even the unspoken juicy rumors of what goes on inside the highly corrupt government.

Before we departed for our hour long drive, we just happened to witness a parade down the street where the docks were located. The parade was to celebrate “Childrends Month” and support their early education programs.

 

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Along the drive I spoke with Darius the entire way. His perfect english being a remnant of the British rule until 1982. Belize is the only country in Central or South America where English is the official language. He shared with us the extreme depravity that occurs in his home country. The country received its independence from Great Britain in 1982 after a movement led by George Price. The independence came too early in the eyes of many though, including Price. He had advocated for independence to come in 1992 so that a transition could be better prepared. Unfortunately the country has experienced tremendous hardships since 1982. Today being one of the darkest times for the country.

Jobs are very difficult to come by and the minimum wage is a meager $3 per hour in Belizean dollars, which comes out to about $1.50 per hour in USD.

IMG_8636Many Belizean’s are forced to live off of the land, harvesting the fruits and nuts growing in abundance. There are also plentiful amounts of fish for the taking. The depressed economy does have benefits for visiting foreigners. For example, the Belizean government is offering foreigners brand new two bedroom homes including a small lot of land in a gated community for only $17,000 US dollars. Once purchased, owners will have to pay property taxes, which include lawn maintenance and trash removal. The annual cost? $40 USD.

Altun Ha

The drive to the Mayan Ruins took a little over an hour and included plenty of interesting scenery and conversation. Darius was a wealth of information. He taught us about their plants and wildlife and pointed out houses along the way where people were making wines out of the fruit and nut trees. He explained all the attempts over the years by foreign governments and organizations to try and help Belize become more prosperous including rice, shrimp and fish farming.

Once we reached the Ruins we began exploring the site, which has no real rules or limitations. There are no guards to keep you from climbing or touching. I think short of digging into the ruins, about anything goes.

 

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IMG_8751Altun Ha was first settled around 250 BC with construction beginning in 100 AD and continuing up until the 10th century. Approximately 10,000 Mayans lived in the area, which served as a significant trading center for the region. There have been significant amounts of jade and obsidian pulled from the ruins including the prized jade vase which is held in the central bank for safe keeping. The jade head of the Mayan Sun God, Kinich Ahauis is on display at the Ruins. Although there have been many archaeological discoveries, much of the artifacts still lie below the surface including those on private land, which is rightfully owned by the landowner.

After spending about an hour at the ruins, we began our journey back to the port. Darius gave us a quick city tour on the way back before bidding us farewell. Although Belize was not what I had anticipated, I was glad to have visited not only for the scenery and history but also because it reminded me that so much of the world lives in hardship.