Verfasst von: rbontour | August 27, 2010

Mayan Culture At It’s Best – But Only Possible With A Military Escort

After relaxing on Belize’s beaches and catching some serious sunburn (as Brigitte didn’t listen to Robert’s warnings…lol), we wanted to find out more about the country’s Mayan history. In San Ignacio we decided to visit one of Central America’s best Maya ruin named “Caracol”. Our tour guide Albert was a great guy and he knew a lot about Mayan history… to us he also seemed like a “wandering plant encyclopedia”… while we hiked to the ruins through the jungle we realized how much he knew about all the different plants, trees and flowers. For instance:

  • he showed us tiny grass plants that pull their leaves together once you touch them
  • we also saw the plants and fruits that are used to produce shampoo and paper (Belize generates ~ $US 2 Million per year with that plant… unfortunately we forgot all the scientific names, but nobody would want to know anyways :-))
  • we tried “hugging” the gigantic Ceiba trees – a silk cotton tree with very soft wood and one of the tallest trees in the rainforest
  • we touched the sap (juice of a plant) of trees that was used to create spiritual Mayan scents (today used to make incense sticks)
  • … and we saw these huge banana leave spiders (huge in our point of view!)

Hey, enough about plants, but we were definitely impressed. Back to Caracol… it’s one of the youngest archeological sites in Central America – discovered in the 50s. The ruins are deeply hidden in the rainforest and on the top you have an extraordinary view over the jungle. Excavation works started in the 80’s (that’s why the site is still young) as the area was really hard to reach- no real roads, thick canopy, wildlife, etc. Caracol is in the middle of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve and only 7 miles from the Guatemalan border. To get there took us over 2 hours from San Ignacio; roads are not paved and in incredibly bad condition. The last few miles are paved since a few years (what a relief in our 4WD), but it cost the government ~ US$ 22 Million (according to our Albert) – a loan that still needs to be paid back.

Albert, our guide, lived near the ruins for 8 years to work with archeologists from the University of Florida and Philadelphia. During the day we were able to question him about Belize and the country’s problem. The fact that Caracol is close to the Guatemalan border is actually where the problem starts – Guatemala is still the most corrupt and radical country in Central America. The population suffered under a civil war from 1960 to 1996. As we learned, the main reasons for the Guerilla fights were about social and economic injustice and racism against the indigenous population of Guatemala. Today, the gap between the poor and the rich is still enormous. Our one hour drive to the ruins was escorted by the Belizean military. Albert told us that 6 years ago Guatemalans came through the jungle and robbed tourists on their way to Caracol as there is basically nothing – no village, no civilization, no electricity… only jungle. Guatemalan Guerilla had “easy prey” with tourists. After these occurrences the government of Belize decided to escort all tourists through the jungle – no more robberies and kidnappings happened since then. For us, it was still quite a strange feeling, but everything worked out well and we got there safely.

The armed tourist police in Caracol

When we stood on top of the Maya ruins we could see the mountains of Guatemala – however, there were no more trees. They deforested their jungle, destroyed their wildlife. Now, the biggest problem is that Guatemalans cross the border and start deforesting the Belizean jungle – they create huge fields to grow Marijuana and other drugs on Belizean soil, they steal the country’s resources (e.g., plants that are used for producing paper & shampoo) and sell it. We asked Albert, how Belizeans react to people from their neighboring country as we realized a lot of them live in Belize in separate communities. According to our tour guide, Belizeans are peaceful. They don’t seek for retaliation and there is no real hatred or aggressiveness. Instead, there is a sense of understanding among Belizeans as it is not the Guatemalan people that are to blame for the problems. They are the oppressed, they are poor and they simply try to find ways to survive, ways to make money. Only the corrupt government in Guatemala with all the ignorant and selfish politicians would be to blame. They oppress the poor nation and shovel ever more money for themselves and the ‘upper half’. So we asked: “How does Belize react to all those issues?” Belize counteracts with education and this really impressed us. Albert explained us that they started country-wide programs to educate hundreds of Guatemalans every months (mostly the younger generation who is shaping the country’s future) about the dangers of deforestation, the necessity of different plant life or wildlife and in general the do’s and don’ts of the jungle.

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