Today was wonderful, simply splendid. A little hurried to start the morning as we gave ourselves only 1 hour and 15 minutes to get ready, have breakfast & get gone. No worries though, we made it, even if we did abandon breakfast halfway through.
Belize has a shallow bay meaning the ship has to anchor quite a way off land. Port Authority tender boats then ferry you to the pier, ours was a 2 story boat holding around 100 people (at a very rough guess).
Our shore excursion today was a guided tour up the River Wallace and onto the Altun Ha Mayan ruins, which I had told my daughter were alien castles & not really pyramids, she got a kick out of our in-joke. Our tour guide Merlene, was fantastic. Always quick with her infectious smile, she is a proud Belizean Creole and she gave us a great day. Her knowledge was remarkable and she was always ready to answer questions. Although at Altun Ha, given the lack of documented history (the Spanish burned all but 6 history books, she said), she did offer that it was a 50/50 tour; 50% fact and 50% BS (Believable Speculation). The whole crew were great in truth, you could tell that they wanted you to love their country, they kept asking us to make sure we came back. One the river they took the time to slow down & circle in the places known for seeing wildlife.
The river tour started in the harbor on a speed boat holding approximately 35 passengers sat on rows 5 across, 2 crew and our guide. The strong sun and the humidity were sweltering as we got everyone loaded onboard. The Merlene, after a quick safety briefing, advised that they would be turning on the air conditioning so hold onto your hats. The twin Yamaha V6 engines revved up, the tail of the boat sank, the nose rose and off we went. A wonderful sea breeze cooled us off as we sped down the coast line, stopping briefly for some tour narration in a couple of spots. Before long we entered the river, the water seamlessly transitioned from blue to green. Mangrove walls providing both shelter and viewing interest.
I wish I had either taken notes, filmed the whole thing, or had a photographic memory to recall all the detailed information on the wildlife & Belizean history. The River Wallace, is actually called the Belize River, however the River Wallace legend from a Scottish buccaneer, Peter Wallace, who may or may not have actually been there. On the river we saw all manner of wildlife and beautiful foliage. We saw manatees, a dolphin, iguana, a crocodile, howler monkeys, insect bats & a plethora of birds, including tiger herons (the only one I remember the name of).
The river tour lasted around 2 hours, the perfect length as we were ready to get off the boat by that point. We alighted at the Black Orchid Resort. There we ate a traditional local dish of stewed recardo rojo chicken with red beans & rice and the most delicious fried plantain you will ever eat in your life. I washed it all down with the local beer of choice Belikin, I can’t give a review because almost any beer would have tasted good in that heat, but it was good.
Following lunch we embarked on a 45 minute bus ride to Altun Ha. Cherise, a tour assistant joined our party and gave the bus narration for a while until Merlene took back over. Cherise did a good job of giving info on Belize, she was nice and she tried hard, but her lack of experience was clear to see & her lack of natural confidence (understandably talking to a bud of tourists) made her a clear 2nd to Merlene. She has a good future in her profession though if she sticks to it, especially if she sticks with & learns from the masterful Merlene.
At Altun Ha we were given a guided walking tour by Merlene. The place was fascinating, when I have time I intend to read some more about it. How the Mayans migrated through Russia & Alaska. How they thought buildings were good only for 52 years (I think I got the number right) , before they had to add on or knock it down. It is such a different part of history that that which I am familiar with.
There were several pyramid ruins in various states of excavation and repair. The biggest and most significant, the sun god temple, was quite spectacular. The age of the site, first occupied in 900 BC, was impressive. However to met, I was most taken with being somewhere so old in such a different environment & culture from Europe. Growing up, the Mayans etc were largely overlooked in our education system for any significance.
After climbing 2 of the pyramids and taking all kinds of photos, we got back on the bus for a 1 hour ride to the port. Lots of well earned tips were distributed & we made our way back to the tender boats to return to the Magic.
It was formal dinner night, so I got suited up. For dinner I had some award winning Basa dish. I eat things here that I would never normally eat, it is good for expanding my culinary palate, without risking paying big bucks for a meal you don’t like. If you don’t like your dinner on the cruise ship, they will bring you something different. Can’t make up your mind what to order? They will bring you the whole menu, dining is fun on a cruise!
We had lots of photos taken after dinner, my professional smile now well practiced and feeling decidedly fake. However I am sure we will have a few good photos by the end of the week, if not it will not have been for a lack of trying.
All in all, today was an unBelizeable day
(that saying is the copyright of Merlene the awesome tour guide:) )