Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ruined in Belize

This is the fourth post in a series based on Karyn and I's trip in early January with two birder/biology friends to Belize. We have been back for more than six weeks now, so it is about time I finish our blog posts! This post is focused on Mayan ruins we visited while in Belize. The previous posts included a general overview of the trip - The Pursuit of Wild in Belize - a post focused on - The Raptors of Belize - and one focused on - The Water Birds of Belize.

Traveling to Belize to see the Mayan ruins has been on our list for some time. A number of years ago we flew through Honduras on our way to Roatan. At that point the seed was set. Well, we finally fulfilled this quest. After spending time on the cayes and in the lower elevations of Belize, we ventured on to San Ignacio for our home base of ruin exploration.

The first ruin on our agenda was Caracol. According to Wikipedia, Caracol is believed to have been first inhabited around 1200BCE and remained inhabited until 900CE. It is believed to have had a population over 120,000 people! Of course we didn't see the entire city! (click any photo to enlarge)

Caracol. Caana Temple.

The road to Caracol is 60 miles of rough dirt road, although not as rough as we were expecting. Half way to the site, there is a convey meeting spot where a military escort is provided to the site. Apparently a number of years ago there were some bandits which kidnapped some tourists. We found out in town that the escort was optional, so we left early to arrive at the site about 1.5 hours before anyone else. The birding here was fantastic, but even more so were the temples. The first temple was the Caana temple, still one of the largest man made structures in Belize..

Caracol. Caana Temple.

The climb up the front steps was steep, but the view of the surrounding forest was spectacular. I was surprised how good of shape the temple was in, being thousands of years old.

Caracol. View from half way up Caana Temple.

Caracol. View from half way up Caana Temple.

Caracol. View from Caana Temple.

Caracol. Design on structure opposite Caana Temple.

Caracol. Jay, Heidi, and Karyn descending from Caana Temple.

The Main Caracol center consists of three large sections. It is estimated that thousands of structures exist. The Caana temple is in section B. From there we walked on toward section A. This section consisted of a four sided amphitheater.

Caracol. I am approaching 'A' complex.

Caracol. Designs within 'A' Complex.

When I first entered the quad, I saw an Agouti foraging around the edge. An Agouti is a very large rodent and one of the few mammals we saw there.

Caracol. 'A' Complex.

Caracol. 'A' Complex.

Caracol. 'A' Complex.

We continued to search for birds in the area, successfully finding a number of new birds for the trip. After lunch we wanted to take another tour of the area, but the guy with the gun made a persuasive argument. If something did happen, he would be responsible and the tourism industry for his country would pay the price. While the convoy is optional, staying at the site was not. We reluctantly headed back toward town with the others.

Next up was El Pilar. El Pilar provided a large contrast with Caracol. First, it has not been fully excavated. It is intentionally left buried for preservation reasons. As the guidebook says, it requires more imagination. In addition, El Pilar is believed to be more of a meeting center or trading center than a ruling center. We only saw a few other people there all day. The birding was spectacular including Blue-crowned Mot-mots, Puffbirds, and the elusive Tody Mot-mot! The road into the site was also excellent for birds.

El Pilar. Building foundation.

El Pilar. Overgrown entrance to building.

El Pilar. Buried building.

El Pilar. Partially excavated building.

The last ruin on our itinerary was Cahal Pech. This translates into land of the ticks. Apparently when it was being excavated, cattle was ranging in the area as were a large quantity of blood sucking ticks. Luckily, we didn't find any. This ruin is located right in San Ignacio, so we checked it out one night before going to dinner. We had heard about it from our hosts at Cockscomb. It was their favorite site for spiritual reason. It too was interesting as it had many more internal structures than we observed at the other locations. It seemed much more modern, although it is believed to be older than either El Pilar or Caracol.

Cahal Pech.

Cahal Pech. Heidi in a doorway.

The ruins were definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Living in an area where most history is measured in the hundreds of years, it's amazing to think about something that is thousands of years old. Each of the three sites provided its own unique views into this ancient history. They were each special places!

1 comment:

April said...

Amazing photos!!! We've thought about a trip to Belize and this field report makes me want to go even worse now!