Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Belize- Western Highway Trip

The next day we got back in the truck and headed west along the second of the paved roads in Belize, the western highway. Our plan for the day was to drive the 78 miles through the Cayo District almost to within a few miles of the border of Guatemala, stopping somewhere along the way for lunch but returning back to Belize City before dark.

The initial part of the Western Highway looked a lot like that of the Northern Highway—a lot of shrub interspersed every once in a while with a house or collection of houses, most of which weren’t in great condition. We also passed lots of dogs trotting along the side of the road, looking thin but very happy. Dogs seem to be everywhere in Belize. A while more and we began to see the Maya Mountains in the distance and the countryside became more green. As we made our way toward the turn for Belmopan, the capital of Belize, orange groves and cattle pastures began to appear.

On the Western Highway, you really don’t see much of Belmopan. If we hadn’t been paying attention to find the turn off for the next day’s trip, we probably wouldn’t have known we’d gone through it. But as we got closer and closer to the sistercities of Santa Elena and San Ignacio, we began to see signs for hotels, restaurants, and spas (though none of them were visible from the road).

Once we entered Santa Elena, we started looking for the “temporary” wooden bridge that would take us across the Macal River. We missed it the first time, but eventually doubled back and found the turnoff for it.

Once we drove through San Ignatio, we started looking for the turnoff that would take us to Xunantunich. Once we found it, we pulled along the side of the road to wait our turn and cross the Mopan River.

The only way across it is a hand-cranked ferry that can carry two vehicles at a time. Once across we drove up the steep hills leading to Xunantunich.

The buildings there were a lot like those at Altun Ha, only taller. Most of them were constructed some time between 700 and 900 CE, despite the fact that the area was occupied as early as 1000 BCE. Archaeologists think that, as buildings such as Altun Ha lost people, other city-states like Xunantunich ("Stone Woman") grew to fill the void. The largest of the pyramids, the Castillo, had thirteen doorways (for the thirteen levels of heaven in Maya belief?) and seven terraces and was decorated with a stucco frieze that guidebooks said originally wentall the way around the entire temple. As we looked at what was left of the buildings, it was hard to imagine them and the courtyards covered with plaster and painted yellow, blue, or red. I found myself wishing that for a model that showed what scholars think the building must have looked like during its height.

After taking the ferry back over the Mopan, we wove our way back to Belize City.

The beginning of the return trip took us through a different part of San Ignacio because the bridge going over the Macal River on the trip east is a high suspension bridge, the Hawkesworth.

No comments: