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
Once we entered Santa Elena, we started looking for the “temporary” wooden bridge that would take us across the
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
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
The beginning of the return trip took us through a different part of San Ignacio because the bridge going over the