Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Honeymoonin' {Day 5: Belize City, Belize}

On Tuesday, August 2, our boat finally found its way to our first port: Belize City, Belize. Neither of us had ever been to Belize before, so we were excited!

Carnival allows you to choose these things called "excursions" at every port of call. You don't have to participate in an excursion, but it gives you something to do. The great thing about booking an excursion through Carnival is that you never run the risk of missing the boat, since the excursion guides are constantly in contact with our captain. However, if you book an excursion that's NOT through Carnival, and something goes wrong to make you late, the ship leaves. (Yikes!) So even though the Carnival excursions are a little too pricey for my tastes, we decided to err on the side of caution since we didn't know the terrain or routines yet. It turned out to be a good choice.

We had a hard time picking our excursions, but finally narrowed down our choices and had them all ready to go before we even boarded the ship. This turned out to be a good thing, since a lot of people book their excursions the day before, and sometimes the tickets sell out. What I didn't know, however, was that the cruise director would have a seminar over all the possible excursions at each port of call, and she would give more detail than the little blurb on their website did. Oh, well. We picked good ones, anyway! :)

For Belize, we picked the Xanatunich Mayan Ruins. I wasn't thrilled with this option (since it involves history, which is SO not my cup of tea), but it seemed to be the best fit for us. There was an option to go cave tubing that we ALMOST chose, but it turned out to be a good thing that we didn't; that excursion got cancelled (with no refund, of course) because of all the rain!

The Xanatunich Mayan Ruins was the longest excursion of the bunch. We left the boat at 8 am. We had to tender to our Belize port, since our boat couldn't get close enough to let us dock. It was drizzling when we finally made it to the dock in our tender boat.  Here is a list of all the modes of transportation we took that day:

  1. Tendered to the Belize dock = 20 minutes
  2. Bus ride to Xanatunich = 2 hours
  3. Ferry ride over the river = 2 minutes
  4. Van ride to the parking lot and "watering hole" = 5-10 minutes
  5. Walking up the steepest hill I've ever seen in my life = 5 minutes
  6. Toured the ruins
  7. Back down the steep hill, back into the van, over the river via ferry, 2 hour ride on the bus, and tender boat back to our ship. 
Phew! For you elementary teachers that are reading this, just know that when I think of this journey, I sing that "Goin' on a Bear Hunt!" song in my head. lol.

Now for some more detail. I didn't get a lot of pictures of Belize because 1) it was raining all day and I had to focus on where I was stepping! and 2) We spent a lot of time traveling in places that didn't bode well for good photographs. But I'll try to include some pics in this post.

We had two tour guides who talked about Belize during the entire 2-hour bus ride. Belize reminded me a lot of Jamaica, and it made me feel very fortunate to have what J and I have. Below is a picture of a school:

Obviously, this is normal for them, but it made me thankful for every single school with working a/c and a brightly painted exterior I've seen in the US. Education is so important, but this building doesn't make it look very exciting! Their schooling system is much different than ours, and students have the option to start "college" at the age of 12. In Belize, "college" and "university" are two different things. I don't remember all the breaks in education or the proper names, so I'm not even going to waste your time and risk flubbing it all up! :)

Once our bus ride ended, we were dropped at a little station with some shops. Our tour guide kept talking about how we were on a very tight time limit and that we would have exactly 10 minutes to shop there when we were done, so we all walked past the shops like good boys and girls. One of the things about Belize that reminded me of Jamaica was not only the terrain and look of the buildings, but also the way the shop keepers operate. They are so desperate to sell their arts and crafts to passerby that they pretty much swarm anyone who passes. They intentionally set up camp next to a tourist excursion, and they wasted NO time in finding people to beg and shirt sleeves to tug. I remember a similar experience from Jamaica, and while it's a tiny bit overwhelming at first, I am a seasoned Black Friday shopper, so I wasn't fazed! :-D

There was a murky river that we had to cross over to get to the ruins. Our tour guide told us that all the families around come to this river to wash their clothes. The kids play in the river (with alligators!) while the grown-ups gossip. So maybe it isn't TOO much unlike America (minus the alligators). :)

Above is a picture of our ferry. It took one of the vans across on it first. On the right side of the ferry, there's a man who works there all day long. He churns the pulley that makes the ferry travel across the cable and to the other side of the river. I know it probably sounds really dorky of me, but seriously, the first thought I had when I saw this was that we were traveling on a modern-day equivalent of a Huck Finn-esque raft! haha. It looked so rickety, but since it held the van, I knew it would hold 50 people.

We took a quick bus ride to a parking lot. We met there, since there were multiple vans to hold all of the guests in our tour group. We walked up one of the steepest hills I've ever seen, and there were the ruins. The tour guides were careful to explain that you must be invited to this ruin site, and there were lots of guards milling around to back up their words. The guards all had big shot guns slung across their chests, so I believed our guide. lol. The first ruin we saw wasn't anything TOO impressive:

It was just a widdle bump compared to the rest of them! But this picture cracks me up...J never misses a chance to show that he's ORANGE TO THE BONE! lol. (By the way: his multiple OSU shirts and hats that he wore on the cruise attracted lots of attention to him. We met lots of O-State fans on our ship...whoo!)

Then we saw the biggest ruin of the bunch:

If you look very carefully, you'll see some teeny little stick shadows at the very top. Those are people. I was OK with them being up there and me being down here, but the rest of our tour group thought differently. They begged to go to the top of that one, and our tour guide obliged. *gulp*

It had just finished raining, and there was lots of moss on the rock steps, which made them pretty slick. Of course, those unthoughtful Mayans forgot to put in handrails -- lol -- so there was nothing to hold on to except the wall...which sometimes had enormous flies and/or centipedes crawling on it. Yum. It took us probably 30 minutes to hike all the way to the top. We had a great view! This picture was taken at the halfway point:

I was a little nervous about climbing further (the steps were much more narrow and still slick, plus, I apparently have an aversion to heights...who knew?), but we did it, anyway. We got to see over the treetops and all the way to Guatemala. Our guide explains some of the hieroglyphs that were etched into the side of our big ruin, which was cool.

There were some ladies there in flip-flops and some elderly people there, and I have no idea how those people climbed to the top. The ledge at the very top was not very deep AT ALL, and I found myself hugging the centipede rock in the middle until we went back down. :) Going down was rough because there were no hand rails and it started to drizzle again. Then I popped something in my right knee -- owwie! We made it back down in one piece, though.

We had an authentic Belize meal afterwards at one of the neighboring restaurants. We had rice and beans, cole slaw (didn't know that was from Belize, but...whatever), a chicken leg, and fried plantains. We got our few minutes of shopping time and headed back to the dock to catch the tender boat. Our tour guide must have had a sore throat at the end of the day, because he talked CONSTANTLY. It was nice to hear about Belize, though. He told us some history and some personal experiences (like how he has to battle random wild animals in the middle of the night at his home... no, thanks!), as well as answered the typical FAQs. The exchange rate for money there is about 1 USD to every Belize dollar. Their gas is about 12 USD (*gulp*). They had a Subway a few years ago, but their footlongs were about $12-15. The people that had cable access kept seeing those singing commercials about the 5 dolla footlong and got so outraged that they refused to buy sandwiches from there anymore. The Subway company tried to explain that it was because of the exchange rate and the fact that they had to import all the goods, but the Belize folks weren't havin' it. They don't even have McDonald's. But there is some taco place where they can get 6 tacos for $0.50 USD...why didn't they take us there?!

Everyone in Belize speaks English, and then some speak Creole. There were churches everywhere, and we found out that on Sundays, the ENTIRE city closes down because everyone goes to church. 60% of Belize is Roman Catholic, and the other 40% are some other denomination of Christian.

Our ship captain had told us that the last tender was supposed to run at 4:15. However, if there was a long line of people waiting, the tenders would run until the last person was on board. We got to the dock at about 4 pm, and the line was incredibly long! They had to 4-5 more boats to our ship to get us all back, but I don't know of anyone who missed the ship.

Belize is a country that is hungry for tourists. They were very nice and accepting of Americans and invited us back every chance they got. They kept reminding us that their country is "unBELIZEable!" :)

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