San Ignacio, Belize
We swapped our beach paradise for mountain adventures, a different side to Belize but just as picturesque. There was so much to see and do in town that we didn't really know where to start and how to fit it all in (the complete opposite to Placencia). So we did what we could. Here is a (long) summary.
1. ATM cave tour. This was touted as THE thing to do in San Ignacio. At the entrance we were kitted up with a helmet and flashlight, and then introduced to our drill sergeant tour guide. I'm not being funny, he really was like a soldier with all fun sucked out of him. This could have been an amazing tour, if we had any freedom whatsoever. One foot out of line and we were shouted at (no joke, this happened). We started by trekking 40 minutes through the jungle, then swam into the cave itself. The next two hours involved hiking, climbing, crawling, wading, swimming or jumping our way through this incredible underground landscape. Fantastic rock formations, glistening stalagmites and stalactites reaching floor to ceiling, Mayan artifacts and skeletal remains were all waiting for us. It would have been nice to look around more but we were ushered through some parts so quickly I didn't even have time to look around. I also wished we could have taken photos, but no cameras were permitted. Instead we were emailed a bunch of lame stock photos that didn't come close to highlighting the beauty of the place.
Of the 15 photos the tour organisers sent to us of our full day tour in one of the most impressive caves in the country, these were the best. Seriously.
2. Xunantunich. A small set of ruins that was a bus ride (or hitchhike, in our case), hand-powered ferry and decent walk away. There were four or five main structures, the tallest of which we climbed to the top of. From there we could see all the way to Guatemala. The rock surface was extremely slippery on the top and there were no safety barriers of any kind. Good to see health and safety being a high priority here.
3. Caracol ruins. We hired a 4WD with another Aussie we met at the hostel. Tour prices were ridiculous, so this seemed a cheaper way to do things. The ruins didn't look far away on the map, but when the "road" we took looked like the surface of Mars, it ended up being about a 2.5 hour drive. First checkpoint on the road: guard asked if we could donate some money to his sick father. Second checkpoint: military men, machine guns, the works. The last hour of the drive was following these officers in their truck, to make sure we didn't come across any terrorist groups that like to hide out in the jungle. We made it safely, the only threat being a crocodile about 50 metres away from us. Caracol was terrific, so it was worth the effort. There was hardly anyone else around due to the remote location, so we almost had the place to ourselves. The site was massive, the structures were gigantic and we could climb up most of them to be above the treeline. One of the best set of ruins we had visited.
4. On the way back from Caracol we stopped at a few swimming points. The first was Rio Frio cave, a tunnel that was open at both ends with a river running through the middle. The water was too cold for swimming but the stalactites were cool. Next was Rio On, a series of tiny cascades flowing through dozens of shallow, slippery granite pools. I guess these were okay. Last was Big Rock falls, the entrance of which was down many, many stairs. The waterfall was impressive and provided two swimming points. The lower pool was for relaxing, the upper pool was a test of strength to see if you could overcome the force of the water to reach the base of the falls. We accepted the challenge and proudly accomplished the feat, using the rocks around the edge to pull ourselves forward. On our drive back to San Ignacio, we were stopped by the guard at the checkpoint we met earlier in the day. He asked for a lift back to town as his shift had finished. We obliged.
5. Cahel Pech ruins, located in San Ignacio town. Danny was more interested in sleep than ruins, so I went off alone. Very small, didn't take long to explore. There were a few hidden staircases and passages that were mildly interesting. The best part was a local dog that decided to be my companion. He followed me from the centre of town, through every part of the ruins, up and down all the structures and back out again. I named him Pech. We had some good chats, although they were mostly one-sided.
Possibly the best veggie burrito I have ever eaten. It included fresh ginger, which is not something I had tried before in a burrito, but it was awesome. Ginger is one of those ingredients that just makes everything taste better, like chili, peanut butter and coconut.
Tofu burrito. Burrito was okay at best, but I was stoked to get tofu. It was the first time I had come across it on our entire trip.
Homemade banana cake from the supermarket. Hands down the most moist, delicious banana cake to have ever existed.
Fresh, wholemeal bread made by the manager at our hostel. Good bread hadn't been easy to find, so this was a welcome treat.
At night we spent our time chatting to other guests from a range of countries. Conversations centred around traveling adventures, but also became more highbrow as it flowed into current affairs, politics and sports. It had been a while since we had discussed these topics with anyone, and we were fairly lax at keeping up with the news. It was nice to get other people's perspectives, and remember that the real world does keep on going. But now back to our holiday...