Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Belize Trip Report: Lubaantun, Rio Blanco and Anita’s House

This is an excerpt from the just-released April 2012 Belize Trip Report:
April 24, 2012:

This morning we headed to the Maya ruins at Lubaantun (the site of the discovery of the purported Crystal Skull) about 30 minutes or so from the Lodge. Now, I am a bit of a Maya archaeological site nut and have seen quite a few in my day, but Lubaantun was a new spot for me and I really enjoyed it. Lubaantun (meaning place of fallen rocks in the modern Maya language) is a late Classic site where apparently no mortar is used between the rocks and diverse architectural styles can be found, including rounded corners and no doorways.

The Maya sites in Southern Belize are smaller and less significant than Caracol, Lamani, Xunantunich, etc., but the beauty is that they are often void of tourists and filled with birds, wildlife and lots of hidden corners to explore. Nim Li Punit is the other Maya site near the Lodge and is set high on the hill overlooking the coastal rainforest and sea beyond (on a clear day), it is also home to an impressive collection of stelae. Lubaantun’s structures are taller and feature some fascinating architecture and stone work. Plus, the birding is excellent – right off the bat our guide Steven repetition spotted an aracari and a pair of bat falcons. Santiago, the guide for the site itself led us throughout the ruins explaining the history of the excavation (he was part of the original team), the site itself and general information on the Maya. Since all of our tours are private, we leave timing flexible and guests spend an hour or two at the site depending on their interest. I could have stayed for hours – the setting, the surrounding views, trees and birds were all superb. There were 4 other people at the site at the same time. There’s something to be said about getting off the beaten path in Belize and in Toledo, it’s easy to do!

From Lubaantun we continued on to Rio Blanco National Park for swimming, hiking, bird watching and a picnic lunch. Driving towards Guatemala and into the Maya Mountains, we passed Mopan Maya communities – women dressed in the traditional blue or green smock sold handicrafts outside their homes. The rugged Maya Mountains and the lush green landscape dotted with small villages made for quite the backdrop to our day. At Rio Blanco, travelers walk 5 minutes down a trail and a set of steps to the river’s edge where a series of small waterfalls cascade down the worn limestone riverbed. 

The preferred picnic spot is set on a massive boulder overlooking the river and a natural pool created by the “C” shaped arc of the last tier of limestone. The river plunges over the edge (with varying fervor depending on the season) and more adventurous travelers can leap off the rocks into the cool deep pool below. After a selection of sandwiches, fresh fruit, limeade and homemade brownies, we sat in the warm preparing to jump in for a swim. Half the group jumped off of the falls and swam, while the others hiked up-stream through the limestone formations and smaller, clear pools. A swallow-tailed kite flew overhead and swooped down low to drink from the river. It was a lovely afternoon and an ideal spot for lunch.

From Rio Blanco we returned to Big Falls for our second home visit. Anita used to work at the Lodge and her mother-in-law has opened her home for us to visit and experience a traditional Maya kitchen. While our first home visit took place in their Maya kitchen, the visit was more focused on the traditional handicraft trades (weaving, carving, basket-making). Anita’s visit gave lots of great background on how the Maya people lived not long ago – as recent as the older generation (her in-laws were one of the original Maya families to move to the Big Falls area from the South nearer Guatemala) – prepared their meals, dried and ground maize for tortillas, cooked on the traditional comal, which is still quite common even in modern homes/kitchens. 

We spent a couple of hours with Anita and her mother-in-law all the time asking questions, I tried out the metate and ground maize, we made tortillas and ground dried “bird peppers” (tiny,  spicy, smoky peppers that had been dried in a basket above the open fire). The kitchen also had a traditional bed with a “mattress” made of the balsa bark…it didn’t look comfortable enough for any of us to give it a try. 
Anita’s daughters returned from school in town and we all sat down together to enjoy a simple soup made of heart of palm and a light broth accompanied by tortillas (luckily our misshapen, ugly tortillas were hidden at the bottom of the container and we joked with Anita’s mother-in-law that she should give them to her husband of 60+ years for dinner and see how he responded. We all got a good laugh out of that), and the traditional cacao drink slightly warmed. 
The soup was excellent and there was something simple and unifying about sharing food together, sitting close to the earthen floor and observing traditions that are disappearing daily (in the Maya society and in ours alike). 

We bid Anita’s family farewell and returned to the Lodge to relax before dinner.  Before dinner most guests meet in the Iris Bar or grab a beer and sit outside on the veranda chatting about their day. Tuesdays are usually curry nights or an outdoor BBQ. This Tuesday we enjoyed a variety of curries, fresh veggies and perfectly cooked rice. Key lime pie made from local limes followed – YUM! We enjoyed an after dinner drink sitting out in the refreshing night air and retired early in anticipation of the birds waking us at dawn!

(See more in my Day in the Toledo and full Belize trip report.)
Contact us for more info about the Toledo District and The Lodge at Big Falls.

Photos by Lyndsay Harshman/The Kusini Collection and The Lodge at Big Falls. View and "like" more Belize 2012 Trip Report Photos on Facebook.

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