Friday, April 17, 2009

Iguana see some ruins.

The weird thing about our time in Belize so far was that we’d talked with very few Belizeans with the exception of Belize City and that’s because the expats are too scared to go there. Expats were everywhere, understandable I guess considering that only 25 years ago Belize was still a British colony so not only is there plenty of sun and sand it’s relatively stable politically AND they speak English. In San Ignacio, I thought it might be a bit different. It’s located far from the beach, up in the jungle near the Guatemalan border. But during our first day we’d only encountered expats: our hotel was owned by a Brit, the travel agency/tour company next door was owned by another Brit; even the server in Café del Sol was a Brit who came here with his Belizean wife 20 years ago but she went back to the UK and he stayed. What this meant for Adrian was a chance to get a proper English breakfast. He was momentarily disappointed by the lack of black pudding until he spied the steaming pile of baked beans. “Luvely”, he proclaimed.

Being surrounded by expats also meant that we were able to get more great tips on what to do and see in San Ignacio. And there were many things as long as you wanted to see either ruins or caves. We decided to start off with what we knew and also what was closest and headed to the ruins of Cahal Pech.

We didn’t want or expect much. After all we were now a little rusty at sightseeing. Cahal Pech was perfect. There was a little museum to start with which explained the history of the Mayans and included some of the stuff that had been excavated from the site. And the ruins were nice too. We had the whole place to ourselves so Indiana Barret was free to run around, climb over walls and explore while demanding that I take a picture of him every two minutes. Not only were there no other visitors, there was no gauntlet of souvenir sellers to navigate which made it a very relaxing and fun experience.

On our walk back to town we stopped in at the most exclusive hotel in town. Not to see how the other half lives, nor to check out the royal suite where Queen Liz stayed a few years back. No we were there to see some iguanas.

The San Ignacio Resort Hotel was also home to an iguana preservation project. And after we notified the concierge about our intentions, we were given a private tour of it, for a donation. Our guide David led us past the people lounging by the swimming pool and the tennis courts, through the perfectly landscaped forest which was actually a medicinal garden. David pulled two round fruit off one tree.

“Do you know what there are?” David asked.
“No.” Adrian and I replied.
“Well what do they look like?” he continued.
“Um they bare a resemblance to er um a certain…” I stumbled for the polite words.
“Balls,” blurted out Adrian.
David smiled and nodded in agreement. “We call them cahones de mono. You can’t eat them but the sap makes a glue which is good for bot fly bites.”
“Bot fly bites?” Adrian had to ask.
“Yes, the flies that lay their eggs in your skin. To get the maggots out you put this sap over the bite and it kills them so you can get them out.”
“Baby?!?” hypochondriac Adrian paniced.
“Let’s see some iguanas” I jumped in hoping to distract him another ailment he would soon be convinced he had.

David took us to the iguana enclosure and explained the program. Essentially iguanas are threatened thanks to their use as jungle chicken by locals. The program educates kids about the iguanas’ importance to the environment and most importantly why they shouldn’t eat them. It is also trying to increase the iguana population by gathering eggs in the wild then hatching and raising the iguanas until they are big enough to have a chance to survive. David then threw open the doors and brought us inside.

All around us were dozens of foot long iguanas. David introduced us to two long-term residents Gomez and Pedro. Both were too tame to release back into the wild although they weren’t tame with each other. When the two were brought close to each other, they put up their spikes and made weird noise. But once apart they were tame enough that we could pet them.

In the second enclosure, the young iguanas were kept and there were hundreds of tiny bright green ones everywhere. David placed one on our hands and them kept piling them on us until we had iguanas on our heads, shoulders, and arms. I tried to pat one of the little ones but he whipped his tail at me. The iguana may have been small but he was feisty.

“Oh that’s their defense mechanism” David informed me.

Thanks for the warning David. That stung. But David redeemed himself by making sure we didn’t step in any of the numerous piles of iguana shit that looked remarkably like dog turds for easy identification. It was a great experience made better by David’s obvious passion and care for the iguanas.

It was only mid-afternoon so we returned to the internet café for a bit before we went to one of the tour offices to see what we could do the next day. We ruled out more ruins (we still had to save something for Tikal) which left caving. Did we want cave tubing? Cave swimming? Cave walking? Or cave horseback riding? In the end we opted for the one that offered cave skeletons – Actun Tunichil Muknal, or ATM for short – because caves are spooky and cool and so are skeletons. Together they’d be even spookier and cooler. Of course the spooky/cool factor was slightly diminished when after handing over $150US we were handed a one-page packing list - backpack, 1 litre of water minimum, a change of clothes, sturdy shoes, swimsuit with shorts – and a brief itinerary. 1 hour hike, 25 metre swim, and 2 hour cave climb. Scary. And also exciting. Today had been fun but tomorrow we were in for an adventure.

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