Belize – July 2018
Belize is the second smallest state in Central America (22,960 sq km) and has a population of only 387,000 inhabitants.
For about 3,000 years Belize was part of the Maya civilization. While today 66% of Belize are covered by jungle it is estimated that during the Maya civilization the area was densely populated and that during that period the population was three times larger than today.
The recent history of Belize differs from its neighboring countries. Due to resistance of the indigenous population Spain showed little interest to include this part of Central America into its colonies. From the 17th century on British settlers and pirates started to settle the area and in 1862 Great Britain officially declared “British Honduras” a crown colony. In 1981 Belize gained independence. It uses English as its state language and has the British Queen as its head of state. Since the 19th century Guatemala claims all or part of Belize as its territory.
Economically Belize relies on agriculture (sugar cane, bananas), crude oil and tourism. The UNDP Human Dimension Index numbers Belize 103 out of 188 countries.
The main road to the capital Belize City offers a few curiosities, e.g. a road which cuts the grave yard into two. Even the traffic island contains graves.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), also known as ATM cave is one of Belize’s touristic highlights. The cave has been discovered in 1986. Findings indicate that the cave has been used until the 9th century AD as a place to plea to the Mayan underworld rain god Chaac in an attempt to overcome a long drought period which finally forced Mayas to leave the region.
The cave in many ways is fascinating: Unlike in other archeological sites the findings (pottery, offerings, human skeletons originating from religious sacrifices) have not been removed and can be seen at its original place. Mayas shaped the stalactites of the main caves in order to produce faces of demons and goddesses at the ceiling of the caves when you point your lamp or torch. All pottery is broken - it should be used only once as it looses its magic power after the ceremony. From the remains scientists deduct that Mayas first practiced blood sacrifices (a priest pierced his tongue or penis with the spin of a manta ray) and later human sacrifices (prisoners of war, and finally their own children).
Access to the cave is quite challenging. First visitors need to swim some 50 m into the cave and then one has to wade, swim and climb approx. one km until you finally reach the cave. As a result you are wet for the whole day.
Unfortunately, it is forbidden to take a camera into the cave as some years ago a tourist dropped a camera destroying one of the sculls. The following photos were provided by the tour company.
Belize has a number of famous archeological excavation sites. Lamanai, located in northern Belize was settled from the 4th century BC until the 17th AD. Unlike other Maya sites it was not abandoned in the 9th century as Lamanai is located at a lagoon and was better prepared to survive the 300-year long drought period. Photos show the Jaguar Temple, the High Temple and the Mask Temple.
Some 40 km east of Lamanai located in a national reserve lays the archeological site La Milpa which constituted the third biggest Maya settlement in Belize, inhabited by several ten-thousand people. Still overgrown by jungle the site invites visitors to explore. The site is heavily affected by looters. Archeologists found the skeletons of two “saceros” missing since 1982 who died when their tunnel collapsed.
The peanut headed mot (Fulgora laternaria) is a particular strange looking animal. Other photos show coatis and wild peacocks.
Northern Belize is home to several Mennonite communities numbering some 10,000 persons. Mennonites are Christian communities which developed in the 16th century in what is today Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands. They were fiercely prosecuted by both by the Catholic as well as be the Protestant churches and faced death penalty for practicing their religious believe. Fleeing prosecution many Mennonites migrated to North-America or Russia from where some of them later moved to Central and South America. They live a very traditional life, reject most of modern technology and wear traditional clothes: Women use bonnets and long dresses while the men wear denim overalls and hats. For transportation they rely on horse drawn buggies.
Ursula and I had the luck to be invited to a Mennonite engagement ceremony. As shown in the photos men and women celebrate separately. It was fascinating to hear them talking in an old-fashioned version of German Platt-Deutsch.
Belize has a beautiful coastline and holds 300 km of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second biggest reef in the world. One of the many islands is Caye Caulker, a famous back packer destination renowned for its parties and great dive sites.
Unfortunately, the whole coastline currently suffers from an alga plague.
The Belize Barrier Reef offers a fascinating underwater world and invites to dive the many canons.
Nurse sharks are neither shy nor dangerous and come close to divers.
Meeting a moray outside its cave exposing its sharp teeth is always an exciting experience.
Lionfish are considered an intrusive species which is endangering the domestic fish. It therefore is allowed to hunt them even in the marine parks.
Even when you are only snorkeling you have the chance to see an abundance of marine life.
A daily highlight was taking a sun downer and enjoying the incredible sunsets.