Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trip To Belize: Day 4

May 16, 2008

We woke up early to some very loud howler monkeys, well, howling loudly. I wish I could describe the sound. It is somewhat haunting, scary, comical, and comforting all at the same time. Anyway, we went back to sleep and arose later. I was kind of being lazy in the morning and since breakfast starts at 7:00am (and the milk they serve for granola is not cold very long), Jobina left without me. As I was laying there I had one of my occasional brainwaves: I decided to surprise Jobina by shaving my beard off. Genius!

A little back story here: Jobina has not seen me without my beard very often. Actually not many people have. But every now and then I feel like a change and shave it off for awhile. What better place then the hottest place I have ever been in? The problem is that Jobina doesn't actually like the baby face very much. Check that; I think it frightens her - as in she once actually had nightmares about it. So shaving the beard has ramifications. Anyway I showed up at breakfast and shocked her good. I wish I had a picture of her reaction! Ah, isn't that what romance is - constant cute little surprises? Boy she's lucky to have me.

After breakfast we (the Westmans plus Dangy and Jeremy and our two new American friends from Florida named CeCe and Jay) went out for our tour of the day: the Mayan Ruins at Nim Li Punit. These are not the most impressive of the many ruin sites in Belize but they are notable as having the best examples of stelas. Stelas are large engraved monolith/signposts, kind of like short stone totem poles with writing on them. Nim Li Punit has a great interpretative center with some of the stelas available to look at closely. Here's us at the interpretative center (enjoy the shock of witnessing my beardlessness):

Here's a large stela:

Here's a closeup of the Stela which shows its intricate work:

After much admiration of the stelas we went outside to see the ruins. On the way Vincent showed us what the locals call the "tourist tree." Why is it called this? Because the locals are amused by the way it resembles the tourists who come, get sun burnt, and then their skin peels, just like the tree's bark does:

Here's a random gratuitous beardlessness/couple picture:

Here is a picture of the some of the ruins. There are actually many more ruins that have not yet been excavated because the government lacks the resources (money) to do it. They are quite impressive though, even these smaller ones. The whole complex was quiet and felt old and ancient. I quite liked it:

I could show you several cool "ruins pics" we have but I'm not sure the pictures capture the scale and age well enough to justify it. I will mention though that I did stand on top of the area where the King supposedly lived. Oh yes, I felt the power! Also, this place was notable in that archaeologists think that unlike other Mayan sites, people were not necessarily killed as sacrifices here. Instead, athletes competed for the honor of winning a kind of racquet-ball like game (we saw the arena) and the winner then took part in a non-lethal sacrifice. That's right, it was the winner who made a sacrifice, not the loser! What is a blood sacrifice you ask? Well, I would say that death might be better. Instead of killing the men, they instead cut a man's genitalia, let the blood flow onto some paper and then burn the paper. Those crazy Mayans!

Anyway as interesting as the ruins were, we were just as intrigued with all the fruit trees growing around and began to sample their fruits. Jobina was especially enamoured with a kind of special mangoes that grew here. In Belize mangoes are so plentiful they are free. Vincent and Jeremy climbed a huge tree and got enough for everyone.

Later on Vincent showed us a fruit bearing tree called saursop which the Belizeans especial love and even use to flavour ice cream (I tried some of this ice cream later on in PG and it was quite good). The fruit wasn't quite in season but he managed to find one fruit that looked good enough to try. CeCe, who is an extremely energetic woman starting eating it with gusto and urged everyone to try this sweet fruit. Imagine her shock (and screaming) when all of a sudden a large flying beetle jumped out of her fruit! What's amazing is how Jay captured the moment just before CeCe saw the beetle and just before it took flight. If you look closely you can see the beetle (black) in the fruit CeCe is holding:

I guess the beetle had been, um, nesting deep in the fruit and gotten concerned as CeCe had been devouring his home. After the screaming ended we got a close up picture of it. Imagine this jumping out of a fruit you were eating?

This was of course very exciting and amusing but strangely no one else had any more fruit after that. After the tour we stopped at a little balcony-top restaurant overlooking the Rio Grande river, had lunch (lovingly packed for us by Cotton Tree), and then went for a swim in the river to cool off. Here's a few pics:

After swimming we headed back and to Cottonwood Lodge and after a brief siesta headed out on a medicinal plant tour in the jungle around the lodge. Santiago who works there is not only the main "plant guy" there but is also a genuine "bush doctor." Many of the Mayans will go to these bush doctors before conventional ones, even though conventional doctors are free (like here in Canada). He took us out into the jungle and showed us all kind of plants, how they are prepared, and what they cure (everything from forgetfulness to gonorrhea to rheumatism). As an example, he showed us how the wood of a certain tree applied to insect bites stops the itching. Since many of us had mosquito bites we all tried the wood - it works! He also pointed out a boa constrictor hiding in a log. Jobina got a close up picture of it's head although it's a bit hard to make out:

Later on in the tour we got a real treat: high up in the canopy Santiago spotted a family of howler monkeys. Finally we could see what made that terrible noise! Interestingly the monkeys were not menacing at all, quite cute actually. Again they were pretty high up so it's hard to get a good picture of them:

Later on, Santiago showed us a particular kind of vine that when slashed with a machete not only produces water, but water that will help you recover your memory. Here's some pics of Jobina and I trying the water directly from the vines:

Although we hadn't done much physical today, Jobina and I felt pretty wiped from the heat and after appetizers we went and hung out in the hammock at the gazebo together, chatting about the day and enjoying each other's company. I wrote in my journal that this was the best part of my day.

I felt very blessed and very much at peace. Another great day in the jungle.


Jay Boaz said...

You DID shave the beard entirely! I have yet to witness this rare occasion in person myself, but I'm sure in that kind of heat I'd be tempted to do the same.

I'm really enjoying reading about your trip, keep the tales coming!


Mark said...

Yes, the last time this rare event was captured on film was over 10 years ago! I caught Jobina staring at me occasionally from the corner of her eye, looks of horror and wonder alternating on her face. . .

Jobina said...

What in the world??... Mark, Mark, Mark, I have never had nightmares about you being beardless! Where do you get that from?! Yes, it takes a while to get used to, your face looks completely different! But you are still handsome, beard or no beard.
I like the hammock picture, it looks like our eyes are smiling...

Stacey said...

Ewww the bug in that fruit!! I don't know what I would have done! I am really enjoying reading your blogs. Thanks for sharing the pics and all the great commentary. It all brings back memories of my month in the Phillipines. Some similar experiences!

p.s. I like you beardless. One of the shockers when guys shave their beards is that you notice they actually have lips! haha