Caracol – December 6, 2010

Today started out very early.  I was expecting Pacz Tours to pick me up around 730am, so I went to the resort cabana to get breakfast.  When I got there I found a huge tour group being served breakfast.  There was barely room for me to sit and none of them were going to be friendly enough to remove their backpacks from the one small table left, so I just sat down anyway.  I tried unsuccessfully to get my breakfast order in and I was barely able to get my shoes from behind the refrigerator (they were drying them for me).  And of course, Pacz shows up 15 minutes earlier than expected.  At the last minute the girls in the kitchen wrapped up two pieces of dry toast and tossed them to me.

The guide from Pacz seemed very impatient and I couldn’t figure out why (I found out later).  But, at least we were on the road.

The road was EXTREMELY rough.  Probably the worse road I’ve been on in my life and I grew up in Alaska.  Let me rephrase that…the worse I’ve been on that didn’t require an off-road vehicle (i.e. ATV) and frankly it probably should have required an ATV.  No wonder their tour vans seemed so beat up.

We stopped at a military camp for a very short potty break and that’s when I found out what the rush was.  Our guide had the goal of getting up to the military camp no later than 9am so that we did not miss the military escort to Caracol (more on that in a minute).  We first made a detour stop at Rio Frio Cave.

Rio Frio is a very small cave (by distance) but it has a huge chamber which is the largest in Belize.  You can see both the entrance and the exit at the same time.  I really enjoy caves, even though they scare me a bit, so this was a great add-on to our Caracol trip.  Rio Frio Cave is located in the Mountain Pine Ridge area (more on that in a minute too).  Our guide gave us some history on the cave, but not a lot.  The coolest thing in there was a natural formation that looked like a very scary face.  We spent very little time there because our guide was still worried about catching the military escort and it was just past 9am already.  After nearly getting the van stuck as we left the cave, we made it back to the military camp and ended up right behind the escort.

We continued our travel through the Mountain Pine Ridge area which was so fascinating.  What is so amazing is that during our travel to Caracol we started out in the jungle (or sub-tropical rainforest) and then all of a sudden we were in a native pine forest.  It seemed so out of place since it was much less dense than the jungle.  Before making it to Caracol we were back into the sub-tropical rainforest.  Nature is amazing!

Our military escort took us the remaining 22 miles to Caracol which is situated approximately three miles from the Guatemala border.  Bandits often cross the border to collect leaves from a plant that is used in floral arrangements and to rob tourists.  Luckily we didn’t see any bandits, but we saw evidence of them.  Often when they are spotted they abandon their horses and escape on foot.  The military usually keeps the horses up there so they can put some weight on before being auctioned off.  The day we were there three horses were in the area grazing.

Just when I thought the oddities ended, I saw another strange thing…

As I mentioned the road to Caracol was horrible!  But to my amazement, we were bumping along this road that I swear was going to jog a kidney loose and then all of a sudden we were on the smoothest pavement in Belize.  It was a very odd site in the middle of the jungle after the rough road we had been on.  I’m not sure the guide ever really gave me a full explanation about why all of a sudden the road was paved.  My guess is that they started paving thinking they would do the entire thing, but ran out of money (it seemed to be a theme in this area of the world).  The part that is really confusing is…why would they start at the Caracol end of the road and not the end closest to town???…a mystery.

Our guide was just as top notch as all the other guides I met through Pacz Tours.  They all seem to specialize in their own part of the business.  One of the big treats was that he had in previous trips discovered small artifacts (carved toy, jade, flint, etc) in Caracol and buried them in the roots of trees to show his tour groups since they could not be permanently removed.

Caracol is located about 25 miles south of San Ignacio and was the most important political center in Lowland Maya during the Classic Period.  It was discovered by a logger in the 30s during his search for native mahogany.  Caracol grew to be one of the largest Maya cities covering nearly 65 square miles with an estimated peak population of 120,000-180,000.  Caracol and Tikal (in Guatemala) had several battles.  The battle ‘wins’ went back in forth between the two giants several times.

Around 2pm we headed back towards San Ignacio, with our military escort of course.  On the way we stopped at Rio on Pools which was located in the Mountain Pine Ridge area.  It was just breathtaking.  We were told to bring swimsuits along and even though I was wearing mine I had decided not to swim.  Caroline and Rachel (to lovely gals from London) went for a swim with our guide while I walked around and another guy (whose name I can’t remember…from the US) just sat on a rock.  Unfortunately…or, what turned out to be fortunately I slipped and fell in.  So, I decided to swim in the waterfalls with the rest of them.  We had a ball.  The unfortunate part is that I really didn’t have dry clothes to wear home.  I ended up in a sports bra, a jacket, and a skirt swimsuit bottom…at least I had taken my shoes off and they were dry.

We got back to San Ignacio around 6pm.  I took a quick shower and walked back to town to see if I could catch up with Rachel and Caroline for dinner.  I found them at Flayvas where we had a drink and then we went to Serendib for dinner.  They were amazing women and I’m so glad I met them.  They were going to be on holiday until the end of March and I’ve been keeping tabs on their travels via Facebook since I got back.  I’m so jealous.

Even though my hotel was close to town, they had their cab driver drop me off so that I didn’t have to walk home in the dark.  I got online and chatted with Mom for a bit before hitting the hay.  What a long and exciting day.  A few more reasons to love Belize added to my list.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2 Replies to “Caracol – December 6, 2010”

  1. Ok, so from what you’ve been able to see so far, what was your favorite Mayan site?

    • Wow…very tough question. I’ll tell you what I like about each one. Cahal Peche and Xunantuchich are easy to get to and inexpensive to see (you can use a guide, but they are not necessary). Because fewer people go to them (than let’s say Tikal) you get the opportunity to really explore and ‘feel’ them. Tikal (Guatemala) is amazing. If you’ve seen the Star Wars series, then the view from the top of Temple IV will feel very familiar to you. For $30 more (via Pacz Tours) you can zip line on your way back. It’s the most expensive because it’s further and includes a border crossing (which is probably a plus to because it gives you the experience of two countries). Caracol is a long ride that could be an adventure in itself (the worse road I saw in Belize). The site is pretty darn cool. The trip will also include stops at Rio Frio cave and Rio on Pools (waterfalls you can swim in). It’s close to the Belizean/Guatemalan border so the military is present. My guess is that with your boys, Caracol might be the best option because I’m guessing they would LOVE swimming at Rio on Pools…just don’t forget your swimsuits or be ready to improvise. Essentially I can’t choose my favorite because I love different things about each one, but I hope this helps you.