The day trip to the Mayan ruin city of Lamanai was one of the things to which I was most looking forward from the start of the trip, and I must say it did not disappoint.
We arrived at the dock around seven o’clock in the morning, just slightly earlier than our usual dive schedule. Lamanai is on the mainland, and therefore requires an open-ocean boat crossing from Ambergris Caye where we are staying. Vince was our captain for this leg of the trek, a very stoic sort of man with a good sense of humor. He is apparently one of the only boat captains skilled enough to navigate the mouth of the river from the ocean into the mangroves. The open water crossing was fun, and we were blessed with very calm waters on the way over to the mainland.
Once we were into the mangroves, Vince handed out johnny cakes and juice for breakfast, and we took an easy cruise through the trees and vines, stopping to admire various flora and fauna on the way.
From there we arrived in Bomba, a tiny village on the bank of the river. Here we boarded our bus, a decommissioned and repainted school bus, which was to take us to yet another river for yet another boat ride. The bus ride was done at mostly breakneck speed down the tiny, uneven dirt road, swerving to avoid oncoming bicyclists and trucks, with occasional (abrupt) stops to check out wildlife and local landmarks. Highlights included a very poisonous snake called a fer-de-lance, some bright green parakeets, and a crocodile.
About an hour later we were at the dock where we boarded our next boat with our tour guide/boat captain, and we set off for Lamanai. This was another long journey through the mangroves, with plenty of stops to look at the sights, including a spider monkey, baby green herons in their nest, and two different types of kingfisher.
When we arrived at Lamanai, we docked and disembarked from the boat, and were served a lunch of the local staples: rice, beans, stewed chicken, and potato salad. We had some time to poke around a small museum of artifacts and information about the Mayan civilization and culture, and then it was off through the jungle.
As we walked towards the temples, we saw some interesting wildlife, parrots, turkey vultures, monkeys, and my personal favorite: a tarantula which the tour guide lured out of its hole using a long, thin stick. I have done a little research and am confident that it was a decently sized brachypelma vagans, the Red Rump Tarantula. In case it isn’t abundantly clear, I am a spider enthusiast and seeing a wild tarantula, especially such a beautiful species, was a giant thrill for me.
The first temple we arrived at was Mask Temple, notable for its giant Olmec-influenced face carvings to the left and right of the stairs. We climbed to the top of this one quickly and easily via the back stairway. Our second stop was High Temple, a 108 foot tall structure that looms above the trees. I was admittedly hesitant to climb it, even with the aid of the rope that has been installed to help with ascent and descent, but my colleagues were certainly not going to let me sit something like that out. As always, once I was safely back on land, I appreciated their prodding and support more than I did on the way up. It was truly awe inspiring. As we left the High Temple site, we passed through a ball court where ancient games were played, and past a working archaeological dig site, all roped off, which I found kind of exciting. The last temple, and my personal favorite, was Jaguar Temple, named for the jaguar faces wrought in stone flanking the path up the center. This one is the most intricately shaped of the structures, with various areas of flat grass on different levels, and winding paths up and around the main pyramid shape. This temple is also marked by a huge tree growing right on top of the temple stones, and a staggering view of the ocean.
After our treks up and down the temples, it was time to get back into the boat and repeat our long journey back to Ambergris Caye. The bus ride was perhaps even more terrifying, and the ocean considerably less calm, but after such an amazing day, it was hard to be bothered by anything so trivial.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I was really moved by the experience of walking in the shadows, literally, of a civilization which came and went so long ago that the timeline is difficult for me to grasp. To tread the same ground, and look at the same great stone pyramids, and to think on how they might’ve lived in their prime, was something which I will certainly not forget.