In Touch with Belize: Lamanai

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.

John, Zena, and Jimmy en route to the mainland.

John, Zena, and Jimmy en route 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.

Our chariot awaits in Bomba. Plus Jeff and a very friendly dog.

Our chariot awaits in Bomba. Plus Jeff and a very friendly dog.

Crocodile!

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.

This guy was really hamming it up.

This guy was really hamming it up.

Have you ever seen anything cuter than a baby heron?

Have you ever seen anything cuter than a baby heron?

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.

A bad shot of a cool artifact in the museum.

A bad shot of a cool artifact in the museum.

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.

Mask Temple!

Mask Temple!

At the foot of High Temple.

At the foot of High Temple.

Your brave author found the top of High Temple a little scary. Does anyone want to add one of the group shots?

Your brave author found the top of High Temple a little scary. Does anyone want to add one of the group shots?

Jaguar Temple.

Jaguar Temple.

Renee graciously demonstrating the view from the top of Jaguar Temple.

Renee graciously demonstrating the view from the top of Jaguar Temple.

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.

Daily Dive Log: Try, Try Again

I had this feeling that today, on our first day of diving (no thanks to yesterday’s weather), most everyone would want to post about Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the dive we did this morning, and rightly so, since it was a staggeringly beautiful, overwhelmingly positive experience. I also thought that Shark Ray Alley, where we swam with the aforementioned sharks and rays, would probably get a lot of play. So I decided to post about our second dive of the day, which went just terribly for me.

At first I was thinking it would be too embarrassing to post about, since I definitely chickened out in the first few minutes of the dive (spoiler alert), but then I realized that it will reveal a side of the difficulty and level of mental and physical grit that diving requires, and I think that will be illustrative and useful for people to understand.

The boat out through a channel to the outside of the barrier reef that protects the island of Ambergris Caye was not especially long, but we were battling 6 foot swells (I thought they seemed much larger, myself, but that’s the figure the dive masters and boat crew quoted me). I took a Bonine (motion sickness pill) right as I got on the boat, which was apparently my first mistake (I quote William, one of our dive masters: “No worries, but you should’ve taken that two hours ago.”) of the trip. I was incredibly nervous as the boat crashed over the waves and rocked mercilessly from side to side, in addition to the brutal nausea I was feeling.

It was suggested that myself and one of the other divers (I am withholding everyone’s names in case any of the others who had a hard time would like to protect their dignity, which I have opted to forgo for the sake of this post. Which also means I can’t reveal who didn’t have troubles, without revealing who did. So all names are redacted.) get into the water first, as the motion sickness is supposed to subside once one descends through the first fifteen or so feet of water. So I swallowed the fear that I was feeling as I looked at the swells and white crests of the waves, geared up, and rolled back into the water. On the surface I began feeling really sick, so I suggested that my buddy and I just start descending. We did.

As I got further and further down, nearing the bottom at 35 feet, I noticed the sickness was not getting better, and I was having a difficult time getting my breathing in check, due to the nervousness from the boat and the surface. These two problems created a feedback loop which resulted in my throwing up in my regulator (the breathing mouthpiece, for you non-divers) and then hyperventilating with my mouth full of my own sick. I didn’t realize that its okay to throw up into a regulator, that you can clear it and keep using it, so I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I signaled to William that I needed to return to the surface, and he did everything he could to calm me down and get me ready to continue the dive. I just kept signaling “not okay” and we slowly, at the safe rate (which seemed maddeningly slow to me in my panicked, mouth full of barf, state), ascended to the surface. I got back in the boat and sat the rest of the dive out with the boat crew (who were truly lovely people and very kind in the face of my extreme embarrassment and guilt).

One by one, the rest of the divers started surfacing, and I found out that at least two other divers had thrown up under water, most on ascent. Two more threw up on the boat afterwards. The trip back to the island was actually quite nice for me, since I had had plenty of time to get used to the feeling of the rocking and pitching of the boat in the swells.

Part of me still cannot believe that I bailed so early into a dive, and wishes that I had found the fortitude to power through the throwing up and the sense of panic, and I do feel strongly that I could’ve easily handled one of the other of those two stresses. Another part of me feels glad that I tried and gave it my best, and knew when to recognize that I was outmatched by my surroundings.

Believe it or not, despite all that, I can’t wait to try it again tomorrow, weather permitting, though I must confess I’m hoping for more of a Hol Chan experience than another one of those ones.