Belize: Mayans, Mennonites and Me

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The cutest puppy I saw!! ❤

For the first time in years, I decided to travel without planning to make plans. Normally, I plan the bare minimum, expecting to be very flexible with my itinerary, with a few specific places or activities in mind.

After graduating with my MA a few days earlier, and feeling like this has been the fastest year of my life, I decided to book a stay at a resort (fancier than normal for me), and to not leave.

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This was 50% a success. While I did manage to relax, unwind, and enjoy the retreat (there were only about 5 other people at the resort for my entire stay) — I did end up going to some Mayan ruins and went snorkeling on the Blue Hole. What can I say, I tried!

Here’s a bit from the journey:

Where I stayed:

El Secreto is about 11 miles north of the town of San Pedro, which means that it is completely remote — the best/only way to get into town is via a chartered speed boat.

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I managed to hitch a ride on the speed boat with one of the outgoing hotel guests, which got me into town, also running errands for the hotel, like buying chickens 🙂

I drove one of the golf carts that I drove (and managed to run over my purse/camera – hoping it still works!) #donttrustmewithyourlife

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The following day, I decided to stay in for most of the day, so I worked a bit, managed to lose my balance on a hammock and fell into the water with my phone (thank the heavens that it’s somewhat waterproof), watched Master of None, and then went out on the charter boat for a bit. With the captain of the ship, I saw sharks and stingrays, and he even let me drive the boat for a bit!

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Back at the hotel, I took advantage of the Jacuzzi, which was such treat — this area alone is about the size of my NYC apartment hah.

After not seeing many people for a few days, I decided to satisfy my history craving with a visit to Altun Ha — the Mayan temple that is famously depicted on all of the Belkin beer bottles in Belize, both cultural icons which they are very proud of.

IMG_2023Some more interesting facts about Altun Ha are included below, but I will say — in the middle of the forest, and in the blazing heat, it is not a good idea to forget your water, especially if you’re planning to climb up the stairs of the temple.

Physically exhausted, I went back to finish watching Master of None.

The following day, I was up at 4am to join a tour of the Blue Hole, the only sink hole of its kind in diameter, structure, and geological grandeur. It’s a perfect circle! Unfortunately, my diving license was expired, so I had to resort to snorkeling, but as I learned, it was better for the sea life. If I had an underwater camera, I would be able to show you the adorable sea turtle that we saw!!!! And the many dolphins and starfish and stingrays. Quite frankly, it was absolutely incredible, and a perfect way to end my time in Belize.

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Shark!! Apparently, they’re friendly. 

 

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Fun facts: 

I arrived in Belize on their Labor Day, which meant that literally no one was on the streets; it didn’t seem to change much after the

They seem to have a reggae mix to everything – even to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”

Someone told me that in Belize, “Bob Marley is like Jesus”  – and just like in Christian homes, a picture of Bob Marley is virtually hung in everyone’s home

I’m sure it’s not unique to Belize, but fishermen spend up to 2/3 weeks at sea, living together in tiny sail boats; In general, this depicts the grandeur and great importance of the sea and sea life to coastal-living Belizeans

Belize has mennonites of African decent who converted to it after the arrival of German mennonites (originally settling in the US, then Mexican, and then Belize in the 1950)

There seems to be a very peaceful, appreciation, and reciprocal acceptance for people of different cultures and ethnicities in Belize

Approximately 50% of Belizeans self-identify as Mestizo, Latino, or Hispanic and 30% speak Spanish

As a former British colony, Spanish was banned in schools is now commonly taught as a second language, which is greatly due to the size of Belize in comparison to its Spanish-speaking neighbors

What I mostly heard spoken, however, is a “Kitchen Spanish”,  a form of Spanish mixed with Belizean Creole/English

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Fast food in Belize isn’t really “fast food” as it is known to much of the world – in Belize, this normally means a home cook has food prepared and heated on the street or on a stand

IMG_1839It’s small in Belize!!! With a population of 350k people, and most of the land uninhabited (which means that populations are concentrated), everyone seems to know each other and as such calls one another “brother” — confusing at time when you don’t know who is a blood-related brother

You can ask for “to go cups” for your alcohol at bars

Belize was struck by a pretty catastrophic hurricane in 1961, which led the country to move its capital a bit more inland

IMG_2098Belizeans make some really great handmade chocolates from locally/organically grown cocoa.

You will not find a McDonald’s or other fast food chains here

Belize is home to many luxury resorts and jungle lodges. However, there are not many all-inclusive branded resorts here. I did, however, see a Wyndham hotel being built along the coast of San Pedro

The tallest building in the country is Canna Temple, a Maya pyramid at Caracol.

Great video talking about Belizean culture! 

Altun Ha:

An old Mayan trading post

Had 10k residents at its peak

Dedicated to the sun god

Holds the remains of elderly priests

Mayans inhabited Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, which make up the “Mundo Maya”

Found a jade head – kept at central bank of Belize; Jade came from Guatemala, which was most likely traded here

Jade — green represents growth and fertility

For those to be accepted into elite family — had to have flat forehead and cross eye

Babies were applied wooden boards to the front and back of their heads and then wrapped in order to make their heads malleable and adapt to this shape/standard of beauty

Means would have red beads hanging from a tree and would have their babies focusing on it swinging back and forth until s/he would end up with a cross eye from straining his eye for so long

11% of current Belize population = Mayan people

Mayans copied Incan style of building

Mayans introduced chocolate into the world; cacao beans were their main form of currency — mainly for flint — like diamonds

Human sacrifice for pleasing of the gods was common— but not so much at Altun Ha because it was used as trading center

They believed in 9 levels of the underworld —- which one would need to fight off to get up to the upper world, which had 13 levels

Structure of Altun Ha has 9 levels underneath, which represent hell

Played basketball with limbs -the winners (***not losers) were sacrificed to the gods

People sacrificed = went to heaven – not having to fight off the 9 level, so people were happy to be sacrificed

Would burn the bodies & incense would go up to the heavens

Both males and females would pierce themselves

Males thought the female tongue is the most powerful part of body; they would pierce their tongues and nipples

Men pierced their penis

Would bury Mayans with al spice to keep the smell down, as they lived among their dead

1961 = when they discovered Altun Ha – covered under vegetation after the hurricane

The fall of the Mayans was greatly credited to the conquistadors who would have the Mayans trade their expensive things for a mirror for example (previous to this, they had never seen themselves and thought this invention to be magical)

Some believe that peasants revolted against their rulers and  that this led to demise of Mayans at Altun Ha

Others believe that the soil lost nutrients because of lack of sustainable farming

The Mayans from Altun Ha went other places where life was better after 1150 AD

First Mayans believed to have come originally from Asia – following buffalo and other large animals across Bering straight – and ended up over to Western Hemisphere

 

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