Altun Ha, Howler Monkeys and the Cayes!

Our Belize adventure continues! We are so lucky to have a chance to explore most of the country! On Friday, Devin, Rachel, Matt and I went on a tour of Altun Ha, another Mayan site north of Belize City. Our tour guide was an archeologist who knew Dr Pendergast, the man who discovered and documented Altun Ha. It was very interesting going on a tour with this man, he knew each of the buildings, he had pictures of them as they were being uncovered and he was able to describe how they would have looked in Mayan times. He informed us that this site once housed 15,000 to 20,000 Mayans. Currently there are over 120 buildings on the site,which is a small fraction of what once was. In the 1930’s when the road was being built to Belize City the builders needed stones to fill the road and unfortunately they found mounds of stones on this site. They destroyed about 90 percent of the Mayan structures at Altun Ha. You would think this kind of mistake would not happen today but it actually just happened in northern Belize where builders needing stones to fill a road destroyed a very large and well known Mayan temple. The laws protecting these structures are weak and our guide informed us that the builders will most likely get a maximum fine of $10,000. A tragedy.

After touring Altun Ha we were taken to a “baboon sanctuary” – as I mentioned before the locals call howler monkeys baboons. It turns out we did not go to the official, government sanctioned baboon sanctuary, but one run by a Rastafarian a half of a mile down the road. It was a pretty neat experience in any case. Shane, the man who runs the sanctuary, told us that he has developed a relationship with the small troop of howler monkeys on his property. He has erected ladder bridges for them so that they can access the fruit trees he has planted for them. They know him and they come to him, but he claims they are no way dependent on him. His property runs along a river and is absolutely beautiful. He took us on a walk across the property until we found the troop of monkeys. The youngest male came running down the tree to him and we all got close up looks of him and his mother. Shane allowed Devin, Rachel and I to offer banana slices to the young monkey – a really awesome experience as the monkey grabbed our hands to get the banana – not that we necessarily agree with feeding wildlife – but this was an experience we will not forget.

On Saturday we left Orange Walk, took a shuttle to Belize City and then a very bouncy water taxi to the cayes. Devin and Rachel went to Caye Caulker, a very laid back caye popular with backpackers and the locals. Matt and I continued on to Ambergris Caye, a very large caye with resorts, lots of shopping and restaurants.  I must say that the hotel we are in is by far the nicest place we have ever stayed. Ever. Yesterday we spent an entire day on a catamaran – it was incredible. We went snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and saw so many species of coral, beautiful fish, large moray eels and green sea turtles. The guides have named one of the sea turtles Eileen because she is missing a front flipper and she leans when she swims. Our guide told us she is 5 years old and will live her whole life at the reserve because of her disability. She was the biggest turtle we saw. From the marine reserve we went to Shark Ray Alley – a place known for nurse sharks and sting rays. We saw several sharks that were over 6 feet in length. Our guide caught one of the smaller ones for us to touch and also guided one of the very large stingrays up to the group for touching as well. From there we went to Caye Caulker for lunch and then had a very slow ride back to the resort. It was incredible. Someday Matt and I will own a catamaran.

Our plan is to spend a couple more days here on Ambergris Caye, go ocean kayaking and do more snorkeling before heading back to the mainland. We will then go to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary where we hope to find some storks! From there we will travel to Hopkins to go to Cockscomb  Basin (a jaguar preserve) and then meet back up with Devin and Rachel and travel to San Ignacio. Devin and Rachel are spending one more day on the cayes then heading back to Nikki’s place for a couple of days before heading down south to Punta Gorda for the Toledo Cacoa Festival. One of the benefits of the festival is that Bellikin beer has made a chocolate stout in honor of it and it is so good! I will be a happy camper if I can figure out how to take home some chocolate stout and the Belizean rum Rachel and I have been drinking. 🙂 We have about a week and half left before it is time to go home, so much to see!

A typical street view in Orange Walk.

A typical street view in Orange Walk.

The clock tower in the center of Orange Walk.

The clock tower in the center of Orange Walk.

The mural in Orange Walk that depicts the major symbols of their Mayan temples: the jaguar, the mask, and the large piece of carved jade that was found buried with a priest at Altun Ha.

The mural in Orange Walk that depicts the major symbols of their Mayan temples: the jaguar, and the face from Lamanai and the carved jade head that was found in a burial chamber at Altun Ha.

Temple at Altun Ha - there are three layers, each constructed hundreds of years apart.

Temple at Altun Ha – there are three layers to this temple, each constructed hundreds of years apart.

Large temple at Altun Ha, was a mausoleum.  The box in the middle was the burial chamber where a priest was found with a large piece of carved jade. The largest piece found at any Mayan site.

Large temple at Altun Ha which was a mausoleum. The box in the middle was the burial chamber where a ruler was found with a large piece of carved jade. The jade head is the largest piece of carved jade found at any Mayan site and is kept out of view in a protective vault in Belize City.

One of the carved images of a royal face on the side of the temple at Altun Ha.

One of the carved images of a royal face on the side of the temple at Altun Ha.

The sign of the unofficial baboon sanctuary.

The entrance sign to the unofficial baboon sanctuary.

The matriarch of the howler monkey troop.

The matriarch of the howler monkey troop.

Devin offering banana slices to the young monkey.

Devin offering banana slices to the young monkey.

The view from our room!

The view from our room at Belizean Shores Resort on Ambergris Caye!

The beach outside our resort at Belizean Shores.

The beach outside our resort – seconds away from our room.

Much of the beach on Ambergris Caye looks just like this.

Much of the beach on Ambergris Caye looks just like this. We have seen small sharks, sting rays and fish from the beach.

Paradise found at Ambergris Caye.

Paradise found at Ambergris Caye.

I am calling this a leukistic great blue heron - seen along the beach outside our resort.

I am calling this a leucistic great blue heron, any other suggestions? Seen along the beach outside our resort.

Nothing is better than starting your day on a catamaran.

Nothing is better than starting your day on a catamaran.

So relaxing - so much sun!

So relaxing – so much sun!

Nurse sharks approaching the boat at Shark Ray Alley.

Nurse sharks approaching the boat at Shark Ray Alley.

The main road in Caye Caulker.

The main road in Caye Caulker.

Beach at Caye Caulker.

Beach at Caye Caulker.

Magnificent frigates coasting over Caye Caulker.

Magnificent frigatebirds coasting over Caye Caulker.

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