San Ignacio was the destination where our trip started to slow down to a more reasonable pace; we knew we'd be there for three nights and then in Caye Caulker for four. After a hectic first week, we were ready, but we had one more major surprise in order.
Finding a place to stay had been a bit more difficult than we expected, and although the hotel we eventually found space in had 'average' ratings, I knew it was right next to a nightclub and I knew it was likely a step down in comfort from our previous lodgings. When we arrived we were happy to note that our room was on the side opposite the nightclub, but when we entered the room we got quite a whiff of some kind of industrial strength cleaning chemical (or maybe bug spray?) coming from the bathroom, made all the more intense as the room had just a tiny little window for ventilation. The sad-looking bed was college style, just a boxpsring and mattress on the floor, with a single, thin, rayon sheet. Memories of the $2.50 room we shared with an army of ants in Thailand came flooding back, and after a short discussion Juli and I determined that in the ten years or so since, we've saved up enough to spring for a bit nicer place to stay when necessary. So now the challenge became, at 8pm during high season, finding a place to stay and extricating ourselves from our current hotel. We tried a few web searches but almost everywhere was booked. We found one place that looked like it might be available and with the help of a local travel agent/excursions operator, were able to make contact and confirm they had a place for us, at triple what we were paying at our current place. We took it immediately.
I explained to our current hotel that we had to leave, we couldn't take the smell in the room, and they were gracious enough to let us take leave of our little urinal-cake smelling bedroom without any fuss. We grabbed a "taxi" (any driver in Belize seems to be taxi) for the new place, which was in a residential area a couple minutes' walk from the town center. It was a strange place, a home with a half-constructed second story and with a nice driveway/courtyard, so we held our breath and scoped out our room. It was a big but quirky room, almost like an office that had been converted (the bathroom had obviously been an add-on as the walls went up about 7 feet compared to 15 for the ceiling), and to our disappointment the room also had a light scent of urinal cake! At that point we thought it must be a Belize thing, and as this scent was at least bearable and we could deal. At least the bed looked more comfortable, and to our relief it was. With our accommodations sorted, we now had to scramble to get setup with the activities we wanted to do in San Ignacio (ATM Cave Tour), so we dropped our packs and headed back to town on foot.
|Burns Avenue, central San Ignacio|
Central San Ignacio is very small and has a nice pedestrian street where several restaurants and tour agencies are located. We stopped at the agency that had helped us get our accommodations, but unfortunately their ATM cave tour was sold out. So we stopped at Pacz Tours, who we had read about as recommended, and while they also had no space on their ATM tour for the next day, they could get us in on the subsequent day, so we locked it in. We also booked a cave tubing tour with them for the next day, so we had finally arrived and sorted all our logistical particulars. Down the slope from the pedestrian street was a newly constructed town plaza with a Christmas tree and a few restaurants arranged around the outside. We grabbed a seat and exhaled, able to relax after a hurried first couple hours in Belize. We spied a little tiki-looking bar near the plaza that looked interesting, and it did not disappoint - a sand floor, amazingly cold beers, and some funny (and drunk) local ex-pats made it one of our favorite places to grab drinks while we were in San Ignacio.
|Enjoying the coldest Belikin's in Belize!|
|Cave tubing near San Ignacio|
The next day it was back in the van for a day trip to "ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave" which is one of the top sights in San Ignacio, and for good reason - it was used in Mayan times for various purposes including human sacrifice, and the artifacts have yet to be excavated from the cave - you walk right around and over human remains and original Mayan pottery! This trip required a bit more fitness than the cave tubing. To begin with, there is an initial 2 kilometer walk during which you have to traverse a river three times. Due to limits on the number of visitors allowed at one time into the cave, our guide encouraged us to keep a good pace and see if we could beat a few other groups to the entrance. As we came up on the first river crossing, two groups in front of us were standing there just staring at the river and getting ready…I was in the front of our group, so without stopping I took off my shirt and pack, put them on my head, and kept on walking right into and across the river. Suffice it to say, we beat a couple groups to the entrance!
We waited just a few minutes near the entrance for our group's turn to come, and once we got the signal we geared up (helmets and headlamps) and left all our bags behind (no cameras allowed in the cave). Entering the cave mouth was the only time during that day that we had to do a full on swim, for about 10 yards until you could get pulled onto firm ground.
|One of three river crossings to the ATM entrance|
|Swimming into ATM cave|
|Tour group entering "the cathedral" inside ATM cave|
|ATM cave tour guide showing pottery|
|A Mayan sacrifice?|
|More Mayan leftovers - watch your step!|
|Great eats in San Ignacio!|
|Impressive Mayan carvings at Xunantunich|
|Our Mayan calendar - don't ask us to read it!|
|With Gomez and friends at the Iguana Conservation Project|
|We landed on that real thin runway right along the water in the distance|
(this is the Belize City domestic airports' only runway)