Lamanai Jungle River Adventure
Enjoy a delightful continental breakfast as you wind your way through the Northern River where you will see a rich variety of flora and fauna. Once at Bomba Village you will board a private bus that will take you along the Old Pan America Highway to Tower Hill. At Tower Hill you will board another boat. As you make your way to the new River you will encounter wildlife including birds, monkeys and crocodiles. Once at Lamanai you enjoy a lunch of local fare below the canopy of the jungle and get a guided tour of the ruins that majestically perch on the waters edge.
Includes: Breafast, lunch, beer, sodas and rum punch.
This morning the alarm went off at 6 am. Like yesterday, we packed up our bags, loaded ourselves with sunscreen, laced up our tennies and were out at the pier at 7 am. I missed the sunrise again, but this time it was due to the clouds. We patiently waited at the pier with two other girls that were staying at Banyan Bay. Soon we spotted the purple boat in the distance and this time it came and picked us up. There were 6 people already on the boat. A young couple from far north on Ambergris Caye, a couple who Nick and Curtis had met on the Blue Hole dive, and two guys, Matt and Dan, who were really, really good friends. Our guides for the day were two Jamaicans named Collin and Devin**. They explained how our day would be laid out.
**It has been brought to my attention that Devin and Collin were in fact not Jamaicans, but Belizeans. However since they looked like, spoke, and wore Jamaican colored hats like Jamaicans, I will allow my post to continue referring to them as Jamaicans. Right.**
We would start out with an hour boat ride or so to get to the North River on mainland Belize. From there we would be going at top speed as to not ruin the motor in the shallow water. We would stop at Bomba, a small village of 20 or so, for breakfast. Then we would board a bus for another hour to bring us to another village, where we would hop on another boat for an hour to get to Lamanai, where we would have lunch and get a guided tour through the ruins, then come back.
The first boat ride wasn’t too bad. A little bumpy at times, but we were still relatively close to shore. The North River was neat. There were mangroves on each side. It was narrow, only wide enough for two boats in most places. I spotted a crocodile when we first entered. It was sitting in the mangroves with it’s mouth wide open… waiting. No one believes me, they all think I saw a logodile, but I know what I saw. We were going fast because the water was shallow. It went by so quick I barely had time to point, but no one saw me pointing because I was in the back of the boat. We also saw a group of sleeping bats in the North River, they looked like fuzzy bumps on the tree. Matt saw what he thought was a crocodile, getting the whole boat in a tizzy, but it turned out to be a logodile.
Once we arrived at Bomba they served us breakfast in front of one of the shops. Banana bread, pineapple, watermelon, juice, coffee and a Belizean equivalent to bagels sandwiched with some meat. I ate fruit and the banana bread, which closely rivaled the banana bread on the Road to Hana in Hawaii. We got to window shop at the gift shops for a while, little huts where the villagers sold their wood carvings (I later found out that a lot of the street vendors that sell wood carvings in San Pedro buy carvings from the mainland then sell them at inflated prices). The shops had a different selection of the same stuff. Bowls, masks and animals of the region carved out of wood and jewelry. The shop we had breakfast in front of had a skull of a jaguar that was found in the bushes, almost complete except for a few of the tiny teeth that were absent. Collin and Devin had told us previously to just look around when we got there. They would give us more shopping time on the way back. There were a lot of dogs in the village, just like everywhere else on Belize. I think Matt had a deep internal struggle with all the skinny flea ridden dogs. He said he just wanted to come back with a bunch of Frontline.
We boarded the bus (a used school bus, painted blue) to Tower Hill. The road was bumpy to say the least, being a dirt road pitted with pot holes. It was probably quite similar to the roads on Ambergris Caye, except wider and we drove faster. They gave me a glass bottle of Coke and I was drinking it cautiously as not to chip a tooth during the ride. Collin and Devin were great guides and made the hour ride there go by pretty quickly. They explained that the highway we were on went all the way to California and that’s how a lot of things get to Belize. People go there and buy used cars then come back and sell them. Most of the cars on Belize, including the school buses, were used US vehicles. They also talked about the process of harvesting sugar cane. Sugar used to be the number one money maker in Belize, supplying sugar to the US and Europe, but the market got very competitive. Now the number one industry is tourism. They also talked about what the villagers do and of the school systems when we passed them. We even picked up a few villagers while on the road. There were two women with a baby that were on the bus for over 30 minutes. It made me wonder if they intended on walking the entire distance or if it was customary to pick people up.
Devin also explained that Belize is working on their own power line system as the current power lines run all the way from Mexico. When Mexico gets mad they just cut Belize’s power for a little while, like when Belize wins a soccer match, like last night. Full of knowledge and full of kinks in our back, we arrive at Tower Hill. We take a short bathroom break before getting on our next boat. Joining us was Eddie, a part Mayan guide with gold front teeth, who drove the boat down the New River. He turned out to be a great guide too, very funny. I thought this hour long boat ride was fun. The river was really windy, and we sped down it unless Eddie’s eagle eye caught a glimpse of something interesting to look at. He spotted a nocturnal bird sleeping on a tree, it was bark colored and looked no different than any other nub on it. No crocodiles, although one of the other boats got fooled by a logodile. Finally we arrived at Lamanai around 11:30. Eddie told us that technically the city isn’t called Lamanai, it’s Lama’an’ain, some sort of clerical error if you will, but since that’s what everyone calls it, I will continue referring to it as Lamanai, for simplicity’s sake. Wow, I just made that really complicated, I probably could have omitted that entire sentence. Or I could have deleted it. Oh well, too late now.
First thing on the agenda: lunch. We had a typical Belizean meal. Chicken (someone said it was jerk, but whatever it was it was very good), coconut rice and beans, pineapple, salad, coleslaw and some hot salsa looking stuff which I didn’t try. Since our group was finally in a quiet location and crammed at a picnic table, we took the opportunity to compare notes. Where was everyone staying, who had done what on the island, where had everyone eaten, who had vacationed where, etc. Matt and Dan both recommended Wild Mangos and we found out that they recently took a Cecilian(?) cooking class where they learned to make lemon chicken.
When we were done with lunch Eddie told us to go into the museum and look at stuff, but not to pay attention to the literature. That proved rather difficult, because it’s not like we knew what we were looking at. I assumed he would talk about the stuff himself, but once he met us at the museum we began our hike through the ruins. The hike lasted about 90 minutes. Eddie told us a lot about Mayan history and culture. The highlight of the hikes were the ruins. The second one that we came to was 33 meters tall and we got to climb it. Eddie told us “going up is physical, coming down is psychological.” Boy was he right. The first set of steps wasn’t all that bad. They were really tall. Someone made a good point of why they would make such tall steps when they were so short. The second set of steps were both shallow and steep. There was a long rope that we could hold on to. This set proved a bit more challenging. Some held onto the rope, others climbed up on all fours. I made the mistake of looking down, then I made the mistake of saying “don’t look down” because then people started looking down. There was some major vertigo going on. We had to walk to the right of the tower to find the third set of stairs. Once on top (mind you, 12 people on the top of this thing felt really crowded) we had a stunning view of the area. We were above the trees and could see the river behind us. It was scorchingly hot too. With no shade, no breeze and being 100+ feet closer to the sun, we were all feeling the effects. Kristen and I were anyway. We were the last two to come down, and Eddie was right, it was very psychological. Physically coming down was easier. About halfway down Kristen decided to get a video going. But we both agreed that the photos and the video don’t do the giant tower any justice.
Also when we were on top we started hearing the howler monkeys. Personally I would call them roaring monkeys because if someone told me they were some sort of large cat I would probably believe them. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any monkeys during the hike (Devin said monkey sightings are at about 90%), but we did get to see a couple of toucans which they said was pretty rare. After our hike we looked in some of the gift shops. They had a lot of jewelry as well as some wood carvings and pre-made knick knacks like shot glasses.
We boarded the boat and headed back down the New River. Eddie stopped because he spotted a crocodile. I didn’t actually see it, but I did get a picture of the general vicinity, so I hope someone can point it out to me later. When we got back to the bus they served us brownies as a snack and the were great!! Baked in muffin cups too, I’ll have to give that a try. (I liked how all the food had a homemade feel, they brought our lunch with them in mismatched tupperware containers). The bus ride seemed to take longer, probably because we were all tired and there wasn’t as much information from the Jamaicans on the way back. Matt wasn’t handling it very well, I think he was getting a little motion sick. He also watched a bug climbing up the window and falling down for almost the entire ride and he was starting to feel sorry for it. He was trying to grab it and it fell down onto his leg and he flipped out. Luckily Collin was nearby to scoop up the bug and throw it out the window. He was going in with a flat hand and I thought for sure he was going to squash it on Matt’s leg. On the ride Matt and Dan were also talking up Wild Mangos again, so we decided we should give it a try for dinner.
Once back at Bomba we were given some shopping time if we so chose. I wanted to get a wood carving, but I wasn’t sure of what. I thought a mask would be cool, but I didn’t find any that didn’t creep me out. There was a really nice lady that I talked to when we stopped at the village earlier and she said she would engrave the village name in the bottom, but I didn’t really like any of the carvings she had. I liked the bowls a lot, but getting a bowl home may have proved a bit difficult. Also most of the places didn’t have prices on them, and I really didn’t feel like bartering with anyone since Nick wasn’t by my side. And one of the bowls in a shop that Matt and Dan were looking at was $75, which seemed a bit spendy. Besides the fact that I only had $20 on me. Eventually I went into the shop with the jaguar skull so I could have another look before we left. The lady at that shop was the most outgoing out of all the women. I asked her if all the shops operated individually and she said yes. The other four shops belonged to her sister, brother and two cousins. She told me if I liked anything she would engrave the back for me (yay!!) and that she would accept credit card payments. I repeated it back to clarify, since the village didn’t even appear to have electricity. She told me she helps the SEAduced crew with breakfast, and they help her out with credit cards. I asked if the bowls were usable and she said yes, most people treat them with olive oil. Hmmm, the bowl idea was getting better and better. I picked up a shallow bowl (seemed easiest to pack) which was a combination of rich chocolate brown and very light wood. I flipped it over and read the price tag of $20 US. Hmmm, no credit card needed. The woman quickly engraved “Bomba Belize 2007” into the bottom and I was on my way.
I got back into the purple SEAduced boat. Matt and Dan were showing off their purchase, a heart shaped ashtray that they requested on the way through. We all agreed it resembled an acorn. On the ride back we saw a bunch of great blue herrons as well as a little crocodile. It also started to sprinkle which got a bit stingy, but it stopped right away.
Once we got back we showered up and headed to Wild Mangos. The older couple from the tour went there as well. We had good food and great big smoothies. We decided to try to get back for lunch one day for more smoothies, and I really wanted to try the chicken tortilla soup, which was specifically what Matt raved about. We went to a few shops after dinner, then caught a cab back. Nick and I stopped at the Casino Belize for about an hour so he could play some blackjack and collect a $5 casino chip. We opted for a 15 minute beach walk back as opposed to another taxi. Curtis and Kristen were already in bed, so we hit the hay as well.