City of submerged crocodiles

From Dangriga, I took a long journey north about seven hours, passing briefly through Belize City to change buses, to Orange Walk. The journey took me up the scenic and mountainous Hummingbird Highway, but the north itself is quite flat. It’s a mix of farm country, largely sugarcane, and wilderness.

Orange Walk is a community mainly of mestizos and largely Hispanic, though the surrounding area has a number of Mennonites. And of course almost every store and restaurant in Orange Walk is run by Chinese. It’s also the starting point for a river trip to the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai.

I arrived Monday night and booked a place with a small group going with a guide on Tuesday. Unfortunately, Tuesday started off as pouring rain, and I was soaked before I even found a place for breakfast. A German couple at my hotel backed out of the tour, but I figured, and the local people said, that the rain wouldn’t last and would soon clear up. I figured wrong.
I enjoyed the trip nonetheless, but was completely soaked. I wrapped my camera in plastic, but everything else got wet. The rain did let up for a while at Lamanai, but it rained continually during the river trip there and back.

The guide, Melvis, took me alone about seven miles up the river before we met five other tourists who were also coming. Along the way he pointed out bird after exotic bird in the thick foliage at the sides of the river or flying overhead: many herons, including great blue, who migrate from the north, a rare tiger heron, snowy egrets, parrots, a keel billed toucan, vultures, and numerous others. Melvis knew his birds. The river is infested with crocodiles, but as Melvis explained, in the cooler rainy weather, they tend to remain submerged in the water, rather than sunning themselves on the banks, as they do normally. Still, he saw one slip into the water, though I missed it.

Lamanai’s name, according to one interpretation of the Mayan languages, means City of Submerged Crocodiles. It’s an appropriate name, given that crocodiles seemed to have spiritual significance, and were certainly present.

The city itself consists of many hundreds of excavated, partly excavated, and buried buildings. There were a couple impressive temples, one of which I climbed on the steep stone steps, but generally there was less to see than in other cities such as Tikal. It was the setting in the jungle at the end of the winding river journey that made it an interesting experience.

Today, Wednesday, I took a short journey to the seaside town of Corozal, just south of the Mexican border. I’ve spent the day getting organized and ready for the long trip north. It was actually cool here today, unusually so, and overcast. This may be the southern edge of the cold system that has much of North America now in a deep freeze. I dread the return to the frozen north.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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