After what some may consider careers in consulting and logistics, we quit our jobs, sold our stuff and left Germany to be full-time travelers and development volunteers. This blog is about our travels, our work as volunteers and our alternative life strategies - always looking to make an impact and to find the meaning in what we do or put some into it if we can't find any.
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Caracol – past bandits and through the mud to the Maya capital
Caracol was one of the largest centers of the Maya world during the classic period, covering an area of over 200 square kilometers.
But that is not the first thing we heard about Caracol. The first thing we were told was that it is dangerous. Not the site itself really. But to get there.
Thanks to some robberies that have taken place on the intuitively named “Caracol Road” – maybe the worst concoction of pot holes called road in the entire country – it is safe to say that it is not safe to travel this road.
That’s why you travel this road in a military convoy that makes sure you’re not held up on the way to Caracol.
When we left Chaa Creek, we were already running late due to some top priority last minute breakfast cravings. Our guide drove as fast as he could on the way to the turnoff to the Caracol road. Then the fast driving was over. We hit the Caracol road. And then it hit us. Repeatedly. In the bottom.
The Caracol road is not so much a road as it is a strip of rocky, sharp edges of slate and other rock formations that have been cleared of grass so that you may admire their pointedness, their rugged edges and their complete absence of material that you would think of when asked about a good place to drive a car.
Fortunately, that part of the road doesn’t last longer than 2 hours.
It gets softer then. Much softer.
Once you’ve made your way past the valley of mud, you actually get on a piece of real road. Nice road. Smooth tarmac.
Too bad that you have to speed along this very non-grippy road at 60 miles per hour because the relaxed Germans made you so late that you missed your armed escort and are now on your own.
So you zip through the forrest, too fast to be held up by any potential evil-doers.
On these tires:
We arrived at Caracol around 11 am – after having left around 8 in the morning. We quickly shifted our spinal disks back in place and marched into the ruins.
Kerstin immediately put on her tree face for you know, that girl loves trees. Especially big ones:
We hiked up a hill when a plaza opened in front of us:
Lamanai was already a big temple (with a breathtaking trip to the temple) but Caracol was even more impressive. Bigger. More majestic.
I can only imagine what the parties for 2012 – year of the maya will be like, culminating in the big one on December 2012!
As all good tourists should we looked at the masks, climbed the high temples and enjoyed a very knowledgable guide who brought the historic Mayans and the way they lived to life for us.
Once we got down from the big temples, we explored the excavations, trees and other plants.
At some point, a group of locals with machetes came towards us. Kerstin and I didn’t even notice as people with machetes are quite a normal site in Belize – they’re butchers or gardeners. I wouldn’t be very surprised if an accountant would carry a machete around Belize City to be quite honest.
Our friends Jörg and Frank however are not as used to that and their blood got pumping when the group of gardeners came towards us, their machete blades glistening in the sun.
We had lunch – and I really enjoyed this lunch. In a country where the standard lunch is starch (rice, beans) in styroform containers, we got this DIY lunch:
That’s why I like Chaa Creek. They get the important stuff right.
We left Caracol and explored the Mountain Pine Ridge – that beautiful but almost destroyed nature reserve along the Caracol Road. Why almost destroyed? A bug. A beetle. And a slow response.
Usually this trip gets to bathe in Rio on Pools – a long series of cascading waterfalls. Unfortunately it had rained the days before and swimming wasn’t an option.
So we got to see a big cave instead:
Inside of that cave we came across this little guy.
This is the one animal that I am most afraid of in Belize. Not snakes. Not spiders.
That guy. The kissing bug. Transmitting the Chagas Disease.
We left him in his cave.
We also got to see the waterfalls though – still a very pretty sight, even if we didn’t get to bathe in them.
We got back long after 5, completely rattled through. I fell asleep so many times on the way, I have no idea how our guide/driver/mechanic made it through the day. (We also had a flat on the way that was handled so well, I even forgot writing about it until now)
In conclusion: If you’re in Belize, take the day to go to Caracol. It’s one of the most beautiful ruins I have seen here (a tie with Lamanai, I’d say). The way there is quite exciting and the mountain pine ridge is one of the most beautiful spots in the country.
We recommend you go if you want to feel like Jörg :-)
Panorama (click to enlarge):