December 22, 2011 - Mayan Temples of Altun-Ha, Belize.
Surrounded by coral reefs, Belize is a tender port. So we were assigned seating based on the excursion group, and our tender arrived around 7am. Essentially, the ship docks 1-2 miles away from the port of Belize, in the ocean safe from the reefs, and the passengers disembark onto tenders ( smaller boats ) which ferry you to the port of Belize City.
Upon arrival, we boarded a tour bus led by guide Marcos, who was a large jolly Creole guy. He gave us a lot of made-up facts ( like "7 Belize women per Belize man - so you let your imagination go wild !! ". In reality its a 1-1 ). There was a sizeable contingent of senior citizens apparently keen on retiring in Belize - so the history of Belize section got replaced by Belize economics. One woman in particular continously badgered poor Marcos with American concepts like minimum wage, property tax, inflation, how does government pay for healthcare, how are schools free, income tax & sales tax, gasoline price, black market rates etc...the poor fellow obviously didn't know what things like "welfare checks" meant, and said that if you don't work you go hungry! Given that 1 in 5 Belizeans is out of work, that was unsettling to the audience. I gathered the crowd expected an upscale island in the middle of the Pacific. But Belize is rather impoverished and decrepit. Its living primarily on handouts - Marcos pointed to several bridges & overpasses built by funds from Canada, US etc. While things like education & healthcare are free, Belize is essentially a poor island. A lot of what we saw reminded me of the India of the 1980s. Buildings falling apart, thatched huts, huge hand-painted billboards, very narrow unpaved roads, things like that. I think by the end of the busride the woman keen on retiring in Belize had done a complete 180 on her plans.
At Altun-Ha, there are these giant Mayan temples - tombs of high priests, found with lots of jade and Mayan scripture. There is absolutely no jade to be seen now even in museums in Belize, and Marcos said the archaeologists had robbed the tombs. The Mayan books were in some library in Chicago, so the people of Belize have access to neither their history nor their jewelry. The temples are labelled A1, A2, B1 etc, and you can climb on their 60+ steps all the way to the very top. This picture was taken from atop one such temple. We spent a few hours gazing at these Mayan temples, then purchased a wooden Toucan & a mask of a Mayan king from local artisans of Belize. Along the way back to the terminal, we learnt that Hindi is spoken in Belize, that Marcos likes samosas and that he once passed through Charlotte! Marcos dropped us off at a 4-star hotel where we ordered some seafood which arrived after precisely 1 hour! Not much of a service culture. Vandana was quite furious & yelled at the waitress!! Marcos said Belize had tons of holidays & essentially treated life as one big party, so it wasn't a big surprise.
We rather liked Belize.