After our diving shenanigans in Caye Caulker, my mother and I headed inland to San Ignacio. We were there for a few days to spend some time in the jungle!
From our accommodation, we could tube down the Macal River, walk on paths meandering across the land, bird and animal watch. We saw possums and kinkajous, observed toucans and songbirds.
The main archaeological site in the region is called Xunantunich. Knowing we could hike there from our accommodation, we hired a guide to take us. We walked amongst the sprawling trees, the small local farms. Our guide showed us local plants and discussed their modern and past properties. On our way, we met up with Carlos’ friend, an artist working with stone. It was fascinating to learn about Mayan art from someone who tried to keep his carvings as authentic as possible.
We arrived at the site having already walked 12 kilometres. Xunantunich was a key city in the area which is apparent by its location (near a river and atop a hill), but also by the massive carvings on the main building, El Castillo. The site was in use until 750 AD which reveals just how ancient it is when it was considered so even by the time of the arrival of the Europeans in the 1600s.
After a quick meal at a local restaurant, we made our way back and finished with a total of 22 kilometres walked.
The very next day, we were off on mountain bikes to visit San Ignacio situated 15 km away. This proved to be a bad idea. The bikes were old, the landscape was mountainous and the roads were badly maintained or a highway. After a brutal hour and a half, we made it in town and then had a lovely visit of the Saturday market. We took a taxi back.
Our time near San Ignacio was charming; cool temperatures, nice views. It still wasn’t the end of our stay in Belize as we headed off to Hopkins just after.
Belize was once called British Honduras and today still sports the evidence of its past with its official languages. English is the most widely used in the Keyes, Spanish by the geographical proximity to Mexico and Guatemala which I would say was mostly used in San Ignacio and also Garifuna, which we heard everywhere, but mostly in Hopkins.
The Garifuna descend from the intermingling of African slaves and the Carib, an Indigenous people, on the island of St. Vincent. After intense conflict during the colonial period, they were forced into exile on a semi-deserted island near Honduras. Their subsequent departure from the island to the coast means that there are Garifuna individuals in Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua for example. It is specifically this intermingling and exile that created a distinct Afro-indigenous culture.
As our time in Belize came to an end, we were looking for some peaceful days ahead. The Belizean coastline near Hopkins is just that, sandy beaches, palm trees and a cool breeze.
The place was also exceptionally quiet. For one, most of the tourists were packed in resorts at one end of town and never appeared to leave there. Second, tourism still is far from its previous levels. Many tour shops were quiet, restaurants were closed.
We still had the chance to do a Garifuna cooking class at Palmento Grove. At the other end of town, a river creates a separation through the mangrove. On the other side lies an island that was turned into a cultural center a few years ago by Uhwanie. Before, she worked in a bank. The frustration of not being able to speak Garifuna in her work setting and seeing her culture slip away in her community turned into a drive to show others what was possible. With family members, she proceeded to lead by example and slowly but surely established a community center where others could learn about the traditional drumming, cooking, spirituality, dress and food.
Over a few hours, we fried plantain, we husked and grated coconuts, we prepared bondigas (a sort of plantain dumpling) and we learned more about Garifuna cooking and culture. As per my habits, I asked an endless stream of questions to better understand the local situation. Like many Indigenous peoples, from Uhwanie’s perspective, the Garifuna are marginalized in Belize. Her objective is to show others how they can do business by themselves, not have the benefits reaped from external hands while purposefully explaining Garifuna’s ways of life to tourists. Also, it is to help others in her community learn and take pride in their culture.
For a better understanding of our time there, here are a few photos of the process to open a coconut.
And that was that! 17 days in the country and it was already over. I said goodbye to my mother at the airport and headed off to my next destination, El Salvador! Stay tuned for more!