Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Visiting the Mayan ruins at Lamanai

We had the opportunity to go to the ruins at Lamanai which are several hours from Belize City via some really awful roads but well worth the long hours and discomfort. Our mission president, President Hintze, his wife and two of their daughters and son-in-law, came to Belize from the mission home in San Salvador to bring their family to Lamanai  They invited the missionaries in Belize City to come with them.  We, of course, jumped at the chance.

The day started early since it would be an all day excursion.  We met at the Belize City Distribution Center for the church.  The elders rode their bikes to the Zone leaders apartment where we picked them up in the 12-seater van.  Then we went to the distribution center to meet President Hintze and his family.  They had rented their own car.  We were pretty packed into the van.  There were Elder and Sister Moulton, (Elder Moulton was driving), eight young elders and us. We also had Igloo containers filled with picnic goodies for all of us and plenty of water.  

We set out on the Northern Higway in good time and it was pretty crazy with all those elders cooped up in a small space for so long.  One of them had received a harmonica for Christmas and started to play it but Sister Moulton and I had to put a stop to that.( Arrrrgh!!) We just couldn't handle that for two and a half hours.  It was fun, though.  The roads, as I may have mentioned before, are pretty bad.  This is the main highway that goes north through Belize all the way to the Mexican border so you would expect it to be maintained a little better than most.  Actually by Belizean standards it is a good road.  However, the Belizeans have a strange way of preventing speeding on their highways and roads.  They put speed bumps and "pedestrian crossings" every few miles on every major road.  They are anywhere from 6-8 inches high and a foot or more wide that go from one side of the road to the other.  The pedestrian crossings are actually poured cement raised about 8 inches and flat across for about a yard.  Needless to say, every car that wants to retain their axle has to slow down from a cruising speed to almost stopped to go over them.  It's pretty hard on the transmission and shocks to say the least.  It also takes a toll on the passengers' backs and necks.  Pedestrian crossings are placed at bus stops and in villages along the way.  There are buses that cruise the highway taking pasengers to and from Belize City and outlying towns and cities such as Orange Walk Town and Corozal Town.  

To get to Lamanai, you have to turn west off the main highway after crossing the Macal River just before Orange Walk, onto a rural road that is basically dirt.  This road is a nightmare.  It had been raining for several days prior so the potholes were horrendous and in some places almost impossible to navigate. We could only go about 30 miles an hour at best.  A lot of the time we could only go about 15.  It took almost as long to go 28 miles as it did to go all the way to the turn off which is just a little over 60 miles.  We literally bounced all the way.  Several of the holes sent a few of us almost to the ceiling of the van more than once.  

The best part of that road was the part that went through the Mennonite settlement.  The road was still awful but it was interesting and even entertaining at times as we worked our way through the horse and buggies.  We actually encountered a traffic jam consisting of about 5 buggies going in various directions, a truck coming the opposite way and our van.  It was iinteresting to see young boys driving their buggies with their younger siblings as passengers.  Frequently we saw a mother with two children (always two for some reason) drving the famly buggy.  The usual configuration was two men, a man and his wife, a mother with two children, or a young boy with one or two siblings.  They couldn't be classified as particularly friendly although several men did wave.  The women were more likely to have an expression that I would have to characterize as a scowl.  We also ecountered children walking along the road often barefoot, which was quite reasonable since the road was muddy and they probably had better traction barefoot.  The little girls were particularly eye-catching with their pure white headress that looked as if they were starched and pressed to perfection.  They had extensions in the back that crossed and extended to about mid back.  It was amazing how white they were.  


Not long after the Mennonites, we made the final turn into Lamanai.  We were excited to finally be there.   


The actual archaeological site is a short walk on a path through the jungle from the parking area.  There is just a little sign with an arrow indicating the direction to go so we plunged on into the unknown as it were.  As we emerged from the jungle path, it became a brick paved walkway which led to a small museum/office where you pay the fee along with some thatch covered areas with picnic tables and some souvenir shops built like native huts with thatched roofs.  It was very picturesque.  We were anxious to get right to the excavated temples, etc. so we didn't stay in that area very long.


We were very lucky that it didn't rain at all while we were there.  The pathways were already muddy so it would have been really bad if it had rained.  The elders and President Hintze's kids were already climbing up the first ruin, the Jaguar temple, by the time we older folks got to the clearing.  It truly is amazing!!  Absolutely breathtaking.  Elder Tague and Elder Moulton climbed up to the top of the first one.  It is not as high as the biggest one that we came to later but still a good climb.  President, his kids, and all the elders got to the top for pictures. 




 We wandered through some of what they have determined were houses for the leaders of the community and also the recreational ball court.  Suddenly we turned down a corridor of low walls and before us was the magnificent Lag temple rising 125 feet from the jungle floor. What an impressive sight!! Of course the elders were scrambling up the stairs as fast as they could go. People climbing up looked like ants.  It was amazing.  Elder Tague climbed to the first level but not any farther.  The stairs are very difficult to climb because they are about half the width of a normal foot.  In order to climb you either have to do it sideways to get your whole foot on the step or climb just using the front half of your foot, essentially climbing on your toes.  It's exhausting.  



While we were there contemplating the immensity of it all, we started hearing the most unbelievable sound.  It was loud and almost terrifying coming from the surrounding jungle.  We were told it was Howler Monkeys.  They were howling all right.  It was deafening at times.  Here is a picture of one. 


We continued on through another patch of jungle to the Temple of the Mask.  This is a picture that many will find familiar.  We had to take the requisite portrait of us with the mask.  


We finished our expidition and made our way back to the picnic areas for lunch and relaxed for awhile before heading back to the cars.  Elder Tague went to the little market and bought a shirt with howler monkeys on it. 


We all headed back to the van and piled in.  It was a quieter ride back.  We were all pretty tired but it was a wonderful and memorable day.

After we got home, I found a book on one of our shelves called "Book of Mormon-Mesoamerican Geography: History Study Map" written by V. Garth Norman.  It is quite interesting.  It presents a map that connects Book of Mormon cities with archaelogical sites in Central America.  It suggests that Lamanai was the land of Jershon in the Book of Mormon.  Very interesting.