Monday, 4th August
We got up at the crack of dawn to sort ourselves out to catch the 6:15am bus heading northbound to Belmopan from where we would catch another bus to San Ignacio, a town close to the Guatemalan border. We left Placencia in the rain, the first we had seen for a while. It meant that we had to close the bus windows for the first part of the journey which led to it being stifling in the heat, the bus was fully packed with some three to a seat. We were not one of those, luckily. Once we got to Belmopan the weather had cleared. Belmopan is a large (for Belize) city in the middle of the country and is a connection point for buses to and from Guatemala. We would catch a bus to Benque, hopping off midway at San Ignacio, a town close to the border. The buses are a great way of getting around here as Belize is a fairly small country (the size of Wales) and the buses are cheap. Our total ride from Placencia to San Ignacio is US$8 each. We have loved how friendly and helpful everyone is here, although having English as a first language helps! When we got to San Ignacio we checked out a couple of guest houses before settling on the ‘Acropolis Guest House’, a basic but cheap (US$18) option. Once settled we went out in search of lunch which we found at ‘Cenaida’s’ for some Belizean food where Kirsty had some more shrimp and I some more stew chicken. Feeling the effects of the early start we then had to crash for a bit back at our Guest House. It was only around 1pm by this point, we had covered a fair distance on one morning.
We came to San Ignacio not only because it is en route to Guatemala but also curious to see another Belizean town, having only stayed in a couple of beach villages and only seen the rest of the country from a bus window or waiting at bus terminals. San Ignacio is a cultural mix of largely Mestizo Kriol, with some Lebanese and Mopan. San Ignacio also boasts a fairly large Chinese population, most of whom emigrated from Guangzhou in waves in the mid-20th century. Being so close to the Guatemalan border spanish is as widely spoken if not more so then English. The town is mostly used as a hub to explore the natural sights of he Cayo District but we were quite content just to take in the town, knowing that we had some tours to come in Guatemala. We have to keep our budget down but also not get too overwhelmed with all the ruins and such like sights.
There are some Maya ruins close to the town so after our forty winks we walked the one mile uphill to the site of ‘Cahal Pech’. The site started off as a farmstead with dating putting the earliest settlement at around 900BC. Later on it was a palatial home for an elite Maya family, the site being extended to include a temple. plazas and an acropolis. It is nestled in Belizean jungle and is a nice site to wander around being in the relative cool of the hilltop and shaded by trees. It also has the benefit of not being too busy and you can walk over the structures, unlike other ruins. It is in a constant state of reconstruction and repair, with archeological excavations taking place at various points on the site and some structures being re-built from fallen rocks.
Once we had our fill of another ruin (our third Maya ruin) we walked down back into town and the main drag called ‘Burns Avenue’. There we grabbed a couple of drinks and made a friend of a man that makes things from grasses and coconuts. After trying to sell Kirsty a coconut husk hat she relented Into allowing him to make her a grasshopper from river grasses. The finished product was actually quite good, better than we thought it would be, with the ‘Cocunut King’ as he called himself seemingly having had his fair share of rum that day.
We had dinner at a nice restaurant called ‘Ko-ox han-nah’ which means something like ‘eat well, live well’ in the local Maya dialect. We both had some beef for a change after all the seafood and chicken of the coast. San Ignacio is a nice enough place to wander around but an afternoon is probably all you need to take in the town if you aren’t doing any of the local adventure ‘ecotourism’ stuff they offer here. We planned to move onto Guatemala the next day.