Day 8: Tikal National Park to Blancaneaux, Belize
Despite earlier interests from members of our expedition, only Craig and Nathan woke early to hike up and see the sunrise from the top of Temple IV. According to the GPS, sunrise was supposed to happen at 5:30 am. Taking into account about a half hour hike to the temple, they left the lodge just after 4:45 am in complete darkness. By the time they made it to the trail to the ruins, the eastern horizon was just starting to light up. By 5:20 they were sitting on top of the temple waiting for the sun to come up. The jungle all around the temple was covered with a blanket of fog, with ruins and hills occasionally peeking through the top of the dense fog. As the sun came up, they began to hear the haunting calls of the howler monkeys echoing across the valleys. A few minutes later the sun eerily crept its way above the clouds and bathed everything in a soft warm glow. It was truly one of the most incredible experiences of Nate’s life.
They walked back to the lodge about 7 am, just as everyone else was waking up and heading to the restaurant for breakfast. After breakfast, the group packed up and headed out to meet up with the Nances and Bibbs who had gone on a jungle canopy tour. This tour took them through the upper canopy of the trees via zip line. After reuniting, we took the obligatory photos at the impressive Tikal National Park entrance gate. We had had to forego the official entrance photos when we arrived because it was well after sunset at the time.
Just as we were about to put away our cameras, load back into the vehicles and drive away, a spider monkey clamored out of the jungle and played around in the trees by the side of the road. He didn’t seem to be scared of us at all, and took almost as much of an interest in us and our cooing as we did in it. We had seen a few monkeys in the park the previous day high above our heads but this was the first close up encounter we’d had. The locals at the entrance station probably thought we were crazy; 18 people snapping photos and talking to a monkey.
Back on the road, we made a beeline for the Guatemalan border to cross back into Belize. Driving along in the daylight, we saw all of the interesting sites that we missed in the darkness two days ago. Just outside of Tikal we passed through the town of Peten on the shores of Lake Peten. It was amazing to see the townspeople out in the lake bathing and doing their laundry in the lake water. You see images like this in National Geographic, but never really envision people living their daily lives like this.
On the road to the border, progress was slowed down considerably as we got caught behind a large crowd of people blocking both sides of the road. Before we got the chance to push our way through someone noticed a coffin being carried at the forefront of the crowd-a funeral procession to the village cemetery. We respectfully followed the group at a moderate distance marveling at the culture similarities and differences. Someone in our group quoted over the CB from Don Quixote, “and his funeral was followed by kings from foreign lands.” We couldn’t help but ponder what a strange thing that must have been for these villagers to have their procession attended by a strange group of nine Land Rovers from thousands of miles away.
Our border crossing back into Belize was uneventful, in fact, it was the smoothest border crossing we’d had so far. After four border crossings, we were becoming seasoned pros. In San Ignacio, we turned off the Western Highway of Belize. Leaving the paved road, we started our trek into the Mayan mountains of western Belize. Thirty minutes later, we were pulling into the Mountain Pine Ridge forest reserve, home to Blancaneaux Lodge. Although we had only climbed to about 1,200 feet above sea level (low by Colorado standards) the fauna changed considerably as the palm trees gave way to tall pines. It was ironic for us- we had traveled 3,000 miles to find that our destination reminded us very much of home.
The sad thing was that, like home, the Mountain Pine Ridge area has a big problem with pine beetles destroying the pine forest. Huge patches of pine trees had already died, the brown trees, a visible reminder of the beetle’s path of destruction. Sadly, we later learned that the government doesn’t have any real course of action for containing the pine beetle.
Entering Blancaneaux was like walking into paradise. The lodge consists of cabanas and villas nestled along a river with semi natural pools you can swim in. All of the rooms are thatched roof huts with stucco walls. The living room has no doors, but instead opens up straight onto the porch with palm trees growing up through the deck. The bathroom is exquisite – the tile shower opens up to the heavens and you literally shower with the sun or stars gazing down upon you and the breeze tickling your bare skin.
After unloading the vehicles we traipsed around the grounds, checking out our home for the next few days. We could play croquet on the lawn, visit the horses at the stables, get a cool drink or a bite to eat at the bar/restaurant, take a dip in the river, take a hike, or just relax in the hammock at the cabana.
That night we were greeted with a large buffet and native drummers and singers from the area. After eight days on the road, this lodge is close to heaven and the miles we’ve driven to get here seem to melt right off of us.