It's that time of year when nearly every airplane that leaves Belize
City is packed full. And this year is no exception...but there is one
difference. Where traditionally the passengers were mostly Belizeans
headed for summer holidays in Miami, New York, L.A. or Chicago, the
majority now seems to be foreign tourists returning from happy holidays
in Belize. And what about the Belizeans? It seems that a growing number
are beginning to discover what the tourists found out long ago: Belize
is a great place for a vacation. We've been singing
that song for almost a decade and over the next few months we'll be
revisiting some of our favourite places that make great day or weekend
getaways. Tonight we travel to the Orange Walk District and the
magnificent Maya site of Lamanai. William Neal is our host and you can
be the judge of whether his looks and talents have improved since this
story first aired in 1993.
"There are two ways to get to Lamanai, one is by road through the
village of San Felipe, the other is by boat up the New River from Tower
Hill. With a chance to see bird, exotic plants and maybe a crocodile,
I'll take the jungle cruise."
The trip up the river takes approximately one hour and the pristine
environment adds to the mystique and adventure of Lamanai. The boat
journey comes to an end as you enter into the New River Lagoon and the
anticipation begins as the main temple can be seen towering above the
Nazario Ku, Lamanai Curator
"One of the things that really strikes me at Lamanai, is that it
retained its original name from 1621 when the first historians wrote
about the name. Not as well as in other city-states, where the names
were given by archaeologists. Lamanai is probably one of the few that
retained their original name."
Nazario Ku has been the curator at Lamanai for a year, but has worked at
different sites around the country for over ten years.
"Lamanai itself means the "Drowned Insect". What might have happened in
the early periods of the Spanish arrival here, is that they were
mispronouncing the word to say, and my missing the final end, they
changed the name of what we believed to be Lamanai Yin. And by missing
the final end, it also changed the meaning of the city states name."
"Maya here started as a settlement around 1500 B.C. and they flourished
as a city state around the 2nd century B.C., which is a long time
between. This is one of the uniqueness of Lamanai because it was
inhabited for around 3,000 and over. The highest peak of the Lamanai was
about the 6th to the 7th century A.D. even though at the 10th century
A.D., they were performing sacrificial rites. There were still offerings
to the Gods and what makes Lamanai unique, is that when other city
states were falling into decline, Lamanai was still going on strong."
Lamanai is located on 950 acres of archeological reserve and features
more than a hundred minor structures and over a dozen major ones. This
ruin called the Temple of the Mask, houses a stucco mask of an Olmec
God, which some believe to be of Kinich Ahau, the Sun God. The size of
this temple seems impressive until you approach the one next door, which
is one of the tallest buildings in the country, believed to be the
temple of sacrifice at Lamanai.
"It's not an easy climb, but it's worth it, and once you get up here,
you can see why the Maya built their temples so high...the view is
Although not half as fantastic as it must have been in ancient times,
when men, women, and children crowded the market place exchanging exotic
goods from all over the Maya world.
"A thousand years ago, Lamanai wasn't all covered in bush. In fact the
place where I am standing was the centre of a ball court where the game
Pokta Pok was played."
In the game, warriors competed to win the honour of being sacrificed on
the high altar, so that their blood could renew the life of the Sun God.
Life at Lamanai was highly organised and the people were self
sufficient, though shells, jade and clay found in the area indicate
plenty of outside contact.
"Some people like to say that "Spanish foot never cross the Hondo". But
Spanish priests came up the New River to convert the Maya to
Christianity and built this church over 300 years ago."
"When the Spaniards passed by here, in 1544, two years after the
conquest of the Aztecs, the happened to pass by here by accident. When
the say a flourishing city state, probably that meant something to them.
One of the things that probably made them return, was that the people
that were inhabiting here, were much more than the other settlements and
they started to Christianize the Maya here around 1570 and they also
constructed a church and the Maya turned apostate against that church,
because as you know, the Mayas were polytheistic, they had different
Gods. One of the things that contributed to the anger of the Maya is
that they destroyed one of the temples and on top of the fundamentals of
that, the foundation of that temple, they constructed their first
church. Most likely if somebody comes to your house and burns down your
house and constructs another one, that will may you angry. The same
thing happened with the Maya and Mayas destroyed this first construction
and they burnt the nearby houses also. The stubbornness of the Spanish
made way to a second church which was also burnt down by the Maya."
"By the middle of the 19th century, the Spanish and the Maya were
nowhere to be found at Lamanai, but the Industrial Revolution was.
English businessmen built this sugar mill around 1865, but it was soon
to be reclaimed by the jungle."
In its own way, the ornate craftsmanship of the brick and ironwork is as
much a wonder as the limestone and mortar ten centuries earlier. The
English mill, the Spanish church and the Maya temples have created an
attraction for tourists that is among Belize's best.
A number of companies operate tours to Lamanai. Most boats leave from
the vicinity of the Tower Hill Bridge.
For losta pictures, see: //AmbergrisCaye.com/wallpaper/page3.html //AmbergrisCaye.com/tanisha/lamanai.html