Photo: Bob Taylor
CHARLOTTE, December 12, 2011— Mention the term “crystal skulls” and it immediately conjures images of mystery and intrigue. Even Indiana Jones got into the act.
For the traveler, the idea is seductive enough to challenge any level of curiosity, and the best place to begin is in Belize. Though fiction most likely outweighs fact surrounding the crystal skull controversies, embracing the enigma has universal appeal when rummaging through ancient Mayan ruins nestled within exotic rainforests.
Belize wonderland (Photo: Peabod)
In its own unique way, Belize is the best of all worlds for any type of traveler. Adventurers can savor pristine wilderness and solitude. Environmentalists will find a wonderland of flora and fauna, flowing rivers through dense forests and colorful wildlife protected by a glorious natural habitat. And history buffs, curiosity seekers and amateur sleuths can speculate about the origins and disappearance of ancient Mayan civilizations.
For upscale travelers who like to “rough it” by day and luxuriate at night, Belize offers accommodations and cuisine to suit even the most discriminating sensibilities. Not only can Belize satisfy the needs of either an explorer or a socialite, it also suits the pleasures of just about any lifestyle in between. Except, that is, for lovers of McDonald’s and other fast-food emporiums, for they simply do not exist in Belize.
The tiny nation on the northeastern coast of Central America is proof positive that man and nature can, indeed, live in harmony. In addition, Belize offers four major assets that are appealing to American travelers.
First, English is the native language, mixed with an occasional sampling of Creole. Next, the exchange rate is 2 Belize dollars to 1 US dollar for easy conversion. Plus, American money is readily accepted everywhere. Third, the electrical current is the same as it is in the states for easy computer hook-ups and no blown hairdryers. And finally, the time difference is slight from either coast of the United States, so there is virtually no jet-lag from either direction.
Most of the better hotel properties in Belize consist of small, thatched roofed bungalows. For the truly adventurous however, there are Mayan homestays where visitors can live and farm with the indigenous people of the country.
Thatched comfort (Photo: Peabod)
Outdoorsmen may want to attempt a “grand slam” by fishing for snook, permit, bonefish and tarpon at Machaca Hill Lodge which is situated within the canopy of a rain forest. Be sure to participate in Machaca Hill’s truly unique wake-up call system where a staff member knocks on the door at the appointed time to present you with a pot full of fresh, hot coffee.
Experiential travelers enjoy exploring the ruins at Lamanai Outpost during the day. Then, in the evening, following dinner, spotlight cruises patrol the lagoon searching for nocturnal creatures in their natural surroundings.
At Ka’ana Resort, visitors who are intrigued by the hidden mysteries of the spiritual world can schedule a session with Rosario Panti, Belize’s last Mayan Shaman.
Shaman Rosario Panti
All of which is a circuitous way to return to those devious crystal skulls mentioned earlier. Depending on your source, there are either 12 or 13 crystal skulls which have aroused the curiosity of archaeologists throughout the world. All are believed to originate from Mexico and Central America, with the most famous such artifact being found in 1925 at Lubaantun in Belize.
According to accounts, the Lubaantun skull was “discovered” by the adopted daughter of British adventurer, and publicity seeker, F.A. Mitchell-Hedges. While on an expedition with her father, Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges allegedly unearthed a skull from a collapsed altar as she was exploring the Lubaantun site.
It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that Mitchell-Hedges even mentioned his daughter’s so-called discovery in a publication. Further investigation shows no documented evidence that Anna was ever in Belize, much less at the excavation site. In fact, research by the BritishMuseum states that no crystal skull has ever been uncovered at an official archaeological site, which means that all of the dozen or so well-known skulls are probably fakes.
Altar of the crystal skull (Photo: Peabod)
Later studies proved that Mitchell-Hedges actually purchased his crystal skull at an auction at Sotheby’s in 1943. So why even bother to visit the location of such an obvious hoax?
To begin with, Lubaantun is the largest archaeological ruin in southern Belize. The ancient city dates from approximately 730 AD to 890 AD before being completely abandoned for reasons still unknown.
Situated about 26-miles northwest of Punta Gorda on a hilltop surrounded on three sides by two converging streams, Lubaantun is, surprisingly, one of the least visited major Mayan sites. Despite its notoriety for the infamous Mitchell-Hedges skull and a variety of unique characteristics that are atypical of Maya architecture, you may likely be the only visitors at the site if you go.
In the modern Maya language the name means “place of fallen stones”, which is appropriate as earthquakes and tree roots have taken their toll over the centuries. Other than the removal of underbrush to clear the site, no restoration work as been done at Lubaantun.
As a result, the lush rainforest setting combined with structures featuring unusual rounded corners and the rare black slate and limestone bricks that were carved to fit together without mortar are, in many ways, a microcosm of Belize itself. It is, in a sense, mysterious, yet sublime. A source of conjecture and discovery.
Though the crystal skull was probably a fake, the ruins at Lubaantun, and throughout Belize, are themselves time machines that beg further inspection, curiosity and speculation.
Travelers will not be disappointed by the diversity of activities in the natural wonderland that is Belize, for the country is, indeed, its own reward. Who cares if there’s a little “skull-duggery” along the way. All the more reason to explore Belize for yourself. (www.travelbelize.org)
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC, founder of The Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at [email protected]Taylored media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book,Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his liston Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.