A Unique Island Tour

Dr. Herman Smith lecturing at Santa

by Lydia Chuc

Tours offered in San Pedro have always been centered around water activities such as diving and snorkeling, but, of late people have been coming to San Pedro to experience something more. You may have seen these people with binoculars glued to their faces and ooohing and aaahing and pointing at winged creatures flying overhead or perched in trees. These "birders," as they are called, come to San Pedro not only to enjoy sun, sand and sea but to get a glimpse of the many birds that inhabit the island. People who are vacationing in San Pedro and want to visit a Mayan ruin or site have had to travel to the mainland (the most popular tour from San Pedro is to Altun Ha). In the past visitors have never had the opportunity to visit any of the Mayan sites on the island. Now people can experience a unique tour of the leeward side island where they will be able to do a little bird watching, enjoy a wonderful boat ride and see the Mayan site of Santa Cruz.

This unique island tour on the Ooh-La-La leaves at 12:00 noon and will pick you up at the hotel dock of your choice. Lunch is served at Capricorn Restaurant, 3 miles north of San Pedro Town.(Lunch and bar costs not included.) After lunch, Captain Rolando Casarez and his capable and friendly crew take the Ooh-La-La up the mouth of the river, through the San Pedro Lagoon, into the sea and about 11 miles north to the site of San Cruz. On this scenic boat ride tour participants can get a glimpse of several little cayes along the way such as Ghost Caye, Bird Caye and Cayo Rosario.

Santa Cruz is just one of the many Mayan sites that have been discovered on Ambergris Caye. Sites that have long kept secrets about the Mayan people that once called this island home. The island was once a Mayan trading post and archaeologist believe that close to 10,000 Mayans once inhabited the area from the mouth of the river (Boca del Rio) to where the Roman Catholic Primary School now stands. The Santa Cruz site is located in a natural harbor on the west coast of the island and was originally logged by discoverers as the "Dolly Parton site," because of two distinct mounds that can be seen from quite a distance away.

I was a part of a 21 member group that took the Ooh-La-La tour to Santa Cruz and to two of the mangroves cayes in back of Ambergris Caye, on February 5th. After a most enjoyable boat ride to the site we waded through shallow water to get to land, passed through a patch of tall mangrove trees and then emerged into a magnificent sub-tropical forest. Trees, 20 to 25 feet tall, stretch up and across, and into each other, weaving a breathtaking dome above us. Thin beams of sunlight danced about teasing the smaller trees below and birds chirping in the distance made me feel as if I had stepped into some lost world. Archaeologist Dr. Herman Smith lectured and conducted a tour of the site. Dr. Smith explained that several of the trees found at the site are not native to the island such as the Mango tree and the Gumbo Limbo tree. These trees were brought to the island by the Mayans because of the fruit they provided and their medicinal value. Dr. Smith said that the Gumbo Limbo tree, used extensively for its medical properties, is also locally called the "tourist tree" because it turns red and then peels. Palmetto trees, orchids and air plants are common at the site. More exotic plant life include the small wild papaya tree and the Bullhorn acacia. Dr. Smith caught a small bufo marinus frog and told us that this frog played an important part of the everyday life of the Mayans. The frog secretes a chemical which was licked by the Mayans to experience a "high." Dr. Smith explained that the Mayans were heavy drug users and "licked, smoked, sniffed what ever they could get their hands on. In excavations hundreds of these frog skeletons were found in burial mounds." We were warned to watch out for leaf eating and red fire ants that could make you miserable for days if they bit you, according to Dr. Smith.

A short walk away from the shore we came upon a burial mound that had been disturbed by "soil hunters." The black soil is very rich and is raided by "hunters" that sell the black dirt as planter soil. Dr. Smith explained that there could be many more mounds than just the few that we saw around the clearing and that restoration of the mounds would commence soon; but, before restoration can start a proper survey of the entire area must be conducted. He also explained that the mounds were built over several generations and consisted of different levels in which different descendants of a family were buried. Dr. Smith said that looters raided only a section of the mounds because they didn't know that the mounds had more than one level. Dr. Smith led us to one of the many wells found in the area. The well was about five feet deep and always has about a foot and a half of water in it even in the dry season. After our tour of the Santa Cruz site our group boarded the boat and headed toward Bird Caye and then to Cayo Rosario (Rosary Caye) where we did some bird watching. These secluded and undisturbed mangrove islands are the perfect place for birds to nest.

Captain Casarez maneuvered the Ooh-La-La as close as he could to the mangrove cayes where we saw an amazing array of birds. There were magnificent frigate birds, brown pelicans, sea gulls, reddish egrets, great white egrets, blue herons, black vultures and most wonderful of all rosette spoonbills...lots of them. The spoonbills flew around, displaying their bright colors and calling out to each other. The most impressive thing about these birds is that they all nest and live on these small islands and seem to get along well together. As the sun sunk lower into the horizon we said good-bye to our bird friends and headed back to town. We arrived in town just before sunset.

If you would like to experience this unique island tour call 0147246 to reserve your place on board the Ooh-La-La.

A Unique Island Tour

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