My Journey Through Southern Belize: The Less-Explored Toledo District (Part 3)

My earlier posts (Part 1 & Part 2) about Belize have been about cacao, but I want to share the stunning landscape and culture of southern Belize that I experienced.

I stayed in the southernmost district, which is also the least visited, in Belize—the Toledo District—for a week where a majority of the population is Mayan.  Toledo is apparently the least developed district in Belize, and perhaps as a result, still has many breathtaking natural sights.

Once I flew into Belize City’s international airport, I boarded a puddle jumper to fly two hundred miles south to Punta Gorda, the capital of the Toledo District, or “P.G.” as it’s known to locals.

Belize City is at the top of the map (arrow at top) and Punta Gorda is in the south (arrow at bottom of map)

Belize City is at the top of the map (arrow at top) and Punta Gorda is in the south (arrow at bottom of map).  Click on the map for a larger version.

 

After arriving in P.G., I was driven fifteen miles to the lodge where I’d be staying.  This short trip took about forty-five minutes because some of that drive is on a paved road but some of it isn’t.

On the way to the lodge

On the way to the lodge

 

The further you get from P.G. and head west, the less developed the district is and the more natural beauty you see, including green rain forests in the distance.  There are also Mayan villages scattered along the way to the lodge.

I stayed at Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco-lodge, which sits on the Moho River and in the jungle.  I fell asleep each night to the sound of crickets; occasionally was awakened in the middle of the night by troops of competing howler monkeys, which emit sounds you’d expect from a T-Rex; and awoke each morning to chirping birds and the sun rays slowly flooding my room.  I highly recommend staying at Cotton Tree.

Outside of my room

Outside of my room

 

Near the entrance of the lodge

Near the entrance of the lodge

 

And while I should have expected visitors of the insect kind in my room given that we were in the jungle, it was nonetheless a surprise when I actually did see them in my room!  The notable visitors were two scorpions (one about six inches long) and one large, tarantula-esque spider during my week stay.  For these fellas, I sprinted to the front office from the cabana furthest from the office to call security to capture them—which meant praying that in the time I was gone, the insect wouldn’t disappear.

I discovered this scorpion under my bathroom vanity right after I’d hopped out of the shower.

I discovered this scorpion under my bathroom vanity immediately after I hopped out of the shower.

 

Nonetheless, if you’re not squeamish, the lodge is an ideal place for a true jungle experience.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, during part of my stay in Belize, I spent time with Mayan families, such as Eladio and his family.  While I knew that English was the official language of Belize, I didn’t know whether it would be widely spoken in the villages but it was with the families I visited.  In addition to English, either Mopan or Kekchi Maya was spoken.  And I was told that throughout Belize, several languages are commonly spoken, but Belizean Creole or “Kriol” serves as the main spoken tongue.

I also visited places of Mayan significance, such as the ruins at Nim Li Punit.  Settlement activity at Nim Li Punit began possibly as early as 400 AD, and it is now a site with royal tombs, a ball court, and stelae.  Stelae are carved stone monuments that commemorate important political events and were erected at the direction of Mayan rulers.  There are several stelae at Nim Li Punit, and some of the rituals depicted on the stelae are those of bloodletting or offering rituals for the gods.

One of the stelae at Nim Li Punit.  Many of them are kept indoors to preserve them.

One of the stelae at Nim Li Punit. Many of them are kept indoors to preserve them.

 

A carved human bone that was apparently used to hold a stingray spine for bloodletting rituals.

A carved human bone that was apparently used to hold a stingray spine for bloodletting rituals.

 

Ruins at Nim Li Punit.  It is believed that offering rituals were held here on the elevated platform.

Ruins at Nim Li Punit. It’s believed that offering rituals were held here on the elevated platform.

 

The Mayans also played a game with a large rubber ball at Nim Li Punit.  The exact rules of the game aren’t known, but it’s believed that the game was one of life and death; the players had to hit the ball to each other without using their hands; and in some of the games, the “winner” was put to death as a sacrifice to the gods.  (Yikes, perhaps that’s one game you don’t want to win!)

Ball court at Nim Li Punit.  It’s believed that each player stood on one of the platforms facing each other.

Ball court at Nim Li Punit. It’s believed that each player stood on one of the platforms facing each other.

 

Because Nim Li Punit has only been partially excavated, much remains to be discovered.

Punta Gorda or P.G.

I also spent part of my time in P.G., which is a small town with a handful of main streets that sits on the west coast of the Caribbean Sea and is part of the Gulf of Honduras.  There are no beaches in P.G., but there are docks to jump off of for a dip in the Gulf.  And in the distance, you see the mountains of Guatemala to the south.

dock1

dock

Don’t let the sunny pictures fool you.  It rained about one-third or so of the time I was in Belize, and the locals told me that the rainy season had started early this year.

A storm had just passed over P.G.  Picture taken from Marian’s Bayview Restaurant.

A storm had just passed over P.G. Picture taken from Marian’s Bayview Restaurant.

 

P.G. is home to several ethnicities, including Maya, Kriol, Garifuna (descendants of Carib Indians and West Africans), East Indians, and Chinese.  The diversity was apparent just walking the streets of P.G., particularly on Market Day.  P.G. hosts Market Day several times a week along Front Street, where fishermen bring in their catch for sale, farmers offer their produce, and Mayan women sell their handicrafts.

Mennonite farmer selling watermelon on Market Day

Mennonite farmer selling watermelon on Market Day

 

mktday

Market Day in P.G.

 

 

Market Day in P.G.

Market Day in P.G.

 

I was in P.G. during the annual cacao festival, renamed the Chocolate Festival, which has been held in P.G. for several years.  During one of the days of the festival, chocolate-makers and chocolatiers from around Belize showcase their confections.

Bacon and dark chocolate

Bacon and dark chocolate at the Chocolate Festival

 

Dried fruit dipped in dark chocolate at the Chocolate Festival

Dried fruit dipped in dark chocolate at the Chocolate Festival

 

Local restaurants also offered cacao- or chocolate-inspired food and drink, and locally-made arts and crafts were available.

asha2

Crowds at the Chocolate Festival along Front Street in P.G. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

Crowds at the Chocolate Festival along Front Street in P.G. on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

 

* * *

While I have more observations about southern Belize that I could share, I wanted to convey the most significant, and I hope that if you have the opportunity to visit Belize, you decide to spend some time in the Toledo District.

Since this is my final post about my journey around southern Belize, I want to thank those who supported this dream and in particular those who helped make it a reality.  I received an outpouring of support, and I will be forever grateful for it.

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