Compact and Bijoux Ruins

After sailing from Placencia to Punta Gorda Lindsay and I had the urge to go sightseeing. And, besides being the place for checking in and out of the country, the State of Southern Belize called Toledo is known for it’s Mayan culture and ruins.

Having sailed down the coast of Belize, we’ve noticed the inland topography change from a flat marsh to tall forested hills. We went around town and discovered the cost of tours was quite high at $95 USD per person. Lindsay referenced her Lonely Planet guide book and we decided to use a public bus to get to an archaeological site called Nim Li Punit (It’s not English or Spanish, it’s a Mayan name). It wasn’t too far from the main highway, so we wouldn’t need to walk too far. The reason we decided to use a bus was because, for the most part, Punta Gorda is one big bus stop for the travelers between Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Lots of American-made school buses to choose from, so we just showed up at the edge of town and waved down the first one going our way. The 45 minute journey cost us just $2.5 USD each. It was worth every penny!

The road leading North from Punta Gorda is called the Southern Highway. My opinion of it’s condition, using a scale of one to ten, is a nine. The absence of paint and reflectors is all that separates it from a Texas-sized paved highway in the States! The roadside was quite populated with simple concrete and metal houses in various states of construction or demise. One in ten was made of wood.

Lindsay at RuinsWe arrived at our site as the attendant, or conductor, told us we were there and pulled over to the left hand side of the road. My inexperience in public transportation showed as I exited the bus and passed in front. The driver was quite clear in his disapproval as he used his horn until I was clear of his path. I don’t think I will do that again. Lindsay told me that apparently the driver is in a hurry to make it to the next stop before his competition does. This enthusiasm for efficiency and income in Central America is rare. Maybe they just enjoy the race, I’m unsure, but I do know that I for one didn’t appreciate it.

Lindsay and I were the only ones off the bus. It was early in the day, and the only people we saw were some women washing clothes in the shaded stream adjacent the gravel road going uphill to the ruins. Of course, they asked if we were interested in a necklace or bracelet, which we were not. We climbed the hill for about a quarter mile. The wild parrots were easily spooked and made lots of noise as they flew out of the trees by the pairs. Other long-tailed and colorful birds flew and called all around us. Very cool.

As we approached the entry point of the site, we saw a few nicely constructed buildings for the officials and some of the more valuable artifacts. We paid our $5 USD each and made our way through the placards and cases of stone relics. We knew that the name Nim Li Punit is derived from a carving on one of the site’s twenty-six stelae, which depicts a figure wearing a large headdress. In the Maya Kekchi language, nim li punit means “the big hat”. The monument on which this carving appears is the longest stela in Belize. It was laying down in one of the buildings and was probably over twenty feet long and two feet wide. It was two-thirds carved with a figure, and then many squaresymbols that represent the date and purpose of the stela. Translation code has theoretically been “cracked”, but there are so many question marks in the description of what it said that I can’t recall any of it. It was about 1500 years old.

The entire site was a rather small one, but interesting none the less. It is assumed from the types of structures there, that this city was primarily into political and religious undertakings, and the ruling family engaged in long distance trading. Touring the ruins, only a small percentage of the structures and walls have been rebuilt. I had a strong urge to stay and put it back together again, and a feeling of disappointment to see some of the sites left to overgrow again. More signs would have been helpful, but I suspect that the lack of knowledge about these sites is the reason for that. I left with more curiosity about the ruins and the Mayan culture than when I came.
Lindsay and I made our way back to the road to find a bus to the next town called Big Falls. We had seen some waterfalls in the tour books and thought it would be fun to see and perhaps swim. We decided to start walking, and wave a bus down headed our way. We walked for over an hour, through a construction site, and finally waved down a young guy in his pickup truck. We were disappointed to find out that there are no falls in the traditional sense, just an area where it slopes down a bit more than the rest of the river in the area. We discovered a fancy lodge along the river and hitched a ride back to Punta Gorda with some people that we met there. Not a bad day of exercise and adventure, and we were back by lunch time!

As if we hadn’t had enough excitement for one day, Customs and Immigration (these are two separate departments, if you didn’t know), and a Health Department official decided to pay us a visit on our boat. I think because we were up on deck finishing lunch, and the ferry boat had just arrived with very few passengers, and the officials were already there on the dock, they decided to come over and check our papers.

Unfortunately, we had a problem. The Customs officer pointed out that we had not extended our ships papers along with our passports last month. Ooops. Nobody told us we needed to do that. But of course, explaining the procedures is apparently only their job once someone has not followed their procedures, based on our experience. We straightened the entire problem out on shore for zero dollars, her signature and a stamp, that’s it.

Now we’re good until October 29th. Who knows what will happen when we go to extend our stay at that time! We’ll be sure to write about it if it’s interesting!