Two wild sides of Belize
BY CHERYL BLACKERBY
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
ORANGE WALK, Belize — Nature in Belize is intense. Like most people who find their way here, I was responding to that call of the wild: the growl of the jaguars roaming Mayan ruins in the dense jungle of the interior and the waves breaking over the hemisphere’s largest coral reef.
Tucked between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean coast, Belize provides two very different experiences, and in one week I explored both — the mystery of ancient cities in the jungle and the astounding beauty of 70 species of corals on the reef.
No one can forget the roar of howler monkeys swinging in the tropical canopy or the sight of the largest fish in the world, the whale shark, which is as long as a school bus.
First on my agenda was the jungle.
A white-hot sun bore down on the small boat as we rode upriver through the thick rain forest of northern Belize.
We were headed to the ancient Maya city of Lamanai. It’s a place of dark secrets, not the least of which was the cause of its demise. The city, which once had a population of 50,000, was buried by dirt and foliage for four centuries until archaeologists started an excavation in the 1970s.
Only five buildings have been uncovered. More than 730 buildings remain hidden in the firm grip of the jungle, an entire city never seen by modern eyes.
We could have driven the 38 miles on a teeth-rattling dirt road from the nearest town of Orange Walk, but it’s only 26 miles by boat. Most people take the river.
Our boat slowly cruised up the New River past crocodiles resting on the muddy banks, seemingly immobilized by the tropical heat. One of them came to life and slid into the water, his ridged tail propelling him swiftly across the surface, his eyes locked on the boat. Just when I thought he was going to come aboard, he dropped like a stone to the river bottom.