Friday, January 1, 2016

Winter Vacation Day 5


December 23, 2015 (Belize)
Today was the port that I was looking forward to the most. Since before we got on the ship, I wanted to take an excursion to see some Mayan ruins. The one authentic house that we saw in Mexico was not what I was looking for. I knew that there were ancient pyramids that we could walk up. The problem was that everything that I read said that they were hours away from our port. I was a bit hesitant to go this far away from the ship and not be part of an official excursion hosed by Carnival. The secondary problem was that these cost roughly $200 a person. When I found out that the ship wasn’t porting in a harbor, but rather staying out to see and ferrying people to the shore, this additional half hour ride eliminated a trip to the ruins in my mind. My trip to the ruins was ruined.
Like every other morning, I woke up early and wrote while the others slept. I had predetermined locations that I would be at different times, in case they needed to find me. I wrote in the Habana room until 7:00 and then moved to the Fish and Chips section of the buffet. At 8:00, I kept imagining the kids getting bored and restless and bothering Leigha while she tried to sleep. Meanwhile, I got restless and excited to leave the ship. I knew that it would be a longer process to leave the ship and wanted to set that in motion.

When I got to the room, the kids were watching cartoons while Leigha was dozing. I pushed to get everybody moving. Because we didn’t know what we would do in Belize City, I brought a backpack with towels and swimsuits for everybody. After eating breakfast, we found the area where we were assigned numbers and waited in mass. Ten minutes after we got to the room, they announced the four numbers before ours. We waited another half hour. The kids were bored, impatient and annoying. I couldn’t really blame them for two of those things, as I was also bored and impatient.
Once we got on the ferry, nobody minded being on a smaller boat for the half hour trip to shore. As was the case in the other ports, the water was clear blue and we could see the fish swimming along. Leigha stuck up a conversation with the people that she was sitting next to, but most people found the loud hum of the boat and the splashing of the waves to challenging to talk. On the port we were met by shops trying to sell souvenirs and people selling excursions. This I found promising. Because we spent very little money going to the beach the day before, I was still holding out hope that we would be able to find an excursion that was priced right for us to go to the ruins. When we stopped and talked to a girl that was selling a package, she told us that they would take us on a tour of the city, drive us to the ruins. Here they would take us on a tour of the ruins as well as a rainforest jungle. $40
a person.
“Are the kids a different price?” I asked.
“Kids are $25,” the girl told us.
Once again, Leigha wasn’t complaining about the price or trying to barter, but they lowered the price when they saw her hesitance. She was concerned about locking the kids up in a van for two hours each way.
“How long does it take?” Leigha asked.
“The tour is two and a half hours,” the girl said.
“But how long does it take to drive there?”
“One hour,” the girl could sense Leigha’s hesitance. “And we can make the kids $20.”
This was half the time that we were originally expecting. I was sold.
“Is this in a van? Is it air conditioned?”
“Yes,” the girl answered. We could both see that Leigha still wasn’t sold. “Let’s say $15 for the children.”
Leigha looked at me and I could see the wheels turning in her head. She was imagining sitting in a van for two hours with the kids (Emery) bored and complaining (Emery) for one and a half hours. I decided to take a different approach.
“Hey kids,” I said. “Look at this.” I pointed at the laminated sheet. “Do you want to go see these?” I indicated the pyramid ruins. “And see a jungle, too?”
To my surprise, Emery was the first to voice enthusiasm. Tate said that he was interested in going as well. To seal the deal, I told Leigha that I brought the playaways for them to listen to if they got bored. Leigha nodded yes and we told the girl that we would do it. The girl took us inside the shopping center to the booth where they were selling the packages. When she told her boss the price that we had agreed upon, the boss was upset with her. After they talked back and forth in hushed tones, the girl nervously told us that she went too low. As low as they could go was having the kids pay half price. As we were never actually bartering the price, this was no issue. They told us that we would be leaving in half an hour and to meet back at booth #2.
While we waited, we wandered around and looked at the shops. Tate was fascinated by a chess set that had the white conquerors versus the red natives. Emery was interested in dozens of small items and a t-shirt that changed colors in the sun. In a brilliant momen
t of foresight, Leigha allowed the kids to each get a soda and a snack.
When we were in the van, the driver got in, turned around and said:
“Hello everybody, my name is Byron. How is my English?” I could understand him perfectly. It seemed to me that he spoke with a Jamaican accent. “What you may not know is that until 1981, Belize was an English colony, so we speak English here. Actually, we speak Creole. Pretty much, like the British, if a word ends with an “er”, we drop that and replace it with an “a”. Essentially, Creole is a broken English.”
In the next hour, Byron told us that Belize was named after Queen Elizabeth and had only been a sovereign country for 34 years. He showed us a Belizian twenty dollar bill that had the Queen’s likeness on it. As we were living he city, he explained that Belize was a third
world country and many of the buildings were constructed incorrectly and were sinking. He pointed out an apartment complex where the front windows had begun to sink into the ground. As we drove through the city, we could see broken and empty buildings with graffiti. People walked on the side of the road, shirtless and sweaty.
“Even for a third world country, our dollar is fairly stable. The conversion rate is one American dollar for two Belize. Our minimum wage is $1.50,” he told us. To me, it was alarming to hear a local refer to themselves as a third-world citizen. He wasn’t telling us this as a way to feel sorry for himself, but merely a matter of fact. 
As we left the city, I noticed a large amount of grazing goats and chickens. I asked him if the cuisine in Belize had a large amount of goat. He said that goats were easy to raise and were mostly seen in the country.
“Meat is expensive. If you raise it, you pay very little. A pound of chicken is about $8 here,” he said.
“Because it costs so much, do people eat more vegetarian dishes or do they simply pay those prices?” I asked.
“People pay that. People want meat.”
Along the way, we drove through a city called Ladyville. It was named as such because of the overwhelming number of females. Women outnumbered men roughly eight to one, Byron told us. When asked why, he said that a large number of men were in gangs and killed one another. Or they were in jail. I looked at Leigha in surprise.
“I thought that he was kidding at first,” she said.
Byron pointed out a converted military base that
had been converted into a high school. He told us that he had heard that the British military was going to be coming back to help train the people in Belize to strengthen their military. Belize had no Air Force and little military support.
As we drove along, I saw dilapidated houses with naked children playing in the front yard. There were stray dogs and people leaning on bicycles on the side of the road. There was a roadside stand advertising free wine samples. The booth was lined with plastic bottles filled
with wine. Shortly before arriving at the ruins, Emery woke from her nap and asked if she could have her snack. I told her that we were almost at our stop and would prefer if she ate outside the car. When she was understanding, I knew that it was going to be a good excursion.
We arrived at Altun Ha to see a parking lot littered with vans and tour buses. In a display inside an open building, Byron showed the group
Mayan trade routes that extended as far as Egypt. It was suspected that because of this exposure to other cultures, the ancient Mayans adopted the use of pyramid shaped buildings for their elite. Chiefs built structures atop old ones. Often times, it was a son building atop what his father had built. Byron explained that the Mayans displayed their prowess as powerful people by adorning the pelts of wild animals such as jaguars or leopards as well as bright feathers from tropical birds.
The people worshiped a sun god, Kinich Ahau, who was always depicted as being angry. It didn’t matter if his likeness was given in jade or stone, he was always angry. This was a tactic that was used by the leaders to convince the peasants to work harder. As we left the building, were greeted by armed guards that stood at the beginning of the site. Byron paid the fee for the group and we walked forward to see allspice, palm and a wide variety of tropical vegetation. I
saw a hill with stone steps leading up it. Then we walked forward and saw a large open field with three stone structures. This is what I was hoping to see. As Byron told us that these buildings were constructed between 200 B.C. and 500 A.D. Tate and another boy ran ahead, ready to move. They ran across the field and climbed. I found myself torn. I was interested in hearing about the site and how they embalmed people with the all spice plants as well as using the plant’s trace amount of Novocain for toothaches. But I was also drawn to climb.
A man in our group was from a different cruise ship that we were from and was concerned about being returning in time for him to board the ship. He was vocal and annoying. I felt like he was cutting the tour short because he hadn’t planned appropriately. Byron walked us into the jungle and told us that there were crocodiles that were in the swamps that surrounded the site. Trees grew up and blocked out the sun with vines reaching down to the ground. Several branches laid on the ground. They looked like metal bars with spines sticking out.

We didn’t make it too far down the path when we saw that a section of the path was flooded. Byron explained to us that there was simply more of the same at the end of the path and we turned around before we were bombarded by mosquitoes. Leigha slapped at them with fervor and I thought about the fact that this is the exact place that you could extract diseases such as malaria. I thought of my plasma donations and
rushed back to the open field. Because we didn’t go too far into the jungle, we were able to climb the largest structure at the site. It was amazing that these buildings were built a thousand years before the U.S. was formed and were still holding steady. As we walked back to the parking lot, we bought some tried plantains and bananas and snacked on them during our ride home.
Back on the ship, we went to the back of the ship and had some pizza. We sat around and analyzed the trip. As it turned out, the kids enjoyed it more than I had expected. Leigha and I both agreed thatit was
probably the coolest part of the trip, but we didn’t feel compelled to return. I thought that it was incredibly interesting to see a part of the ancient world, but I didn’t think that returning would provide me with anything additional.

After eating, we went to the Red Frog bar and played foosball, shuffleboard and bag toss. For the entire trip, we had talked about splitting apart and having one on one dates with the kids. As there was a movie that Tate and I wanted to watch (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) at the pool, we decided that it was a good night to do as such. While the girls went to the formal sit-down meal, Tate and I ate pizza and desserts at the pool while watching a dive-in theater movie.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 6
Day 7