At 06:40 a.m. we had arrived at our anchor position, and no alarm clock was needed, as the sound of the anchor going down did carry into our suites and staterooms. An early breakfast –The Restaurant had opened at 07:00 a.m.- gave us enough time to prepare for the Zodiac ride into Monkey River at 08:00. Suzanna had taken the scout boat to check landing conditions and contact our local agent. The shore party left soon afterwards, taking about 10 minutes for the 2.8-mile ride ashore.
Two Blue Bird busses and 4 guides awaited us, and shortly after the last Zodiac had brought everyone ashore we took off for the full-day excursion to the Mayan site of Nim li Punit (translating into “the big hat”). Despite the rough condition of the road (an uneven dirt road heading towards the main highway), our drivers could have been Belizean Rally champions – at least they drove like ones. Bypassing citrus plantations and several forest areas, we hit the highway and arrived after about an hour at Nim li Punit.
After an introduction inside the visitor center, where we learned about the discovery, excavation and restoration of the site, we had the opportunity to take pictures of the best-preserved stellae. Unfortunately, the local men had tried to destroy these very valuable archaeological objects when they had not been contracted as guides (as they were lacking the knowledge about the area). We split into three groups, each taking a different approach to looking at the site, and made the most of the walk around the three different areas comprising the site. The Royal Tombs and the Plaza of the Stellae were the highlight of the walk, apart from the architectural set-up of the different features. In some cases the sites looked just like Marquesan tohua or me’ae, although obviously they had nothing to do with each other.
At the end of the walk, the chance was given to purchase some souvenirs that looked more mass-produced than home-made, and then we were off towards a well-deserved lunch at the Machaca Hill Lodge. To get there, our rally drivers had to honk the horns several times to get pedestrians off the highway, bikers to one side, or simply greet friends or relatives they saw on the way to Toledo.
The Lodge was located on a hill, overlooking the plain and hills. A garifuna band was playing their music, causing several guests to “jump onto the (non-existent) stage” and move their bodies in unison with the rhythm. The lunch was going to be served on the second floor, where Dr. Jamie Awe (Director of the Institute of Archaeology for Belize) was awaiting to give a talk on the importance of the Toledo area for Belizean archaeology and pre-history. Debunking a famous story of crystal skulls – one of them supposedly from Toledo - he then went on to explain a bit about the work going on in the Nim li Punit/Toledo area and illustrated a (sensational) new find: Amerindians seemed to have backtracked on their migration, returning to Central America after they had reached Patagonia! Objects found during the last season had similarities with tools from much further south, but not found in Mexico. Unfortunately, Dr. Awe’s projector had problems recognizing the information sent to it, and quite a while went by before we could see the pictures he had meant to show us.
He could have talked on for some time, but we had a ship to meet, and an itinerary to keep. This time the ride in our buses took only about 15 minutes. Punta Gorda seemed a quaint little town, with lots of bed & breakfast places and restaurants. Our guides indicated that there was no sandy beach; otherwise the town would really have a lot of tourism. Considering that Nim li Punit or Lubaantun receives about 3,000 visitors a year, we wondered what “a lot” would mean to them…
We bid farewell, boarded our Zodiacs, and off we were for a 4-mile ride! Despite the fact that the sea was very shallow, the Captain had brought us as close as possible. Normally ships would anchor some 7 (seven!) miles off the coast of Punta Gorda. As soon as the last Zodiac had been hoisted, the Captain informed us of our imminent departure and wished us a relaxing two days at sea.
Recap brought more news from the International Enquirer and Belizean Post’s correspondent C. Age-Volta, with Ignacio, Brent and JJ pointing out the interesting facts of the day. Suzanna gave an overview of tomorrow’s activities, and reminded us of the special event taking place after dinner: “Name that Tune” with Daryl and JJ.
Another interesting day was going towards a relaxing end…