Today was an all day excursion - our plan was to take the boat ride up the New River to see the Lamanai Mayan ruins. We had signed up with Jungle River Tours, which was based in Orange Walk, so we knew we needed an early start - especially now that we knew that it takes half an hour to drive the bumpy dirt roads of Crooked Tree. We packed up all of our belongs and checked out. Our original plan had been to spend a second night at Crooked Tree and go birding, but the thought of coming back across the partially submerged causeway was too discouraging to contemplate. On our way off of the island we passed the Crooked Tree Police Department. If you arranged the camera right, you could make the sign look like it said Crooked Police Department.
Crossing the causeway in daylight was still a challenge. We still couldn't see to the bottom of the water, but we knew that we had successfully driven the night before. I went slow because I didn't want water to splash up into the engine compartment. Now that it was bright out, we could take a few pictures. I was very glad when we finally exited that dirt road and turned onto the main, paved highway. If it had just been a bad dirt road, I could lived with that. But the sight of water flowing across the causeway, with the deep lake on either side was too unnerving. I was glad we weren't returning to Crooked Tree that night, even though it meant we missed a chance to see their famous birds.
We found Jungle River Tours right near the center of town. It is mainly just a tiny office with a sign. We parked our car in the town square, paid for the trip in the tiny office, and then took a shuttle to the boat dock on the New River. There were at least twenty people signed up for our tour. There quite a few companies that run a Lamanai tour, but I liked this one because they didn't rush us. We had ample time on the river looking for wildlife and also at the Lamanai site.
The boat ride up the river takes some time. The boat driver has a remarkable ability to spot wildlife on the banks - herons, monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, even little tiny bats that are sleeping during the day by clinging to the bark of trees. Even when the boat is stopped and everyone is pointing, it is still difficult sometimes to make the wildlife, until of course it splashes or flies away - and then it is too late! The river winds in and out, with many channels through the reeds and jungle growth. Though all the river openings look the same, of course the boat driver knows the way, and eventually you reach a broad lake. The Lamanai city was built on the shore of this lake.
When we landed, the guides unpacked a nice lunch of chicken and salads. The best part was the ice cold fruit juices. I think I tried most of the flavors. Quite delicious on a hot day!
There is a small museum at the entrance to Lamanai. We had about half an hour to wander through there. Then you pay your admission (not included in the jungle cruise price) and started our tour. The first thing we saw was a giant rubber tree with a howler monkey in it, and a toucan. I really wanted to get a photo of that toucan, it was the closest we had been to one of these beautiful birds in the wild. But the bird kept moving before I could find him in my view finder and I never did get a shot.
Lamanai is a fun site to visit. It has some big temples that are nicely restored. You can climb up to the top of all of them (if you dare!) and get some nice images. There are a lot of other tour groups also marching through the area, but it didn't feel crowded to me. The best trick was wait until our party was ready to move to the next building, and then take the photograph looking back when no one else is around. I was always the last person to climb down from the top of the temples.
Lamanai was a fine visit, but as I was climbing down from the Jaguar Temple, it occurred to me that this was the last Mayan site we would probably visit. We have been all over the Yucatan now and seen most every major site. But then I thought: now we will have to start visiting Inca or Aztec sites!
The boat ride back down the river is quicker because they don't stop for animals. When we got to the boat dock, I helped load the coolers into the owners van before he drove us back to Orange Walk. We got to talking and it turned out he was a huge soccer fan. We stopped first at his house to unload stuff, so when I carried a cooler into his house, I saw it was filled with soccer trophies and memorablia. This guy really likes soccer!
Since I didn't want to drive across that blasted causeway to Crooked Tree again, we looked in Orange Walk for a place to stay. The first place we asked had a vacancy, so we stayed that night in Orchid Palm Inn in central Orange Walk. We went walking around that evening, going down by the river to see if we might spot some birds, but didn't see anything of note. For dinner we ate at an ice cream shop! Isn't vacation fun?
Click here for a map that details the layout of the Lamanai site.
This is the video I took of someone on our boat feeding a banana to a spider monkey
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I took this video as our boat was speeding back down the New River on the return to Orange Walk
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