This past Friday, the 12th, I took a trip to San Ignacio after a successful work meeting in Belmopan (the capital city) with my new placement partner. I arrived into town by 4pm and took some time to wander around and collect information for my desired trip to the Mayan archeological site of Xunantunich (the name means Stone Woman). The hostel, Bella’s backpackers, I stayed at was a groovy spot which was recommended by a friend because of its unconventional atmosphere. The design of the place is very artistic with a mix of nature and a vintage look along with a vibrant patio for guests to chill.
I tossed down my bag down, grabbed my wallet and head back out for a lovely dinner to Fuego, sort of my pre-birthday dinner! Across in the town center, families were out for the local Christmas celebration that had musicians performing and the mayor staging the annual lighting of the Christmas tree. Afterwards, I dashed back to the hostel and thought I would get in on an early sleep, but that totally did not happen. Instead, my night consisted of retreating with strangers sitting around and talking about their travels and epiphanies.
I must say, some guests went into deep philosophies on what makes a person sane or insane (I can admit that alcohol and hemp was being passed around). There were a pair of musicians playing the guitar and harmonica, singing soulful music, that brought a cool and hip camping ambience. I met two fellow female Canadian travelers and one of them was a previous Cuso volunteer. Even more surprising, she now lives in Belize City – what are the odds right? Definitely a SMALL world. The night ended with somebody buying the entire group a few pounds of garnaches (round tortilla chip topped with beans, cheese and salsa) which I couldn’t resist.
I was too anxious to sleep so I was up by 5am packing and getting ready to start the day – may have woken someone up on my way out (oooopppss). I walked over to the farmer’s market, grabbed breakfast and a sizeable cup of coffee and caught my bus ride out to Xunantanich. I thought it would have been difficult to get there, but the bus dropped me off at a big fat sign with the words “Xunantunich 1 mile” by the river ferry. After crossing the river, I continued my hike and reached the entrance around 8am. Basically, my day consisted of picnicking at a beautiful Mayan city site – built between the years of 600-670 AD – and enjoying my snacks I bought from the market (my garbage properly disposed, duh). I frequently listened in on tours as the guides shared historical, cultural and political facts on Mayan civilization.
Standing on top of El Castillo pyramid, I had a 360 degree view of the surrounding jungle and villages. It was a spectacular panorama! On the East side was the landscape of Belize while on the West, just a kilometer away was the border of Guatemala with its’ villages stretching out into the horizon. Gazing from the top of El Castillo, there was a sense of wonder and astonishment that could make anyone feel like “the king or queen of the world”.
You can see how massive the grounds of Xunantunich really are. I asked a few random tourists to take photos of me to compare human size versus structure size.
After 3 hours just hanging around, I was enjoying my solo getaway it was hard to leave. Truly a peaceful experience to wander around the remains of an ancient civilization.
Facts and history of Xunantunich:
- The first modern explorations of the site were conducted by Thomas Gann in the mid-1890s.
- “Stone Woman” refers to the ghost of a woman claimed by several people to inhabit the site, beginning in 1892.
- The core of the city Xunantunich occupies about one square mile (2.6 km²), consisting of a series of six plazas surrounded by more than 26 temples and palaces.
- A time period when most of Mayan civilizations were crumbling, Xunantunich was managing to expand its city and its power over other areas within the valley.
- It lasted a century longer than most of the sites within the region.
- El Castillo is the second tallest structure in Belize (after the temple at Caracol), at some 130 feet (40 m) tall. El Castillo is the “axis mundi” of the site, or the intersection of the two cardinal lines.