Monday, January 18, 2016

Home again!

Home again!

© S, Bradley Stoner

So, it's been silence from the Square Peg guy for a couple of weeks. Not to worry, I didn't croak and Bingo Bob didn't kill me and bury me in the back yard. Nope. We went on a cruise. Drove down to Galveston and hopped aboard the Carnival Freedom, then headed southwest in the Gulf of Mexico bound for Isla Roatan, Honduras. Two full days at sea to reach our first destination. Isla Roatan is a relatively small island off the coast of the Honduras mainland. Not a whole lot to do there but visit the shops and look at the native plants since we didn't book an excursion there. We landed at Mahogany Bay and proceeded to wander about for the day. One good thing, I didn't lose my exercise routine... we walked about five miles a day on the ship plus a couple on Roatan. They had a banana (possibly plantain) tree growing in the shopping plaza, but the fruit wasn't ripe yet, so yes, we had no bananas.Never-the-less, we had a great time there and didn't spend much, looking at the local wares and crafts. Roatan probably won't invite us cheapskates back. 

Once back on the ship, we headed out to sea to arrive off the coast of Belize early the next morning. This was the highlight of our trip. We are hopelessly addicted to exploring ruins... particularly Mayan ruins and Belize has some great sites. Wish we could have visited them all, but given the time the ship was staying, we could only visit one. We opted for the palace at Cahal Pech, just outside of St. Ignacio and just a few miles from the Guatemalan border. Someday we'll make it there to visit Tikal, which is supposed to be spectacular. 

Since the ship had to anchor off Belize City, we had to take a launch to shore. That was fun. It took about a half an hour to get from the Freedom to shore and then we had just about a half an hour before boarding the bus to Cahal Pech. It is one of the oldest Mayan sites known, dating to the Early Middle Preclassic period (around 1200 years BCE) and, although not as spectacular as Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, it was still quite interesting.  Cahal Pech (Yucatec Maya for Place of Ticks) was the seat of power for the elite Maya or royal family and sat atop a high hill overlooking the confluence of the Macal and Mopan rivers, which served as the main trade routes in the area. It was continuously occupied for around 2000 years. This made the palace complex a strategic and highly defensible location.

There was one large temple and a smaller one that had been partially excavated on the east side of the main
plaza (Plaza B on the map). The steps were steep with a large rise (a good foot per step). The slight down-slope on the steps made climbing them a challenge. Unlike a lot of sites, you are still allowed to climb the steps in this complex. 

The site was overgrown with jungle vegetation when discovered in 1968 and the main plaza is still dotted with trees like the gumbo limbo or Tourist Tree, a medicinal tree used to treat rashes and sunburn; mahogany trees; and acacias. According to the guide almost every plant has a medicinal  use. One tree, called the give and take tree has razor sharp poisonous thorns whose only known antidote is its sap. Yep, they had one of those in the plaza as well. They had removed most of the thorns so tourists wouldn't be tempted to test them. Probably a good idea, given some of the people on the tour. Oh, and I must not forget Cacao trees... chocolate was very important to the Maya. One could probably say cocoa was their national drink. If only they had marshmallows.

The palace itself was interesting. Its construction used a unique arch known as a corbeled arch, a somewhat narrow arch pointed at the top. These were used in sleeping chambers as well as passageways. In the sleeping chambers remnants of green stone overlays could still be seen, green being the color of jade and emeralds which were held in high esteem by the Maya and used only in the most elite of family dwelling. 

The palace itself had three levels. The top most held the sleeping chambers for the royal family, with the "king's" being the largest and the principle wife's considerably smaller, but positioned so that only she could choose which other women to visit the king. The second level held the throne with a small plaza  (by comparison to the main plaza) below and paths for visiting dignitaries at a slightly lower level. The third level is reputed to be the location where the king could oversee the workers producing pottery, a main trade item produced at Cahal Pech. 

Access to the palace via the passageways could easily be defended by a very few warriors since all were essentially choke points. The steep sides of the complex, choked with rain forest, also made any assault difficult at best and easily repelled. 

I have a bunch more pictures, but I've probably bored half the audience to death by now. But hey, for you less interested in things ancient, they have snorkeling, swimming with the dolphins, zip lining, and all sorts of other things to do on the stops along the cruise. 

Nights on the ship were a kick. If one is so inclined, there is a casino on board that operates in international waters. I bet once on roulette, doubled my money, and quit, much to the chagrin of the house. My lovely blew a few bucks on that quarter game... the one where you put in quarters in hopes of pushing off more quarters than you put in. She won bunches on the first night, then lost it all the next two. If you play that game, play it on the first night. After that I think they rig the game so quarters don't fall so easily. We preferred going to the comedy club. They had some darn good comedians. General audience shows early, adults only late.

Anyway, we're back now. I haven't figured out why vacation time seems to go so much faster than work time. That sucks. Ah well, I have catching up to do on my writing.

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