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Rio Macal and Xunantunich

Rainforest at the opening of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave
Rainforest at the opening of the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave
We set out with Mike to drive to the town of San Ignacio in western Belize near the Guatemalan border and situated on the Rio Macal. We joined up with our canoe guide and headed out in a canoe upriver from the town. At first I was a little surprised that we were starting this journey from a city park in the middle of the town, and I was a bit dubious on how tranquil this \"naturalist\" experience would be. But I hadn't realized how quickly we would paddle from the city, and within 5 minutes we couldn't see or hear anything from the town we had just left. The trip was on the river, but it is flat water with a bit of current. There were not any rapids or dangerous currents, and it is a great float that allows you to put down the paddle and enjoy the scenery. We were glad to bring the sunscreen though and some cold water as it was hot, but our attention was more on what we were seeing then on the heat. During this trip, we saw a number of bird species as well as iguanas. The iguanas were poised in trees, sunning themselves in the canopy. We would pass near these limestone cliffs that were home to hundreds of small bats that were clinging to the overhangs and resting during the day heat. A splash of the canoe paddle would send a hundred of them flying at a time. After paddling for about one hour and a half, we turned around and floated back downstream at a quicker pace with the current but also on the other side of the river to get a different perspective. By the end of the day, we saw so many birds. We returned to San Ignacio and had a nice lunch at a local restaurant where there were other tourists as well as residents enjoying their Sunday lunch. We continued west toward the border with Guatemala to visit Xunantunich, a large Maya site. This was our first introduction to the Maya culture, and it was spectacular. We walked around the area with Mike as he talked about the culture, myths, the Maya connection to nature, and the surrounding environment. It was fantastic for us that Mike himself is Maya, and his passion showed as he led us around this site. For whatever reason, we had the area almost to ourselves as it was mid-afternoon, and there was a great calmness as we explored and climbed the temples. In the evening, we returned to Pook's Hill after a busy day and had another good dinner and enjoyed the night sounds from the forest.
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