The second to last day of 2007 found me on the start of a road trip with my new friend Crocodile Dundee who incidentally, is more like Indiana Jones, but will no longer be referred to as any of those as I re-christened him with a Mayan name of Xol Tut on this trip heavily influenced by the Mayan spirits.

The journey was to culminate in Punta Gorda, a town in the southern most District of Belize, me coming from the Northern cayes, he from San Ignacio, Western Belize. The purpose was to attend an old high school (class of ’84) friend Lisel's New Years Day sunrise wedding .

Xol Tut, an avid student of all things Mayan, an artist and sculptor who has been carving Mayan replicas out of stone for a decade now back in Capetown, South Africa, and who is, in my opinion, possessed by the whole culture of the Mayans, believes he once lived in an ancient Mayan civilization in Belize and claims to have seen some of places we visited in his dreams, a sure sign to him that he had been present in these parts in a prior life.

Xol Tut says he had always envisioned moving to Belize to explore this ancient civilization & his past. He got the opportunity & has been here less than two months. This was his first trip touring most of the length of Belize. Having self-educated in the entire history of the Mayan culture, he even taught Mayan classes in South Africa. I have to admit I was at first a bit dismayed the wedding adventure had become the “ Mayan Spiritual Tour” although now I see, in restrospect, that the whole out of this world experience actually added to the whacky adventure of the trip. Xol Tut talked of little else other than the Mayan civilization for the 3 whole days sending my brain into "overload", and wanted to stop at every ruin on the way down south, whether it was easily accessible or not. That was the start of our road troubles.

I felt safe with Xol-Tut, as far as being held up by bandits on a deserted road. I have no complaints about the way he drives. He use to drive Human Rights people into the Namibian desert to visit indigenous people who were in remote places of the region dodging bandits, rebels & sinking sand. He was a top notch guide for important people in harsh African terrain, so if he was good enough for them as a driver, he was good enough for me.

Me: “what are you going to do if bandits try to stop us on the road?”
Xol Tut: “you better get down as you will be in for the ride of your life! I am not stopping and if they stand in the road, they will be mowed down.”
Me: “Oh….O.K."

The first day after he drove from San Ignacio to Belize City to pick me up at the water taxi terminal, we had already talked about visiting the ruin of Altun-Ha.

We arrived early enough to the ruin & Xol Tut promptly brought out a little plastic bag out of his knapsack. He extracted from it a flattened tin pan with what appeared to be burnt marks on top. Next he pulled out a huge piece of copal (COPAL: the sap from the Copal tree which was the favorite smell of the Mayans…..or something like that), untangled a ball of brush and wrapped it around a piece of the copal he had cut off with his swiss army knife, then rolled the two pieces into a ball. He set the ball on the flattened tin he had set atop the table of the temple & lit it on fire. He explained that he has done this at every Mayan ruin he has ever visited to appease the Mayan Gods, "an ancient ritual", he said, "performed in those days".

That evening we decided to not go too far North to Orange Walk to spend the nite so we can visit Lamanai ruins the following morning as had been discussed atop the ruin earlier. Instead, we did a detour when we saw the sign on the post & headed into the little village of Crooked Tree nearby.

Our first stop when we arrived, was a little shack on the main road that sold local food and other goodies like home made cashew or berry wine.

Crooked Tree village is the Cashew capital of Belize and has an annual festival to honor the nuts/fruit. The little out-door joint where we stopped, I had been to only once before and remember the friendly owners. This shack is called Tree’s & Vee’s, run by Tree (He) and his wife Vee (She). Tree’s has his own Tilapia Fish Festival in Crooked Tree in March every year. The villagers harvest a lot of Tilapia out of the surrounding waters which is the end of two rivers explains Tree. Vee cooked up the fresh fish and served it with some crispy fried slices of salted bread fruit and beans as were were feeling ravenous. After a nice meal, & as we were leaving to find lodging, Tree gestured with hand movements in the air and said “If you want to travel later, hi5, give me a shout”. It took me about 3 seconds to figure out the code of what he was saying. I signaled I’d keep it in mind and we left.

When I got to the cabin and saw they had the luxury of a tub, I drew myself a hot bath and Xol Tut insisted on slicing a piece of copal off and throwing it in the hot water to melt and scent the bath. So I squished the little piece of copal between my fingers in the water for about an hour or so until the water became luke-warm. The idea that I was bathing in my Mayan ancestors favorite scent actually gave me a relaxed comforting feel. Xol Tut was transporting me back in time with his incessant chatter showing off his knowledge of the Mayans.

After settling in a cabin, we took a drive and found a little pool bar which seemed to be the only happening place in town that Saturday night. We played a few games as the curious villagers came out and lined the street outside the open deck to watch suspiciously the new strangers in town. We found out that a big all day political party with live bands was to take place the following day starting around mid-day. We would be well on our by then and I had no problem missing that festivity.

We passed through Burrel Boom, the village by the river. We passed HattieVille, a village most famous for hosting our prison or “Her Majesty’s Hotel” as the guests call it. We passed our nation’s capital of Belmopan. We passed the misty mountain tops as we drove through the very scenic valley on the Hummingbird Highway. We passed the cut off junction for Dangriga and made our way on to the Southern Highway. We passed the stretch of pine forest which looked like a grave yard of stumps since most of the trees had been killed by the pine beetle. We passed the vultures in the road feeding on road kill, we passed the bunches of sun kissed oranges hanging from the branches of the orange groves, we passed the banana trees by the thousands, the citrus factories. We had passed a dozen or more little metal bridges over many rivers and streams.

Some hours later, we pulled up to the little beach side restaurant of SWINGING ARMADILLOS in HOPKINS. Xol Tut also a lover of nature immediately wanted to know from the owner if they served Armadillos. He wanted no part of that. He wouldn’t even eat Gibnut when offered. Gibnut is a huge rodent looking animal which was once served to the Queen of England when she visited Belize and a British newspaper proclaimed “QUEEN SERVED RAT IN BELIZE”. The Gibnut a relative to Rodents is a prized delicacy in Belize and locals sometimes call it by the name it got from that famous article, “The Royal Rat”.

We ended up ordering Hudut , a Garifuna special dish of coconut fish stew served with a cassava paste almost like hardened mash potatoes. We ate on the little rustic deck jutting over the water with an incredible view of the coastline. Xol Tut had a hard time getting the Hudut down and left most of it behind, his palette he says, was rejecting the flavor of the casava & yams.

After spending about 2 hours in Hopkins, we realized that the day was still early and decided to go towards PG and stop anywhere we could find lodging before dark. On the way, when I had tried to swat a bee out of the car for fear of being stung, Xol Tut told me that the bug was a messenger from another Deity and I should not harm it. When the skies darkened and the thunder roared, he would put his head out of the truck and look up to the sky and yell “Helllllooooooo in response he says “to the Gods talking to us”. He said we were seeing the very first signs of “The Blue Electric Storm” since the Mayan calendar claims that 2008 is the year of the Blue Electric Storm.

We had almost passed “the 9.1 miles to be exact” says Martha of the un-paved dirt road of the Southern Highway, even though the government boasts that they have paved the entire Southern Highway. Here and there you saw men fixing the road, the usual election time slap up superficial road repair work hurriedly being done by local officials, the work that the voters elected them to do 4 years and 9 months earlier.

I threw my second tantrum in protest of the Mayan Tour as the sun set behind the big trees on New Years Eve in the parking lot of NIM LI PUNIT ruin near Big Falls. The first tantrum was earlier that morning when we woke up in Crooked Tree. I was not feeling well (PMS) and I had told Xol Tut, I was not in the mood to visit any of the 10 ruins he had marked to stop that day. We had already been to Altun-Ha the day before and I felt ruined out already, besides, I didn't realize it was going to be this kind of trip.

We had no idea where we were going to stay that night and I was eager to find shelter in the middle of nowhere before dark fell. Xol Tut had insisted that he run in for a quick look at Nim Li Punit after the park was closed and night was already setting in. The 20 minutes I sat in that lot alone seemed like 2 hours. In the middle of the thick jungle at dusk curled up with fear. I am a big coward in my old age and this is all new strange territory to me and I had no idea how near or far I was from any kind of civilization. I felt that a jaguar might stealthily approach & jump through the open windows and get me, or the bandits would surround the truck and steal everything we had, or worse, the evil spirits of the Mayans would be summoned accidentally by some ritual Xol Tut was doing on the ruin with his copal burning and send me on New Year's Eve into some cosmic Indiana Jone's like movie with weird things happening around you when you mess with the ancient Gods. To imply I was experiencing extreme paranoia is an understatement. The fear was enhanced by me reading a blip in a magazine earlier about Harrison Ford's new Indiana Jones movie which appears to be cursed called "INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL" Here I am in the parking lot of Nim Li Punit, a few miles away from Lubaantun Ruin , a place where one of 4 crystal skulls was found F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G O-U-T! I had that kind of fear on this New Years Eve like everyone had on the New Years Eve at the turn of the Century 1999.

Xol Tut told me that he thought my Mayan sign was “Red Earth” but he would look up my date of birth to be sure. When I asked what that means, he says “Wounded Healer” which means I have some kind of magical power to heal other people’s wounded soul. Ahem………where do I go to heal mine then? Did you know that a boat builder hardly caulks his own leaking boat? A construction worker hardly fixes up his own house? A plumber has the worse plumbing in his home, a chef hardly eats his own food? I might be doomed. or damned.

After crashing NIM LI PUNIT after hours, we passed the sign for LUBAANTUN ruins and he wanted to drive the 6 miles or so of dirt road to this ruin at dark. One good "Chuckie (the movie)" look from me and he changed his mind. We finally pulled into a little town called BIG FALLS and a beautiful lodge owned by Rob & Martha, appropriately called The Lodge at Big Falls. Although it was top notch fancy schmancy and not the price range we were looking for, we had not much option and it was late. Rob was kind enough to give us the Belizean rate of 50% discount. We enjoyed 3 course fine dining, slept on very good mattresses, stayed in a beautiful cabin set on well manicured gardens back-a-bush.

Xol Tut, fascinated with Lubaantun particularly because of the Crystal Skull that was found there, got up at sunrise and went back since he didn’t have the opportunity the day before after I had fussed a bit. He assumed I would not have been interested in going that morning, so he left me behind. I was not amused, I was ready to climb a ruin. I was energized & ready to roll. I awoke with the spirit of adventure in my bones. Where the hell was he? I was a little peeved and felt abandoned although I knew he would return at any time. I got dressed and walked the dirt road to the main road and was ready to leave Xol Tut behind and continue my adventure solo if I had to. It was 10:30 a.m. and I was anxious to make a move to get to P.G. town or anywhere on the road of adventure. I figured he had my number & can call me when he gets to P.G. In the end, I waited with some other local Indian ladies by the bus stop at the road side in Big Falls for about another hour chatting with no vehicles in sight to thumb a lift. I saw Xol Tut in the green bomber in the distance approaching. We picked up all the Indians at the bus stop who were waiting with me and we took them and their sacks of rice and flour and gave them a lift to their village.

We arrived mid-afternoon at our hotel Coral House in Punta Gorda town and spent the rest of the day chillin' by the pool bar and waterside with the other wedding guests including the Minister of Tourism and his wife and children. It was the last few hours of 2007. We were joined later that night by another high school friend of mine, Lucelli, and a new friend we met that evening at a restaurant. Uncle Charles, a Jamaican from Ontario living in Belize for 20 something years spent the night with us three, dancing to Bob Marley beats in the Sports Bar & disco bringing in the New Year. No count-down, no crowds, just us 4 dancing, the bartenders and the D.J. and surprisingly it was a lot of fun without the crowd.

Before we knew it, it was 1:00 pm and we headed to bed knowing that we would have to be up for the wedding in a couple of hours.

Uncle Charles who lives in the Indian village of Columbia about a half hour out of town, told Xol Tut who expressed interest in spending a week up in the jungle with him in the future to learn more about the culture that “you have to be friends with the ants to live in harmony in the bush”. He says he doesn’t poison them or try to kill them in any way although he has eaten quite a few since they are in all his food rations and he can’t spend the time to pick them all out before every meal.

We woke up before the crack of dawn on the first day of 2008 and made our way down to the main pier in Punta Gorda town across from the TIDE office. By the time we got there, there was already a little crowd. We waited around for a little while as the bride was fashionably late. The groom was already there but not nervous, you could tell he was sure of his love and sure she would show for the ceremony.

The bride looked lovely in a Mestizo wedding dress. We had heard her attire was to be a surprise. The groom, had on a Wayabera , a traditional formal dress shirt in the Banana Republic and a favorite of the first Prime Minister of an Independent Belize.

The reception followed at Wil’s house, he is a Toledo activist and independent candidate in the upcoming National elections in February. We eventually left the reception and drove the long drive back to Belize city that day. I made my way back to Caye Caulker on a water taxi only to find my friends still celebrating from the night before. As I dodged that after-after-party, I was happy to be home in the comfort and warmth of my bed, especially since a cold front has arrived sending us into a bitter chill. It was a good start to the new year.
May the Mayan Gods look out for me and all my friends & family this year.