It’s 28 miles up the New River, a maze of tributaries that my boat driver negotiates with ease, rounding corners of glassy water and pointing out dozens of species of birds as we make our way to the Lamanai Archaeological Site near the village of Indian Church.
40,000 Mayans are believed to have once occupied this complex of temples and residential ruins, only five percent of which have been excavated. The rest is carpeted in broadleaf forest crawling with howler monkeys, rare birds, iguanas, and all kinds of crazy trees and wildlife.
My guide, Ruben, has bionic eyes and an encyclopedic knowledge that leaves me speechless. Our day together starts with a 5:30 a.m. sunrise canoe paddle up Dawson Creek, then after breakfast, proceeds with a four-hour tour of the ruins, during which we spot a cluster of Common Khaki-Crested Bird Nerds.
After lunch, Ruben guides me through his home of Indian Church, population 200 â€” plus one lanky Peace Corps Volunteer named Greg from San Diego. Like any good PCV, Greg’s kickin’ some sweet facial hair while attempting to help the Indian Church Artisan Center’s marketing efforts. After chatting in his “office” we run into him after his dip in the New River Lagoon, happily dripping water in the cool November breeze.
“Aren’t you worried about the crocodiles?” I ask.
“Well,” he says, “I met the researchers and they said only a fifteen-footer could attack a human, and the biggest one they’ve ever found in the lagoon was only ten foot.”
Sounds like someone’s been in site for quite a while (in fact, Greg is a little more than halfway through his two-and-a-half-year tour). I agree to help promote the efforts of Greg’s artisan friends in Moon Handbooks Belize, and to include his neighbor’s butterfly farm, and he offers to tap me into the Peace Corps Belize network â€” which is like gold for this guidebook writer.
Ruben returns after dinner for a spotlight river tour during which we see no less than three Morelet’s crocodiles, one of which is at least ten feet â€” plus a bunch of sleeping birds and iguanas.
One more corner of Belize covered . . . a bunch more to go.