Thursday, December 30, 2021

[SAN IGNACIO] The White Lady of Xunantunich

I was supposed to stay in Cayo for a few days and explore two or three Maya ruins by the border before crossing over to Guatemala but because of the immigration snafu, I had to cut my stay short by a day. In effect I only have one day for sightseeing now. Since Xunantunich appears to be the most doable sans group tour, because the tour agency I contacted didn’t want to take me in for some reason, I decided that Xunantunich it would be then. First stop, how to get there? Well, get your ass to San Ignacio.

Chicken Buses are said to run from the bus terminal in downtown Belize City. As for the return trip from any town en route to the Guatemalan border, you just wait on the main road and flag a chicken bus going along that national highway. All of those are headed to Belize City. The name of the town where Xunantunich is located is San Jose Succotz which is sandwiched between San Ignacio and Benque Viejo del Carmen. From San Ignacio, a chicken bus will cost you BZD2 (~USD1). A taxi with a Benque Viejo plate will be happy to drop you off at the Xunantunich ferry with BZD5 (~USD2.50). Wait, what ferry?

There is a hand operated ferry to cross the narrow river. A bridge could have made their lives easier but perhaps not everyone has the budget for that. You don’t have to do it yourself, there are people there who will do it for you. There is NO fee. The makeshift ferry accommodates up to four cars, which are given priority. Once loaded, foot passengers can hop on and head to the other side for easy disembarkation. The river crossing doesn’t take more than 5 minutes. After that, it’s a 15–20-minute hike to the park entrance. If you have a car, you will be arriving at the parking lot in just another five minutes.

The entrance fee is BZD10 (~USD5). If you DIY this tour, you only spend BZD20 (~USD10) overall for the roundtrip bus fare from San Ignacio and the entrance fee. That is a far cry from the minimum USD75 agencies ask for a group tour. You just have to be ready to hike a bit for about half an hour. The dollars you save, you can spend on a sumptuous lunch at any of the restaurants spread out across San Jose Succotz.

Once inside, there is a map of the area that you can take a picture of, but I suggest you just follow the crowd. Tour guides will be leading groups in Spanish and English so feel free to trail them. Just don’t be too obvious. A flight of steps will lead to the pyramid area where you will see two pyramids facing each other. El Castillo is slightly visible from here, or at least the top portion because that is the tallest structure among the bunch. A group of smaller pyramids will be to your immediate left. The ball courts are a few cartwheels farther north. The good thing about Xunantunich is you can climb all of the pyramids.

Since there were a lot of tour groups when I was there, I no longer bothered to compete, even though the ruins will always have some spot devoid of people that you can temporarily claim as your own. You can climb El Castillo via the central steps where the White Lady with fiery red eyes is said to ascend before vanishing. Yes, the name Xunantunich means “Stone Woman” and is an urban legend that began in the late 1800’s. I didn’t see any ghosts there, stoned or otherwise. But then again, perhaps it’s a different story at night.

But the park is only open until 4 PM, so you’ll never find out unless you go there illegally after dark, I guess. I don’t recommend that, children. Lots of stones and steps. Falling from high places. You might just end up being the stoned ghost you are searching for. I love that plot twist. Anyway, Xunantunich! Xunantunich didn’t seem to reach enough prestige or power to rival Calakmul, Caracol or Tikal. Historians seem to be under the impression that Xunantunich was just used by these powers as allies against their rivals, as was the MO of the regional centers back then.

Even then, El Castillo is impressive in its own righ, and kind of stands out thanks to the white glyph carvings on its façade. I didn’t catch the entire history lesson from some of the guides because I was just eavesdropping, but it appears that the glyphs are depicting the birth of a god or something. I’m sure Wiki or a good book about the Maya will answer all of those questions. As for me, I just did what I do best at pre-Columbian ruins, which is let my imagination fly as I sit on a shaded area enjoying all the stone structures crossing my line of sight.

[SAN IGNACIO] The White Lady of Xunantunich

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