Tag Archives: punta

Ruta Maya 2 – Gingdom of the Crystal Skull

After a few days of sleeping on buses, border controls, passport stamps and terrible food, Casey and I arrived in the wonderfully ramshackle town of Punta Gorda in Belize.

“Hola!” “We speak English here” “D’oh”

I had wanted to stop at the Garifuna village of Livingston along the way and see if my old friend Wallander from The Odyssey Expedition was still knocking around, but we were late getting this show on the road, so we had to buzz past on our epic speedboat ride up the coast.

Punta Gorda was my one and only stop in Belize during The Odyssey Expedition – something I hoped to make up for on this trip. We stayed at the rather pleasant Nature’s Way Guest House. Along the way we passed a bunch of rather jovial US migrants drinking at a local bar – they invited us to join them, so we did. And that’s where we met the indomitable Jerry L Shaver, distributor of hilarious business cards.

Guaranteed to make Patrick Bateman cry.

After a beer or two, we went on a little explore. On the waterfront, we met Malcolm, a local kid who educated Casey and I about all the different shells we could find and the best places for fishing. This boy was more articulate and knowledgeable than most people twice his age – he’ll be President of Belize someday, you mark my words.

Can we do the “me shell” joke now?

Later, we headed south along the coast road until we found Asha’s – the soul-food joint recommended to us by Jerry and his chums.

Seafood AND Barbecue?!! You’d have to hold me back.

Now we’re talkin’!!

Just like my mom used to make, had I been born Jamaican.

While we were eating, a HUGE storm broke. Wowsers it knows how to storm in The Caribbean.

Apologies for the picture quality, but it’s hard to get a good shot in a hurricane.

Because of the downpour, Asha, the owner, gave us a lift back to our guest house in his car. Seriously starting to love love love Belize.

The next day we hopped on the old school bus (all the buses here are old schoolbuses)…

Otto in the driver’s seat, probs.

And hit our first stop along the Ruta Maya… LUBAANTUN!

Looney Tunes 7 mile.

Take it away Wikipedia…!!

Lubaantun (also Lubaantún or Lubaantán in Spanish) is a pre-Columbian ruined city of the Maya civilization in southern Belize. One of the most distinguishing features of Lubaantun is the large collection of miniature ceramic objects found on site; these detailed constructs are thought to have been charmstones or ritual-accompanying accoutrements.

This one looks like Boba Fett.

The city dates from the Maya Classic era, flourishing from the AD 730s to the 890s, and seems to have been completely abandoned soon after. The architecture is somewhat unusual from typical Classical central lowlands Maya sites. Lubaantun’s structures are mostly built of large stone blocks laid with no mortar, primarily black slate rather than the limestone typical of the region.

Anyone for Three Dimensional Cricket?

Several structures have distinctive “in-and-out masonry”; each tier is built with a batter, every second course projecting slightly beyond the course below it.

Ah, the old in-out.

Corners of the step-pyramids are usually rounded, and lack stone structures atop the pyramids; presumably some had structures of perishable materials in ancient times.


The centre of the site is on a large artificially raised platform between two small rivers; it has often been noted that the situation is well-suited to military defence. The ancient name of the site is currently unknown; “Lubaantun” is a modern Maya name meaning “place of fallen stones”.

Plenty fallen stones.

At the start of the 20th century inhabitants of various Kekchi and Mopan Maya villages in the area mentioned the large ruins to inhabitants of Punta Gorda. Dr. Thomas Gann came to investigate the site in 1903, and published two reports about the ruins in 1905.

The next expedition was led by R. E. Merwin of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum in 1915 who cleared the site of vegetation, made a more detailed map, took measurements and photographs, and made minor excavations. Of note Merwin discovered one of the site’s three courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame, which had stone markers with hieroglyphic texts and depictions of the ballgame.

In 1924 Gann revisited the ruins, and then led adventurer F.A. Mitchell-Hedges to the site. In his typically sensationalistic fashion, Mitchell-Hedges published an article in the Illustrated London News claiming to have “discovered” the site.

Being hipsters, we discovered the site before it was cool.

Gann made a new map of the site. The following year Mitchell-Hedges returned to Lubaantun as a reporter for the Illustrated London News, accompanied by his companion Lady Richmond Brown. Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the adoptive daughter of F. A. Mitchell-Hedges, would later claim that she not only accompanied her father on the expedition, but also that it was she who found the (in)famous crystal skull there.

Oh for Heaven’s Sake…

But there is no evidence that Anna was ever in Belize, and if the skull actually had been excavated at Lubaantun it would be hard to explain why none of the official reports mention it, why other expedition members deny that it was found there, and why the publicity-loving Mitchell-Hedges did not publish even a single mention of the skull before the 1950s. Possibly because it’s utter bollocks??

Lubaantun, Belize
Grandstand, Mayan Style


More importantly, it is clear from investigations by Joe Nickell and Norman Hammond that the skull was not found at Lubaantun at all, but was actually purchased by Mitchell-Hedges at a Sotheby’s auction in 1943. The skull had previously belonged to the collector Sydney Burney, and photographs of it had been published in the journal Man as early as 1936.

I want my garden to look like this!!


So the crystal skull thing turned out to be a big hoax OF COURSE. A bit like the world ending on 21 December 2012. Which it didn’t. Of course. STOP BEING SILLY.

Also, what's wrong with that kid's face?

That didn’t stop George Lucas from making the travesty that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a man who also thought the Mayans lived in Southern Peru, four thousand kilometres south of here.

A bit off.

The British Museum sponsored investigations and excavations at Lubaantun under T.A. Joyce in 1926 and 1927, establishing the mid to late Classic period chronology of the site. Many of the artefacts from this expedition can be found in the British Museum’s collection.

Typical British archaeologist.

After this Lubaantun was neglected by archeologists (although it suffered some looting by treasure hunters) until 1970, when a joint British Museum, Harvard, and Cambridge University project was begun led by archaeologist Norman Hammond.

We rock this town.

Getting back from the site wasn’t easy. We walked for about an hour along a dirt track in the blazing heat, then though the village of San Pedro Columbia.

A local guy opened up his bar for us (the only one in town) while we waited for a school bus to take us back to Punta Gorda. I particularly liked the signs stencilled onto the wall.

Rough crowd.

That night Casey and I went back to Asha’s soul food place and once again stuffed our faces with the yummiest food this side of Mexico. The next day it would be UP AN’ ATOM and a long bus ride (in an old school bus) off to Orange Walk in the north of the country.

Ruta Maya 1 – A Glitch In The Matrix

What is the Ruta Maya?

I don’t take over Jinja Island until May 1st, so Casey and I have a spare month to go and explore Central America, one of the areas I rushed through on the Old Odyssey Expedition. The plan is for us to race north and visit at least ten Mayan sites spread out over Belize, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.

So after a few days on the island we said our farewells to Ian and Vanessa for the moment and returned to Bocas Town, where we stayed for a week, chilling out in the Mundo Taito backpackers.

Much of which was out of focus.
Much of said week was out of focus.

Then it was time to hit the road. Panama to Belize overland? Hell yeah! Why am I getting this strange feeling of Deja Vu…?

Casey and I left Bocas Town on April 5 and began our journey by taking the ferry boat over to Almirante and the mainland of Panama (Bocas Town is on an island). Then it was a typically hair-raising minibus ride to the border with Costa Rica.

Crossing the rickety old bridge at the border was as hilarious as ever, but at least we weren’t trundling our suitcases over it this time. From now on it’s backpacks all the waaaaaaay!


On the Costa Rican side of the border a group of backpackers coming the other way recognised me from such medical movies as “Mommy, What’s On That Man’s Face?” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Anymore.” Photos were taken…

Graham Hughes and Fans, Panama-Costa Rica border

..and photos were photobombed.

Graham Hughes Photobombed on Panama-Costa Rica border

I thought I had timed our border crossing really well, arriving at 1.55pm for the 2pm bus for San Jose… but I forgot that Costa Rica is an hour behind Panama (Panama, formally part of Colombia, syncs up its timepieces with Bogota) – and so 2pm Costa Rica time wouldn’t be for another hour. Case and I grabbed a dreadful burger from a (tellingly) deserted cafe, but before long we were well on our way to the capital via Puerto Viejo, Puerto Limon and – yes – the Del Monte town of LIVERPOOL, Costa Rica!

It exists!!

A few miles west of Puerto Limon…


We arrived in San Jose around 10pm and headed to a bar that would be open late, near the bus station. The bus up to Guatemala left at 3am. Madness I know. I think it’s something to do with the fact that buses don’t like driving at night.

We got online and went to the Tica bus site to book our tickets for tonight’s bus, but the website don’t wanna let you do that.

So I left Casey in the bar with our backpacks and walked the streets of Costa Rica’s capital, late on a Friday night, to the bus terminal.

One of the most irritating things about travelling around Central America is that each bus company tends to have its own terminal, as opposed to the MUCH BETTER system in South America, in which there is ONE bus terminal and all of the bus companies operate out of it.

I walked for ages, and I just couldn’t find the damn place. Bad map reading skills? Not on your nelly! It’s not 2009 anymore. My memory (and my Lonely Planet guidebook) was out of date. The station had moved to the other side of town. Only, San Jose doesn’t think much of road names either, so finding an address for the new place was nigh on impossible.

I decided to take a cab, hoping he’d know where it was, and luckily he did. I arrived, asked my cabbie to wait outside, queued for half an hour only to be told the 3am bus was sold out.


I returned to the pub to let Casey know what was going on, and then walked the street trying to find somewhere to stay the night. Nearly all the places marked in my 2008 Lonely Planet had either closed down, moved, or didn’t take guests after midnight.

In desperation, I checked us into Pangea Hostel, a former jail that I’ve heard nothing but bad things about. And I can happily say that they didn’t disappoint!

For thirty dollars, we slept in a dorm room (cell) on bunk beds. In the morning we drank our tiny cups of free coffee whilst having pop dance music BLASTED into our eardrums at 120dB. At 10am we had to not just check out but leave the premises entirely… or else stump up another $15 to stay for a few more hours.

To add insult to injury, the staff were surly as hell (except for one guy who was nice but tellingly utterly exasperated by it all) and seemed to have gone to the Basil Fawlty school of hospitality.


Wow. Way NOT to run a hostel guys! Check out the reviews on Trip Advisor…


“Scathing” would be an understatement.

Luckily, there’s a lovely little bar a few buildings down the same road that’s cheap, cheerful, has wi-fi, the food is grrrrreat and it’s open until 2am.

We stayed all day and late into the night.

Till 3am, actually.

At 3am we left the city on our way up though Nicaragua, Honduras and into El Salvador.

Nicaragua not only has some amazing natural treasures, it’s also obsessed with Smurf hats. There’s one on the flag AND on the coins. Don’t believe me? Look closely…


We arrived in San Salvador at around 2am and the connecting bus to Guatemala would be leaving at 5am. We imagined we’d just stay up, but the bus company had thought of that…! They gave us no choice but to stay in their crappy little hotel, so we wound up paying for an entire night even though we were only there for 3 hours.


Tica Buses = EVIL

So then onward to Guatemala City! We arrived around noon and took a taxi to the bus station for Puerto Barrios on the caribbean coast… from whence we could take a boat to Punta Gorda, Belize.

These place names are not meaning much, are they? Would a zoomable map of our journey help?  YOUR WISH IS MY COMMAND!

I know, I know, I’m far too good to you.

I managed to do this same journey much quicker on The Odyssey Expedition, but on this trip we didn’t arrive in Puerto Barrios until nightfall – there were no ferryboats until tomorrow morning.

So we checked into a sweet little guesthouse and went out to get ourselves a couple of mountains of yummy grub.


In the morning we paid our ‘exit tax’ and were stamped out of Guatemala. Onto the morning speedboat… next stop… BELIZE!!!