BELIZE, February 24, 2014 – Mention the term “crystal skulls” and it immediately conjures images of mystery and intrigue. Even Indiana Jones got into the act.
For the traveler, the thought of encountering crystal skulls is seductive enough to challenge any level of curiosity, and the best place to begin the search is in Belize. Though fiction most likely outweighs fact regarding controversies over the crystal skulls, rummaging through ancient Mayan ruins nestled within exotic rainforests while embracing the enigma has universal appeal.
In its own unique way, Belize is the best of all worlds for any manner of traveler. Adventurers can savor pristine wilderness and solitude. Environmentalists will discover a wonderland of flora and fauna, whose flowing rivers course through dense forests supporting colorful wildlife protected by a glorious natural habitat. History buffs, curiosity seekers and amateur sleuths alike can speculate about the origins and disappearance of ancient Mayan civilizations as they explore this natural wonderland.
For upscale travelers who like to “rough it” by day and luxuriate at night, Belize offers accommodations and cuisine to suit even the most discriminating sensibilities. Not only can Belize satisfy the needs of either an explorer or a socialite. It can also to suit the pleasures of just about anyone in between. Except, that is, for lovers of McDonald’s and other fast-food enterprises. They simply do not exist in Belize.
The tiny nation on the northeastern coast of Central America is proof positive that man and nature can, indeed, live in harmony. In addition, Belize boasts four major assets that American travelers will find to their liking.
First, English is the native language, mixed with an occasional sampling of Creole. Next, the foreign exchange rate is 2 Belize dollars to 1 US dollar, making for easy conversion, though American money is readily accepted everywhere. Third, electrical current is the same as it is in the US, making for easy computer hook-ups and no blown hairdryers. And finally, the time difference is slight whether you’re traveling from either coast of the US, so there is virtually no jet-lag when arriving from either direction.
Most of the better hotel properties in Belize consist of small, thatched-roofed bungalows. For the truly adventurous however, one can even enjoy a Mayan home-stay by living and farming with the indigenous people of the country.
Outdoorsmen may want to attempt a “grand slam” by fishing for snook, permit, bonefish and tarpon at Machaca Hill lodge, situated within the canopy of a rain forest. For wake up calls, the Machaca Hill system is truly unique. At the appointed time, a staff member knocks at the door to present you with a pot full of hot coffee.
Experienced travelers can explore the ruins at Lamanai Outpost during the day. In the evening following dinner, they can relax and take a spotlight cruise in the lagoon to search for nocturnal creatures in their natural surroundings.
At Ka’ana Resort, visitors who are intrigued by the hidden mysteries of the spiritual world can schedule a session with Rosario Panti, Belize’s last Mayan Shaman.
All of which is a circuitous way of returning to our discussion of those strange crystal skulls we mentioned earlier. Depending on your source, there are either 12 or 13 crystal skulls in this region, which have aroused the curiosity of archaeologists throughout the world. All the skulls are believed to have originated in Mexico and Central America, with the most famous such artifact being found in 1925 at Lubaantun in Belize.
According to accounts, the Lubaantun skull was “discovered” by the adopted daughter of British adventurer and publicity seeker F.A. Mitchell-Hedges. While on an expedition with her father, Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges allegedly unearthed the skull from a collapsed altar as she was exploring the Lubaantun site.
It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that Mitchell-Hedges even mentioned his daughter’s alleged discovery in a publication. Further investigations show no documented evidence that Anna was ever in Belize, much less at the site of the excavation. In fact, research by the BritishMuseum states that no crystal skull has ever been uncovered at an official archaeological site, which means that all of the dozen or so well-known skulls are probably fakes.
Later studies proved that Mitchell-Hedges actually purchased his crystal skull at an auction at Sotheby’s in 1943. So why even bother to visit the location of such an obvious hoax?
To begin with, Lubaantun is the largest archaeological ruin in southern Belize. The ancient city dates from approximately 730 AD to 890 AD prior to its being completely abandoned for reasons that remain unknown.
Situated about 26-miles northwest of Punta Gorda on a hilltop surrounded on three sides by two converging streams, Lubaantun is, surprisingly, one of the least visited major Mayan sites. Despite its notoriety revolving around the infamous Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull controversy as well as its notable variety of unique characteristics atypical of Maya architecture, if you travel to this site, you may likely be the only visitors there.
In the modern Maya language Lubaantun means “place of fallen stones.” This is a literally appropriate description, as earthquakes and tree roots have long taken their toll. Other than the removal of underbrush to clear the site, no restoration work as been done at Lubaantun.
As a result, the lush rainforest setting, along with structures featuring unusual rounded corners and the rare black slate and limestone bricks that were carved to fit together without mortar in many ways make Lubaantun a microcosm of Belize itself. This entire small country is, in a sense, mysterious, yet sublime, a source of conjecture and discovery.
Though the legendary crystal skull was probably a fake, the ruins at Lubaantun, and throughout Belize, are themselves time machines that beg further inspection, curiosity and speculation.
Travelers will not be disappointed by the diversity of activities in the natural wonderland that is Belize, for exploring this country is indeed its own reward. Who cares if there’s a little “skull-duggery” happening along the way. That’s all the more reason to explore Belize for yourself. (www.travelbelize.org)
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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