The View From The Sky, a Visit to the
Maya Site of Caracol


By Zair
Edited by Karla Heusner

"Guess what! We're going to Caana!"

"Who's Caana and what's the catch?"

With Dreddi there's always a catch. JC had warned me about that time they got lost in northern Belize (previous article). But I have to admit I had never heard of Caana before; so I was curious.

"Zair, haven't you ever heard of the ancient Maya City of Caracol in the Cayo district?"

Okay, now I knew it was coming, a long-winded explanation that would require patience and restraint:

"2000 years ago in the area they call the Southern Maya lowland -- Southern because it's south of Mexico and lowland because it's not in the volcanic Sierra Madre Mountain Range -- there was a thriving metropolis measuring 68 square miles. That's bigger than present-day Belize City. Because of its conquests over other cities such as Tikal and Naranjo (in modern-day Guatemala), the population of Caracol expanded to over 140,000 inhabitants during the Classic Period. Then strangely and still unexplained today, the Maya civilization at Caracol declined. The site was abandoned and laid buried under the forest canopy until 1937 when a logger stumbled unto partially overgrown structures. Since then archaeologists have been conducting research and excavations and ... ."

"Very sorry to interrupt your speech. I'm sure it's informative, but what does this have to do with going to Caana."

"I was just getting to that part: Archaeologists have just completed clearing and stabilizing Caana, which is in Caracol and they're opening it tomorrow. So we leave at 6 am."

"And?"

"I almost forgot. You're driving."

*******

"Are we there yet?"

The call of exotic birds greeted us as we entered CaracolThis is a strange question for me to ask since I was the one behind the wheel but Dreddi had been driving me crazy with information ever since we turned off the Western Highway in Georgeville, entered the Mountain Pine Ridge Reforestation area, passed the Guacamallo (Scarlet Macaw) Bridge, entered the Chiquibul National Park and continued right at the Challillo road sign.

The call of exotic birds greeted us as we entered Caracol's parking lot. We toured the Visitor's Center before taking a path that opened into a clearing.

The minute I saw it, my jaw dropped and my tongue tried to form words; but the only sound to escape my lips was "Wow". My legs were the first to react, pulling me towards the towering structure that held my gaze like a magnet. Suddenly we were in an open area, a court yard, it seemed.

Behind me an archaeologist from the Department of Archaeology was explaining the meaning of a mask that was on the side of a building my cousin called B5. To my right, an altar showing two bound captives, evidence of Tikal's conquest, was laid carefully on the ground. Facing me was a huge pyramid that seemed to touch the clouds.

"That's Caana, Sky Place." I heard a familiar voice say. I was conscious of my cousin's presence but felt entranced.

"143 feet, the highest man-made structure in Belize." There goes that voice again; but I wasn't listening, just moving.

The next thing I knew I was climbing up the giant-sized stone steps. Breathless, I climbed and climbed and just when I thought I must be near the top-another courtyard. About 100 feet above ground, flanked on the North, East and West by 3 structures that ascended into the sky.

I was standing in the middle trying to decide which to climb when Dreddi interrupted my thoughts.

"Down there they must have found ceramic pots and maybe even some bones." Her voice echoed from the doorway of a room that had a hole in the ground."

"They must have used those structures to observe the sun and planets." She was referring to the side buildings. "After all the Mayas were advanced in Astronomy and even created their own calendar."

By this time, I had chosen the temple to the North and was halfway up. From the top, the view was awesome. Ondulating mountains resembling waves frozen in time stood in the distance. The North face of Caana was a steep drop still covered with trees. We were actually at the level of the treetops.

I looked around hoping to spot a keel-billed mot mot since Dreddi had mentioned that they nested in the ruins of Caracol. No such luck. Not for me anyway.

Separating the temple on which I stood from the other two structures on Caana were the Northwest and Northeast Quadrangles, which resembled empty rooms. That must have been where the royal family lived.

Aside from the sound of birds, Caracol was quiet - until, of course, my chattering cousin appeared:

"This is incredible. The last time I was here Caana was covered with tarpaulins and was being excavated and consolidated as part of the Tourism Development Project. They have several more buildings to do and they've already done some ball courts and protected the carved monuments or friezes with fiberglass casts so they won't erode further. You know similar work is being done at Xunantunich, Cahal Pech, and Lamanai but this is the primary site, the largest too."

Maybe she could get a job as a tour guide; she seems to know a lot. As for me, you got it -- I was off again heading to the structure on the West, B18.

From the top of B18 I peered down into chambers and further below I could see the lower courtyard where people drifted past, a few daring to begin the climb to join us atop Caana. A voice drifted from B19:

"We still have more to explore. I'd like to climb the Temple of Lintel in Plaza A. From there you get a good view of the staff quarters, some mounds, a temple whose top has sprouted trees, and a partially excavated temple. I'd like to do that before Minister Espat officially opens Caana. That's the ... "

That's how it is with Dreddi. Once she gets excited over something, there's no stopping her. Sometimes I find bits of information interesting. Take for example the Guacamallo River 12 miles from Caracol. The river separates two types of forests. On one side conifers soar on ridges while across the river a high, dense, and humid broad leaf forest flourishes. I found their well-defined border fascinating.

I also found myself thinking about other places we had passed along the way like the Rio On Pools and Rio Frio Cave. The cave is part of the Chiquibul's Reserve extensive cave system. I'll definitely have to get a tour guide and make another trip to this area.

But for the time being, I think I'll catch my breath and enjoy the view from the top of Caana.


  

Special Thanks to:

  • Tourism Development Project
  • Department of Archaeology
  • Images Courtesy of:

  • Tony Rath Photography
  • JC Cuellar
  • Dreddi


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