Diary 8 (or Temples and Caves in the Jungle)13/8/2001 The Museo de Cultura Maya in Chetumal was well worth the visit on Sunday. Organised on 3 levels to reflect the Mayan world view of underworld, earth and spiritual heaven it was full of scale models of the major Mayan temples, a great example of the differences and similarities of the architectural styles across the region. The temples were all presented in their heyday too, so I boned up on some knowledge for visiting Tikal, Palenque and Copan in the near future. I´m afraid that I finally met my match food wise though. After bugs on a stick and dog meat in China, I had to walk away from the food of tripe that was served to me at lunchtime. No more MONDAGO if I see it on a menu! Went down to the seafront for more music in the evening, this town could really grow on you if it had more than one attraction - they had a really good young band who were obviously quite well known and banged out a great rendition of La Bamba to the crowd. Can´t sleep tonight though: I´m going to Belize tomorrow!!!!I met Rob from Chester at the bus station. He can´t catch up with his friends, and his holiday has consisted of 24 hours in New York airport, overnight in Cancun airport and a 3rd night in Chetumal bus station. He keeps getting emails saying "no, we`ve moved onto blankety-blank town" from them - poor bloke! We caught the bus to Belize City together, and after a peaceful border crossing the landscape immediately changed. The whole of the Yucatan is blanketed in a thick deciduous jungle, almost a constant 10-15 metres high. This makes bus journeys a little monotonous as all one can see is the jungle on both sides and a straight road stretching ahead, but as soon as we cross the border into Belize it opens up with a lot more agriculture, plantations and only intermittent copses of trees. The bus driver is alsoi a lot calmer than the last few I have driven with! Belize City is suprisingly small, only 70,000 population and nothing over 3 storeys high. To be honest it doesnt look as if they bothered rebuilding it after the city was levelled by Hurricane Hattie in 1978. We found a room in a quaint creekside guesthouse and took some time to wander round the city. It didn´t take too much time, Belize City is not very large at all, though I think we gained some understanding of how female travellers feel alone in a city; Belize doesnt have a good reputation, and to be honest its reputation is deserved, a definite case of keeping a 360 degree awareness around you at all times. Hell, it was only 20 seconds after getting off the bus that I was offered all manner of illegal drugs: what do I look like ?!?! All the houses here are ramshackle one or two storey shacks, and the central "canal" with its flanking west and east streets is no more than 2 feet wide. Even the main swing bridge is no more than 2 metres from the surface of the creek, when the guide book had said it was opened twice a day to let the tall boats through I didnt expect tall to mean anything bigger than a kayak! Managed to track down Rob´s friends and so its time to hit the road to Tikal in Northern Guatemala tomorrow morning, but first its time for some beers on the balcony of the guesthouse...It´s Tuesday morning and I´m feeling a little hungover from last nights beverages: I met the news editor of one of the four belizian newspapers last night. He´s only been in Belize for 8 days but covered a riot on his second day on the job, complete with stones, tear gas and live rounds being fired by the police in retaliation. Also joining us on the balcony were 4 british girls and the guesthouse manager Alan. Frankly, this is the only way to view Belizian nightlife, from 3 metres above street level, venturing down and across the street only to recharge the stock of beers from the off-licence opposite. The mixture of Creole, european and spanish makes for an interesting combination. I had forgotten to adjust my alarm clock to the new timezone though, so I´m up in plenty of time for the 7am bus! Of course I didnt realise until I was showered and shaved. After a quick local bus ride, it was across into the Guatemala border zone, and eventually onto another bus headed to Flores. Following my nose I dived off the bus halfway at El Cruce and waited for the local Pinita bus upto Tikal. Had a lovely lunch with a local shopkeeper (Hi Suadi!) who runs a family and farm in addition to the roadside cafe/shop. The final bus upto Tikal is a real "chicken" bus and crowded to the brim with passengers and all manner of cargo. From the Tikal entrance at 3pm it was time to hang the hammock, stow my pack and head off into the ruins for the remaining few hours of the afternoon. Tikal is one of the real jewels of Mayan history, and I made my way straight to Temple IV (TIV) at the far end of the site. Saw howler monkeys and lemur-like animals on the way. TIV is 64 metres above the jungle floor, the view from its summit was used in Star Wars - honest! The view is spectacular, well above the jungle canopy with the largely flat landscape all shrouded in jungle receeding into the distance in all directions. After watching as much of the sunset as possible (not much) from its summit we were evicted by a park guard toting a pumpaction shotgun. I filmed a pair of US brothers saying goodbye to Guatemala (and Hi to their Dad) on the poshest VHS camera I´ve ever seen, then we played cat and mouse around the central complex of ruins with the guards until the guards caught up ewith us by 7 and we were returned to the campsite. Camping the night out on TIV used to be possible with a 5 dollar tip but this is certainly not the case any longer :-( Rolled out of my hammock at 4.30am and walked back to TIV. The temple faces east for the sunrise, but it was so overcast that it was 7am before the sun peeked out from behind the cloud cover, about 20 degrees above the horizon. Ho hum! Still it was lovely and peaceful with the jungle sounds and the territorial barks of the black howler monkeys sounding from all sides. There was also a coyate on TIV too, he was fearless in digging in peoples day sacks for food, but would pose on the temple stairs for photos! Tikal is a very large site, both on the ground as well in height above the floor. Tikal´s architects also made the most of the local topography to enhance the elevation of the temple´s impressive roofcombs still further. From the top of TIV, the tops of temples 1,2,3 and the pyramidal astronomical observatory are visible above the treetops. Temple 5 is in the process of restoration at the moment, and its bright yellow plastic sheets were thankfully obscured from view by the forest covered mound of the southern acropolis. Frankly though, Tikal is only impressive for its size, having been open to the elements and public for so long, its many stelae and altars are worn almost flat and those that do retain some texture are largely fragmentary, broken or just imcomplete. After completing a circuit of the whole site, I retire to the campsite for lunch and 1/2 an hour on my hammock. Next destination is the Temple of Inscriptions, about a mile from the main site, though this is again disappointing given the quality of the engravings that I know were found here, all that remains is the graffitti of countless previous visitors, something that had not been in evidence on any previous Mexican site. Regardless, Tikal`s setting in dense jungle, with howler monkeys, coyates, toucans and leaf cutter ants makes it memorable. To complete the day, Mattias, Maake and I climbed all the temples in an hour and a half before being finally ejected by the guards once more. They gave me some spanish lessons back at the campsite, copying out the various endings and tenses for some common verbs. Maybe I can manage some properly constructed sentences sometime soon!?It´s Thursday morning and after being woken by everyone making their way to the site for sunrise this morning we roused ourselves leisurely and caught the 7am chicken bus to Flores. Said "Adios" to M & M who are headed to Palenque in Mexico and found a hotel looking out over the lake in Flores. This town is the site of the last independent Mayan state after the Itza people were driven from Chichen Itza by the conquiscadores. Nothing remains of these buildings, razed eventually by the spaniards and mow buried beneath the modern streets. Flores is about 500m by 500m, a square island in the middle of Lake Itza, a picturesque setting were it not for the dark clouds rolling in over the lake. Time for a long siesta after the trekking around Tikal. Flores in the late afternoon and evening has a certain charm, with narrow cobbled streets and loads of restaurants to choose from. Local handicraft shops exhibit their wares on the sidewalk and there is none of the pushiness that mars the shopping experience in Mexico or China. Ended the day by watching a local basketball match in the town square.Caught the bus south to Poptun, avoiding the legions of touts, taxi drivers and outright con-men, and unloaded myself at the Finca Ixobel, a legendary backpackers retreat and home for a couple of days of relaxation away from Mayan ruins. Bumped into Rob and Christine from Campeche as I walked in - hurray! Again, the hammock is swiftly hung and I head straight for the banana bread, served hot from the kitchen oven. The Finca is some 400 acres of countryside run by a Canadian ex-pat and her team of volunteers. They run animal release schemes and trips in the local area, so I swiftly enrolled on a cave trip that afternoon and set off with Rob, Christine and two new friends, Laura and Jesse. After a long clamber between trees, fields and bamboo plantations our muddy boots reach the cave entrance. Clambering around was enchanting, making music on the rock formations and everyone waiting patiently until I had worn myself out explaining the difference between stalactites and stalacmites to them one at a time. Some 3 hours later we meandered back to the Finca for a cold beer and a quick dip in the lagoon. The buffet style "all you can eat" dinner is filling and flavoursome, and bed beckons a full and happy puppy.Did I say that I came to the Finca to relax???? Today I´m off on a river cave trip, and we´re not to take anything that we don´t mind getting wet! The 2 hour trek to the caves takes a bit longer with the nuge group of 17 travvellers, but the caves are well worth the effort. Stripping down to shorts and sandals with only a torch in my pocket, we enter underneath a submerged archway into a complex of twisting and turning caverns. Alternately swimming, wading and climbing we finally reach the "laeap of faith", 5 metres down into a deep and fast running pool of water. After jumping, diving and dive bombing Rob and I finally convince Christine to take the plunge, and she loved it! The return route out of the cave is more strenous against the current this time, but being at the rear of the group gives me time to relax and admire the rock formations and mini-rapids, all fleetingly illuminated by 18 torches and the odd candle left by our guide. A simple ham sandwich never tasted so good on our return to the cave entrance. Unfortunately I failed myself by taking on very little fluid on the return journey, and then a good two litres upon collapsing at the Finca. This put my system well and truly into shock and I spent the rest of the evening in or within spiiting distance of a loo. I hate being ill, especially when I know I have done it too myself. Even the slight swing of my hammock was intolerable so I slept on the cool concrete floor of the papaya in fitful bursts.I´m feeling hollow and drained so after a slice of toast and some orange juice I retire to a hammock with a good book for the duration of Sunday. There´s not a lot one can write about swinging in a hammock all day. By evening I was sufficiently recovered to eat a proper meal of meat and rice, trash a couple of Israelis at chess and make my way back to an early night in my hammock.I´m back to 95 percent this morning, so after chatting to the monkeys in the Finca´s reservation I head into Poptun to catch a return bus to Flores. Its time to catch up on email, scribble this missive and then catch the 5am bus tomorrow morning back to Belize - the Cayes off the Belizian coast beckon for some quality snorkelling and maybe a dive or two... This prompted the Belizian government to move 100km inland to a new capital city!  An english PR assistant who followed a pipedream and wrote to all the foreign english-language newspapers he could find, and has ended up with a job in Belize for 6 months!!!! Super sweet!  if menacing at times.  named for their live cargo accompanying the human passengers.  4 americans kids I met had tried to walk into the site at 4am but had convinced themselves that these barks and growls were jaguars in the thick undergrowth and retired to the main gate 4 times before finally plucking up the courage to walk on in the darkness. They got to TIV by 5.30am.  that lemur-type animal from yesterday, quite like a racoon too  or browsing ;-)  Thank god for banana bread!