TravelBlog 4 – Belize
I’m teaching at the Baptist Bible School of Belize at the Baptist Training Center in Camalote this week. The school was developed by Baptists from North Carolina and continues to be supported by First Baptist Church of Lexington and also by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina (see earlier blogs for more).
On Wednesday, Mike Browder (pastor of First Methodist in Hopewell, Va., teaching New Testament) and I swapped class times so I could visit the Mayan ruins at Xunantenech (Shu NAN ten itch), about 45 minutes west of Camalote, near the border with Guatemala. It’s the second largest ruin in Belize, behind only Carocal.
To get there, one has to cross the Belize River on a small hand-cranked ferry. Susan Pasour, her daughter Nikita, and I had gone there in search of a recommended guide named Raul, only to learn that he had died while leading a large group earlier in the year! A young man named Albert filled in nicely for us.
The ruins were discovered about a hundred years ago by men who were venturing deep into the jungle in search of trees that produce chicle, used to make chewing gum. They claimed to have seen a woman in white who disappeared into the stone, so they called the place Xunantenech, Mayan for “Stone Maiden.” After the site became known to Americans, some of the earliest excavators were devastating, using dynamite to get rid of trees and other overgrowth, severely damaging everything beneath. Others looted the site of its most valuable artifacts. More recent excavations have been more respectful.
Like many Mayan complexes, the tallest building is a temple surrounded by friezes depicting some of the gods. Large plazas lie between the temple and other pyramidal buildings used for royal residences or ritual functions. With all that stone about, the acoustics are incredible, so that one person could address a very large crowd without needing electronic amplification.
We enjoyed not only examining and climbing on the ruins, but were treated to quite a concert from a troop of howler monkeys in the trees just behind the temple compound. It’s hard to believe that such small animals can make such raucous, growling noises.
We were also reminded of how seriously the Mayans to their sports: on a small ball court, we learned that losing teams (depending on the stakes) could forfeit either all their property (including their wives) or their heads. In some games, it was the winners who died afterward, so they’d go out on top with great honor. And we think Americans are crazy about sports …
One of my favorite things was an image on a frieze on the eastern side of the temple. The original has been so damaged that what tourists see now is a fiberglass copy that covers and protects what is left of the real one. The center of the frieze depicts the god Chac (often pronounced “Chuck,” which is funny in itself), symbols of the moon, and other gods. Toward each end of thefrieze, however, there is an image of a man holding up the sky — reflecting the Mayan belief that four men at the corners of the earth held up the heavens.
The Bible also speaks of One who holds the world in his hands and keeps all things together — and that One is no man.