Santa Rita & Cerros

The moon over Orange Walk Town

After a lovely meal of ceviche (shrimp) and stewed chicken with beans and rice, I called it a night.  On Sunday, I was up again and off with Odelia by 7:30 a.m.   Now Odelia gave me two options for breakfast.  The first was the conventional restaurant where I could have eggs, waffles etc. and the second was the street breakfast where I could have tacos and tamales.  One guess which option I choose.

Vendor making breakfast tacos

We took a quick left from our hotel and drove to the main square of Orange Walk Town where two ladies had already set up their taco stands for the morning.  We ordered a platter of six tacos each filled with a chicken and slaw mixture with some hot sauce thrown in for good measure, picked up two bottles of fresh squeezed OJ and called it good.

Taco breakfast

Odilia and I then found a park bench and proceeded to eat a delicious, and very typical, Belize breakfast.  It turned out to be really, really good, but man was that hot sauce hot.  The OJ cooled the heat a bit, but my mouth was still burning when I was done so I ended up buying a bottle of fresh squeezed watermelon juice, and while mostly frozen from the cooler, it still managed to quell the heat.

Hauling sugar cane

So with breakfast behind us, we headed north to our first stop in Santa Rita, which is about 20 minutes from the Mexican border on the Caribbean Sea.  The drive took us through little villages and farming communities.  And as we drove, we were passed on the opposite side of the road by trucks loaded with sugar cane.  This entire northern region of Belize is the sugar cane hub so we saw field after field of sugar cane all being cut by hand.  Now THAT is some hard labour.

Temple at Santa Rita

We reached Santa Rita about 45 minutes after leaving Orange Walk Town.  Now Santa Rita was occupied by Mayans since 1200 B.C., but the ruins that remain of Santa Rita are minimal with only one large pyramid like temple remaining.  Unfortunately, the locals bulldozed many of the dirt mounds that covered the ruins not understanding what was beneath.  The stones were then used in local construction so all that remains is a few walls and one lonely temple.

In addition, the interior of the temple at one time contained magnificent mosaics, but those too were destroyed.  The temple itself does not hold much significance in the historic context of Mayan ruins.  However, the site was at one time an important trading town.  Goods would come into port from the Caribbean and then were shipped upstream via the New River.

At Santa Rita

We were the only people at the site (other than a maintenance guy) and it appeared the site did not receive much traffic.  I ended up taking a couple pictures before hiking up to the top to take a look into one of the rooms that remains visible.

Iguana near the temple at Santa Rita

When we walked around the backside of the temple to walk the rest of the way up, we ended up scaring a couple of iguanas who scurried off down the hill.  Good thing too because the iguanas were apparently black spiny tailed iguanas who like to whip their tail at you to scare you off.  Uh that would do it for me.

Anyway, once at the top there was not much to see.  However, the bonus was that we could hear the congregation from a local church singing a hymn in Spanish.  It sounded like a very uplifting song, which added to the ambience of the ruins.

So with Santa Rita behind us we headed across the bay to Cerros, but not before we stopped in town to pick up some food for a picnic lunch.  We purchased some barbecued chicken and red beans and rice at one stop and then made another stop for some shrimp ceviche before hitting the road.

Hand cranked ferry

Now in order to reach Cerros we had to take a narrow pot hole filled dirt road around the water and board another of those hand cranked ferries for the short ride across the river before picking up the road again.

It takes two to crank the ferry

And the ferry ride was once again a real hoot.  The trip was probably about ten minutes across and as a result there was not one, but two men hand cranking the ferry across the river.  As I walked onto the ferry (for some reason all passengers have to exit the cars), I was joined by a Mennonite couple who wanted nothing to do with me.  I said hello, but was ignored.  They then moved as far away as possible to the front of the ferry.  A bit extreme, but no offense taken.

Kids fishing near the ferry

Anyway, I spent the ten minute ride watching two kids and their dad fishing on shore using nothing but a can and a fishing line.  No idea how successful they were, but I figured if they hadn’t caught fish in the past they wouldn’t be here.

Ten minutes later I was back in the car with the pot hole filled road continuing.  However, we had no sooner pulled off the ferry than we spotted a huge snake slithering across the road.  Because the area is really swampy, there are apparently many, many snakes in the area.  Yuk!!  Keep those snakes and spiders away from me please!

Little house made out of palmetto leaves

So the drive after the ferry took us through some small villages and a lot of jungle before reaching the entrance to Cerros.   One of the cool local houses we passed was constructed in a traditional fashion made from palmetto leaves that were woven with vines and covered in lime paste.  I swore it was constructed of concrete.  It was amazing.

Now a little about Cerros.  The town was occupied by the Mayans beginning in approximately 400 B.C. by fishermen, farmers and traders.  Over the years, its location built right beside the sea, resulted in trading becoming the primary source of business.  Eventually, the community became a kingdom and temples and plazas were constructed with residential areas built on the outer perimeter.  The site was eventually abandoned in 40 A.D.

Today, the majority of the remains have not been excavated, but what is visible includes several relatively large structures that may have been connected at one time, a temple by the sea and two ballcourts all concentrated in one small area.

Walking to Cerros

We took the path along the sea to the temple, which is the best preserved remains at the site and believed to have been constructed in 50 B.C.  The most important features of the temple are four huge mask reliefs placed against the platform’s stepped walls which flank either side of the stairway.  The masks allegedly depict the forces of the cosmos.

Cerros temple with masks

Now when I first saw the temple, it was indeed impressive, but what astonished me was a second, mostly covered, temple across the grassy area.  This temple was enormous.  We would explore that after taking in the temple with the masks.

Masks at Cerros

I took a pretty close look at the masks, which were indeed spectacular.  And like the masks we saw at Lamanai, these masks had been covered with plaster to protect the original masks beneath.  The other spectacular aspect of the temple was the proximity to the Caribbean resulting in amazing views from the top of the temple.  Unfortunately, the true top of the temple had toppled into the sea long ago, but the views were nevertheless, spectacular.

Beach at Cerros
At Cerros

Now while the proximity to the sea provided great views, it also is the source of great concern because of rising tides which are now threatening the integrity of the temple.  Hopefully someone will shore up the embankment behind the temple or install some kind of breakwater.  Without those measures, it is a certainty that the temple will one day be lost.  That made me incredibly sad to think about given the age of the temple and the really unique designs.

Uncovered ruins at Cerros

Anyway, after descending from the temple with the masks, we tackled the partially escalated massive temple that caught my attention when we reached the site.  Apparently, the structure was elevated on a large platform and consisted of a main temple, flanked by two smaller buildings.  It is believed the temple was built around 50 B.C. as well and was occupied by the king.

Covered temped with stairs excavated

We decided to hike up the main staircase that had been excavated, but it was immediately apparently that the temple was not in good shape.  Stones were lose and crumbling so it was probably a good thing that this site is not heavily visited.  We did make it to the top, but it was not the easiest climb.

After visiting the two temples, we headed back to the entrance since the ball courts are buried in jungle and barely visible.  As a result, Odilia did not believe the ball courts were worth visiting.

Once back at the entrance, Odilia grabbed the cooler and we went and sat by the ocean to enjoy the breezes and our fabulous lunch.  The chicken and rice and beans were absolutely delicious, but the ceviche was off the charts good.  Just the right amount of everything and a hint of peppery goodness.


After lunch we reversed course driving back along the bumpy road, back on the hand cranked ferry and back on more bumpy road before heading south back to Orange Walk Town.  Tomorrow it is on to Guatemala and Tikal!


Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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