The Crystal Skull

The Crystal Skull

Our final journey off-resort in Belize led us to Lubaantun. This smaller set of ruins must seem less impressive to some since we were alone that day on the bus, just the five of us and the driver. For me, Lubaantun was a far more interesting experience than Xunantunich; the pictures don’t really do the site justice.

Lubaantun wasn’t a grand temple but rather a city. Apparently the inhabitants were known for the mass-production of ceramic figures and whistles. The curator and workers make molds of the figurines they find on sight and create modern replicas of said figures which they sell to tourists. The money is re-invested into the site. Needless to say, the two we purchases are my favorite souvenirs.

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The ruins are impressive because you can stand at any place among the piles of rock foundations and know exactly where you are; in a city, walking paths many feet once walked.

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There’s a stone square in the center of the buildings and standing near it feels a lot like standing next to a fountain in downtown Toronto.

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The buildings have turned to piles of overgrown stone, but you can still feel the spirit of the city. Our guide lead us down the paths pointing out the furnaces where the figures were made as well as the usual ball court.

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Based on the way some of the plants grow, they even speculate certain areas were once cultivated as gardens by the city inhabitants.

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It may sound silly, but my favorite part of this tour was the rubber tree. Every day the curator cuts a small notch in the tree trunk to show the guests how the sap flows out of the wound. And from the notch he cut the day before he pulls a small piece of rubber. I didn’t know, until that moment, that rubber came from trees.

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It’s strange that Lubaantun isn’t better known since it’s the origin of the legend of the Crystal Skull. We visited the ruins shortly before the new Indiana Jones movie came out, so ‘crystal skull’ was a bit of a buzz word around the site. They hung several posters relating information about the skull and the government of Belize’s attempts to recover the skull as a national treasure.

For those that don’t know the real story of the crystal skull (not the story presented in all the loony end of the world documentaries around the time the movie came out), one Anna Mitchell-Hedges, adoptive daughter of F. A. Mitchell-Hedges, claims to have discovered the skull among the excavation during a visit with her father to the site. Rather than presenting her discovery to the team, she apparently carried it home with her and revealed it at a later time. There have long been debates over the origin and authenticity of the crystal skull. Some claim that microscopic investigation of the surface proves it was shaped by modern jewel crafting tools. The curator spoke to us at some length about the story of the crystal skull and he expressed skepticism that it ever came from Lubaantun. He has worked at the site for most of his life and he was present at the time Anna Mitchell-Hedges claims to have uncovered the skull among the ruins. But he never saw the skull or any proof she uncovered anything.

Either way, if the skull is a genuine artifact originating from Lubaantun, Belize has every right to have the skull returned to their care.

When we left Lubaantun, our bus driver took us to his humble home for lunch. This was probably the most amazing meal we had the entire time we were there, even more so than the fabulous Christmas dinner prepared by the resort, because it was a native home-cooked meal (always the best). I can’t remember exactly what we had, but I remember it was my first time tasting heart of palm, which is delicious! It was also an opportunity to see how the average person in Belize lives. It was an eye-opening, humbling experience because their homes and way of life are quite different from our own. Half of the house was very modern, with concrete floors, a TV and a stereo system and the other half had wood walls and dirt floors. There were three generations living under one roof; parents, children and a new-born grandchild. In the yard there were free-roaming chickens.

There was also a river running close through the back yard and it was that river we hiked up for the second half of our day. We took a hike through the rainforest. It started raining shortly after our departure but all we noticed were a few drips here and there. The hike started out simple and easy, walking down a dirt path with trees on either side. It grew rougher as we went, certainly not for the faint of heart. One part of the hike involved climbing a set of tree roots to higher ground.

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At the end of the hike was a cave through which we intended to swim. Coming around the bend to see the cave entrance was like looking at a photo straight out of National Geographic. A high, dark arch framed on all sides by green trees and backed by high green walls and blue, cloudy sky above.

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I don’t recall the name of the cave system, but it’s quite extensive. It goes on for at least twenty-four hours from the entrance and our guide told us people pack camping equipment and sleep in the cave. We didn’t intend to go that far, of course. We donned life jackets and head lamps and headed inside.

The first thing we noticed was that the water was cold. The shock wore off by the time we rounded a corner and the dim light from the cave entrance disappeared. Using our head-lamps we took in the scenery. This is an ecosystem never touched by natural light. We saw the typical cave formations. We also saw giant mushrooms. And I do mean giant.

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We heard the rush of water in the distance from what sounded like Niagara Falls, but when we reached the cavern with the waterfall we found it was less than a foot high.

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We all gathered near the waterfall for a picture, then decided to turn back. It was the day before Christmas, and we wanted our bus driver to be able to get home in time to enjoy the holiday with his family.

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By the time we started hiking back, the rain had worked its way through the canopy. Luckily, we were already half soaked anyway.

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