Friday, April 8, 2016

The mysterious crystal skull and other treasures in Belize

The alter where F. A. Mitchell claimed his daughter discovered a crystal skull in Belize  (Taylor)
BELIZE The famed “crystal skull” of Belize may have been one of the great hoaxes of all times but it still stirs the imagination. So much so that it immediately conjures images of mystery and intrigue.  Even Indiana Jones got into the act.
For the traveler, the idea is seductive enough to challenge any level of curiosity, and the best place to begin is in Belize.  Though fiction most likely outweighs fact regarding controversies over the crystal skulls, rummaging through ancient Mayan ruins nestled within exotic rainforests while embracing the enigma has universal appeal.  
Belize is a land of mystery  (Taylor)
In its own unique way, Belize is the best of all worlds for any sort of traveler.  Adventurers can savor pristine wilderness and solitude.  Environmentalists will find a wonderland of flora and fauna, flowing rivers through dense forests and colorful wildlife protected by a glorious natural habitat.  History buffs, curiosity seekers and amateur sleuths alike can speculate about the origins and disappearance of ancient Mayan civilizations.
For upscale travelers who like to “rough it” by day and luxuriate at night, Belize offers accommodations and cuisine to suit even the most discriminating sensibilities.  Not only can Belize satisfy the needs of either an explorer or a socialite, it can also adapt to suit the pleasures of just about anyone in between.  Except, that is, for lovers of McDonald’s and other fast-food enterprises, for they simply do not exist in Belize.
The tiny nation on the northeastern coast of Central America is proof positive that man and nature can, indeed, live in harmony.  In addition, it has four major assets that American travelers will find to their liking.
First, English is the native language, mixed with an occasional sampling of Creole.  Next, the exchange rate is 2 Belize dollars to 1 US dollar for easy conversion.  Plus, American money is readily accepted everywhere.  Third, electrical current is the same as the states for easy computer hook-ups and no blown hairdryers.  And finally, the time difference is slight from either coast of the United State, so there is virtually no jet-lag from either direction.   
Nature invades the ancient ruins at Lubaantun in Belize  (Taylor)           
Most of the better hotel properties in Belize consist of small, thatched roofed bungalows.  For the truly adventurous however, you can even do a Mayan home-stay by living and farming with the indigenous people of the country. 
Outdoorsmen may want to attempt a “grand slam” by fishing for snook, permit, bonefish and tarpon at Machaca Hill lodge situated within the canopy of a rain forest.  For wake up calls, the Machaca Hill system is truly unique.  At the appointed time, a staff member knocks at the door to present you with a pot full of hot coffee. 
Experiential travelers can explore the ruins at Lamanai Outpost during the day.  Then, in the evening, following dinner, take a spotlight cruise in the lagoon to search for nocturnal creatures in their natural surroundings.
At Ka’ana Resort, visitors who are intrigued by the hidden mysteries of the spiritual world can schedule a session with Rosario Panti, Belize’s last Mayan Shaman.
Pyramid at Xunantunich  (Taylor)
All of which is a circuitous way of returning to those devious crystal skulls mentioned earlier.  Depending on your source, there are either 12 or 13 crystal skulls which have aroused the curiosity of archaeologists throughout the world.  All are believed to originate from Mexico and Central America, with the most famous such artifact being found in 1925 at Lubaantun in Belize.                                                           
According to accounts, the Lubaantun skull was “discovered” by the adopted daughter of British adventurer, and publicity seeker, F.A. Mitchell-Hedges.  While on an expedition with her father, Anna Le Guillon Mitchell-Hedges allegedly unearthed the skull from a collapsed altar as she was exploring the Lubaantun site.
It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that Mitchell-Hedges even mentioned his daughter’s so-called discovery in a publication.  Further investigations show no documented evidence that Anna was ever in Belize, much less at the excavation.  In fact, research by the British Museum states that no crystal skull has ever been uncovered at an official archaeological site, which means that all of the dozen or so well-known skulls are probably fakes.
Later studies proved that Mitchell-Hedges actually purchased his crystal skull at an auction at Sotheby’s in 1943.  So why then even bother to visit the location of such an obvious hoax?
To begin with, Lubaantun is the largest archaeological ruin in southern Belize.  The ancient city dates from approximately 730 AD to 890 AD before being completely abandoned for reasons still unknown.
Situated about 26-miles northwest of Punta Gorda on a hilltop surrounded on three sides by two converging streams, Lubaantun is, surprisingly, one of the least visited major Mayan sites.  Despite its notoriety for the infamous Mitchell-Hedges skull and a variety of unique characteristics that are atypical of Maya architecture, if you go, you may likely be the only visitors at the site.
In the modern Maya language Lubaantun means “place of fallen stones”, which is appropriate as earthquakes and tree roots have taken their toll.  Other than the removal of underbrush to clear the site, no restoration work as been done at Lubaantun.
Pathway that leads to the site where the Crystal Skull was discovered  (Taylor)
As a result, the lush rainforest setting combined with structures featuring unusual rounded corners and the rare black slate and limestone bricks that were carved to fit together without mortar are, in many ways, a microcosm of Belize itself.  It is, in a sense, mysterious, yet sublime.  A source of conjecture and discovery. 
Though the crystal skull was probably a fake, the ruins at Lubaantun, and throughout Belize, are themselves time machines that beg further inspection, curiosity and speculation.     
Lubaantum is known as the "Place of Falling Rocks"  (Taylor) 
  Travelers will not be disappointed by the diversity of activities in the natural wonderland that is Belize, for the country is, indeed, its own reward.  Who cares if there’s a little “skull-duggery” along the way.  All the more reason to explore Belize for yourself.