Picking a favorite day from the trip is kind of difficult, but it also kind of isn't. I think we'd both agree that Belize was the best day because we got to go to a bucket list kind of place: Altun Ha.
Before I get ahead of myself, though, let me start with a tidbit from our last cruise. We didn't book any shore excursions through the cruise line because they seemed crazy expensive and we thought we could just figure out what we wanted to do. We did some research beforehand, but not enough--and ended up feeling like we wasted a lot of time feeling confused/trying to figure out what we wanted to do. So on this trip I over-reasearched. Ask Ryan and I'm sure he'll tell you all about my "trip binder" that I literally spent hours/days/maybe weeks putting together. We wanted to have a PLAN. And part of that was booking a few shore excursions. In Belize, we booked the city tour + Altun Ha trip. And we were pumped. (Also, a plug for already having something booked: it takes the stress out of the day completely.)
We started with the city tour. Our tour guide was really knowledgeable about Belize City and did a great job. It was interesting to drive all over and see different neighborhoods and schools and stores and how different it all is from the US. One especially interesting thing was a building technique we saw. When building multiple stories, instead of using 2x4s or other equipment to brace the roof, they use long, thick tree branches (or maybe thin trunks) as supports. So the buildings under construction kind of look like they're growing a forest inside.
After driving outside the city and through various tiny villages, we made it to Altun Ha. The excursion we'd been waiting for. And after a brief walk, we saw them: Mayan ruins. They were amazing. Another tour guide taught us some of the history of the discovery. Apparently, grasses and dirt had essentially taken over the ruins and they just looked like hills. No one knew about them until a nearby village started growing and the villagers decided to construct a road. They mined "rocks" from the nearby hills. They also found jade in the hills and, when a villager took the jade to Belize City a professor realized that the jade might lead to something else--which led to the excavation of the hills. As it turned out, the hills were actually a Mayan city! Some of the buildings crumbled to pieces as they started to excavate, so were left alone. But a few were fully excavated and they are absolutely breathtaking. We got to climb two different temples. We learned that they're shaped like stair steps because when one ruler would die, they'd bury him (and kill his wife so they could bury her!) in the main floor, then seal the level and build on top of it. Each level is a tomb. Inside one of the tombs, they found a piece of jade carved to look like a head. The jade is as big as a head, too. Another interesting thing was that this site housed a man-made water reservoir--our guide described it as an "ancient swimming pool."
Climbing up the Mayan temples was so cool--something I've always wanted to do and wasn't sure I would ever get to do. Ryan and I were both in awe as we stood at the top and looked out over the site. Being there was extra cool with a Book of Mormon perspective in mind. Altun Ha was literally the most amazing place we've ever been.
When it was time to go, we stopped at the "restaurant" (a tiny shack outside the gates) and had the best chicken of our lives. Then a crazy rainstorm started and we sprinted back to the bus! I'm so glad it didn't start raining sooner, because if it had we wouldn't have been able to climb the temples.
After the drive back to Belize city, we shopped a bit, then headed to the tender boats. I was squished in between a Irish man who swore like a sailor and a guy in his mid-twenties with a full grill. I drew the short straw. Anyway, I did get to see a DOLPHIN jump out of the water on the way back, so that more than made up for my seat!
That night was filled with food and shows, per usual. The shows this time around (compared to our last cruise) were super fun and I don't think we fell asleep once :)
See the thing open at the bottom? That's where the tender boats pulled up. That's a doorway! The ship is huge. Our room was on the second deck--the first row of bigger windows.
This car's license plate was written on, which Ryan and I found amusing.
This is a famous sports stadium.
Altar at the top.