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Belize!

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I went to Belize!  This was a trip for Tara's dad's birthday.

This was my first international trip in almost 10 years, since I went to Eastern Europe in 2007, not counting Puerto Rico last year.  That kinda blows my mind, as I had no idea it had been so long, and I certainly hope it won't be that long until our next international trip.  (Scotland?  Istanbul?  Paris?  Morocco?)  We split our time between the interior of the country, which was the rainforest, and the Cayes along the barrier reef.

I had been to a rainforest in Puerto Rico, but that was only briefly, and this was my first major experience with it.  I was surprised at how familiar it felt.  Sure, I didn't see the usual ashes and elms and oaks that I'm familiar with from our forests here in Minnesota, but it's still hiking through lush vegetation with the possibility of seeing some wildlife.  Even the negatives of heat, humidity, and bugs felt very familiar -- just walk through Itasca in July, and it feels about the same, with different sceneray.

The highlight of the trip for me was our one-day trip to Tikal, in Guatemala.  The scale of it is unlike any other ruin I've seen.  History of comparable size and age is easy to extrapolate from areas that are still inhabited, such as Edinbugh, Budapest, or Krakow.  Similarly, there are a few ruins that are minor bivouacs or outposts left over from an early era, and seem quiantly small, like the Roman baths of Bath, or the Tibes ruins of Puerto Rico, or our own little Lakota war bivouac at Fort Ridgely here in Minnesota.  Even Mesa Verde, which is impressive in its own right, didn't compare in scope.  Tikal is HUGE and completely abandoned.

It's cliche to say about a ruin, but it is very humbling.  Just seeing the scope of the place is amazing, and they've dug up only a small fraction of it.  It stretches for miles in every direction, and nobody lives here anymore.  This was the heart of a hugely powerful civilization, the political focus point of a region, and it's completely empty now.  We know very little about it, thanks to time and with a significant assist from the Spanish colonial book-burning and cultural eradication program.  A lot of people who lived here, people who were the most progressive and powerful people of the known world, and it's all gone, with little but some poorly-understood constructions to show for it.  It's not hard to draw a line from them to us.  New York or Washington or Minneapolis could be a ruin someday.

The second part of the trip was out on an island, South Water Caye.  To call it an island is almost misleading, as it's really a glorified sandbar, less than half a mile long, and maybe a couple hundred feet across.  It sounds limiting, and it is.  But, it doesn't take long to realize that limiting also means liberating.  There's very little to do here, and the staff takes care of any creature comforts you need, as long as they have it on the island.  There was no itinerary, and nothing to make into one if I had wanted to.  It forced me to really look at where I was, and enjoy time passing.  It's a luxury that our society doesn't take time to appreciate much.  It was certainly a new feeling for me.

I'd love to go back, or even move to Belize.  Maybe after L.A.  :)