10 March 2015
We have the luxury of a leisurely morning. Gill and I head across the road to Ko-ox Han-Nah (Let’s Go Eat in Mayan) for breakfast. After breakfast we walk across the Hawksworth suspension bridge, built in 1949, that spans the Macal River that separates San Ignacio and Santa Elena towns, through Santa Elena and back across another bridge further down that takes us to the market area. It is not a main market day but there are still plenty of stalls and we see all sorts of different fruits.
We find the information centre and discover that the main street, Burns Ave, was the site of an ancient Mayan community (often flooded) and saw some of the pieces that had been excavated. We wander around and look at some arts and crafts shops.
Next stop is the A’Jaw Chocolate shop – it was a bit hard to find but definitely worth a visit. It is owned by a local family who have relatives further south where the cocoa is grown. They have only been operating for 5 months and are trying to grow their business. For USD12 you can get a 45 minute chocolate making experience. Our hostess Elida shows us how it is done. It is her husband’s family who have the background in cocoa and she has had to learn the skills. In Ke’iche, cocoa is known as kakawa. We get to participate as well: the chocolate beans have already been extracted and roasted – once a fruit is opened they have to be used within 24 hours or they will go mouldy. The beans are encased in a white pulp that you can eat (and are good in smoothies too). The beans can also be fermented in banana leaves to produce a stronger flavour.
We help to remove the thin shell from the cocoa beans (more difficult than it looks); then the bowl is shaken and ‘blown’ to remove any remaining shell. Then they are rolled on the traditional ‘mortar and pestle’ to grind the beans. This is repeated many times until it forms a thick, dark, shiny paste – this is 100% cocoa and is very bitter to the taste. We try some dissolved in hot water and have to add sugar/honey to taste. Elida then adds cinnamon and allspice to change the flavour and we try it again as a drink – of course learning how nutritious this is! There is still cocoa paste left at the end so Elida adds more sugar for us and puts it into moulds for us to take away. She said that 100% chocolate doesn’t melt but I have a very melted lump (in a plastic bag) in my bag when I get back to the hotel.
We walk up the hill (it is very hot!) to the San Ignacio Resort Hotel that has a Green Iguana Conservation Project. Nigel is a delightfully enthusiastic guide who clearly loves his charges and introduces us to his personal favourites. We meet Oscar the Grouch (got grouchy after having his tail trodden on on 3 separate occasions) who is the alpha male and still resplendent in the orange mating colours even though the season has now ended. Some of the females still have their bright green mating colours. Gnome is a secondary male who is much more placid.
Nigel tells us about the project and that the iguanas are mostly kept for about 7 years to maturity before being released into the wild, except for just a few. They obtain fresh eggs and hatch them rather than using those of the iguanas in the centre to avoid in-breeding. Some iguanas have severe scoliosis due to lack of calcium during the egg/hatching stage and wont be released. Apparently even though the iguanas are hand-reared, they rapidly revert to a wild state in about 4 months so there are no issues with releasing them.
We get a chance to feed them with their favourite greens and to handle them: one climbed up Gill’s trouser leg to try to get the leaves. At one stage Oscar jumped rather menacingly across from the railing to the bench just by us. The next part was to see the babies. The eggs are incubated under lights up to 90F to ensure the hatching of females (at 95F there is a 50:50 split and >95F they are all males). The babies are 11 months old and very amenable to holding: very cute!
Part of the conservation project is local education because iguanas are known as ‘Mayan Chicken’ but primarily females are caught because their eggs are thought to be an aphrodisiac.
After our tour we sit on the balcony of the hotel with a lime juice enjoying the breeze and the view over the canopy. We also see the previous alpha male iguana who managed to escape from the facility – no-one knows how but he left a toe behind in the process. He now lives in a big tree. We also saw a spiny tailed iguana- they don’t usually climb trees but this one had.
Back at the hotel I sit out on the balcony writing my diary and enjoying the breeze before our evening meeting. One by one I am joined by just about all the others.
We have our evening meeting and then most of us head back to Let’s Go Eat for dinner. I try the house speciality of Spicy Ginger Shrimps with a local Lighthouse beer.
For this and other similar trips see:
Explore Central America with Intrepid Travel (a range of different travel styles – see my post on travel styles)
Peregrine Adventures Travel Destinations (Comfort and independent tours)
Geckos Adventures Deals for South & Central America (for 18 to 30s)
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