Photo Tour from Western Belize – El Pilar Maya Monuments

ElPilarWelcome (1024x768)

ElPilarArtMap (1024x765)


Known timeline at El Pilar:

1000 B.C. – First Established occupation across the Maya forest

700 B.C. (Early  Pre-Classic) – First public monuments established at El Pilar

  • First constructions at Xikna
  • Earliest occupation of Tzunu’un household
  • First occupation of Tikal – 30 miles west

250 B.C. (Pre-Classic) – Public monuments at  Tikal constructed

  • Plaza Copal designed and completed at El Pilar
  • Xikna expanded at El Pilar
  • Development of Plaza Axcanan at El Pilar
  • Major occupation of the El Pillar area

250 A.D. (Early Classic) – Tikal emerges as regional power center in Maya forest

  • Maintenance and stability at El Pilar
  • Construction at Plaza Jobo at El Pilar

600 A.D. (Late-Classic)

  • Major construction on Xikna at El Pilar
  • Tikal re-assumes regional power in Maya forest

800 A.D. (Terminal Classic)

  • 869 A.D. – Last dated construction at Tikal
  • Continued construction at El Pilar until 1000 A.D.

ElPilarMaya (740x1024)

One of the defining features of El Pilar is how the site blends the archaeological monuments of yesterday with the Maya forest of today. This philosophy is easily visible in the main plazas where you can walk beneath the canopy.

Ballcourt (2)

Plaza Copal was established in a major phase of development during the Late Pre-Classic period (250 BC – 250 AD). This represents an incredible focus of work and effort, demonstrating the power and importance of El Pilar as a regional center.The buildings around the plaza were repeatedly remodeled over nearly 2 millenia and reached their final appearance in the Late Classic Maya period (600 – 900 AD)

PilarTemple1 (766x1024)

PilarTemple2 (758x1024)

TempleTop (754x1024)

Plazas are an integral part of sites throughout Mesoamerica. These open, easily accessible plazas were important public areas, and served as ceremonial centers and meeting places. Other more enclosed plazas, such as Axcanan, represent exclusive areas within centers of power. Plazas have often been cleared to provide a full view of the monuments.

IMG_1766 (1024x768)

PlazaAxcanan2 (1024x767)

The majestic temples of the Maya still rule over the forest, a thousand years after they were abandoned. Archaeological research has focused on these ceremonial centers, but where were the living places of the Maya populace? At El Pilar, there is an example of both the power elite and the domestic household. Maya temples were designed and built, they redesigned and rebuilt, over and over again in many phases of construction, creating layers, much like an onion. For example, Xikna was remodeled over 1700 years. Temples are grouped around plazas and usually face the cardinal directions: North, East, South, and West.

Lookout1 (768x1024)

Lookout2 (768x1024)

Wooden staircase to Maya temple view

Although many of the monuments at El Pilar have been excavated, most of them remain covered by the forest. When archaeologists expose monuments at El Pilar, they use selective restoration  a method that requires less maintenance that complete reconstruction. All exposed monuments must endure the heat and moisture of the tropics, which deteriorate the limestone once it has been exposed. When the Maya inhabited the site, the monuments were plastered and maintained by a fleet of civil servants who would repair the stucco, paint the surfaces, and clean the grounds. Today, El Pilar must rely on the work of a few park rangers to care for all of the structures.

LookoutGrave (768x1024)

Grave wall at Xikna – El Pilar

In 1983 before restoration a Maya milpa (or farm) existed in Plaza Copal, which was full of corn and clear of trees. Today stands 30 years of jungle rejuvenation.

LookoutGraveTop (1024x767)

Plaza Copal at El Pilar

RopeRailing (768x1024)

Old School Railing design circa 1000 B.C. Maya

BasketTieTieRope (1024x766)

Basket Tie-Tie Rope lashing securing the natural wood railings

LookoutStairsDown (1024x767)

Don’t be another Maya sacrifice, watch your step down!

The trees of Plaza Copal range from 8-20 meters and provide an excellent habitat for the many diverse species of birds who live here. Furthermore  as you can feel, the shade provided by these trees makes El Pilar a cool respite in the hot, humid tropics. Encouraging the forest canopy at El Pilar makes the reserve more enjoyable for tourists and inviting for wildlife.

TieTieMayaBench (1024x754)

Basket Tie Tie Maya designed bench – natural fibers straight from the jungle vine!

Approximately 800 meters to the west of Plaza Copal is the plaza complex of Pilar Poniente.The western area of El Pilar lies in what is now Guatemala. The two sides of El Pilar were joined by a causeway that runs almost due west and was plastered over in much in the same way of the plazas. The causeway is still visible but covered by thick jungle and and unguarded border crossing!

PilarLizard (765x1024)

Wildlife Photos of El Pilar – Lizard on a tree

OrchidsCanopy (768x1024)

Orchids in the Canopy

StranglerFig (768x1024)

Young Strangler Fig Tree / Vine

LootersTrench1 (768x1024)

Looters Trench in Maya Monument

LootersTrench2 (767x1024)

Looters trench and tree vines – El Pilar

PilarTunnel1 (1024x768)

Sotzna Tunnel – El Pilar Archaeological Reserve

PilarTunnel2 (1024x745)

Enterance to Maya tunnel at El Pilar Maya Settlement in Cayo District, Belize

PilarTunnel3 (735x1024)

Stepping inside a dark Maya tunnel without a torch!

PilarTunnel4 (1024x768)

Excavated and reconstructed Maya tunnel between temples

IMG_1800 (1024x738)

Plaza Jobo – El Pilar Maya Tour in Western Belize

IMG_1801 (1024x768)

Royal Residence – El Pilar Maya Site

MayaRoyalHouse3 (757x1024)

Reconstructed Maya limestone wall

MayaRoyalHouse2 (1024x767)

Arched doorway unique to Maya elite residence

MayaRoyalBed4 (753x1024)

Stone bench inside Maya elite room

LookoutRoyalBed (768x1024)

View from the top of Kin structure, looking down into elite structure

RoyalBedLookingOut (768x1024)

Arched doorway from inside the Maya room


KinLookout (1024x767)

Kin Maya Temple – El Pilar, Belize

RoyalLookoutPilar (1024x766)

Lookout view of Guatemala from Kin Structure at El Pilar Belize Maya Monument

PilarTrail-BirdsWithoutBorders (1024x767)

Birds Without Borders Birding hike at El Pilar, Belize

MayaHouseSign (1024x766)

Maya tour signs are available for self-guided tours

The Maya houses were grouped around plazas or patios where daytime events took place.  Each structure faced onto the patio, was built to suit specific needs of the family, and serve domestic purposes. The family compound had an eastern shrine that served their local spiritual needs. The large southern building was suited for receptions. The northern spacious structure would be comfortable for privacy, relaxation, and sleeping. Other buildings are imagined to be fore other household needs like kitchen and storage.

MayaHouse2 (1024x768)

Tzunu’un Maya thatch house with choune tree leaf and tie tie rope


Tzunu’un Maya stone house structure at El Pilar


The Maya Forest Garden at El Pilar

ForestGardenSign (1024x768)

Diagram of the Maya Forest Garden Polyculture Theory by Dr. Anabel Ford

The Maya lived on the same land for thousands of years supporting a population far greater than current density. The Maya Garden at El Pilar demonstrates how the ancient Maya may have worked the land.

ForestFlower (1024x753)

Maya Garden Flower

PacayaPalm (1024x743)

Maya tree identification signs

IMG_1814 (767x1024)

Maya tree in the forest garden – “Pacaya”

For more information on El Pilar and the archaeology seen there visit the BRASS website.







Sunday Snapshots: Orchid (and Ant) Photography in Belize

Yellow orchid growing from Cedar Tree

We spotted this unknown yellow orchid in bloom at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge. It seems like the ants were acting as pollinators for the orchid. Notice the root system holding the plant to the bark of the Cedar tree. Does anyone know what kind of orchid this is?

Orchid Root System

Orchid buds getting ready to bloom

Orchid's being pollinated by ants

Unknown Orchid in Bloom

Orchid at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Belize

Orchid picture with ant at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Belize

Orchid Photography in Belize

Foto Friday: Moses in a boat

Spiderwort lining the garden at Lower Dover.

Spiderwort a.k.a. Moses in boat, is a common plant growing in the tropics. It makes for an excellent landscaping plant, given it’s easy maintenance. It get’s its name from the pods, which are supposed to resemble Moses in a boat. It’s great for lining gardens and placing on the edge of foot paths, however be careful parts of it are poisonous. The sap can cause irritation to the skin, and definitely don’t chew on it. Once started it’s easy to maintain, it grows fast and can be split and replanted. In parts of Florida it has become an invasive species due to it’s rapid growth. In China, they use parts of the plant for medicinal purposes.

Spiderwort lining a garden at Lower Dover.

The pod, the name sake, Moses in a boat.

Moses in a boat cluster at Lower Dover.

Check out this first hand account of it’s abundance in Thailand at Bloom in Bert.

Also known as spiderwort, it’s an odd little plant really. It consists of a spiky rosette-shaped cluster of leaves with a purple-green hue. The leaves look quite normal if you look at them from the top; the strange thing is that the underside is a deep maroon color, for no particular reason.

It has quite a short stem, and doesn’t usually get much taller than about 30 to 40 centimeters. It gets its name from the fact that tiny white flowers appear from the base of the leaves near the stem. I suppose that if you have a few Heinekens (or Beer Laos, as I’ve recently discovered), and squint with your eyes half-closed, that in a certain light, the shape does slightly resemble a boat containing a white blob. Quite how this looks like a bearded baby bloke in a papyrus basket, I’m not sure.

This is certainly not the user-friendliest of plants, as all parts of the spiderwort are poisonous. Any contact with the sap may cause some stinging and your skin to itch. Attempt to eat this unassuming little shrub, and a severe burning in the mouth and throat will be the result. This is not the ideal plant to chew on.

If you have a patch of ground in your garden that you’re just tired of looking at, and want to cover in the easiest way possible with the minimum of effort, this plant is the one. Once it is established, it will require little further input or effort from you. It will be less enthusiastic if it’s too shaded, but with plenty of sun, it will continue to cover more ground quite contentedly.“

Compost Bin Experiment

Front View of the compost bin.

With fruits and vegetables in season and bearing fruit year round, we eat our fair share of produce. With all that produce we have plenty of rinds, ends, husks and other veggie and fruit parts we don’t eat.

We had been using an open compost system, which consisted of a small hole in the ground, in a 4’x4′ open top box. We used recycled wood pallets as the walls, and we let the micro organisms and nature do the rest. Ultimately we felt there were design flaws, and we weren’t harvesting as much compost as we would have liked.

The remnants of the old compost bin.

After some debate, we came up with a partially open system, which could air out in the day, and be closed at night. We used an old 55 gallon orange juice drum, flipped it on its side and had some local metal fabricators bring or vision to life.

Side View of the compost bin.

On either end of the barrel are two flaps which can be opened to increase air flow, and on the body of the barrel we cut two more square flaps on opposite ends, so we could fill it with composting goodies.

One flap closed on the compost bin.

Composting requires air flow, moisture, herbivore manure, whatever organic waste you deem fit, and most importantly no animal protein. Our starter mix consisted of 1/4 of a black sandy soil, 1/4 rice husks, a  scoop of the old compost, 1/4 of chicken manure, and a variety of vegetable and fruit scraps. Potential problems we foresee are not enough air flow, rotation on our current wood stand, and cost vs. out put.

We spent $50B on the barrel ($25US), $80B ($40 US) in labor, and the stand was made out of recycled wood. If the bin works, we’ve solved a major aesthetic issue as well as easier maintenance. We know that a second bin will be needed as the compost matures, however, right now we want to make sure the system works.

Compost bin run off water collection.

We are beginning to see results from the water run off. We soak the compost daily, and the run off water is captured in a bucket. This water is filled with minerals and natural fertilizer which we have been using to water our new seedlings in adjacent planter beds. It looks like almost all of the seeds we have planted have begun to sprout.

Sprouting Seedlings.

We are about 2 weeks in, and we think our recipe has a chance at some black gold. We are expecting it to be ready to go in another month or so.  We’ll keep you composted on the results.