Thursday, March 28, 2013

Belize Adventures (Part 2) - with Lauren

The Belize cave tour: Actun Tunichil Muknal 
In Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve 

We departed Cahal Pech Resort en route to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, said to be one of the oldest Mayan ruins in Belize. "Ac-tun" can be translated "cave" in Maya language. The indigenous people believed caves to be a portal between the human world and the realm of Mayan Gods--In what is referred to as "Xibalba" (Chi-bal-ba). This particular cave served as a sacred chamber for rituals and even dwelling for some. Ancients would use torches to light up the passageways. We arrived to the site, Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve, and were greeted by our tour guide and instructed to choose a well fitted helmet and a light attachment. Little did I know, I was about to partake in one of the most thrilling explorations of my life-- we began our trek through the overgrown jungle, our guide thrashing at overhanging bushes with a machete.We sloshed through muddy waters in a single file line , trampling over moss covered stones and literally swung from vines like crazy jungle folk.

Credit: Chaa Creek Photo

We approached the mouth of the cave, a beautiful sight, with iridescent blue water and long stems of moss hanging from the rim. As a safety precaution, our group leader assigned us to smaller groups, so we did not loose anyone on the way. My group of 4 members and I submerged the waters and  swam through the entrance--the water was icy and it began to get pitch dark , our chatter and laughing from  growing excitement turned to muddled, echoing sounds that were hard to make out. After a long swim, we reached the base of the cave and pulled one another out of the water. Once everyone arrived back on land, we switched on our lights. Stalactites and stalagmites were protruding out from all sides of the cavernous room, sparkling deposits shining from the reflection of our flashlights. We proceeded to walk through a meter deep pool of water, single file, through a narrow rock passage, slightly scraping the sides of the wall with our shoulders. Our group leader asked that we shut off our lights (*gasp*) and let our eyes adjust to the darkness.  This was a trip--the narrow passage we were passing through opened up to a HUGE camber-with vaulted 'ceilings' and a smooth platform upon which we were standing. We collected as a group to talk about some of the history within the cave and to be aware of ancient pottery fragments left untouched through out the cave. I was not at all claustrophobic,  nor fearful of the dark--but fully at ease, overcome with a sense of wonderment.

We navigated through more twisted, subterranean obstacles; at one point we had to climb through a hole in the wall then had to climb a ladder  (which was left from a past exploration) up to get up on top of an enormous rock ledge.  As we continued into the dark abyss of the cave, my inner-compass was thrown off a bit--as I wasn't sure if were  descending into the earth or gaining elevation. We entered a smaller chamber that contained the skeleton of young-girl, possibly a sacrifice victim, whom was calcified to the base of an upper passage chamber, known as "The Crystal Maiden". Surrounding the skull, were ceramics marked with enigmatic "kill holes" thought to represent one's passageway to the afterlife.
The Crystal Maiden

It was time to exit the cave, which meant backtracking the way we came. Thank goodness for the long life-span of our flashlight batteries. We followed the tour guide back through the maze, weaving our sweaty, exhausted selves back to the entrance. I was so relieved to have reached the waterway route, the last stretch to the opening of the cave. I began to see fragments of natural light on the cave walls and knew we had finally made it! The exploration was an ultimate test of my strength, courage and endurance. I also gained a deep respect for those souls in the past that bravely entered the cave with just a torch and a trusting relationship with undiscovered earth. 

If you would be interested in experiencing this cave exploration, visit this website for more information:

Adventure girls: Alyssa, Myself and Julia! 

No comments:

Post a Comment