It would be impossible to update on everything that has happened, as too much goes on each day and I don’t have the time to write. I hope that this weekend I can catch up the best possible, as we have an extra turnover day in Antigua.
After Caye Caulker, we continued on to the Belizean mainland, via dirty, smelly Belize City and into the outskirts where we visited Belize Zoo, an animal sancutuary with quite a reputation in the area, as it was set up in the 80’s by none other than Gerard Durell! It houses hundreds of animals native to Belize, all in spacious enclosures decorated to best recreate their natural habitats. Health and safety doesn’t exist in Central America, as any walk down the road will tell you, will babies in bicycle baskets, and children carrying chainsaws, here is no exception, and you are allowed to get very close to the cages. I stood within 3 ft of a fully grown male Jaguar, who was loitering by the fence near to where his food was thrown in; it is quite an experience to have a jaguar look you straight in the eye. In honour of this beautiful creature and my intimate moment with him, whilst also embracing my inner hippy, I bought a Mayan animal spirit mask of a jaguar from Chichicastanago (I know, what a mouthful eh!?) market today to hang on my wall, so that when people ask, I can say, “well when I was travelling in Guatemala…” Gap yah!
We carried on to San Ignacio, just 15 minutes from the Guatemalan border, in an eco lodge in the jungle, which had compost toilets, open air showers, and was FULL of the creepiest bugs you have ever witnessed. Even simple tasks like brushing your teeth became times you feared, and getting up in the middle of the night to pee, when there are no lights and you are surrounded by noises of the jungle…
Using San Ignacio as a base, we went and explored the caves, as the region is renowned for its excellent caving oppertunities. Some of the more adventurous who liked climbing opted for the more hardcore Crystal Caves, whilst those of us more interested in culture/who were lazy, decided to go to the ATM caves, where the human remains from Mayan sacrifices can be found, deep in the troglodytic chambers. Actun Tunichil Muknal, shorted to ATM is famous for the perfectly preserved remains of “The Crystal Maiden”, a full skeleton of a teenage girl, cemented to the floor of the caves by the calcium carbonate deposits dripping from the roof. She resides, along with the partial remains of several other sacrificial victims and a large number of Mayan pottery, deep within the cave system in a huge cavern about an hour and a half hike/climb.
After a 45 minute hike through the jungle, we reached the cave entrance, as can be seen above. In order to access the caves, we had to swim fully clothed, including walking boots, through the chilly freshwater for 2-3 minutes. The first part of our journey involved an ardous climb over slippery rocks, in and out of water than ranged from ankle to chest deep. We stopped and surveyed the beautiful crystals from time to time which we had been warned against touching, as the oil in the human palms, we were told, makes them grow more slowly, and they only grown an inch every 1600 years as it is! We saw bats and curious cave life, swam through dark, murky waters, clinging to the rock faces, and stumbling all over the place for almost 2 hours. The final ascent including a precarious rock of 10 ft in height that we had to scale, before jumping up onto a ledge. I cried on the way down, as the calls of “just do it, it is safe,” were deja vu for to that fateful moment in Ecuador 7 months before… It was worth it to witness the unbelievably huge cavern inside however, and the Mayan remains they held. It was strange to think that this ancient people had made the same journey we just had hundreds of years before, without the help of an ultra poweful torch to guide them. Here we saw our first remains as the guide informed us of the Mayan rituals, in a place that they believed to be an entrance to the underworld. He detailed how the poor victims would be made to suffer greatly before death, by the removal of limbs, cutting out of the heart, and in infants the removal of the lower and upper jaws. Left bleeding to death in the complete darkness, it was believed that the gods were more pleased by the most suffering. Looking up at the huge vaults above, I shuddered to think this was the last thing those sacrifced would have seen.
In a final ascent of a 15 ft ladder, secured with only a precarious looking rope, we reached our goal; the tiny chamber where the Crystal Maiden lays.
After a few minutes of what is the closest I have ever come to a spiritual moment we descended the ladder, and began our journey back, leaving her in peace once more.
NOTE – pictures currently piked from other sources, will be upoloading my own and replacing as soon as I can.