After two lazy days drinking Belikin, the local brew, and eating deliciously fresh seafood ceviche, I took the 45-minute water taxi ride to Belize City where the rest of my adventures were about to begin.
My friend, Renee, had convinced me to join her on a week long kayaking/camping/snorkeling trip in Belize and it was, simply, an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Island Expeditions is a Canada-based tour company, which has been leading different Belize adventure tours for 20 years. Our tour was called Mayan Caves and Coral Islands. We were a group of eight, all gals from all over the US and Canada plus one lucky (or unlucky considering he played for the ‘other’ team) guy and our two tour guides: Canadian Dave and hometown Belizean boy, Domasco. Our first night we stayed at some rustically cute cabins at Belize’s fairly new “Tropical Education Center.”
We were lucky to go on a night tour of the Belize Zoo, a wonderful facility that only takes in injured or rescued animals and prides itself on never removing any healthy animals from their natural habitats. The well-maintained zoo was definitely worth the visit as we were greeted by it’s happy boa constrictor, “Balboa,” a purring leopard and a few wild and crazy guys—the Howler Monkeys.
The adventures really began the next day as we toured Actun Tunichil Muknal, a recently discovered, eight-mile deep cave (about 13 kilometers) full of not only wonderfully preserved Mayan pottery, but actual dead people… well, their bones that is.
The cave, which just opened for tours in 1998, consisted of pitch-black winding passages leading to several large chambers making the headlamps we all wore very handy. To enter we had to swim until we reached a rock ledge inside the cave and about half of the time we were submerged in water. The several-hour Indiana Jones-like tour was, in a word, thrilling. We literally had to climb up and down sharp and slippery walls, shimmy through narrow dark passages and careen down natural rock waterslides on our way through the dark tunnels.
For a good portion part of the tour we had to remove our shoes and just padded around the muddy cave floor in our socks so as to not damage the floor more – either with the soles of our shoes or the oils of our skin. Over 1400 artifacts – pottery, tools, and ceremonial items dating from 1 to 1000 AD – including over 200 vessels, have been cataloged within the cave. The most common artifact – about 400 ceramic jars traditionally used to hold water – has lead to the hypothesis that this cave was most used for ceremonies that pertained to water, rituals to the Rain God. Some not-so-common artifacts were the human remains. So far, skeletons and bones from fourteen folks have been found; 7 adults & 7 children, all under the age of 5. It’s been determined that these poor souls were not being buried here, but instead were sacrificial victims. They were all likely sacrificed in the hopes of appeasing the gods and bringing rain. Hang on a sec… time for me to do a quick rain jig.
Even though we were with a guide, I had to think that there was no way the public would be allowed in a cave like this in the US. And coincidentally, only a handful of guides in all of Belize are trained and permitted by the Belize Department of Archeology to give proper tours of this special site. To this day, the cave has not been looted and nearly all of the cultural artifacts have remained in place as they were originally found in 1989. Right now the maximum tourists per group is eight, but we were told they will soon reduce it to just six people allowed with each guide. It’s nice to see that the Belize government is putting the preservation of such an amazing place over the priority to squeeze dollars from every wet tourist they can fit into it.