The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave

After we got to the mainland, Belize City, we directly got on a bus to San Ignacio, in Western Belize, near the Guatemala border.  We arrived in San Ignacio mid-afternoon that day.  We got our cheap, completely basic room, at Elvira’s and then checked out a tour to take the next day.  San Ignacio town is not that much in itself, but it is near so many great outdoor day trips.  There is cave tubing, hikes to waterfalls,  trips to more Mayan ruins and then there is the cave trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal(ATM), a Mayan ceremonial site cave.  The cost was a bit too dear for our budget, but our interest was peaked when the tour guide kept on going down in $5.00 intervals.  He got to the right price and then we made the plans to join in with the group going the next morning.  We had dinner at Serendip Restaurant, a Sri Lankan place, who knew! We had a nice dinner in their comfortable back patio. After that we had an early night in our tiny no-nonsense room.

The next morning we had a filling breakfast to make sure we kept our energy up for the swiming, wading, bouldering, climbing and ducking we would be doing later that day. Our drive was around 1.5 hours, we got to know our fellow cavers. Once out of the car, we had a 45 minute hike to a “base camp” which was used for actual camping when archeologistfirst started to work on the site in the nearby cave. The hike took us through 3 rivers, around large roots, hanging vines and I am sure an animal or two, but I was not looking!

We got to base camp where we left our bags and boxed lunches. Then a quick walk brought us to the opening of the cave. One that was full of water. We had to swim into the cave to a dry spot across from the opening, not very far at all. From there we had to get back in and wade in chest deep water. For an hour or so, we walked from ankle deep to shoulder deep water being careful not to touch certain, na-tur-al (that is how our guide said it) formations. We stopped along the way getting information on the cave and the Mayans that lived around and used the cave. We finally got to a spot were our wading stopped and climbing started. Once we were at the top of this over hang, we had to take off our shoes becausethey could harm some of the artifacts and we had to have on socks because the oils from our skin could do damage as well. I appreciate their concern and safety, but once we got into the ceremonial site I figured they could have done more to protect the 2000+ year old pottery and skeletons! There was just a piece of orange ribbon nearby some of the artifacts…that was the only thing that kept people from getting too close to the items. Amazing! Our guide was very concerned about us tripping and falling on something, the cave ground we were walking on was very uneven and wet even. Every where we turned we saw something, small, big, broken into pieces, just chipped, or in full blown original manner. Did I say amazing?! The final show was not the pile of Mayan bones, or the skull cocked as if still praying to the gods, but a full skeleton of a Mayan women from 2000+ years ago laying about like it was just a few years after her death. I have done a lot of caving and been to several Mayan Ruins, but this trip putting them both together was now beyond amazing. Our guide thinks soon, people will not be able to go as far as we went and even later, people may not even be able to go into the cave at all to preserve the so well preserved history! Here is a link for some more information on the ATM Cave and the Mayan history around it: Belize Audubon Society

Low and behold, before even getting down from the upper ceremonial only-walk-socks area, I stepped on a particularly rounded wet spot and twisted my already very weak right ankle. I was so far from getting out of the cave, I had to grin and bear it. Of course, it was after I cursed, sat there for a minute wincing in pain, and then slowly got up with the help of others did I grin and bear it. Climbing down off the high spot, through small cervices and then hiking over a lot of uneven territory was not easy, but at least the cold water probably did some good for the swelling. Funny thing I say that, because after getting out of the cave, an English couple together said, “Keep it warm and dry!” Warm and dry, a twisted ankle? Those limey folks are whack-a-doodle! I thought you were supposed to put ice on it and raise it above your heart? Well, I did not do either and am paying for it still, 2 weeks later!

CLICK HERE FOR OUR ATM CAVE PHOTO ALBUM

After leaving the cave, we hungrily ate our boxed lunches and relaxed for awhile before the hike back to the bus. Sitting there, I watched one tour guide from another group come up to one of our tour guides, they had words. I looked over to my fellow cavers and whispered, “Guide Fight, Guide Fight!” But to no avail, as they were professional and dropped it! But we giggled none the less!

Back in town, we showered and got ready for a big meal. We decided on Martha’s across the street from our hotel. We ended up sharing a table with the twisted ankle odd advice English couple and had a jolly good time. He is a lighting guy for huge events and she is a promoter for EMI records in London. Her latest work was doing street music with Tom Jones, yes old Tom Jones! How funny would it be to be walking down the street in London and Tom Jones is crooning his heart out right there in front of to you! Needless to say, we not only had a great day, but ended up with some good stories about winging British musical stars.

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~ by HenderBalz on January 15, 2009.

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