According to the Maya, these caves, which extend 5 miles from the entrance were the bridge between this world, and the underworld (Xibala) where their gods lived. Rituals were often performed here, including (as one might expect with the Maya) human sacrifices. Bones and pottery are visible at a few places throughout the cave.
Juan, our guide had also picked us up from the airport, and while I’m usually not one for guided tours, he made it an exceptional experience. Luckily, no one else went with us. He was born and raised in Belize and his knowledge of the country, and any question we threw at him, was impressive. He’s of Maya decent, and his family still speaks the language, a beautiful
preservation of their culture. His charismatic nature was refreshing, and instead of feeling like I wanted to run away unnoticed as the guide droned on about this or that, I found myself enthralled by everything he had to say, from geology to politics. I wanted to ask him about a million more questions, but restrained myself. In general, I am not one to strike up conversations, and on planes I’m the one to plant myself in a seat, but on head phones and read a book. I don’t want to talk. But in foreign countries I find myself intrigued by people’s stories and experiences. I don’t immediately have any real insight to the culture I’m visiting, and talking to the people who do live there seems to open the country up, and I can imagine what life might be like, for a few people anyway. I particularly love hearing how people ended up where they did, and how they view the rest of the world. Juan for example asked me if Africa was too dangerous to visit, then proceeded to talk about the drug trade from Colombia to Guatemala, countries he visits regularly without hesitation (not that he shouldn’t). He’s also been to the US several times, but doesn’t particularly like it. Especially he says, customs at the border is awful. Even as an American citizen, I have to agree.
On the way to the caves we passed an Amish community, apparently, originating from Germany, complete with horse and buggy. We passed one family of five where the mother, infant in arms looked about 20. While I’m sure they’re used to tourists driving through, I couldn’t help but feel intrusive, it was interesting however, having never actually seen an Amish community.
The caves themselves were stunning, loading up on the side of the stream we entered through vines and soaring ceilings of rock. Inside, giant stalactites and stalagmites.
I don’t enjoy small spaces, or the dark, or bats, or bugs. But I had no trouble here, through we had to light the way via torches and watch out for swooping bats. The temperature rose as we went further into the caves, creating an exceptionally muggy stick to the air. But you didn’t really notice, as the the river twisted its way through the cave and we strained our necks up to the towering ceilings and twisting stalactites hanging, in a seemingly very precarious manner. As we went deeper into the cave the ceiling continued to lower to the point where we had to literally duck under to avoid hitting our heads, though carefully, as to not tip the canoe, which evidentially has happened.
At the depths of the caves, we turned out the lights. The all consuming darkness was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Despite opening my eyes and straining I was unable to see anything, even my finger placed directly in front of my eye was impossible to see. There was only the slow trickle of water nearby, as time passed my sense of where my body was in the world began to fail, and I felt a bit, like I was sinking. The dripping against the otherwise complete silence was almost deafening, as each drop exploded against the surface of the water.
Given our time is limited in Belize (we head to Guatemala next) it was a great way to end our brief visit to the country. I would absolutely love to come back and explore the rest, especially the diving on the coast. Though given that it’s a quick three hour flight from the US, that shouldn’t be too hard.