The final days of our trip.
Day 7 saw us up early again for the trip to the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, also known as the ATM cave. I should have suspected something was going to be off for the day when our guide wasn’t satisfied with simply saying, “Anyone forget anything?” Instead he went through a checklist. “Did you get your sunscreen? Your bug spray? Your water bottles? Your socks?” “Yes.” “Did you get any medicine you might need?” No response, because no one had any medicine. “Any medicine? Any medicine?” Finally I told him yes to shut him up.
That turned out to be the start of the most awful guide experience of the whole trip. After a long bumpy ride to the parking area, he then told us shortly before our 1 1/2 mile hike to the cave, “We want to get in before the other groups arrive, so we’re not going to stop to look at anything.”
At this point Joe and I started making sarcastic remarks to each other. “No time to enjoy the sights, folks! What do you think this is, a vacation?” The guide started hauling ass until he realized about half of us weren’t keeping up. Not because we couldn’t; it was a nice, level path. Mostly because he wasn’t going to make us to race through our trip. So he was forced to slow down.
ATM cave entrance
The start of our caving adventure required a short swim through a pool of water. You can see it in the picture above. In fact, the majority of your time in the cave is spent in water. Most of it wading, but that wasn’t the last swim. I wasn’t able to get many pictures during this time because we were moving in a single file line, and I didn’t want to block the people behind me.
I’ve been in only a handful of caves in my life, but this was the toughest of them all. It was also the most fun (guide excepted). There was bouldering, swimming, maneuvering between narrow crevices, climbing up and down, and almost all of it done in water.
Our guide started getting very irritated and bossy around this point. I mentioned earlier a family of four that was on the same tour of us and how they had a couple of boys, ages 10 and 13. Well, boys that age can be curious and at times a little out of control. They were good boys, and they didn’t do anything wrong, but they were kids. And our guide was a complete control freak. His instructions started to get more demanding. When people didn’t do exactly what he said, and I mean exactly, as in, “Put your foot here. No, I said here,” he got angrier and angrier. Somehow it never dawned on him that we were able to get ourselves into another country without completing flubbing it. Heck, two of our group even managed to produce children and keep them alive! The way he acted, you’d think we were lucky to be able to tie our shoes without impaling ourselves on our shoe strings. I don’t like bullies, and I don’t like people who treat me like an idiot. He was both of those.
Anyway, at the end of the trail, you climb a boulder to another level, where we removed our shoes (socks only; very important) and were taken through the archaeology portion of the trip. This is where the Mayans held their ceremonies and ritual sacrifices. It’s a live archaeology site, so watching your footing was very important.
It’s hard to see from this angle, but the forehead is flat. The Maya tied a board to their infants’ foreheads to flatten the forehead. It was a sign of beauty.
This was the least interesting part of the caving tour for me, simply because it was more “looking at things.” Except for one ladder climb (modern aluminum, not ancient Mayan), the path was nice and level and safe. If Joe and I ever did it again (hopefully with a different guide, because I’m pretty sure I would snap if I had to deal with him again), and we were alone, we would tell the guide we just wanted to turn around at the boulder. Once you’ve seen a few skeletons and broken pottery, you’ve seen them all.
A pile of skeletons
The tour ends (at least for tourists) before a virtually intact skeleton called the Crystal Maiden. That link also tells about some of the other skeletons found in the cave, including those of several infants and children. The picture below makes it look as if we’re right next to the skeleton, but there’s actually a wire fence blocking access.
The Crystal Maiden.
All together, we spent about four hours in the cave. It’s a testament to how awesome the cave actually is that despite mentally directing every expletive in both English and Spanish I know toward our guide, it was second only to the Black Hole Drop in my enjoyment. (If you’re wondering, when I filled out the survey from the travel agency, I specifically mentioned this guide. They called to follow up and said they’d look into it to see if he was just having a bad day or if that was an ongoing problem).
It’s time to go home! Our vacation was fantastic, but I missed home. Since our flight wasn’t until the afternoon, our final trip was to the Belize Zoo. Unlike a lot of zoos, the Belize zoo focuses only on animals native to Belize. Sorry, I didn’t take pictures. It was very hot that day, and I was tired. A lot of the animals were hidden beneath their foliage because of the heat, so it was hard to even see them.
There’s really not much to say about this trip. It was a zoo. Our guide was nice and friendly and a little shy. He took us to a wonderful local restaurant, where I had some fantastic BBQ chicken, and then he hauled us to the airport. The airport experience was, well, an airport. Wait on planes. Go through security. Go through customs. Etc. Nothing fun.
And that was it! Eight fantastic days of fun and sun and action. This was my favorite vacation. The country is beautiful. The people were on the whole nice and friendly. It’s a very safe, very clean, but very poor country. I’d love to go back someday, once the pain of dealing with airports and customs has faded from memory a bit. If you’re looking for an exciting vacation, consider doing the Belize Adventure from Adventure Life.
All the photos in this blog series, plus additional pictures, are available on in my Photobucket album.