Caving @ Actun Tunichil Muknal & Rastafari

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2010

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Flag of Belize  ,
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The highlight of yesterday- last night we met a true Rastafarian. He was 62 and named Rastafari. He had a massive mound of dreadlocks piled up on his head  (they must be heavy!) and theylinked around and kind of grew into his beard as well. We were well happy to be meeting a real Rasta, our first encounter. Rastafari sat down with us and sang us some Bob Marley songs in a gorgeous voice then some originals which i recorded. He wanted us to go and live with him for the Winter.

It is humid and hot. Early this morning we ran into an American ex-pat who we had met yesterday and he took us to his mate's restaurant, "Pops Restaurant" where he supplies the eggs. We had a great coffee and some special beans they had made fresh. We would have loved to have stayed and chatted all day but had hooked up a tour with an awesome English couple Tracey and Nick  to explore Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (Stones of Sepultura i believe) with MayaWalk company and a guide named Rinan.  We drove for an hour out to the jungle area and walked for another 45 minutes across 3 river crossings to where we donned hardhats and a head torch for the caving. caving... yay for entrapment issues!

This cave is well known to Mayans who practiced rituals like human sacrifice and body piercing and gave offerings in this cave and it has not been open for tourists long so the guides go to great efforts to prevent looting of the bones and artifacts within and to keep general wear and tear to a minimum by not allowing touching the walls of the cave which react with human body oils, not allowing the application of sunscreens and bug repellent and wearing socks only for part of the tour. Locals took explorers to the cave in 1986 and then it was mapped and studied in 1999. We got a really good historical background at the mouth of the cave about the underworld and supernatural spirits that supposedly dwell there then swam into the entrance, it's a wet cave. I asked the spirits to welcome us and thanked them for allowing us to visit. Some passages were narrow and very dark and there was alot of rock hopping, walking upstream swimming and slithering around. This was a huge challenge for me with a fear of entrapment and i talked myself into going ahead deeper into the cave. 

We said goodbye to the last remaining light of day at an opening and swam and maneuvered our way through 500metres of passage. This cave network goes for 5.5km.Neither of us had never done anything like this before and were a little reluctant to swim further in however the call of curiosity and adventure won out. In some places the caves open up into large, magnificent caverns filled with coloured stalagmites and stalactites shimmering and dripping. These formations show history like a tree's rings and the weather patterns, rainfall and even the amount of deforestation of the trees above the cave can be read through the stalagmites when a piece is taken out and studied. We could  imagine the spaces filled with chanting and flame from torches as people trekked through the caves to leave offerings for the gods. This place is sacred and very beautiful, we could hear a kind of chanting in the space. This is a full power space of high energy. 

We got to a certain part of the cave and looked up to see a ledge which we climbed onto, took off our shoes and padded gently over the limestone amongst many ancient clay pots, some broken, some buried, as they were discovered. These were the pots which had held the food offerings for the gods. I was terrified of upsetting one of these special pieces. A few pieces have been taken out (one with hieroglyphics) for study and preservation but the rest remained in their original places. We saw a skeleton of a Mayan man with a flat forehead from a skull reshaping done as a baby. It had remains of sharp teeth which had been ground into points and we heard that the people dangled beads over their eyes to make themselves cross-eyed, a sign of beauty. This skeleton was thought to have been a sacrifice to the rain gods which was a huge privilege for him. Thie main and largest cavern was spectacular and seemed to be a gathering space. We climbed a ladder up to another space and saw an eighteen year old female skeleton and a fourteen year old boy's skull and bones. There were 15 more people found in this cave in secret chambers where tourists are not permitted to roam. There is security guarding this site and i wonder what other secrets it holds. 

This was an amazing adventure. Again we were absolutely slaughtered by bugs and mosquitoes and exhausted we certainly were. Tomorrow we'll catch a ride early in the morning with a tour company across to Tikal in Guatamala. Let the journey continue.
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