Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ancient History, Volume XXVIII

Previously, I visited the Mayan city of Tikal and was generally in archaeology nerd heaven. Also, there were really enormous mosquitoes. Also, I walked across the border into Belize, because apparently that's TOTALLY normal.

The day after arriving in Belize, we boarded a minibus and drove an hour and a half along crappy dirt roads to the start of a walking track in the middle of nowhere. From there, it was a 45 minute walk into the jungle. If you're thinking that this sounds like the start of a horror movie, you'd be right. Except that we were paying for the privilege!

Eventually, we arrived at our destination:

The Actun Tunichil Muknal cave system. To enter the caves, you clamber down a bunch of rocks, wade into the middle of a river, down a slope, and then swim across that pond to the entrance before clambering up the other side and into the cave system. Once in the cave, the water level varied DRAMATICALLY. A lot of the time, it was ankle or knee deep. But on occasions, it would suddenly be chest deep with very little warning. After about an hour or so (which included stops to look at interesting formations and hear about the Mayan history of the cave), we reached a big pinnacle in the middle of the river.

Guide: Okay, you're going to climb up this.
Me: WTF? That thing's like 4 metres high!
Guide: It's not that hard. Just put your foot here to start.
Me: But...there's no ropes or anything! What if I fall?? The water's only ankle deep....... O.o
Guide: Just get up the damned thing, will you?

Oh, and once at the top of the pinnacle thing? You had to step across empty space to get into the dry part of the caves. Sure, it was only like 30cms, but STILL. But it was totally worth it once we got there. Because LOOK:

Mayan pottery. And a guide's hand... That pot at the front is one of only four
of its kind ever found. It has a monkey on it. 

Eventually, we reached a ladder that disappeared up into the darkness. Climbing that was an...interesting...experience, because the rockface it was leaning against wasn't straight, so every step you took made ominous noises.

And at the top? The Crystal Princess.

Over the centuries, her bones have basically been turned into a cave formation, and so they sparkle in the light.

I'd also like to point out that we did this entire exercise with helmets and head lamps and ladders and those enormous million candle strength torches that Mulder and Scully carry in the early seasons of The X-Files. The Mayans got up there with nothing but fire on a stick. Can you imagine how terrifying it would be knowing that if you dropped your bit of fire on a stick, it would be instantly pitch black and you'd be totally screwed???? O.o

The next day, we were up bright and early to catch chicken buses to Belize City. Chicken buses are...not even remotely an enjoyable experience. They're retired American school buses, and as such are NOT designed for people over five feet tall. Four years later, my knees STILL haven't recovered... The highlight of the chicken bus to Belize City was a man who vomited all over the floor, tried to cover the evidence by smearing it around with his foot, and then got off the bus at the next stop. And because he did so almost silently, the only people who noticed were me and the man next to him.

We had a whopping half hour to kill in Belize City before getting on a boat to Caye Caulker. The boat ride was dull and Caye Caulker was...disgustingly hot. Many ice creams and cold drinks were consumed, and we had the pleasure(?) of discovering that one of the guys on our trip was terrified of crabs when a rather large one wandered into the bar we were in, and he squealed like a girl and jumped up on his chair, refusing to come down again until the crab was gone.
Okay, fine. The Macra are pretty creepy. But crabs aren't Macra sized! Source

The next day, we headed out on a yacht for a day of snorkelling. The first stop was the Coral Gardens, where I discovered that we were expected to jump off the boat into the water. This was oddly terrifying and it took me a million attempts to get into the water. Shortly after I eventually DID jump off the boat, the captain yelled out that there was a manatee next to the boat.

What I expected:

What I saw:
Please marvel at my wicked MS Paint skills

So yeah. The manatee was a millionty miles away, and was just a fuzzy grey blob. The second snorkelling spot was Shark and Ray Alley, which pretty much lived up to its name. And finally, we finished up with a trip to Hol Chan Cut, which was a little freaky because the water we had to jump off the boat into was only about six feet deep... O.o But we got to swim with sea turtles - AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!! So. Much. Awesome.

Sadly, as a result of my anti-malarial tablets, I had the misfortune to come out of the day of snorkelling with a case of sunburn on my back so epic that I still had tan lines six months later. This resulted in much pain and the need to sleep on my stomach for about four days... O.o

Up next, more ruins, and CANCUN!!

K xx


  1. I love manatees. So ungainly. Just like me!

    I'm also a fan of pottery with monkeys on it.

    1. I really wish the manatee had been closer so that I could have gotten properly excited about seeing it...

      And the monkey pottery was pretty freaking cool!!

  2. I can think of precious few things that would be more awesome than a crystalline skeleton in a cave. Alas, as awesome as it is, I can also think of precious few things that would entice me to venture inside the cave to actually see it. It is completely amazing, though.

    1. It was more like a series of caverns than a cave - no low ceilings that I can remember. So it wasn't nearly as bad as you'd anticipate!

  3. A 45-min walk into the jungle?! HOLY CRAPIOLI. That sentence made my run blood cold, bahahah. You're right, that DOES sound like the start of a horror movie.

    Love your exchange with the guide -- that totally would've been me, too.

    Vomit Guy? Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!

    Squealy Chair Jumping Dude? Bwahahahahah!

    Oh God, that sunburn sounds horrendous. :-(((
    So sorry you had to go through that...ugh. On the bright side, no malaria!


    1. The 45 minute walk into the jungle was made worse by the fact that I was wearing hiking socks and foam shoes of the Crocs ballet flats style...

      And Vomit Guy was pretty gross. But he was only the START of my experiences involving Other People's Puke on this trip........... (Something for you to look forward to, no??)


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