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The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for September 28, 2007

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Today we went on an exciting adventure to the above named cave - I’m afraid I’ve already forgotten what it means - something about caves and stone or somesuch. After a 40 odd minute trek through the jungle, including wading across a river three times (the same river, strangely) we arrived at the cave entrance which is guarded by a pool of beautiful blue water (oh dear, I sound like a travel brochure!). To enter the cave we had to swim across to some rocks at the back of the entrance.


We then walked for another forty minutes through an underground river which varied in depth from ankle height to neck level - all very exciting. What made it more spectacular were the hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites, along with my favourites - the glittering crystal limestone - so sparkly. The whole place is a geologist’s heaven.


In actual fact, caves are regarded by the Mayans as entrances to the underworld where spirits and the gods live, and therefore they have a huge significance in the Mayan culture - before entering caves, and this one in particular, they would spend months gearing themselves up mentally, physically and spiritually (we only had about 12 hours to prepare unfortunately).

Archaeologists started exploring the cave about 20 years ago and have left almost all the artefacts as they found them. These include lots of clay pots which probably contained grain, water and blood as offerings to the gods. They also found the remains of 15 human skeletons all of which have signs that they were killed as sacrifices - probably to the god of rain during a drought that is thought to have significantly impacted on the Mayans about 200o years ago (but don’t quote me on that). Some of the sacrifices were children and babies, although we didn’t see these. There is still one skeleton completely intact - that of a girl aged between 18-22 - she’s in an odd pose, and it’s very strange looking at these remains knowing that this was once a living person - it all seems a bit surreal to be honest, especially since there are none of the usual barriers or glass cases separating the tourists from the history - all very interesting.


Enough of the history lesson - to enter the large cavern part of the cave we had to climb up onto a ledge and remove our shoes and walk around in socks to help ensure we didn’t accidentally damage anything. The huge expanse of the cavern was amazing - full of stalagmites, stalactites and glitter - the sights were helped a lot by our guide’s powerful torch, although at one point we turned off all our lights and sat in complete darkness for a couple of minutes - I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced such pitch black before - a strange sensation.

All in all it was a great experience and definitely worth the wet trainers!

Swimming with mermaids

As we are having such a terrible time on this round the world trek, as many of you keep alluding to, we decided to treat ourselves with a snorkeling trip from Caye Caulker. The second largest coral reef in the world is three miles offshore (so this is not quite paradise) so a boat is needed. There were many tour operators in town touting for our business but for me there were two considerations:

  1. The type of boat
  2. Whether they would lend me a prescription mask

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in fast, rigid launches of late so when Ragamuffin Tours presented the opportunity to go sailing and snorkeling and had a prescription mask for me to borrow we signed up with all haste.

The boat was a 15 m ketch called Ragga Queen - a lovely motor sailor - just the kind of boat I would like.


Wind seems to be an afternoon phenomenon here so we motored to the reef. At the first stop we jumped in were happily admiring the fishes - lots more than we had seen at Utila - when a strange grey beast lying on the sandy bottom loomed into view - a manatee! After seeing them from the surface last week this was a real treat. I dived down to have a closer look and swam alongside the beast for a while. It was beautiful in its own special way, but I say ungainly and fantastically ugly at the same time - I have no idea where the myths of manatees being mermaids come from.

My extensive observations of marine mammals lead me to conclude that if I was such a beast I would opt for two hind flippers rather than the single big tail that manatees have - it’s not a fast moving, efficient looking beast - perhaps they adhere to the official motto of Caye Caulker “Go slow!”.

At our next two stops along the reef we swam with nurse sharks and sting rays and loads of big ugly fish - it was really rather special.


On the way home we sailed which was lovely. The peacefulness was only disturbed by the loud reggae music blaring from the stereo, but somehow that didn’t seem to matter.