Day 3 – Cave exploration
I have no words to describe what I experienced today. No photo, video or documentary can do justice to this. It can only be felt or imagined. But I am going to try to do my best.
700 AD – Mayan civilization. There is drought, famine and you feel helpless. The priest tells you the only way out is to perform a sacrifice to please the rain gods. And where do you do this? Deep in a dark, wet, scary unknown cave. The caves represented the underworld and that was the only way to the gods. So you go in there led by the priest and carry heavy clay pots with all the offerings. The cave is pitch dark. The only sound you hear is that of water dripping from the ceiling of the cave. There are openings in there through which you can pass only if you twist your body sideways being very careful not to bang you head against that rock hanging low from the ceiling, or else it’s you who gets sacrificed!
As you move forward you find pots, human remains, evidence that there are others like you who were desperate, helpless and just trying to do whatever it takes to bring back peace and tranquility to your land. The priest says to you “if this doesn’t work, are you prepared for the ultimate sacrifice?” you reply “anything to please the gods”. “very well then” the priest says. “Bring me a two day old baby”…
I’ll give you a moment to digest that.
That was the time they lived in. And ATM was one of those caves we went into. Before we got to the part where we saw the remains, we witnessed nature at it’s best. Limestone is porous so when it rains it drips inside the cave, turns into calcium carbonate which forms these amazing structures inside the caves when evaporation occurs. Some of them are millions of years old! And some are destroyed by a mere touch of our palms because our body oils tranfers and stops the entire process. So Edward, our guide told us not to touch. A little difficult to do since I am hanging on to dear life in some places where the water in the cave is too deep to walk through. Did I mention I can’t swim? Of course that is not a problem for these expert cavers one of whom was with us.
He has just gotten out from spending more than three hours in that dark cave. Two and a half of which you are wet. He is happy to be back in there with us with a smile on his face, guiding us, educating and helping us through the various tricky spots.
Are you bored yet? I hope not…
My sandals have a great grip but they start to fall apart because they are not meant to be in water for that long. Thankfully we approach the dry chamber. So as a token of respect to the religious spot, we take off our shoes and slip on a pair of socks. There, Edward shows us the broken pots of All shapes and sizes. Some with a wide mouth, others with a tiny opening. They probably used them for liquids. Some of the pots are tucked in tiny spots. How did they manage to go up there?
It’s dry here so Edward takes out our camera from his dry bag and offers to take a few photos for us. I felt silly taking pictures in what must have been a sacred spot back then. So I closed my eyes and prayed for a few minutes. I then took a few photos just because… And because I am a tourist and that’s what tourists do. Edward assured me it’s alright to take photos. “you need to take some memories back with you. Who knows when you’ll be back here again”
Edward had us turn off our headlights and it was pitch dark in there. You could open you eyes or close them, it wouldn’t matter. If he left us there at that moment, that’s it for us. When I mentioned that, he takes out a snickers bar for a quick snack and jokingly says “don’t worry, it’s too early in the tour for a sacrifice”!
We are almost at the top of the cave where we witness the lady after which this cave was named. The positioning of her skeleton tells us that she was lying on her back and willing. It was a honor to be chosen for the sacrifice. I won’t go into the gory details of how the ritual was actually performed but you get the idea…
The cave itself is 5 miles long but they only let us cover the first few. We turn around and head back down. Going down the slippery stones was even trickier. And remember we only have socks on. “this is natural accupressure” I said to Gagan, who is in pain!
We reach the point where we took off our shoes and it’s time to get wet again. So we put our shoes back on and make our way back out. The water is refreshing and clean!
On our way back we were quiet. I am filled with many thoughts most of which were of gratitude. For having experienced something so unbelievably or as they say here , “unbelizably” unique. Of admiration for folks like Edward who make it possible for people like us to experience it and of relief for coming back out in one piece! It was scary in there you guys!
The journey back out of the cave was quick. we were out of there in half hour. But wait there’s more.
I forgot to tell you that to get to the cave you have to hike through a thick jungle, cross three rivers which takes about an hour. The hike itself isn’t tough at all though. It was all very enjoyable. Except of course when Edward told us that there are 59 varieties of snakes in this region, 9 of which are poisonous! “walk behind me” , he said “some of the snakes are the color of mud so it’s not even possible to see them” oh boy, I might act brave but deep down I am a mouse! “why are you scared, you love those horror movies!” Gagan Teased me. On screen when I close my eyes they all go away, here they won’t.
While Gagan and Edward discussed politics, I followed silently behind watching out for those snakes!
We were completely drenched but I did bring a spare set of clothes which I changed into when we made it to our car.
As I sat in the car munching on some plantain chips, Edward pointed out the cieba tree. The Mayan believed the earth was flat and the cieba tree acts as the axis. The roots of this particular tree go down very deep and because of that it’s said to have connected with the underworld. The branches of this tree are super high, hence the concept of heaven. All so fascinating!
What a day! I don’t think I can ever forget this. We had left at 9 in the morning and it’s close to 6 now. We’re a little hungry so we stop for some mangoes!
And that, amigos brings us to the end of day 3. I went a little nuts in this post but I figured I’ll write it while it’s fresh in my mind. Hope you enjoyed it.
Tomorrow we go cave tubing. After today’s adventure that’ll be so relaxing. Basically we sit in a tube and go through a cave. Looking forward to it.
The chef in our hotel is preparing a surprise for us. Since we are the only vegetarians here, he is having fun making creative foods for us. And we can’t wait. It’s a treat to not have to “settle” for once.
Can’t wait to see what’s in store for us.