07 August 2012

ATM Caves in Belize

As many of you may know, I spent a few days in Belize during the week sandwiched between July and August. While there were many great moments during our eight day trip, one of the highlights would have to be spelunking in the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) cave. The mouth of this incredible hole was believed to be a the entrance to the Underworld by the Mayans. Just to get to the mouth we had to drive 30 minutes on paved roads, then 45 minutes on a very bumpy, dirty road, which included driving through a creek that my Honda Civic- strong though she be- would have quivered at the sight of. Luckily we were in a Dodge Stratus so we made it just fine (Joke. A Stratus would not have even made it on the paved portion). Once at the 'parking lot', which was just a clearing with a latrine, we went on a Belizean hike for 45 minutes, fording a river three times and avoiding ant highways, and then finally stopped at base camp. We got our headlights there, and left our rice and bean lunches for the howler monkeys to nibble on.
With our headlights on, our feet shod, and clothing on our backs (we were told it to wear respectful clothing. I brought a bowtie but ditched it soon after the descent) we entered the batty cave. The water coming out of the cave was too deep to walk through so we had to swim the first part. Soon thereafter the water thinned and we were able to stand in it.
The ATM cave is over 3 miles long with 7 sunlit openings, and dark as a chalkboard in an abandoned storage unit otherwise. During one river climb we turned off our headlights and followed each other, hand on shoulder. In such circumstances children would weep, adults would tremble, and I would face grope and pick people's noses. Mwuahaha. My goal this trip was to see how many times I could get my travel companions to say "Why invited him anyway?"
At some points in the cave the boulders we were climbing over and through were so tight they made Anne Hathaway's Catwoman costume look like sweats. We had to contort our necks in order to fit our bodies through the crevices. One time we were ascending a boulder pass that went about 15 feet up. Once on the top shelf we were welcomed by a cavernous room filled with stalactites and stalagmites as big as newspaper rolls and as intimately close to one another that Michelangelo may have modeled his Creation of Adam after them. In the midst of the stone pillars were Mayan ruins spotting the ground. The Belizeans don't seem to have a very urgent desire to protect the collectibles (or they are just so plentiful that it would be quite difficult to guard them all) so they just put flourscent pink electrical tape around the larger pots and skeletons so that no one steps on them. The cave stays a pleasant 70F at all times so artifacts are well preserved. We saw three skeletons of sacrificed Mayans, and one skeleton of a sacrificed tourist who dropped his camera on a pot and broke it. His tour guide destroyed him on the spot.
The culminating event in the ATM caves was not a money tree like I was expecting, but rather a fully intact skeleton of a sacrificed human. You could even see individual grooves carved into the poor soul's teeth. The whole cave experience was pretty spectacular and the most interesting expedition we went on the whole week. If you're ever in Belize I would highly recommend it. Unfortunately they did not allow any cameras into the cave after the one tourist dropped his/hers, so I don't have any pictures. If you want visual confirmation of what I'm talking about then you can Google ATM Caves Belize.

1 comment:

Emily J said...