Sunday, March 27, 2016

Actun Baby

Actun Tunichil Muknal, also known locally as ATM, is a cave in Belize, near San Ignacio, notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. I walked, climbed and swam through this today and yes that skeleton is real. No cameras were allowed so all pics were taken from google images. Click here and be awed.

That is a 700 year old skull. Denture work held.
An hours drive east of town we entered the park. It was very unassuming, a parking lot really. We geared up with helmets and headlamps then entered a trail head that was a nice easy walk. That particular feeling ended about 10 minutes when we came across the first of three river crossings. The water was cold, knee to waist deep and about 100 metres wide, as were all three.  There was rope for those who need it but our guide James is literally King of the Jungle told us "nobody touches the rope. You fall, you get back up, you get wet, you keep going" I liked him immediately.

James showed us jungle plants that cause pain and remedies for illness. Everything is in the Jungle, then they chemically reproduce it and well...he tailed of. Case in point, I had no repellent so our boy grabbed the leaves of 3 plants and mixed them into a pulp in his massive Mayan hands. I spread it on my arms and legs and not only did I not get bitten, it is water proof and it smelt amazing, lemony. I did not ask how do you wash it off. Do not piss off the Jungle Guide.

Arriving at the cave entrance I was then asked "can you swim"? Odd time to ask our group of 5 intrepid spelunkers. First jump in the swimming hole to the left." But, but there are fish, lost of fish in the water" said a nervous 12 year. It was crystal clear and yes sir, there were fish, lots and lots of fish. "You have to get used to it came" the reply. I jumped in because as anyone knows, I am one with the fishes. Now James teaches jungle training to special forces in Colombia. When he says do it, it gets done. Make no mistake, he is not a drill Sargent and laughed and smiled quite often. You just did what he said because you know he had your back.. The tour is not cheap but worth the $85. You can pay up to $110 so Bargain, Bargain, Bargain.

Entering the cave
Jumping out of the fish bowl we walked to the caves entrance and in we went. It was odd having fish bump and swim into you and what felt like nibbles. Apparently these are the toothless relatives of the piranha that are used in spas to clean fee. I promise you my feet we damn clean. Thirty metres in the water lower and we walked, well waddled through an endless path of water,On dry areas we were treated to magnificent stalagmite (up) and stalactite (down). What time and water can create after 1000s of years is truly outstanding.

Entering the preserved area we needed to remove our shoes and climb up 15 feet of mud covered sloped rocks which was easy enough. The Mayan were kind enough to be thinking ahead 800 and provided us with an 10 foot aluminum ladder. Way to go Mayans!

Then the Mayan artifacts started to appear. Shards of, pottery, full bowls, skeleton bones and remains, human skulls. Tour ended with the viewing of what was described as a royal killing. On the way back we were challenged to tight spaces in neck deep water with rocks as hard as diamonds and as sharp as any known knife on the place. That gave you pause for thought. I can not do the experience justice and am thrilled that I participated.

We understand that the world is made up of different and interesting people. We all know that but are guilty (myself included) and not looking around once in a while. The website Humans of New  York for example. Absolutely one of the most creative and intelligent website have come across. Get off FB and start following and you just might smile a bit more often. This is a must read daily. It is beautiful in its simplicity, as are most things.

Meet Anthony, a happy healthy and very chatty Belizian. Born to a Jamaican father and Mayan mother (yes Maya are still with us much like any native tribe in North America). Born and raised in Belize and happy for his station in life, I mean really happy. Here is a bit of his resume.

Cave tour guide / Business owner
Belizian Certified Archeological site guide
Master Diver
Jungle Survival guide
Military Jungle Survival trainer

His stories of being put in the jungle at 10 for 2 weeks, training the Colombian Military in Jungle Warfare against the FARC guerillas just mesmerized me. His knowledge of the Mayan Culture and this particular cave system was as impeccable as he was proud to know it, in minute detail. That is all I am going to share on his request.

Just when you think your a  a man of the world, you realize you are not. Not even close. Thanks for the best life lessons possible on this trip James.

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