Jungle Jane, November 2007

Well another week seems to have slipped by and I find myself in Belize.  The little thatched huts of lowland Guatemala have given way to brightly painted ramshackle wooden houses, complete with tin roof and front verandah, the berry-brown faces of Mayans now replaced by the Caribbean Negroes and my spanish speaking stalled by sing-song Caribbean English.  My first stop was in western Belize at a little jungle lodge, its teak and mahogany timbers nestled at the crook of a river. It’s a place where hummingbirds come to sip from orchids and wild ginger flowers, painted butterflies float in the warm breeze and iguanas blink lazily in the tree branches.  But plenty of time to rest later – I was here to explore the famous caves of Belize.

The first day I took a guide to show me the caverns of Actun Tunichil Muknal – which means Cave of the Crystal Sepulcher.  A brisk hike through the jungle leads us to the mouth of the cave which the Mayans believed was a portal to the underworld. We geared up with helmets and head lamps and leapt into the crystal blue pool which emerges from the entrance – that was the last time we would be dry for several hours. We swam and waded and climbed our way upstream through an underground river, flanked by stalagmites and limestone pillars and beautiful flow stones, with bats zipping around our heads.  After an hour or more we climbed up into a massive cathedral cavern which was used by the Mayans over 1000 years ago as a ceremonial offering place to the rain god ‘Choc’ in the years of a great drought before they disappeared from the region.  Almost every square foot of cave floor was covered with ancient pots and bowls – an incredible sight.  The skeletons of sacrificial victims still lie where they were slain – some died of head injuries, others would have been sliced open alive with an obsidian stone knife and had their beating hearts cut from their chests.  The full skeleton of a 20 year old girl lies in the upper most reaches of the chamber – her bones have collected the minerals dripping from the limestone over the centuries and they glittered like crystals under the soft illumination of our headlamps.

Day 2 of adventures was a little more laid back with an 8 mile kayak down a stretch of river lined by jungle.  Not too strenuous, mind you – more like a lazy float with the whims of the river to spot kingfishers, waterbirds and iguanas sunning themselves on the river banks.  Day 3 was of course the finale with a 100 metre rappel down into a massive sinkhole – to the floor of an enormous old cavern whose roof collapsed in, probably from an earthquake in the past.  What a buzz watching my feet dangling high over the canopy of foliage below, dropping down past cave tunnels and finally putting feet to earth in jungle that has claimed the stalagmites of the old cave floor.  Our voices seemed to echo forever around as we had to climb back up the rim of the sinkhole and retrace our steps out of the jungle.

But from jungle to beach now – I am currently on Caye Caulker, a little island in the Caribbean sea off Belize.  I have rented a beach cabana for a few days and am alternating scuba diving on the barrier reef here with reading a book on the beach (I’m not too good at the sitting around relaxing stuff as you’ve noticed).  Tomorrow I am heading out to dive the famous Blue Hole and lighthouse reef that were among Jacques Cousteau’s favourite dives (after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef I am sure).

Friday I am lifting anchor again and will be sailing down the coast of Belize for 3 days for a bit of island hopping and fishing.  It is definitely time for me to travel to the far reaches of another unsung place.

This entry was posted in Belize and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *