A long day of ferrying, bussing, and taxiing took us away from the coast and into the heart of Central America. The bus was particularly interesting, it is what’s commonly known as a “chicken bus” which is basically the exact same model busses that they use for school busses in the USA, except slightly converted for public transport. It is not uncommon to come across one that has been painted all sorts of rainbow colours with all sorts of weird things written on them in Spanish.
So what are the attractions in San Ignacio? Well you get a little bit of a feel for a pretty rural town, but really people come here for one of two caves – either the crystal caves or the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) cave which is the one I went to.
It’s pretty much a day trip, driving out to the cave then hiking about 2 or 3 km in the jungle across rivers like this.
Then we reach the entrance and have a bite to eat for lunch before heading in.
They told us to be prepared to get wet, but they didn’t say we would actually be doing a bit of swimming!
A few jugular-cutting squeezes were in store.
A cool cray-fish in the water. It took me about 10 goes to actually get it in focus.
The ancient Maya used this cave for their spiritual rituals and sacrifices and such. The reason for this was that they believed that this was an entrance to the underworld and so it was a good place to get in touch with the spirits and gods. Scattered all over the place were pots and other artefacts that were made and used specifically for these rituals. Apparently they were only used for one ritual and then left. During the years the cave flooded a few times and swept some of the artefacts around, so a fair few were badly broken. Additionally, some dumb-ass tourists sometimes don’t watch were they are walking and step on them. There is literally free-reign for anyone in these caves.
The cave guides are actually the original archaeologists who first excavated the caves in the 1970’s, so these guys know them extremely well and of course know everything that’s happened here.
There’s plenty of interesting stalagmites and stalactites. When you shine a light on them they can make interesting shadows like this old woman.
Two days before we arrived, some asshole tourist was leaning over these bones to take a picture, then dropped their camera onto the skull making the big hole. The smaller hole above it was done years ago when someone touched one of the rocks on the wall just next to the bones and a rock fell on them. The bones are extremely brittle and crumble easily as they have simply been calcified by the minerals in the cave.
The highlight was at the end where there is this fully intact calcified skeleton of a child that was sacrificed using poison here. The priests that did the sacrifices would leave the bodies in the exact position they died.
I really loved this caving experience and it was definitely one of the highlights of going to Central America. I should note that when I was there, the government of Belize had just passed a law saying that no cameras were allowed in the caves. We were the 2nd last group ever to be allowed to use our cameras, and in fact there was another group in the cave that we passed that was not allowed.
On a happy note I’ll leave you with this picture of drinks prices at the local bar.