Today, we introduced the boys to spelunking. Spelunking is the sport/activity of exploring caves. We woke up and grabbed a bite to eat (cinnamon rolls and banana bread) from the local Chinese market. There is a large population of Chinese in the region. We headed out of San Ignacio and met our guide Emil at Teakettle Village. We had our own vehicle, so we decided to follow him into the jungle. The drive was down a bumpy dirt road about 7 miles. The kids loved the fact that we had to cross through a river in the 4X4. I have to say I throughly enjoyed this too. Once we got to the trailhead we went over the safety rules for Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (ATM). First we had to hike about 1-1.5 miles into the jungle along a path that had us cross the Roaring Creek three times. Emil was really informative of the plant life and animals in the area. He had grown up and explored the area his whole life. He had also guided celebrities like Bear Grylls from the show Man vs. Wild and Andrew Zimmern who has two shows, Bizarre Foods and Bizarre World. Emil had some great stories to share. The area where we were hiking was featured in an episode of Man vs. Wild. He showed us some of his survival techniques for the jungle.
At the cave entrance we loaded up dry bags and had a snack. The cave tour would take about 3 hours. I know Amy was nervous a bit because she can get claustrophobic in tight places. In the end she did great. To get into the cave you have to swim for about 25-30 yards. I had to have Nick on my back for this part. We then began our tour of the Maya underworld. Emil gave us a great education on Mayan culture and religion. He said we were in a cave that was sacred to the Maya and only Shamans and select people were allowed inside. We saw stalactites (ceiling) and stalagmites (floor). It was very informative to be with someone who was a very experienced spelunker. The boys were having a ball because this is a wet cave meaning water runs through it. At times they had to swim and Nick got on my back as I waded up to my chest through the water. When we got deep into the cave (900 meters) we finally reached the chamber. Here we saw incredible Maya artifacts that were from offerings to the gods. There were clay pots dating back to Classic and Late Classic period of the Maya civilization. As we got deeper into the cave we saw human remains from sacrifices that were performed in the Late Classic period around 700-800 AD. One was of a boy about 7-12 years old that was decapitated, which really hit home with the boys. The real amazing one was what the locals call the “Crystal Maiden”. She is said to be a girl of importance around the age of 18. Her skeleton is fully calcified and preserved. You can tell that her hand was cut off and her spine split in two. I have to say being in that chamber was one of the coolest things I have every done. On our hike back to the car Amy found a snake. It turned out to be a false fer-de-lance. Good thing because a real one’s bite can kill you.
After the ATM tour we all were tired and ended up going back to the hotel for swimming and decompression before heading into San Ignacio for dinner. We ate at a place called Hode’s Place, which had some excellent fried chicken. Fried chicken seems to be the number one food in the region.
Soon we were back at the hotel playing cards and eating desserts of banana spice cake and ice cream. It was nice when after the kids finally fell asleep we were able to relax on the balcony. We talked about what we were going to do for the next couple of days and reflected on what fun we had already had. So much to see and do and so little time.