Dec. 1, 2009
Hotel: PACZ Guest House $45 BZ
Hotel: PACZ Guest House $45 BZ
Tour: Mayanwalk $280 BZ
sneakers for hiking: $40 BZ
Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM)
We arrived at 8:30 in the morning to catch our tour wagon in the back of an outfitted Ford F350 which had bus seats bolted to the box. We drove 30 miles outside of town and up a bumpy dirt road into the trail head. The scenery was spectacular with the road lined with orange trees and mountains all around.
Our guide Martin, who was a descendant of true Mayan blood, blazed the trail ahead while eight of us followers in the group tagged along behind. On route Martin pointed out various plants, trees, insects, birds, geology and spoke of history. After a mile and a half through the jungle and three river crossings we arrived at the mouth of the cave. The hour glass shaped opening poured crystal clear cool water from deep within. The cave stretches 3 1/2 miles into the side of a mountain and to depths of 200 meters below the surface.
The beginning of the spelunk involved getting wet...very wet. We were actually wading through an underground river the entire way which was fed by percolating water from the jungle rains above. The caving was very technical, involving climbing over boulders, squeezing between cracks, walking under suspended monoliths surrounded by sparkling stalactites and stalagmites.
At one point Martin ordered our group to tour off all of our head lamps. We grasped one an others right shoulder to form a single file line, our left hands stretched out to feel the cave wall. We advanced into the bowel of the cave for several minutes in complete darkness and waist deep water to the sound of running water and Martin's erie chants, the way the Maya may have more than 1500 years ago. We turned our head lamps back on and realized we were within a cavern with 40 foot ceilings with down stretching stalactites. From here we began a series of challenging rock climbs which was actually quite terrifying due to the height we ascended. At this point we were asked to remove our shoes and only wear dry socks in order to preserve the delicate area of the cave.
We ascended further to where several artifacts lay in their natural undisturbed state. This cave tour was unique in that no barriers surrounded the fragile pottery left behind by the Mayans, only the orange tape laid on the floor indicated boundaries where you should not step. At this point Martin indicated to us we were about to embark on a journey through a massive cavern 200-250 feet wide, 60-80 feet long and about 60 feet high with stalagmites and stalactites and crystalline rock waterfalls frozen for eons. The surroundings were awe-inspiring.
Martin told us many ancient Mayan stories which added to the allure of our surroundings.
At this moment we were to enter the ceremonial chamber. Here the remains of several Mayan men were laid to rest. Their bones were calcified and preserved in their natural state and we crouched down only centimeters from them to appreciate their mystical beauty.
Our last ascent brought us to the most spectacular chamber of all. We had to walk past several offerings of pottery and other artifacts. We climbed a tall ladder and entered the chamber of the Crystal Goddess. Here lay a perfectly undisturbed full skeleton of a young woman who lay beside a stone axe head. The remains were amazing. The interpretation of this sacrifice was that she was offered to the the rain and thunder gods. In times of heavy rains which provided the life blood to the region her remains would be covered in a pool of water. Her remains were heavily calcified and preserved in a dancing like stance. This was interpreted by our guide that in times of rain a celebration was in order. It was a time of happiness and bountiful harvest and she was chosen for the great honour of thanks in the form of the ultimate sacrifice to the gods of rain.