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Published: November 19th 2018
Mon 12-Tues 13 November - Day 17 to 18 - San Ignacio
After a light breakfast at the hotel we left the hotel at 10.00am to catch a fast ferry back to the mainland. This only took 35 minutes. Taxis then took us to the bus station to catch the local bus – no air conditioning but plenty of breeze. The locals hopped on and off the bus as we stayed on for 3 hours. We continue on to San Ignacio referred to as "Cayo" by the locals, this agricultural centre is also known to be the 'adventure' and 'nature' capital of Belize. The surrounding jungle, wildlife, waterfalls, rivers and caves, have created the ideal location for the numerous optional excursions that are available, from canoeing downriver and tubing through caves, to visiting the famous caves Actun Tunichil Muknal, where they found untouched Mayan ceremonial and sacrificial remains.
Tom decided to go Tubing through caves and I decided to go to Actun Tunichil Muknal caves known as ATM Caves, the burial and blood-letting sacrifice caves for the Mayan civilisation in the 1st
900 centuries AD. After booking our activities, Tom & I walked around the
very small village, with the only notable feature of the town being the town square.
We had lunch in a little restaurant (spicy nachos and chicken for me and ???? for Tom). It was then taxiing to the hotel Aguada which was 10 minutes drive from the town. The Hotel had everything including a pool, bar and restaurant. Most of our group were sitting around the pool drinking margaritas or Beline beer by the time we arrived. We all had dinner at the Hotel both nights we were in San Ignacio.
The only full day we had here was for our chosen activities. I left at 7.30am with a packed breakfast in hand and Tom left at 8.15am after breakfast at the hotel. We drove an hour in an old bus over a rough, unsealed road, through a couple of river crossings. On arrival we saw showers, toilets and numerous bench tables where we were to have our lunch after returning from our cave adventure.
On arrival, we were allocated a helmet with a 600 powered light with 4 other settings. We were in our bathers, running tights and shirt as
well as socks and crocks. It was compulsory to wear socks in the dry cave where all the artefacts and skeletons were. Wearing only bathers was not allowed, with respect for the natives. We were not allowed to take any cameras or anything else that we might accidently drop on the historical items. At least 3 occasions before, tourists had made an extra hole in a scull and crushed some bones by dropping cameras on them. Authorities made the decision to ban all items. Our guide carried a ‘dry-bag’ for any ones’ emergency suppliers such as Peter’s hypo food if needed plus water that we all shared.
Two minutes into our 50 minute walk, we did a deep river crossing, which was bracing!!! We were warned that we were to enter a wet cave, so we were all prepared. We crossed the same river 3 times before entering the cave but the other 2 crossings were only mid-calf in depth. Along the way, Hugh, our excellent guide told us many stories about the historical presence of the Mayan civilisation in Belize, Yucatan province in Mexico and Guatemala.
We entered the cave, immediately wading through
chest-height water, a little less bracing as we were already wet and getting used to the temperature. In fact, coming out of the cave (the same way as we entered) I found the water an OK temperature.
The physical challenges we had during our 3 hour journey into and out of the cave were
· Squeezing ourselves between rocks which they called ‘decapitation rocks’ as the neck had to be placed at the right level to get our head through the space.
· Climbing up 2 ½ metre bolders plus almost a vertical climb of about 8-10 metres
· Climbing up a 12-rung ladder
· Walking in the dry cave only with socks
· Walking over sharp stones only with socks – the guides called this ‘ouchy-ouchy’ rocks.
It was great fun and I enjoyed it so much. The stalactites and stalagmites were some of the best I have seen, and we have been in many caves throughout the world. It was beautiful. I whish I had my camera, but the MayaWalks Tour company was sending us some photos
of our tour so not all was lost.
The dry cave was incredible. The floor of the cave ere waves of terraced sandstone, formed from high rains, with the river level varying through the seasons. Walls of the caves were of travertine rocks which has beautiful colours through them. The stalactites and stalagmites, some dead and others with water still forming them, were glistening crystals and harden, white sandstone. Some were massive.
We walked on the floor ridges being careful to walk between the red tape so that we didn’t walk on any of the pottery and skeletons. All the skulls were cone-shaped, indicating that from birth these people of nobility, who were the only ones sacrificed, had their heads put in a press to ensure their skulls were of a particular shape.
It took our group longer to walk to the end of the cave as our guide had so much to tell us as well as we had to wait for other groups to go up and come down the one way stretches of our cave climbs. The best skeleton was of a 16 year old boy (see photos).
They have DNA tested the skeleton.
We arrived back at our lunch spot at 2.30pm where some groups had been back for an hour. Roast chicken, rice and coleslaw was the meal plus the obligatory rum punch. I was not feeling tired at all as I was feeling exhilarated from the experience I had just had – another highlight for of this varied holiday Tom & I were sharing.
After the hour of bumpy road back to the hotel Tom and his cave-tubing group were sitting around the pool. For the next hour or so we exchanged highlights of both our experiences.
Now Tom’s adventure: Tom drove through thick lush jungle for an hour before arriving at the limestone caves. They arranged for the massive inflated yellow tubes that were designed for comfortable seating – even with a back rest. Firstly, we walked for about 40 minutes which included 3 river crossings in chest-deep water to the entrance to the cave system. All the tubes were joined by rope half way through our adventure. We all jumped into our tubes and floated down the river through the cave system which included
small rapids. It was fantastic fun and very relaxing. When we were all joined together, our guide even got into the water and pulled us!!! We spotted little waterfalls, bats and a calcified jellyfish. We were floating for about 2 hours.
When we came out of the caves, we continued to float along the river for another ½ hour. Lunch was next on the agenda before returning to our hotel at about 2.30pm
A bit about the town: The town was originally named El Cayo by the Spanish. On 19 October 1904, El Cayo was officially declared a town by the government of British Honduras. In the past a creek ran between the Macal and the Mopan rivers one mile outside of San Ignacio going toward Benque Viejo. This creek then fulfilled the definition of an area of land completely surrounded by water and thus the name Cayo, "island". There was a large wooden bridge across this creek in the late 1940s, but since the creek eventually dried up, the area was filled with limestone gravel and today there remains no evidence of its existence. The demise of the creek, however, took away the
distinction for the classification of a 'cayo' from the venerable western town of 'El Cayo' and returned it to a regular land mass.
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