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Published: November 16th 2016
San Ignacio is a small town tucked away near the Guatemalan border. It's famous as a base to go and explore the areas caves and waterfalls. On our first day here we met a local who offered to take us to a nearby waterfall in the jungle. This is a very serene waterfall off the beaten track, so we were the only people there to enjoy it.
Day 2 we booked a tour to go to the ATM cave. I had heard this is a must do, but I was not expecting anything quite so amazing. After an hours drive, made longer by the minibus having a flat tire and a flat spare, we arrived at a car park in the jungle. We got kitted up with helmets and buoyancy aids before starting our trip to the cave. First obstacle is a wide river to swim through, before starting a trek in to the jungle. On our way along the path we saw a massive tarantula crossing ahead of us, but I was brave and just avoided it! After a couple more river crossings we got to the cave, which has a partially flooded entrance you have to swim through. The
cave is home to amazing rock formations, way more impressive than I have ever seen before.
The way in to the cave is to walk/swim/climb up a river. The water was apparently higher than usual as it has been raining lately, but it was good fun scrambling through the river. Every so often we would see a glittering area of rocks, or a black patch, depending on the various mineral deposits. At one point we switched our torches off to see just how dark it is - you can definitely tell why the mayans considered it the gateway to the underworld. It would be a scary place to be if your fire torch got wet!
Legend has it that the artefacts in the cave are so well preserved and undisturbed for this reason, as the locals thought the cave entrance was the gateway to hell and didn't dare venture inside. It was only discovered by explorers in the 1980s.
At one point we climbed up out of the river on to a higher platform. There was a pile of shoes here, but I couldn't see where anyone would be! We took our shoes off and climbed higher, where we came
across calcified kitchen pots that date back over 1000years. You can tell that they haven't been disturbed in a very long time by the mineral build up on them. There are also 3 piles of human remains in the cave, and at the end a complete human skeleton that looks completely untouched, with the bones all in their correct places. Archaeologists think that these skeletons are all human sacrifices.
On the way back down towards the river we had time to look around a massive room full of amazing rock formations unlike any cave I've seen before. This room alone would be well worth the trek in to the cave.
After we got back out of the cave it was time to trek back and dry off before lunch and the large pot of rum punch! The other group from our bus didn't return for quite a while after us, by which time we were enjoying their share of rum too!
Unfortunately I have no pictures of the cave, as cameras were banned a few years ago, but I'm sure there are pictures on google.
Day 3 in San Ignacio we went to a chocolate business where we could take part in a chocolate demonstration. During this we ground beans in the traditional Mayan way, made a paste and then made this in to traditional Mayan hot chocolate, which was a ceremonial drink. This is quite different to our hot chocolate, there is no sugar for a start. We tasted it, but then added a drop of honey to make it more to our taste. We then experimented with various local spices to see how it tasted served in a variety of ways. Once we had used this all up we got to taste the chocolate bars they make there, then chocolate wine and chocolate liquor! These were all very nice.
Unfortunately we ended our day with a trip to hospital with Jess with a fever, but luckily for us Belize has a free healthcare system even for foreigners, and the hospital was quiet so we got seen to very quickly, unlike England. Good job we'd stayed in English speaking Belize an extra day! Luckily she is making a speedy recovery, so after an extra resting day we continued on with our travels to Guatemala.
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