A day in the Mysterious Mayan Underworld
When we think of Belize, we imagine diving and snorkeling in its clear blue waters. However, there is something else in Belize that is totally contrasting yet equally appealing: Actun Tunichil Muknal or the ATM Cave and its secrets. Swimming in shallow waters with baby sharks and playful stingrays was fun; but muddy, cold water of the ATM cave was not very friendly to swim. Well, that’s what I signed up for. If you plan to visit Belize, do not miss the ATM Cave Tour.
Belize was the first stop on my Central America backpacking trip crossing borders of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras on buses. The three- week adventure started with a welcoming rum punch in Belize and ended with a nasty vomit comet ride in Honduras (covered in the Honduras post). Ferries loaded with backpackers and vacationers were headed one after another to Ambergris Caye, the biggest and the most popular island of Belize. As the sun set on the island, the bars got packed and the music got loud. A good time to socialize and make new friends. Nobody wanted to be alone on the island. Maybe, a few!
There wasn’t any kind of water sport that was not there in the menu; and to make it complicated, there weer so many tour companies promising the best deal ever. The blue green sea was alluring, nevertheless, and so were the sharks and stingrays at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. A paradise for snorkelers and divers, Ambergris Caye is just a few miles away from the Great Belize Barrier Reef making it rich with sea life. It was my first time snorkeling and diving; it felt almost dreamy to see colorful fish, sharks and stingrays circling our group. I never saw sea life that close before. For a moment, I became a part of that magical environment. Stingrays were cool and let us touch them. Sharks kept distance with us. Caye Caulker was my next destination, and it wasn’t any less mesmerizing. It was so tiny that I ran two rounds in one hour. One island to the next, one bar to another, one water adventure to something else; it continued for almost a week. I had to drag myself out of these energy and bank balance draining islands to get to the next agenda item: town of San Ignacio.
A full day in hammock eating and reading only helped regain some energy for the next task, a tough one. The ATM Cave tour is a full day activity, mostly in wet condition. Cameras and cellphones were not allowed, so no pictures or videos are available of this arduous tour. However, the company I did the tour with have some pictures and videos available.
There are so many tales around the history of this cave. Our tour guide narrated his own version spiced up with his own beliefs and superstitions. The experience wasn’t anything like swimming in clear water with dolphins and turtles. The day started with a bit easy task of crossing a muddy river by ropes followed by a jungle hike into the cave. The meeting with the Mayan underworld was not supposed to be easy anyways. We had to swim/ walk through narrow openings against the flow of water in the cave. If this wasn’t enough fun, cold muddy water made it more thrilling. The underworld revealed its secrets when we walked around the remains and remnants. The one who got everyone attention was a human skeleton. They call it “The Crystal Maiden.” It was sort of going back into the ancient time. But after being in cold water for hours, it was good to be back in the modern time to sip a hot coffee.
It was worth the efforts to witness something one of its kind. The ATM Cave tour was certainly an unique experience for me; if not just for the history, but definitely for the thrill.