Take me to the river

In San Ignacio, I found myself a cheap room in a buggy guesthouse which was run by a bossy Spanish speaking lady. A long cool shower for a hot & sweaty (and not in a sexy way) girl and then off to find dinner – which ended up being pizza in a bar while listening to David Bowie and Creedence Clearwater.

The next day I moved to the guesthouse next door (Mallorca), which was much cleaner and run by a lovely Spanish speaking lady.

I ambled about the little village, taking photos and chatting to people in the street. I found a proper coffee shop above the street run by an American ex-pat, Sean who made a very decent latte. I spent a bit of time catching up on emails, writing and reading.

I later went to Maya Walk office which had been recommended to me, and booked myself on the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour. The manager invited me to come back for happy hour at their newly opened bar, run by a lovely, softly spoken man by the name of Smokey. It was there I met London Mike and Canadian Steve, who’d met each other somewhere along the way and become traveling companions for the time being. Mike was also on a career break (few of us out there) and was headed to Guatemala as well. They had done the ATM caves that day and were raving about it.

I’ve regressed back into nana-dom again, rising at 6, going to bed at 10 – so I called it after just a few drinks and a feed at a gorgeous lil restaurant called Ko-Ox Han Nah where I had a terrific lamb curry. Been a while since I’ve had either lamb, or curry. It was good on the entry. Not so good on the exit.

On the morning of Thursday 18 August, the tour group convened at Smokey’s bar.

A cool cat with a big ‘fro called Jay sat next to me. He was from Harlem and we struck up an instant rapport. He ended up being gorgeous on all accounts.

On the bus I got talking to a vibrant young thing from Toowoomba – who looked like your archetypical surfer chick. She had gone to NYC to try her hand in the cut-throat fashion world there.

As the gringo trail / small world would have it – it turned out she had been traveling with Nathan, prior to him joining me on the sailing tour. He had spoken to both of us about the other, but I hadn’t known her forward travel plans and she was under the impression I was heading south along the Honduras coast line. Which had totally been the plan up until I’d gotten to Placenta.

* * *

Actun Tunichil Muknal means cave of the stone sepulcher. It’s a significant Mayan archaeological site, which is only accessible in the company if an official guide. We started off with two mini buses, but one of them broke down shortly into the journey, so all the people on the other bus piled onto ours. It was a bumpy, squishy ride over rough roads for nearly an hour.

It was then a gentle hike through some pretty bushland. We got to the site and were given helmets with flashlights, which Jay got pretty excited about. No briefing. Just off we go. What’s a waiver?

We crossed three small rivers to get to the mouth of the cave which was just pretty as you please, with cool crystal clear fresh water. The lighting through the trees gave the water a gorgeous translucent green color.

We strapped on our helmets and waded through neck-deep cold water for a few meters into the pitch black. If I’d had a hat and a stock whip, I would have felt like Indiana Fucking Jones.

We then followed in the footsteps of the great Mayans, scrambling over limestone rocks which were speckled with crystally flecks, shimmering under our headlights.

Every now and then our guide, Danny would stop and point out unusual rock formations, some of which had been altered to look like, or cast shadows of certain gods or animals…

He shared with us his comprehensive knowledge of the ceremonies that took place here. It was like a ‘living’ museum in that there were many remains of relics from the rituals. We saw skulls and bones which stone had ‘grown’ over (i think this is called calcification) and various pieces of ceramics and stoneware which had been utilized in the ceremonies.

The highlight of the tour was seeing the full skeleton of a teenage Mayan girl, who is known as the Crystal Maiden and who was sacrificed to the gods.

The whole experience was simply spectacular. I think one of the things that made it even more amazing for me was the thought that up until 1986, the cave had been undiscovered. Just call me Frontier Girl.

I met up with Jay and the two Carolines for a few drinks later that eve. I asked Smokey to deal a game of Blackjack for us, and he was happy oblige.

My ATM crew left the next morning for Flores. I met up with Smokey to visit a small but pretty local ruin at the top of the hill with amazing vistas; and then I spent the afternoon just chilling out.

On Saturday morning, I went to the markets with a bloke called Pices (or something like that). I had been under the impression it was was going to be this massive Mecca for artisans, but it was more like a farmer’s market. We had brekky and Pices told me his dreams of escaping to a big city. He wished it was him who was leaving, and me who was staying. I had enjoyed the little village of San Ignacio but I was glad that wasn’t the case.

I had spent 3 weeks in Belize and loved my time there. I would recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different (it’s a really multicultural country) but easy (everyone speaks English). The Caribbean coastline is just gorgeous. It’s warm all year round. You can have lobster for breakfast. The diving and snorkeling is stunning. It’s steeped in a really rich Mayan history. The people have a great sense of humor. And most importantly, the beer is cheap.

Having said all that, I was looking forward to getting my Guatemala on.

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4 responses to “Take me to the river

  1. Matthew Markovich

    Hey Michelle–Mr. Maya here–If you’re heading to Antigua, get to the town of Zacapa. It’s home to the distillery that produces my favorite rum, Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 yr. Called “The House in the Clouds” the aging facility is overseen my one of only four women to claim the distinction of Master Blender/Distiller. One of the best sipping rums on Earth, to my way of thinking. Check out this article on it:

    http://www.polishedpalate.com/press/HouseInTheClouds.html

  2. Matthew Markovich

    Sorry, one of only four women–in the world–to hold that title!

  3. LOL at “It was good on the entry. Not so good on the exit.” So many things go this way.

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