San Ignacio as places go is not very special but the adventures you can have from here are. Unfortunately we only had one free day so we could only do one. I went for the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) cave. This means Stone (A), Tomb (T), Cave (M) in Mayan. This was an amazing experience. We travelled into the jungle on a cattle truck adapted for humans by adding seats. We then had to do the next stage on foot which meant trekking through the jungle crossing a number of streams. It was beautiful. This brought us to the mouth of the cave. To get in you had to swim through freezing water to scramble up on the rock to start the walk into the depths of the cave. As we walked in he asked us to turn around and at the entrance was 2 rocks forming the silhouette of a mighty warrior. It was spine tingling. Then the serious business of caving began. So armed with second hand trainers, a helmet and a head torch we began our descent to 800m under the ground. We had to scramble over rocks, and squeeze down crevices. At points I really wondered if I was going to be able to get back out. We paddled through pools and some were so deep we had to swim. At one point I was climbing up an 8ft rock desperately looking for foot holes. On the top we then had to leap to the next rock! At one point the guide asked us to turn off our lights and hold the shoulder of the person in front of us. He then guided us through the tomb, chanting and breaking leaves so we walked through a trail of citrus scent. How he did this without one of us falling I will never know. It was totally pitch black. On the way back with our head torches on, virtually all of us fell or tripped.
The cave had beautiful stalactites which glistened in the light. Our guide was also able to play an excellent tune on them just using his knuckles.
The Mayans used this cave for sacred purposes and would have made this journey many years ago to ask or thank the Gods for things. So in the depth of the cave were many artefacts and also human remains. The Mayans would sacrifice people to appease or please the Gods. You could see the injuries sustained by these individuals. There were skulls with holes in them and the most moving of all a young girl who had been arranged into a pose represent dance. She had missing vertebrae in her spine and they believe she had been hit in the back by an axe. It was a strange but moving experience. The guide was of Mayan descent and he was able to make you feel how special this place was and how privileged we were to be able to see it. I totally agree.
In the evening I had my first introduction to the drinking game 'Kings' - incredibly dull unless incredibly drunk. Doesn't take too long to get drunk playing this game but very thankful I was saved by Alana to go to the local club for a boogie. The music was excellent and Hayden provided constant drunken entertainment which we took great pleasure in reminding him of the next day!
From here we went to Guatemala. We caught the bus from the station which looked more like an empty car park. The bus was absolutely packed and we were all piled into the aisles when the bus conductor informed us we must sit. It was a nightmare. I was fortunate in that a couple of locals responded to the dewy eye look by shifting up and making room for one of my bum cheeks! Others had to actually sit in the aisle. Then after about 15 minutes Gino our tour leader realises we are actually on the wrong bus - it was bedlam. The bus screeched to a halt, we al clambered off and retrieved our bags. A lady demanded payment for the journey so far. Gino was not paying The next minute she is screaming she is going to call the police - 'Go ahead' said Gino. I had images of me in a suit with arrows - would it be flattering, would I look big in it??? Luckily we made a fast get away before the police arrived - the next bus only took 40 minutes to appear!!!! Everything goes slowly here. After an hour from leaving the bus station we arrived back at the bus station. All fun and games! We finally caught the right bus. This was a real chicken bus and even came complete with a live chicken in a sack or at least that is how it started. No one realised there was a chicken in there and it was only when the second backpack had been placed it that the squawks made us think perhaps something was alive or almost in there. We very quickly moved the backpacks but it seriously looked worse for wear. The owner was needless to say nonplussed!