Ok my turn! Here's an overview of our last few days…
Day 6 - 13, Caye Caulker to San Ignacio
After the excitement of the night snorkel and full day snorkel, we felt brave enough to complete our PADI refresher course. We were a little nervous because it's been a few years since we both dived. We needn't have worried though as it all came back to us. 2 refresher dives done and now we can dive whenever we like on the journey. After a flurry of underwater activity we felt the need for more relaxing and spent our last 2 days on Caye Caulker swinging in hammocks, drinking rum and eating lobster…yes people, it's a hard life..
We left the island on Monday to travel inland to San Ignacio, a town at the foot of the Maya Mountains about 10 miles from the Guatemalan border. We travelled by boat to Belize City and then planned to catch the bus to San Ignacio. We missed (or it wasn't running, who knows) the Express bus to S.I. so we had to catch the local bus to Belmopan and then another local bus to S.I. When we got on the first bus the man in front was holding a gun, the woman beside us a chicken and reggae music was blasting through the speakers... you've got to love Belize! We arrived in San Ignacio to find that it doesn't matter if you are Belize's 2nd largest town, there will still not be road names or signs, but we did eventually manage to bumble our way to the hostel with much help from the very friendly locals. After a quick dinner at the restaurant below the hostel we booked some tours for the next few days. Cave's and jungle and adventure…this is why we came to the Cayo region!
Our first adventure was a trip out to the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Cave. This cave was used by the Maya from 300 - 900 AD. It was a place to make offerings to the underworld in times of trouble and as it was only rediscovered in 1988, the artifacts are in excellent, almost untouched condition. We set off with a group and our guide Renan at 8am. After a long and VERY bumpy drive we could go no further, so out we hopped to start the hike up to the cave. We were lucky indeed and spotted a beautiful Toucan in the trees. After wading through 3 rivers and hiking for about an hour we arrived at the mouth of the cave. When I realised you have to swim into the cave I must admit I was thinking, "sod the cave, I'll stay out here, James can go in and take photos and no one will ever know I didn't go in". Then I thought about the $95 I had just paid the tour guide, so I leaped off the rock and swam for it! Once we had clambered up a rock in the cave, we all switched on our head torches and were instructed to follow Renan in single file, passing his instructions down the line when we got to tricky points. This was a bit like Chinese whispers, because at one point the guy in front of me said, " jump off this rock into the water", when the actual instruction was, " DO NOT jump of this rock into the water, slide in gently". Oh well, after an hour of climbing, wading through water, squeezing through tiny gaps and trying not to have a panic attack in the pitch black, Renan removed our cameras from the dry bag, told us to take off our shoes and follow him closely… the first artifacts we came to we some large pots. These might once have contained food offerings or blood offerings from the priests. After lots more pots, we came upon some partial skeletal remains, thought to be sacrificial victims. We walked to a huge "hall" inside the cave containing magnificent stalactites and stalagmites. Time for a final climb up high into the rock, using a very scary ladder (!), along a tunnel and you come to the complete skeleton of a young girl, sacrificed by the Maya around 900AD. She is called the Crystal Maiden because her bones have calcified and sparkle when the torch light shines on her. OK so I've been banging on about the cave enough, we swam, climbed, squeezed, hiked our way back down and we were done.
It was raining a lot the next day, but we flung on our waterproofs and walked up to the Mayan ruins of Cahil Peche 30 mins out of town. Check out the pictures. I think they'll do it more justice than I can. We had a wicked lunch of Belizean coconut river fish and spent the rest of the day in the local pub with $1 beers, watching the rain fall.
So we come to today, Thur 15th Dec. Today we were booked to canoe up river from San Igancio into the jungle to the Medicine Trail, to learn about plant medicine. It was just us 2 and our guide Melvin in a large canoe. We soon found out Melvin's family have been here for generations, he catches and eats Higgity's (terrapins), Iguana's and has 10 kids! I got a lucky break, Melvin is a gentleman and insisted I sit in the middle while he and James paddled. It was a 5km up-river paddle, occasionally against some small rapids so I was happy indeed! We docked and were guided through the jungle along the medicine trail, learning about cures for many diseases that have been discovered along the way. Now totally knackered it was time to paddle back. Knowing it was down river I bravely volunteered my paddling skills. The sun had finally come out, and with it the wildlife. Melvin was an excellent guide and animal spotter and we saw numerous Iguanas (orange and black!!), a Toucan mid-flight, "a river dog" (I think it was an otter) and we paddled past an overhanging rock, which was home to 100's of bats! Melvin slapped the oar on the water and they went flying everywhere! I'll try and upload the video James took so you can see.. Happy, tired and wet we arrived back in San Ignacio and now here I sit (in the bar again) writing this blog for you good people. We're off to the Mountain Pine Ridge reserve for more adventure tomorrow and we need an early night, so I bid you adieu…
On a final note, I must mention that James has the uncanny ability of fully understanding the Creole the locals speak, he is now mainly speaking to me in his own Patois and I imagine he will be fully fluent by the time we leave…