Friday 4 January 2013
Highlights: Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Caves.
During the night it rained very hard and as a result all our booked activities today underwent major changes. For me the Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves or the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre was changed from a 11.30 am departure to 8.15 am. This news was delivered by Andrea shouting “Nathan are you awake?”. Actually this turned out to be a good thing as otherwise we would have been hiking back in the dark across rivers which I don’t think would have been very safe.
Unfortunately for the rest of the group their ‘tubbing’ activity was cancelled but they did get to do a substitute activity.
Anyway at 8.15 am Rita, Josie, Andrew and myself with two Canadians staying at our accommodation got picked up after a rushed breakfast. Our day tour group then met up with an American family and an hour later we arrived at the entrance to the ATM. It took another 20 minutes to make our way on an unmade road. Along the way you could see the effects of the rain on the surrounding area.
At the start of the hike one of the Canadians injured herself with a nail through her foot, lots of blood :(. The guides tried to clean her up as best they could and it was decided she would have to stay with the van. She was well enough that her husband still travelled with us for this experience. This was a reminder of how easy it is to get injured and how it could really wreck your day and trip.
There are no cameras allowed in the ATM after a tourist dropped their camera and wrecked a skeleton head :(. To be fair I think it would be dangerous to take your camera, or at least after it has rained given it would have to go underwater and probably get smashed climbing.
To get to the caves we had to hike for around 45 minutes crossing three rivers with rushing water coming up to our chests and sometimes a little higher. You had to be very careful not to fall and be carried away down stream and possibly not survive. The conditions were only just safe enough to allow tourists to hike.
The mud on the path wasn’t easy either and unfortunately you could not grab onto any trees or plants for stability due to their thorns. Somehow I managed to not fall on my ass, well at least not outside the cave, inside the cave I have to sit down and slide a few times.
You enter the cave by swimming into it. Swimming with shoes and socks on is harder then I imagined. I later figured out that it is easier to just paddle using your hands not your feet.
During the next hour we hiked up and down the cave, sometimes swimming, other times wadding in water up to my neck, sometimes crawling and other times climbing. You had to work for this activity but it was really fun, well most of the time!
The cave used to be the site of Mayan human sacrifices and offerings. Nothing was touched for hundreds of years as this place was not officially discovered until 1986 and opened to the public in 1989. The fact if is so hard to reach also has kept the site in a good condition. We saw skeletons and lots of pots used for offerings to the gods of the underworld.
In the main offering area you had to walk around in bare feet or wearing socks, no shoes allowed. This makes it much harder to walk around and occasionally painful.
The return trip out of the cave was faster but also harder at points as the water had continued to rise meaning we almost had to go underwater at points to get out. A little more water and we would have been stuck for the night!
We gad a very late lunch just outside the caves which I felt we all really deserved at that point. The river crossings were also more interesting with more water rushing by. This time we linked arms to stop anyone going on an unscheduled river cruise 🙂
A really great day doing tough and risky physical activities that allowed me to experience a very special site. A very good way to enjoy my 100th day on this trip.