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Actun Tunichil Muknal

14 Feb
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Actun Tunichil Muknal – cave entrance

The today trip was more than a regular trip, but it was an experience that hardly you can match. After the breakfast at Hanna restaurant and the successful change of money in Belizean $, I finished my blogs and I left from St Ignatio, with all my luggage, with a minibus in the trip. The minibus stopped to a resort to pick up two other persons, and we left for 30 minutes of paved road, followed by another 30-45 minutes of dirt road on a derivation road from Teakettle Village. We arrived at the parking place for this trip and, we got prepared to leave in the hike that would bring us to the cave. I changed the group trying to return earlier because my plan was to catch a bus from the paved road to Belize City and from there another bus to Orange Walk, a city in the North.

From the parking place you leave in a hike of about 45 minutes in the tropical forest, seeing all sorts of plants, some friendly and some not, crossing through the river three times and getting wet The dress code is bathing suit with a T shirt and sneakers or tight sandals. After 45 minutes we arrived at the entrance of the cave, and Orlando the guide prepared the helmets and the head lights to get inside. The entrance is done through a 12 feet deep pool that you have to swim across, a very shot swim of less than a minute. Inside the cave stalactites and stalagmites welcome you. This cave was, together with 10 other in the region, the place where the Mayas made human sacrifices and blood letting between 800-900AD, in a very dire period for their empire. The empire was obviously decaying and they tried this last resort to make the Gods have mercy and find a solution for the problems they encountered and that eventually brought their demise. At the entrance is a formation that resembles a Maya king. But what is the most interesting is the fact that you have to walk in this cave on the stream of a subterranean river, and you are most of the time in water to your knees, sometimes to your chest, but most of the time to your waist. We walked and scrambled the stones, and climbed subterranean waterfalls, for about one hour, meanwhile admiring the fantastic formation of limestone that the water shaped. Bats were occasionally wakened up by our foray and we kept walking in line inside the cave. If the water was too deep we could swim in the underground pools. This cave and many others represented for the Maya, the underworlds, or Xibalba. The roots of La Ceiba, their national tree, having the roots in this underworld and the branches holding the sky. After about 45 minutes of walking we took the shoes off and we put just some socks, and got up in the higher level caves where the rituals were practiced. Lots of old jars were scattered all around being marked by the archaeologist not to be touched. Fire pits could be seen where Maya were doing purification. That could be done in two ways: either with the dripping water from the stalactite that was collected in these jars, a practice that I saw it also in Vietnam, or with smoke that was obtained by burning their own donated blood in ceremonies of blood letting. The blood was latter put on fire using also copal as incense for making smoke that was rising to the Gods for results. This ceremony was conducted by a shaman, a preserver of the Maya civilization. From the beginning of the upper floors you could see jars all over but the more you advanced you realized that there were jars all over. Most of them were broken because after the ceremony that was lasting 6-7 days all the vases were broken. Latter on , we advanced to the cathedral, that represents the 5th level, pout of the 9 level of the Xibalba, But the counting was done: 4 levels going in, the 5th and the same 4 levels going out, makes 9. The heaven had 13 levels in Maya tradition. The cathedral was majestic; a huge room full of broken or intact jars all over with remarkable sparky stalactites and columns. At the back of the cathedral was an altar where it was in the middle the symbol of corn that was used in the ceremonies and where the blood letting was done. Latter started to show up the skeletons. First a male, followed by other and finishing in the crypt shaped room of the cave, where it was the woman-shaman that is presumed that performed the rituals. Also, there could be found two skeletons of children, 8 and 12 months old. The archaeologists assume that the regular blood letting did not succeed and they started the sacrifices, to be sacrificed being the highest honor. The name of the cave is given from this space where the woman shaman body was found. After we saw everything we started to return, getting off from the upper dry area, and after getting the shoes on, starting again the hike in the river back to the entrance where we swim again the pool. The cave has 3.5 miles but old artifacts were found only in the area we visited. In total we hikes in the water and inside about 0.5 miles and the entire tour was about 3 hours inside. The cave was discovered in the 80s and it was heavily searched by archaeologists, existing also a film made by Nat Geo about it. This is the reason that is visit able by people, but I think in no other place in the world you can walk and almost touch so old artifacts that are in situ in a cave.

At the base camp, that was the old archaeological camp, we got somehow dry and we ate our lunches included in the trip. After that we started to hike back the 45 minutes walk we did before fording the water three times. At the parking I was moved to another minibus that dropped me at 3:30 at the crossing with the paved road to wait for the bus to Belize City. The bus came in 15 minutes and I got in and arrived in Belize City at 5:50pm for B$4. The Orange Walk bus was right near and I jumped into it and left right away, and it brought me in 1.5 hours for B$5 to Orange Walk. Here I got a room in Hotel Ackiniko, owned by some Chinese, that apparently have lots of businesses in this town and I tried to send an email from their email but it did not work. So I went quickly and I ate at Juanita , a local dive with good food, and tried email and blog again from another place.

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Posted by on February 14, 2008 in Belize, Blog

 

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