Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cave Tubing

Without question, the coolest thing I have ever done in my life is have a snowball fight on an erupting volcano.  Yes, you read that right, I had a snowball fight on an erupting volcano.  When I was in college and studying in Rome, some buddies and I went down to Sicily.  We rented a car and drove an erupting Mt. Etna.  It was as awesome as it sounds.

So, when I found out I was going to Belize, I discovered out that there is something called cave tubing.  I quickly realized how awesome this was going to be.  It basically is what it sounds like.  You ride down a river through a cave.  There are several of the companies that run these tours near Belmopan.  We had originally planned on going with Jaguar Paw but they canceled on us the day before we were to go.  Instead we went with Caves Branch.  (I met the owner of Caves Branch back when I went to the Lebanese Day celebration in June.

While many of the tours are just a relaxing trip down a lazy river which goes through a few caves - this wasn't that.  I, unintentionally, signed us up for the Caves Exploration Cave Tubing, which was more exploring, less tubing.  When we got to the resort, we first signed our life away.  Then, we hopped on a bus that was taking us to the starting point.   During the ride over, we forded a river.  If you look in the picture to the right, that's the river we are crossing in a short bus!

Once we go to the river, we crossed it on foot and walked upstream a short bit to the entrance of the cave.  Then we got in our tubes and crossed to the far side of the river.  The current was strong enough that the guide had to use a rope to pull us across one at a time.  We then continued to move UPSTREAM into the cave.  Bats started dive bombing us in the cave.  There were both fruit bats - traditionally what we are used to  - and insect eating bats - which are tiny, tiny bats.

As we got deeper in the cave, the bats disappeared and we could see more and more stalactites and a few stalagmites.  We continued to move upstream.  In some places, we would walk where it was shallow.  In other sections, we would move upstream in a chain.  We were all hooked together, feet and legs under the person in front of us.  I was at the head of the chain, so the guide gave me a rope, paddled upstream, and then pulled us all up with the rope.  We went all the way to the far cave chamber, which was used by Mayans for rituals.  The picture on the right is me, my cousin Bob, and his wife Shannon in the cave.  On the left is a "candle formation" of a stalagmite.  The bottom picture is a carving of a fertility god.  According to the guide, women who had trouble getting pregnant would visit the god.  They were then required to sacrifice their first born child in order to have more children later.

After we finished the first chamber, we floated down a ways to another chamber.  This chamber was about 30 feet above the river.  We had to climb up some slick and muddy rocks. Then we went deep into the dry part of the cave.  Back here we had a picnic lunch, which was pretty awesome.  Even though we weren't far from the river, this chamber was completely still and quiet.   The only light came from our headlamps.  Part of the floor had collapsed down and I got to go and explore in this area.  There was another small chamber that was just amazing.  Tons of formations and a so many crystals, it looked like it was blanketed in snow.  After we left this chamber, we made our way back down to the river and floated most of the way back to the extraction point.  (In some places, the river current was too fast and we had to walk in a shallower area).

Our cave picnic

Some old school Maya pottery.  Pottery used in rituals was always intentionally broken so it couldn't be used for less asture purposes.

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