9 Days in Belize and Tikal, Guatemala
A Travelogue by John Niebler
Pictures by John Niebler and John Zastrow
Friday April 4th
We were supposed to go fishing and snorkeling, but this got rescheduled
for the next day. So, Celiano took us up to Santa Cruz to explore a cave.
A local Maya family joined us in the truck for the hour-long trip. They
were going to Santa Elena to ‘walk’ with the man’s parents.
We stopped at Mess’ house. Mess is short for something, but I never
caught what. He was our guide to the cave and wasn’t home when we
got there. Apparently he had not received word that we were coming. So
his daughter ran to get him. We traveled on to drop the Mayan family off
in Santa Elena about 10 more minutes down the road. We came back and still
had to wait about a half hour for Mess to get back. He must have been
a long ways away. These were some tough people. Mess had worked starting
at 6am, hiked all the way back to meet us and then took us on this trip.
(There was a joke said earlier when the women wanted to be picked up in
town and driven back that they were ‘lazy’. The town is 7
miles from the co-op.) A steamy hour’s trek into the ‘bush’
got us to this cave. It was hot. We were nearer the Equator than either
of us had ever been and the sun gave us a trial by fire. Especially in
areas were there was no shade to cool you off. We hiked up and up and
up. The rain forest was not nearly as active as I thought it would be.
Huge lines of ants were everywhere; marching along a path carrying leaves.
But, that’s not what I’d call wildlife. We stopped at the
base of a steep hill. After 5 minutes rest we climbed about 150 feet to
a rock overhang. We sat down under the overhang and ate oranges and drank
some water. It was nice and cool under the rock. The overhang went about
25 feet back into the rock and was about 35 feet wide at the mouth. There
were stalactites hanging from the ceiling. After the small break we hid
our packs, got our flashlights and headed into the cave. Dona had described
it as a crawl up under the rock and in. So we climbed into this hole in
the rock into a rather large room. Maybe 15 by 20 with a 12-foot ceiling.
I thought that was it. It was large and had stalactites and stalagmites
all over. This, however, was only the beginning. Mess called us over to
one side of the cave, got down on his stomach and shimmied up this tunnel
in the rock. It was about 8 feet wide, ten feet long, with a 2-foot ceiling.
You had to be pretty much on your stomach to get through it.
Before we left, Celiano pulled some potsherds from a small hole in the
rock. They had found them on previous trips to the cave. Apparently Maya
had lived in the cave years ago.
We made it back to Mess’ house a little before dinnertime. We were
given fresh squeezed orange juice, which was awesome. After about a half-hour
of chatting and explaining what diabetes was, we were invited in. (Celiano
was fascinated by my blood sugar meter.) Mess’ house has two rooms.
There was a dirt floor and running water from a spigot outside the front
door. (They also had a new water treatment system in the village that
added chlorine to the water.) Unfortunately, the family ate in the other
room away from us and we did not interact with them. We ate with Celiano
at a small table. The meal was canjo, a traditional Mayan meal. It was
chicken, white yams, the cilantro we had picked in the bush, salt, and
a strong hot pepper. Warm, soft corn tortillas made from freshly ground
corn were piled in front of us and we dipped them into our spicy chicken
soup. It was very good. I’m quite certain that there was one less
chicken outside from when we got there. Celiano joked with us that it
was still fighting back. It was definitely a tougher bird than we get
at Pick ‘n Save. But still it was very good and actually tasted
like something, unlike the white, tasteless, Weight-Gain-2000 chickens
we get back home. We had more orange juice to drink and hot cocoa. I found
out later that this was the real thing. They pick the cocoa beans off
the plant, which are in peapod like shells. The children split the shells
and suck on the beans to remove the oils from them. Then they wash the
beans and leave them in the sun to dry. When dry they grind them and mix
them with water and sugar. The sugar is also native and they grind that
themselves as well. Bohk-Teek to Mess, his family, and Celiano. (Means
“Thank you” in Maya.)
The Cave Trip
|Our destination is on the hill to the left. This is from pretty close to the village.|
|Crossing the river|
|View from under the overhang.|
|Crawling into the cave|
|Inside the organ pipes|
|Celiano looking for gibnut.|
|A gibnut aka Royal Rat|