9 Days in Belize and Tikal, Guatemala

A Travelogue by John Niebler

Pictures by John Niebler and John Zastrow

Getting to Belize Diving Trip Explore Caye Caulker Tikal - day 1 Tikal - day 2 Down to Punta Gorda - Kayak Trip Explore the cave Snorkeling and Fishing Going home
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Dive Trip
Caye Caulker
Tikal - Day 1
Tikal - Day 2
PG and Kayak
Cave Trip
Snorkeling and Fishing
Going Home

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.
Man was it worth it! I stood up into this huge chamber. Maybe 30 by 45 with 15 to 20 foot ceilings. There were all kinds of stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Fans, daggers, organ pipes, soda straws. Some extended to the ground and some were still active and dripping. It was fantastic and pristine with no paths or human markings. There were no electric lights. Just our flashlights shining all over the interior lighting up the rock at all different angles. What surprised me the most was that the cave was amazingly clean. We found no evidence of animals other than gibnut tracks. Otherwise known as Royal Rat because Queen Elizabeth II ate it at a state dinner, it is a guinea pig like animal. According to Mess and Celiano it is quite tasty. Celiano did a fair amount of searching around corners trying to catch one. He did not find any, which is probably a good thing. We spent about an hour and a half in the cave. We explored about 6 very large rooms. We were going to continue on in, but Mess hadn’t been any further and the main flashlight went out for a minute. We turned back. We did at one point shut off our lights. Total, … and complete… darkness. No doubt about it. We would have died without lights.

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.
The hike home was much easier. It was almost all down hill. Both on the way up and then on the way back, Celiano was showing us the plants the Maya eat. We sampled about 5 types of plants. One of them had huge leaves that you pulled out of the central stalk, then just ate this little white part at the tip. On the way back Celiano was on the hunt for cilantro and found several bunches of it. It looks very different than the cilantro here. It has large broad leaves. But man was it good. Ten times more pungent than even the freshest stuff we get here.

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.)
Oh, yeah. Neither of us got sick. ;^)


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