Sunday, May 08, 2005

Tubing in the dark

After our visit to Tikal we spent another day chilling in El Remate and then headed back to San Ignacio and after some deliberation booked a tour for the following day to go cave tubing on the Caves Branch River. This was pretty expensive (partly because it involves an 1.5 hour drive from San Ignacio) but we couldn't find enough information to confidently attempt the trip on our own (the last 7km or so of unpaved road to the park entrance would be the issue - you might be able to hitch).

We followed our guide, Bernard, walking up-river through the jungle for about 45 minutes carrying our inner tubes. Along the way we spotted a big, bright green snake sunning itself on a rock by the river (eyelash viper?) and several times our trail was crossed by a highway of leaf-cutter ants single-mindedly transporting their payload from one part of the jungle to another.

We also tried a yellow cashew fruit and learned about how toxic cashew nuts are (related to the poisonwood tree) until they are carefully roasted.

We ended up at a fabulous turquoise pool that disappeared on one side into a dark cave-mouth in the limestone. After the obligatory leap from a rock outcropping into the pool, we launched ourselves on our inner-tubes and floated lazily into the darkness.... The river was still 20' deep in most places in spite of it being the end of the dry season. As the light from the entrance faded, our eyes gradually adjusted and for a long time as we drifted we could still make out the pale arch of the cave wall beside us.

The Maya regarded the caves as entrances to the underwold, and would visit them for ceremonial purposes. We saw carvings in rock formations with our headlamps and pottery remains from some of their sites amongst the stalagmites. Most of the time we kept the lights off and paddled in the dark, with the echoes of our splashes filling the void around us, and the occasional floating leaf brushing against a leg or arm causing a moment's alarm. The darkness was punctuated by openings to the jungle in places where the river had drilled out through the limestone in places.

We passed an underground waterfall, and bumped our way over shallow spots where the water was much faster. After the last cave, we span and bobbed our way down-river, warming up in the hot sun until we arrived back at the start of our hike and enjoyed our packed lunch while the guides taunted each other playing dominos.


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