Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Best Adventure of My Life

Now, I've been around the world and done a lot of fun things, but nothing beats this. We went on an adventure through the rain forest at the ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal) Caves. The day began with a few of us helping the cook prepare lunches for the day and meeting up at the outfitter.
A big truck with 7 bucket seats in the back with no seatbelts is where we rode on the hour an a half ride to the site. Truly it was something you'd never see in America. There's no real speed limits here either, just speed bumps. But, in between speed bumps the driver would get going over 70 mph. With our mouths open it looked like we were skydiving. The wind was blowing so strong that it ripped Ellie's sunglasses right off, which smacked me in the face an then hit the road. Just the drive alone was like a roller coaster all in its self only better and one that didn't make you sick. It was fast and bumpy. Amanda was the smart one of the group who wore a helmet the entire way there and back. There was plety of laughing and holding on tight... and as a little inside joke "Amanda, not funny!"

The rest of the group took a van to the site. When we came to a river, we had to attach a giant chain from the truck to the van and help pull the van through the river. The chain snapped off, but the van didn't get stuck. Pretty exciting though.
Along the way to our launch spot, we stopped and picked oranges. I got to juggle oranges in the middle of an orange grove in the jungle. Perhaps I should join the circus instead of the medical field. Those oranges again came in handy later... jungle chic (you had to be there for that one). Funny thing is that as we were eating those oranges, our guide was cutting them open and paring them for us with his bare hands and a large knife as we went down the bumpy road. I thought we were going to have another nursing day instead of an adventure day.
This is where we were headed...

I've done some crazy things in my life... paragliding in the Swiss Alps, gone into a several thousand acre forest fire, crawling through the catacombs beneath Paris, exploring abandoned asylums in London, and going more than a hundred feet below the water to explore shipwrecks frozen in time. However, after today's adventure I must say, none of those compare. It was the biggest conglomeration of experience once could ask for... the historical aspect, the exercise aspect of hiking several miles, the cultural aspect, the variety involving the drive there, swimming through the underwater crevices, trecking across rivers, going nearly 700 feet below the surface, walking through waterfalls, finding the remains of thousand year old Mayan people, and doing it with a group of people you love. After the adventure I asked my friends to describe their experience in one word... here's what I got.... surreal, breathtaking, extraordinary, and Unbeliezable. It set a high standard for any adventure that could follow. We came in wonder and left in awe.

Let me take you on our journey...

Hiking through the rainforest was about a three miles total hiking. It rained the first part of the trek not bad, just enough to let the concept of rainforest live up to its name. Along the way, we got to eat citronella leaves that grow on trees, pick pellets of varnish from trees, see real rubber from the rubber trees, smell fresh figs growing on trees, see giant iguanas, eat chloraquine leaves from the "jack ass bitter tree" (medicine to cure malaria)...

see a real live boa constrictor, the giant track marks from a "tepir", find unexcavated mayan home and well, discover remains of an old Mayan tool, see fish through crystal clear water, and paint ourselves like the natives once did with "blood rock" from out of the river. We looked like warriors and felt like Indiana Jones.

One of the groups even got to eat live termites... Hanna said they tasted like carrots and as you can see Stephski is enjoying them.

And, some took a few spills along the way...

We got to base camp and were able to take a breather and eat some lunch.

Once through the jungle and river treks we entered the mouth of the cave. We had to swim across a stretch of water 70 feet deep to enter the cave. Once inside, we followed an underground river, through waterfalls, huge cavernous openings, squeeze through passageways that couldn't have been more than 2 feet wide, shimmy along the edge of narrow ledges, climb up tall ladders, boulder up the side of jagged rock faces, swim through areas too deep to touch.

Through one area of the cave we all turned out our lights and experienced complete and total darkness. In darkeness, it's referred to as Xibabalal (pronounced Shi- bal- bal) This area is known as the Mayan underworld, 700 feet below the surface and the site of a number of human sacrafices, bloodletting ceremonies, and cultural reverance. We were surrounded by stalagtites, stalagmites, broken pottery,

Some rock formations projected eerie images against the cave walls when light was projected against it- the image of a woman fertility God and what looked like a warrior. Giant sheets of calcified rock that looked like sheets of bacon, curtains hanging from the ceiling, and ground formations that looked like the mesentary lining one's gut. There were also human remains... all this in an area so sacred that we had to remove our shoes and just walk in socks- they don't want you shoes damaging the grounds and they don't want the oils of your skin affecting the Ph levels.

The occasional bat flew by, but otherwise there was little animal life to speak of... just a few biting fish.

Throughout it all, we were led by our trusty guide Gonzo... what a guy! If you ever take the ATM tour, I'd highly recommend him... thorough, fun, and a brilliant speological archeologist.A guide from another tour group ended the tour in the strangest fashion for me. He came up to me once back at basecamp, took his machete, came to me and sliced off a piece of my pigtails about a half an inch long, stuffed the hair into his pocket, and then just walked away. Can we say creepy?! If my hair all starts falling out then I will have my suspicions why.

Along the way back through the jungle we had a special river blessing along one of our crossings. Interesting story too strange to write about here.

At the end an exhausting and exhilerating day, we all got cleaned up and sat down for a nice warm meal... what a day!


At January 12, 2009 at 5:33 AM , Blogger dadandmom said...

I can't belieze that you crawled into a hole like that....this looks like the best trip you have ever are truly in your element...we love you sooooooooooo much, you wild thing! Hope you can get some more medicine and that you will be able to make a difference over and over again in their lives. Love, Mom and Dad


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