Actun Tunichil Muknal
Today we just returned from our first high adrenalin, adventure driven tour. Kinda felt like Kathleen turner in romancing the stone. (the young Kathleen Turner) We took a paid tour to the Mayan cave archeological site called Actun Tunichil Muknal or ATM for short.
It was a four hour tour in all, but the drive there and back was another hour and a half each way, so it was really a full day. We took a 4 x 4 for a bone rattling ride into the middle of nowhere past groves and groves of oranges and other citrus. We passed the gates of what turned out to be private farm as our guide paid the fee to pass. We traveled through two rivers in the truck and I was grateful it was indeed a 4×4, even though it was clearly in needs of new shocks . We arrived in the lush subtropical forest within the Tapir Mountain Reserve, and prepared for the hike at base camp.
We had a group of eight people, and three of them were children, around Miro’s age. We suited up with our hard hats and head lamps and put our cameras in the dry bags. We hiked through the jungle on a difficult slippery path and sometimes through lakes for close to 45 minutes when we finally reached a clearing.
To our surprise, there was the entrance to a limestone of a cave, set deep in the the crystal blue waters. We all geared up and got into the freezing cold waters and swam through the entrance of the cave. We spent the next two and half hours climbing through the cave passages, which became an obstacle course of sorts. At times, we were maneuvering between teeny gaps making it necessary to manipulate our bodies sideways. Other times we were up to our swimming in waist high water, avoiding the sharp rocks blindly threatening our bodies. An other times, we were up to our knees water in the pitch darkness, trying to stay close to the guide with the only source of light. We experienced the most amazing rock formations throughout the entire hike, passages adorned with sparkling centuries old stalactites and stalagmites.
We finally reached a spot in the cave that had a sort of “landing”. We all removed our shoes, and climbed up a small rope latter that had been installed there for us adventure seekers. We reached a sandy area called the “Cathedral” and suddenly we were in a chamber with high rock ceilings. The feeling of the place was enormity and chilling, with an abundance of crystal stalactites and stalagmites . Upon further examination, littering the ground were dozens and dozens of remnants of of Mayan pottery all taped off, as we were warned not to cross over those taped areas.
What a rush.
Moving farther into the cathedral, we started to see skulls of those long ago, and piles of decaying bones. (As if the air wasn’t chilly enough…) Our guides told us all of the artifacts were carbon dated to be from somewhere between 300 – 900 ad , when this cave was used regularly by the Mayans. The Mayan belief was that like began in caves as spirits and return there in death. We were told that the sacred tree, the ceiba, which is considered the tree of life, had it’s roots here too. Literally. The stalagmites were believed to be the roots of the tree, reaching into the underworld. Made sense to me.
In the end, we came upon he thousand year old remains of a sacrificed Mayan woman. Being inches away from the relics chilled my bones but was amazing and exhilarating The climb and swim were somewhat difficult since we were all tired, but Miro was a true trooper and pushed through. We were both blown away with our experience and not sure what could possibly ever top this.
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