They have ATM's in the jungle?

Actun Tunichil Muknal is the ATM in the jungles of Belize.  Actun Tunichil Muknal translates into "Cave of the Stone Sepulcher". I had to look up sepulcher. It's a $2 word. 

sep·ul·cher  (spl-kr)
1. A burial vault.
2. A receptacle for sacred relics, especially in an altar

Yep, a cave with a burial vault and sacred relics! We went there! We were totally Indiana Jones minus the bad nazi people chasing us. And we had a guide with us so someone else walked into the cobwebs first. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's start over.

When we first started researching our trip to Belize I ran across a blog someone had written about a crystal maiden. Intrigued I did some more reading and learned about the cave outside of San Ignacio that had been discovered in 1992. Only specifically trained guides are allowed to take visitors into this cave and it's quite the experience. You can't just walk right in and have a little hike. This is much more of an adventure.  

We knew we only had the time and money for one adventure while we were staying in the Cayo District and we decided this was  going to be it. We'd really wanted to visit Tikal in Guatemala but ultimately decided that we should do the physical excursion while we were still young enough to do it, plus it sounded so amazing it was hard to resist even if the physical challenge made me a bit nervous. 

Our Friday morning began with six strangers in a van driven by Oscar who worked for Pacz tours. Oscar was a friendly guy and really good about pointing out things along the long, bumpy road out to the park area where the hike begins. We made introductions with the other travelers in our party as we bounced along in the van.  We made a quick stop at a little store out in the middle of no where. It's the last spot to use a flushing toilet and grab a snack. There were chickens and dogs all over and locals just hanging out. Kind of an odd set up but I had to go so I paid my $1BZD ($.50USD) to use the potty. I had to walk up a little concrete incline that was surrounded by some cinder blocks. I recognized the area immediately from the description the guy at the pool had given us. This is where he fell. Yikes, he didn't even make it to the park entrance?!?! 

After we piled back into the van we were on our way to parking area where all the tours embark on the hike. Oscar made sure we had the right footwear on and asked a few questions, like "does everyone here know how to swim?".  Scott and I are good swimmers and we had out trusty Keen sandals on so we were ready to go. We left our dry clothes in the van, grabbed our helmets and followed along behind Oscar and his trusty machete. 

The hike is fairly easy in that it's flat. It's only about 1.3 miles long so very manageable. The difficulty lies in the mud you are walking on. It's slippery. You can put your foot down and think it's going to slide one way and it will go the complete opposite. You can't reach out to catch your balance because you might just grab onto the bamboo with three inch thorns on it. I was able to keep up by trying to watch where Oscar was putting his feet and looking for the most compact ground. It wasn't terrible, just a little tricky.  We also had to cross the river three times. the first time you go across it's waist deep in fairly slow water, the second is knee deep in swifter water and the third is knee deep again in even swifter water. It wasn't too cold, in fact it's refreshing after walking in the hot humid day.

You could feel the liquid hanging in the air...

Ahhh humidity! Usually my arch nemesis. Any weather element that can make my normally straight hair miraculously turn itself into a ball of frizzy fluff closely resembling a Persian cat who has licked an electrical outlet is no friend of mine.

Except today. Today I spent 25 minutes in a hot, steamy, humid shower in an effort to break up the gunk that has come to live in my respiratory system since our return home. While standing in the shower breathing in as much steam as one can suck down the one nostril that is still unclogged I got to thinking about the humidity in Belize.  

When we arrived there Scott and I both still had the remnants of a nasty cold we'd caught about a week before we got on the plane. Somehow we both now have the same damn colds again. Blech.  Thankfully the first round faded rather quickly and I'm certain that the humidity helped. While not the most humid place I've ever been...I have family in Southern Illinois folks and spent my summers there...Belize was pretty humid. Sleeping in our open air casita was like having a little humidifier running in our room. Just what colds need for that feel better mojo. 

Here is a picture of our little cabin.  We stayed at the Macal River Camp, part of Chaa Creek Resort just outside of San Ignacio. We were tucked about as far back as they go and our front porch, which you can't see was up against giant palm fronds and thick jungle foliage. The screens go all the way around. There are no solid walls. This is actually pretty neat if you want to hear the world of the jungle come alive. One night we were greeted with the sounds of howler monkeys. Their LOUD voices sound a lot like the dinosaurs that chase people in Jurassic Park. I'm not exaggerating one bit.  I tried to record it with my iPhone but the sound didn't carry so well to the microphone.  I did find this little video so you too can enjoy their screeching singing.

Crazy right? Imagine if that were right above your head, in the dark, while trying to sleep. The little family that lived in the trees at our resort spent most of their time terrorizing  entertaining the people who were staying in the fancy rooms, not our humble little casitas. Perhaps the thought they'd get better tips from those folks? As a side note, while searching for this video the little dog who was peacefully sleeping next to me has become agitated. Olivia is not a fan.  Other sounds included all sorts of birds, weird little buzzing bugs and undetermined animals (probably gibnuts) moving around in the foliage.

This is one of the larger, family sized casitas that sit on the opposite side of the camp. We didn't go in one, but I understand they have four beds in them.  When we arrived the University of Vermont had a group of students visiting and they were staying in these rooms.

This is the inside of our room. It was plenty big for the two of us. Each night Dosio, the camp host, or one of his kids, would light the kerosene lanterns as it grew dark. With no electricity it gets dark in the jungle FAST! Shortly after dark falls it's dinner time. Everyone eats together in a two hour time frame. Dinner is made by Dosio's wife or his sister-in- law. I wish I had photos of the food. Sadly it was so amazing we always ate it before thinking to take a photo. When I say amazing I'm not sure the word really fairly describes the food I consumed. It was better than that. Seconds were encouraged and there was always a dessert to enjoy. The banana cake our first night might be the BEST banana cake I have ever had. I had banana cake at my wedding. This was better. Leaps and bounds better. I am a cake lover, you have to know my wedding cake was delicious. Still I vote for Belize Banana Cake. It must be the fresh bananas? If I ever make it back to Macal River Camp I will beg for that recipe. 

In addition to the beautiful walks you can take around the resort you can also check out a canoe and either head upstream (free!) or downstream into San Ignacio town ($25/person including your pick up in town). We choose to head into town and this is me heading down the river. It's a two hour paddle. They told us it would be a two hour paddle. Scott and I both figured we'd be able to do that a bit faster. You know he's all buff and stuff and I've been working on my fitness. We had this on lock down. 

Only we didn't. It wasn't a hard paddle, but it took the full two hours.  Thankfully it's a beautiful ride down a lovely river with iguanas hanging out on tree branches and large birds swooping in front of the boat. Also, there were a few class one rapids to go through. I've rafted the upper Clackamas River so I've seen some rapids. These were not nearly as scary but the first one you do in a little canoe rather than a giant inflated raft is a bit nerve wracking. We got the hang of it quickly though and it was pretty darn fun. 

We did pass another couple. So even if we didn't beat the two hour mark we at least beat some other people :) I bet they had no idea they were in a race with us. 

Pretty river view. I wish I'd thought to take a photo of the suspension bridge you pass under. It's the only one in Belize. It was built in 1949 and is only one lane wide.  If you know me you understand that I was much happier to go under it than over it. 

After our drift into town we left our canoe at the dock (small cement outcropping that had neither a sign or place to tie up the boat) and walked into town. The resort has a set up to leave your paddle and life jackets at a local restaurant so you can enjoy town without them.  We stopped at a different restaurant and ordered drinks and lunch. This was my first Belikin of the trip. It's a pretty easy beer to drink when it's hot out. Very refreshing.  

Delicious shrimp ceviche.  We were famished!

After lunch we took a walk into town and through the market. Just around the corner from this market there is a large construction site that we walked past. The day after we left this area of Belize they discovered Mayan ruins and skeletal remains at that site.  Pretty amazing! I love that they are still discovering these amazing pieces of history!

Also around the corner from the market is this little store. I just thought it was funny that they have a sign with the words "big panties" on it. Yes I have the same sense of humor as a nine year old. I can't help it. 

Back at the resort we decided to relax a little by the pool. Macal River Camp guest are able to use the amenities at the resort side of the property too. A nice little perk. The grounds are beautiful and the pool is very refreshing. They have food and drink service at the pool as well. 

At the pool we met a man who had a giant bag of ice on his ankle. I'd already been told by Dosio - who picked us up in town - that someone had to return from the ATM cave hike early due to a turned ankle. I assumed this was the guy and sure enough it was. He'd fallen at a quick stop on the way to the cave. Poor thing didn't even make it to the area where you hike. More on that later of course. I have a whole blog coming on just that hike.

My final picture on this post is out of sequence, these are the first drinks we had upon arriving at the resort. Mine is a lime juice,similar to Limeaid and easily my favorite drink in Belize. I'm doing some research online for recipes and I plan to test a few out. I will report back here. Scott's drink is the beer of course. I think of these as a toast to Macal River Camp, Dosio and his family, the town of San Ignacio and the lovely Cayo District. It was our first taste of Belize and it was perfect. I would do it again in heartbeat.