Belize - February 3-13, 2003

After a couple feet of snow and temperatures not getting over 20F, we headed out of Boston to Belize. Flying American through Miami, everything went perfect and arrived at Belize City International Airport right on time. We were picked up by our host, Chaa Creek and given a very informative 2 hour introduction to Belize on the ride to the Cayo District. Chaa Creek was beautiful. The cottages were very nice, the food was okay, the grounds were immaculate and the people were the best we experienced in years of travel. Everyone connected with the resort was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful and it was very genuine. We can't say enough about it.

Check out Chaa Creek
This morning we hiked up to the Natural History Center and Butterfly Farm. The Blue Morpho butterfly is spectacular, hard to believe that it only lives for two weeks as a butterfly. Next we checked out the Medicine Trail, only to find out that it was closed. Maybe next time. So we went down to the Macal River just to see what it looked like and how the canoeing would work for tomorrow. Much of what sounds like just hanging around was really camera time. I got a new digital camera before coming and had to try it out on everything I saw. It even takes short movies. By the end of our ten day trip, I had taken 350 pictures and 10 movies. That afternoon we decided to give our feet a break and took a guided horseback tour around the property. It was a lot of fun, but of course other parts of the body were now fatigued. The hammocks outside our cottage sure came in handy.

Today we were heading to Barton Creek Cave. Mayawalk Tours picked us up at Chaa Creek and drove us into San Ignacio to prepare for the trip. There were only three plus one guide on this trip. They strapped a huge canoe to top of their vehicle and off we went. After about an hour on mostly dirt and rock roads through orange and grapefruit groves, we came to the river. We hooked up a giant floodlight and paddled into the cave. We were probably in the cave for about an hour. It was huge. Several places along the way you could see Mayan artifacts. After emerging from the cave, we stopped by a section of the river that was perfect for swimming. It was nice break before our hour long trek back to San Ignacio. Before we left on our trip we had read about Mayawalk, primarily because they tour Actun Tunichil Muknal (tomorrow's trip). We also found that Chaa Creek prices for tours were on the expensive side. I highly recommend Mayawalk. They go everywhere, they'll take small groups at a reasonable price and they really know their stuff. We had a great time. That afternoon, we took our own canoe trip up the Macal River. Lots of birds and iguanas along the way. Very relaxing.

Day 3 - Actun Tunichil Muknal
When we first read about Belize, we were interested in going to the cayes for snorkeling and sailing. Once we read about the cave, Actun Tunichil Muknal, we just had to spend some time in the jungle and take this trip. Only two tour groups can go to ATM. The original reason was to protect it from too much traffic, though both groups seem to do multiple trips, so I'm not sure that it's working. Again, Mayawalk picked us up at Chaa Creek and took us into San Ignacio, where we were given our gear for the day. Backpacks, dry bags, helmets, lights, and lunch were issued to everyone. We had a group of six plus one guide. It's about an hour and half drive and then a 45 minute hike to the cave entrance. At the entrance we stopped for our lunch and got our instructions for the trek into ATM. It was interesting how the guide commented about two of the people wearing sandals (not a day at the beach) while he was barefoot! It's about a 10-15 yard swim into the cave. After that, it was climbing over rocks and formations, squeezing between rocks, more swimming, and much walking. You really had to be careful and help each other all the way through, but it was not that hard, just take your time. Some of the cave areas were huge, with stalagmites and stalactites everywhere. After climbing up a fairly steep wall, we were instructed to remove our shoes and if people had cameras in their dry bags, they could get them out. The guide had us turn off all lights, he lead us into place and then turned on his lamp. There were Mayan artifacts everywhere. After seeing a few in Barton Creek, this was amazing. We turned on our own lights and followed the guide now further into the cave. Every where you went were more and more pots, and then some bones and a couple of skulls. The final climb, up an aluminum ladder, (who said the Mayans weren't ahead of their time) takes you into a smaller area with a complete skeleton crystallized into the floor. The way back out of the cave was as exciting as the way in. Swimming, squeezing, sliding and hiking through fabulous caverns. We reached the entrance, swam back out and were just amazed at what we had been through. We were in the cave for about 3 hours. We all admitted it was a once in a lifetime event. If you ever have the chance be sure to check out ATM. Of course the day wouldn't have been complete without the tarantula on the inside ceiling of our cottage that night. After about 15 minutes, it went back into the thatch and never heard from again. He had nothing to do with the fact that were checking out the next day. be continued on Ambergris