when i got to san ignacio on sunday, i asked the host with the most, roy "stallion" smith, at whose cabins my friend and i were staying
---smith family farm---if he could put me in touch with patrick warrior. i met patrick the previous summer of 2001, through a friend and later in mountain pine ridge when he brought a couple gals to big rock falls while i was there. we all hung out for a while & i had a really good feeling about him and his knowledge of the area. later i went to the web site of diane, who posts regularly on this board and read her account of her trip to the ACTUN TUNICHEL MUKNAL cave. when i realized the patrick in her account was the same guy i met last summer i knew immediately with whom i wanted to plan my trip.
it took a few days to get hold of patrick, but when we spoke on the phone he remembered me and came over to discuss what i wanted to do. based on diane's account i wanted to do everything and even took a rock climbing class in the spring to prepare for the rapelling part of the adventure. my friend was not up for the trip at all and no one else had been in touch with patrick about wanting to go, so it was just me to be guided by patrick with the assistance of ricky, chef and sherpa type guy.
actually getting going was something of a delayed process, moving at a belizean pace of about 2.5 hours later than our estimated start time. we did some shuttling people around and odd stops then headed for the hills.
the road in is two potholed deep red ruts with tenacious stubs of grass poking up in the center. off to the left the mountains jutted up dark thickly forested, and were surrounded by a mist that obsucured and revealed the peaks and foliage mysteriously.
did i mention it had been raining off and on all morning, but by the time we were getting near our drop off point the rain was falling steadily, in that tropical rainy season kind of way? because our ride was not a four wheel drive vehicle we got out and walked what i considered, as i slipped and slid looking for traction on any sturdy tuft of grass protrouding from the mire, to be a long, long way. i trudged along telling myself i may as well be prepared for the rain to continue during the whole trip and i had best learn to love it since i couldn't change it. patrick stayed in front, except when he ran back to the car for his forgotten knife and ricky's machete. ricky walked with or behind me, mostly i think because he wanted to be there when i inevitably hit the skids in the mud. there was no doubt it was going to happen, i was just trying to postpone it as long as possible. eventually we reached the place where people with 4 wheel drive trucks dropped tourists off. from this point we were hiking a winding, up and down, palm frond stomping, log climbing, rock skirting, river crossing, slippery hill descending trail through the forest. the river was often nearby and the rain fell constantly and patrick walked in front of me holding his curve bladed knife just so at his side and the world was quiet except for footsteps and ricky laughing at my slips. there was so much time to think. i had plenty of time to consider my blunders: applying deep woods off instead of sticking with my avon skin so soft; my footgear which would have been fine in dry weather was absolutely hazardous in the rainy muck; the huge number of oranges i had packed in my back pack, plus my mocked art supplies weighing me down. i considered my problem with overpacking on the whole and a bunch of other boring stuff all the while trying as hard as i could not to turn an ankle or some other awful thing.
eventually we came to the place where people stop under some palapas to cook or rest or eat. we sat for a short while and ate a papaya that i have to say, was the best papaya i have ever tasted or looked at. i'm not a big fan, but this one was such a deep shade of salmony red, it sort of glowed in the gray of the overcast day and seemed very juicy and refreshing after the long walk. i enjoyed it immensely.
the entrance to the cave is just a ways down the trail from there, so i went with my camera to check it out alone. the rocks, pools and stream coming from the mouth of the cave are incredibly beautiful, with a green luminous quality that was not captured in my photos. the light filters down through the canopy that arches over the stream, and it's another kind of green. whichever way i looked was an ancient gentleness and tranquility, a pure expression of nature that just seemed magical. i was aware that the water coming from the stream inside the cave was probably the cleanest water i will ever touch and i felt a sense of connection to the people who lived long before and stood in the same water, seeing the entrance to that cave for all their various reasons. i swam in the pool at the entrance a bit and climbed across the
rocks, and felt good about making friends with area, i felt comfortable there.
patrick called to me and i went back up to put on my pack and follow him across the river where i had just been bathing, back up the river bank on the other side and farther farther farther into the jungle. fom this point on, it's pretty much patrick's trail, with all the obstacles mentioned above and then some, maintained by him and ricky. as i followed behind, he periodically used the aforementioned knife to hack away draping vines and overlying branches. for the most part the trail is clearly defined but there are some tricky parts where if i wasn't paying attention, i'd just have gone wandering off into the bush. just past the river is a slight incline that was my absolute nemesis. every time i had to pass this bit of trail it did its best to kick my butt. the first trip down was sliding on my rear and the bottom of the wee hill was no less slippery, so getting up was not easy with the backpack & traction free inapropriate footwear. the second time i fell farther along the trail, i managed to flail my hand near or attempt to grab at one of these horrid prickly trees that are truly 100% prickles and look like dr seuss drew them and always seem to be where things are slippery and i have the impulse to grab at something. after that fall, with my thumb and pinky finger throbbing because little bits of broken thorns were causing small sore liquidy bumps to form over the area, i admit i snivelled a bit to myself, out of patrick's hearing range and not for too long. it was a more challenging experience than i had planned on, but when i thought of it even then, i was enjoying it being difficult, in a way. after walking a while longer, patrick stopped and picked a couple nice thorns off a different tree and removed my slivers. i felt like he was androclese (sp?) and i was the lion. patrick also started assisting me a bit with some of the slippery descents and i held his arm as we crossed the river several more times because the rocks are shifty as well as slippery. he was cool about it and didn't act as though i was a drag. pace wise he wasn't too difficult to follow and if he and ricky couldn't see each other they made these nice little "are you okay?" "yah i'm just fine!" hoots back and forth to each other.
we finally crossed the river for the last time and scrambled up the bank. patrick and ricky stopped and patrick said, "ok, this is where we're going to camp, you can just sit your stuff down here." i looked down and "here" was on some wet leaves. i looked around: just trees and vines. patrick told me to go hang out by the river for a bit while he and ricky set up camp. i went down to the river and walked about a bit, took off my muddy clothes and tried to wash them as best i could. i provided snacks for several mosquitoes and those little fish that rush up and trim the dead skin cells off your body. i thought about how we're waiting to eat the fish, while the fish are waiting to eat us! i sat on the rocks in the river, slapped by the continuous, nonstop, incessant, redundant rain. i wondered again what i had gotten myself into. i sang songs outloud & knew no one would hear me or see me nekkid. i started to get cold for the first time in belize and it seemed like time to get some not soggy clothes on, if possible.
i slopped back up the riverbank and was astounded to see what patick and ricky had done while in the 45 minutes to an hour while i was away. i had heard patrick remark to ricky about building a palapa when we rested and ate the papaya, but i didn't know he meant that day! i sat on a bucket of cooking supplies in the rain rain rain watching them finish up what i called "my wendy house." (from peter pan: the lost boys build a house of leaves and such when they think she's been shot with an arrow) it was a tall lean-to structure made of fresh green palm leaves. there was room for my hammock and our cooking fire underneath, and dang if it didn't keep the rain out! they had also built a tall table and all our food was laid out on it. while i sat there watching them lug all this stuff back and forth, creating certain comforts of living out of nothing but the environment around us, i had this huge sense of well-being and thanked them and told them they were pretty damned manly and impressive. i had a slight sense of life in a nomadic tribe, and as i sat looking down with my chin in my hand contemplating the acceptance of weather, a strange thing happened. i felt, on the back of my neck quite distinctly and warmly, a stream of air like a breath silently blown at my skin. it was so not a breeze and i quickly turned to see who had snuck up behind me....and it was no one. patrick and ricky were both going about their business quite some distance away. i decided whatever it was was friendly and i considered it a mischievious but nice hello. after that i had the idea that since we all had been such good sports about the rain, it should just stop. a few minutes later, it did, and the only drops falling were remainders from the leaves.
i started slappin together peanut butter & jelly sandwiches that we ate as fast as i could make em. i changed into jeans and a long sleeved shirt & felt comfortably warm again. next patrick and ricky worked on starting a fire which for me by myself would have been impossible. they used pitch pine and these wee coconuts that stay dry inside for the most part. it took some concentrated effort but we had fire in the end. their hammocks were set up triangularly from mine with tarp things overhead. ricky cooked us up some veggies and rice and we sliced avocadoes on top and drank water and ginger wine. yum.
then patrick gave me the choice: leave after dinner directly to the cave (which meant walking in the dark thru the jungle all that way and back to camp in the dark as well) or sleep for a while and wake at midnight or so, hike in the dark, do the cave and come back at dawn. i chose the second option, so we stoked up the fire & retired to our hammocks. patrick had pointed out a beetle with glow in the dark spots on its back, meant to lure fireflies closer so it could eat them. a bit later the bug climbed up a nearby tree in the dark and looked to me like a faraway volkswagon on the freeway. we all just swung in our hammocks in silence, listening to the sounds around us. i dozed/woke/dozed and a few hours later at 12:30 am patrick called out, "are you ready to go?"
here is where my heart really started thumping. it honestly was not fear of the cave so much as i dreaded the walk thru the jungle in the dark. it felt like an awfully long way to me the first time, when i could see where i was going pretty well. regardless, i put on my soggy wet clothes from earlier in the afternoon (oh! the clammy smelly goodness!) and we sorted out batteries for our headlamps (mine had a helmet as well, good thing!) and packed up whatever else we were taking (cameras etc) and we set off into the dark night.
to be continued when i get my next wind!
email address to contact patrick warrior: [email protected]
[This message has been edited by gogo (edited 08-28-2002).]