Cave Tubing is SEArious Fun!

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 46            December 30, 2004

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The San Pedro Sun Visitor Guide features regular stories about the many activities available to tourists and visitors and the people who provide them.

    The Cave Tubing excursion is one of many adventures available to visitors of San Pedro. While most “day trips” involve sun and sea, cave tubing takes you deep into the mountains of Belize, where you float on a pristine river atop an old- fashioned inner tube.

    Our trip starts at 7 a.m. when we arrive at the dock in front of Tropica Resort, where we await the arrival of our guide, Willie Leslie, and one of the many boats from SEArious Adventures. The boat is already half full of passengers as Willie pulls along side the dock. An easy step down into the boat, and we’re off to pick up the last passengers – a family of four waiting at Victoria House.

    Once everyone is on board, Willie and his crew explains the day’s itinerary. Because the water is a little choppy, and the wind is blowing from the west, we travel along the eastern side of Caye Caulker, getting a close look at beaches dotted with resorts and the picturesque town village. The air is brisk and the wind howls through our ears as the 200-horse power motor pushes the boat through the turquoise water.

    A few “bumps” over slightly choppy water wraps up the 70 minute trip as Captain Willie aims his boat for the mouth of the Belize River. We travel up river for a short distance, docking at the Manatee Lagoon Restaurant. Here, we disembark and the crew offers the passengers tasty Johnny Cakes, fresh fruit and juice to enjoy for breakfast, while many take advantage of the restroom facilities.

    From here, the passengers load a sturdy old school bus and off we go on the Western Highway. The landscape turns rural as we leave the bustle of the city. We pass shrimp farms and wineries. Laundry is seen drying on cloths lines as we pass brightly colored farmhouses. Mountains in the distance gradually loom larger as the silhouette of the Sleeping Giant mountain formation passes on our left.

    The bus ride allows time for Willie to share with us his enormous knowledge about the culture and history of the area. He tells us about the geography and the climate and about the flora and fauna. “There are 4,200 different species of trees,” he tells us. “It is beautiful when many flower from February through May,” he explains with a smile.

    We then pass “Her Royal Majesty’s Hotel,” or better known as the Belize Prison. For practically everything we see, Willie has a story to tell. Along the way, we stop at the Belize Zoo. Willie leads the tour, where he seems to be the “Dr. Dolittle” of Belize, exchanging bizarre noises with many of the animals. His howler monkey rendition is hair-raising! (Please watch future Visitor Guides for a full story on our visit to the zoo.)

    After the zoo, we board the bus again and soon we’re on a bumpy gravel road that tests the suspension of the bus. Shortly we arrive at Jaguar Paw, an exotic resort nestled in the dense rainforest of the Sibun Caves Branch area. Here, a traditional meal of stewed chicken, rice and beans fills our bellies before we walk to the changing rooms and prepare for the adventure that awaits us.

    Once we have changed into swimwear, and wearing comfortable sandals or old tennis shoes, we follow Willie and guides to the shore of the Caves Branch River at a point where the river emerges from the side of a jungle-covered mountainside. We wait, looking at each other, wondering if this is where our voyage on the river begins. We quickly learn we must first cross the river, then hike up a moderate trail through the jungle. The well-groomed trail meanders under the canopy for nearly a mile. Finally, we emerge to see the crystal clear river flowing out of a mountainside cave. With Willie’s assistance, one by one we back our rear ends into our floating inner tubes, all the while holding onto a knotted rope. Slowly, the current pulls us towards the mouth of another cave. As we flow deeper into the crevasse, the light from our head lamps begin to overpower the dwindling sunlight fading from behind us.

    The blackness of the cave envelops the group as we experience the complete sensation of meandering on a river inside the vastness of a mountain. Our headlamps flicker, as we gently flow on the cool stream. The beam of our lights cast shadows across stalactites and the cave walls.

    Gradually, a light glows in the direction of the water’s flow. An opening approaches and light again fills the mouth of the cavern. As we emerge, we see this is just a respite, about midway down our journey. Small rapids push us faster into yet another cave that honeycomb the landscape. The cave is even more immense than the first. The cathedral ceilings loom above us, with the distance from the waters surface apparently allowing refuge from the waters rampage during rainy season.

    Here the guides share stories of ancient Mayan ceremonies. They explain that many Mayan artifacts and burial mounds were discovered here. Entrances to side caves can be seen as we imagine what may have occurred here centuries ago.

    Our group ultimately emerges at a familiar place. After about an hour and a half, we’ve come full circle and excitedly walk back to the changing area to dawn dry clothes, enjoy a cold beverage, and settle in for the voyage home. We again travel by land and sea, arriving back at Ambergris Caye around 6:30 p.m.

    Weary from the day’s travels, and with our taste for adventure well satiated, it is an early night to bed for all. In our sleep we float, suspended in the cool mountain water of the Caves Branch River, and dream of ancient Mayans and the Sistine-like caverns of the Sibun Caves.
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