mayan ruins and swimming in caves

our next trip was to toledo, the southern most district in belize. this is mayan country and we were first headed to the mayan ruins of nim li punit. discovered in 1976, this site is situated along the top of a ridge in the foothills of the maya mountains and has a stunning view of the coastal plains below. 25 stelae, 8 of which are carved, were discovered here. stelae are stone slabs, sometimes 50 feet long, with hieroglyphic inscriptions and carvings depicting the lives of mayan rulers. placed within the ceremonial centers of cities, they now provide us a rare glimpse into mayan life. one of the largest structures is a ball court. the mayans played with a hard and heavy rubber ball and the victor was honored with a beheading. for people who believed strongly in the after-life there could not be a better reward.

after the mayan ruins we went for lunch at our guide juan’s home in the village of punta gorda. the trip had been arranged through robert’s grove and they had packed us an “american” lunch – chicken wings, roast chicken and potatoes, watermelon, brownies and a huge salad. of all the lunches we’d had so far this was the least appetizing. juan’s daughter had made some fresh tortillas and these became instant favorites. the bathroom was surprising – let’s just leave it at that.

after lunch we began our rigorous trek through the jungle to the blue creek cave. the trek could have been a little easier if we had not been carrying backbacks, towels, cameras and life jackets. you definitely need both hands to make it without getting hurt. it was hot, the trek was arduous and we were sweating profusely (i had forgotten what it was like to sweat – the suncreen makes it worse by melting on your face). after all this effort it was a shock to suddenly come upon the glistening waterfall and gushing waters of blue creek. this is where the río blanco emerges from the side of a mountain, becoming blue creek – home to an extensive cave system.

we changed into our swimsuits, put on our life jackets and water shoes, adjusted our headlamps and leapt into the freezing waters of blue creek cave. what an experience. the ground under your feet is treacherous to start with (you might be heading for a huge rock or be in rather deep water) but it all becomes easier as you swim farther along into the cave. once we were quite a ways inside we orchestrated a complete blackout by turning off our headlamps in unison – it was pitch black! the cave is quite deep. juan told us it takes three days to swim across all the way to the other side. we didn’t want to find out. after a fun swim and explore we headed back. it had started to drizzle outside and the rocks were getting slipperier by the minute. i tried to jump from one rock to another but my shoes lost their grip and i landed against a rock on my leg. thank god there was no bleeding, just a nasty bruise. my husband was not so lucky. he was carrying 3 life jackets and when he slipped he got pretty badly scraped. but we all made it in one piece. the 2 hour drive back to placencia and the boat ride to seine bight were tiring but it felt good to have had this great adventure!

at the beginning of it all we had met this tourist family who’d been to blue creek. they had recommended the trek but the guy had added ominously “mind you, there will be blood” – i guess he knew what he was talking about!

toledomayan ruins

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