Monday, June 09, 2014

Cave Tubing

Our first Belize adventure started bright and early. Waking up in time was not a problem though, as I've been going to sleep ridiculously early and the jungle's animals are a very effective alarm clock.

The humidity was brutally contorting my passport.

Not only is our resort filled with magical plants, but they are helpfully labeled as well:

Pencil Cactus Medicinal

Euphorbia tirucall, EUPHORBIACEAE

Common names: naked lady, milk bush

Native to tropical Africa, naturalized anywhere in the tropics

Milk bush is a hydrocarbon plant that produces a latex which can be converted into crude oil. In the 80s there were a number of countries that did the studies to show how effective this plant would be production of oil. This usage is particularly appealing because of the ability of the plant to grow on land that is not suitable for most other crops.

They had a pool bar but sadly it was never in use.

John Milito: where classy meets sassy.

In Garden of Eden fashion, many of the plants were edible. So I ate them.

Our small group of about 8 had a quick breakfast at the lodge then hit the trail. There would be plenty of driving in the days to come, but luckily there was plenty to gaze at out the car window.

One fun fact that we learned on the drive is that one of Belize's exports is orange juice.

We got out of the bus and ignored our guides while we jumped all over the trees trying to grab oranges.

When I initially heard "cave tubing" I had envisioned some nice leisurely lazy river type ride that went through some caves while I just sat, floated, and looked around. It was a lot more involved than that. To begin with, we began our trip paddling against the current.

The tubes were actual tire inner tubes, complete with pointy metal valve stem things.

We arrived at the mouth of the cave and piled up our inner tubes to don our headlamps and do some looking around. We would alternate between floating and carrying our inner tubes a few times while in the caves.

Specifically we were at the mouth of Footprint Cave on the Caves Branch River.

One of the interesting features of the cave were these large, black, and nasty looking alien holes. Well, it turns out that bats use their acidic urine to burn holes in cave ceilings, thereby living in their own bat toilets.

We then stopped and examined some artifacts. The tour was our first introduction to Mayan cultural history. The Mayans believed that the caves were a gateway to Xibalba(wikipedia), the Mayan underworld. Since caves were so close to this hellish place below, they were a good place to make offerings to appease the gods that lived there.

It's still hard to believe, but it's apparently not a big deal to see 1,000 year old artifacts in the caves in Belize. The still air, constant temperature, and protection from the other elements all make caves great places to preserve the things the Maya left behind. Due to the way the caves are formed, even a complete flooding won't completely fill the caves.

Many of the smashed pots were that way on purpose. An offering's container was smashed to release its spirit.

While one guide was distracting us with tales of hell gods, the other was setting up a lovely cave picnic for us. Quite the juxtaposition.

One-claw Charlie the Crab was our official mascot.

An even cooler Mayan area of interest was the fertility god. Couples would make offerings and so forth to the god (you can still see where the fires were set up complete with scorch marks). The god would then make you magically pregnant. A deal is a deal though, and you would then sacrifice your first born down in the cave. Seems fair. 

Lydia quite possibly risked her life by handling this hideous scorpion spider.

These little monsters are arachnids, but neither scorpion nor spider. They are the unfortunately named order of Amblypygi.

The creature has a cameo in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Cave Shrimpy!

The cave was as musical as it was magical.

Cave cricket.

These dangling things are sticky little strands that insect larvae use to catch prey.

Lydia of course had to touch these things too. They stuck to her finger quickly, and were surprisingly stretchy before springing back to their original position.

Lydia described the experience as "what you wish American caves could be". There were no handrails or lightbulbs hanging everywhere. We could touch everything minus the active cave formations (due to destructive skin oils and all that). We could get in the water. I think the most interesting aspect of the caves were the animals, which most certainly would have all been chased away by tourists long ago if this cave was in the US. Very fun indeed.

We were back at the lodge in time for Chef Jay to explain what delicious meat would be on that night's carving station.

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