Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Sitting up in Handprint Cave
This was hands down my favourite part of my entire trip.  This was a completely unreal and amazing experience.  I felt things that were beyond my imagination.  Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM for short) was incredible. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got on that bus at 8 am that Friday morning.  I had heard ATM was beautiful.  I had heard that it was a spiritual experience.  I heard that it was the one cave you had to see before you left Belize.  I was more than pleased to learn that I was going to get a personal tour with an archaeologist who actually spent a great deal of time in the cave.  Sherry Gibbs was my favourite professor at Galen University as well; so hanging out with her for the day was awesome.  I was even more pleased with how good the price was; after all, being a tourist in Cayo means I’m always getting ripped off.  

We hiked to Handprint Cave first, and that was really cool.  It’s hard to imagine a giant skull looking out over the jungle. But that’s exactly what it looks like if you had the means to cut down all the overgrowth that covers it now.   I thought the painted hands littering the cave walls were even more interesting.  It really left an interesting mark on that specific ceremonial center.  Mrs. Gibbs talked about so many different functions that may have gone on in that cave.  She showed us where pots were found and she discussed how looters were still trying to carve the hand prints off.  

We then made our way to ATM.  A deep body of cave water joins the cave entrance.  I would imagine this to be an underwater river.  It was deep. Way deeper than I thought it was going to be.  NOT FUN TRYING TO KEEP MY HEAD ABOVE WATER.  I was terrified that my tattoo would get infected with bat poop or whatever else I could contract from that water. The rest of the cave took forever to get through. It was dark and calmly eerie.  Shadows danced off the cave walls from our little flashlights.  It was incredible to imagine the Maya making a similar journey with torches.  It was incredible to imagine seeing the same things someone from a thousand years ago may have seen.  It wasn’t until we reached the final stretch of the cave, heading towards the crystal maiden, when I suddenly felt wrong for being in there. 

Awful attempt at a picture in ATM
ATM is a beautiful, scared cave.  I understand why the Belize Tourism Board has opened it for business, it’s a wonder of the world and it really is something extraordinary.  However, it’s damaging and ruining a beautiful thing.  It’s really sad to see broken pots and broken sacrifices.  People just get so careless and its saddening.  Its disrespectful.  Its like walking into a Catholic Church and teepee-ing the main cross and then taking a shit on the alter.  That’s exactly what people are doing, coming in there and making a mockery of ancient Mayan beliefs.  Its deeper than religion, there's this feeling of intense body, soul and earth uniting, it just felt wrong to be there.  You leave with a sense of enlightenment and understanding, yet, you feel so bad about trespassing.

I hope they close it down soon.  But, I'm thankful I was able to experience something like that.

1 comment:

  1. Prof. Gibbs really is great at what she does. Shared this on the Cayo Scoop!