Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Spent the last week lazing around in a little village on the coast called Hopkins. There's not a lot to do, but then that was half the point. Did another dive out on the reef, visited the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctaury where we did some hiking through the jungle and spent the rest of the time strolling up and down the one dusty, pot-holed street that IS Hopkins!

Today we went to the Actun Tunichil Muknal caves. Touted as one of 'the most incredible & adventurous tours you can take in Bellize' it was pretty much as good as hyped. The caves were 'discovered' in the 70's but weren't fully investigated till the 90's. Hundreds of pottery pieces along with 14 skeletal remains were found there and to date very few of the finds have been taken from the cave, leaving it as a 'living natural museum'. 1993 it was the topic of a National Geographic video series and again featured in the magazine in 2001. Since then research has more or less stopped and now it is the destination of these 'ATM' (because no-one can pronounce the full name!) tours with people like us on them.

It starts with a long drive along a VERY bumpy track up into the jungle, then a 45 minute hike through the jungle, wading across the same river 3 times (now you'd have thought they'd have sorted that admin out a bit better wouldn't you?!) to the cave entrance. The only way to get into the cave was a 15 foot swim, then the rest of the 3 hours spent inside the cave system were anything from full body swim to ankle deep so we were wet all day! The main area where the remains were found was above the water line so we climbed up on the ledge and walked around looking at the finds. Much of the pottery is embedded, having been calcified over the years and some of the bones were misplaced possible from flow of water in the caves at some time. It was all so interesting and the guide was hugely knowledgeable on the subject (it's a shame we can't remember it all!) Most of the skeletons were human sacrifice, a couple more were buried here, all by the Mayans. As well as all the history, there were also dozens of spectacular rock formations - more stalactites & mites than you could shake a stick at!

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