San Ignacio: The Mayan Underworld
Crossing the border into Belize, we also crossed into the sites of the Mayan underworld. For the Mayan culture, underground chambers were where the spirits dwelt and could be appeased through food and even human sacrifice offerings. We learned only royalty, priests, and sacrifice volunteers (and they were volunteers… except for the children, I assume) journeyed into the caves. Led by flickering torches and caverns that amplified every noise, the caves really must have felt populated by another world, especially when shamans would load up on hallucinogenic herbs before beginning the trip.
It’s a bit more tourist-friendly these days. First, we went cave tubing where armed with a headlamp and inner tube, we floated through pitch black caves and sunlit chambers where rituals to the Mayan gods were performed. Then, we plunged into the justifiably famous Actun Tunichil Muknal cave where we clambered over rocks and waded through pools for almost an hour before arriving in a chamber with pottery shards and skeletal remains of human sacrifices. Cameras were banned one month before we took our tour because a tourist dropped his camera and broke one of the skulls, but trust us – the ATM cave is one of the most sublime places we have ever visited. Where else can you stare into the calcified eyes of the Crystal Maiden, a 1400 year old skeleton preserved by a subterranean atmosphere.
Update: I found this blog on Google with pictures of the incomparable ATM experience.