Friday, July 13, 2007

spelunking fantastic

the day began after breakfast with a 1 hour drive, mostly on dirt roads, to the start of the walk. The walk lasted about 45 minutes through dense Berlizean jungle criss-crossing the river 3 times before we eventually arrived at the cave mouth.

we donned our safety helmets and headlamps and entered the pool outside the cave entrance. The water was very cool, but as the jungle was hot and steamy it was refreshingly invigorating.

we had to swim into the cave as the water was too deep to wade, but about 20 or 30 metres in it became shallow enough to touch the bottom.

for the next kilometre or so we waded through water from ankle deep to neck, dodging rocks in the water and low hanging stalactites and rock formations, sometimes having to squeeze between narrow clefts in the rock. At times this had to be done in chest deep water. Some of the climbing was extremely tricky and definitely not for the claustrophobic or faint hearted.

our cameras for this part of the adventure were packed in the guides waterproof pack so there is no record of this part of the trip. Once we left the water and began to climb up rock ledges toward the very back of the cave were we able to retrieve our cameras and take some photos.

once in the dry section we began to see some of the artifacts left by the Mayans when the shamans inhabited this cave 15-1800 years ago. There were numerous pottery remains scattered quite widely around the cave floor as well as evidence of hearths.

one of the pottery shards has a small monkey embossed on its surface - the only evidence of decoration found on any of the artifacts.

we then came across some of the skeletal remains of the human sacrifices that this cave has become reknowned for.

these final two photos show the remains of a young woman around the age of 20 whose complete skeleton has baffled archaeologists as all of the other victims were male.
She has been named Actun Tunichil Muknal - after which the cave gets its name.

Women were generally forbidden in the caves. Also her skeleton has been unaffected by the streams and rivers that have poured through this cave for millennia and remains intact.

Because of the high calcium content of the water in this cave, many of the ceramics and human bones have become semi calcified and are permanently 'glued' to the cave floor.

This adventure has definitely been the highlight of the trip so far. The inherent danger of the trip would make this type of experience virtually impossible in Australia - the safety and liability insurance issues would be insurmountable.

Also there is a great deal of growing concern that even the limited numbers of visitors to the cave are compromising its integrity and that sooner or later (probably sooner) the cave will become out of bounds to tourists.

This will take some beating.

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