Just remember, this is on your Bucket List. You have to do this. You just hiked an hour and crossed three rivers to get here. There is no turning back. This is safe. Wait, this is safe, right? I didn’t tell my parents what I was doing today…it’s just like the plot from 127 Hours…stop, you’re being dramatic…ugh, I wish I never saw that horror movie about spelunking. The Descent..that movie was actually super terrifying. What if that was based on a true story? I want to vomit. 3,2….
I swim down, over, and through, emerging once I fully know I’ve surpassed the mouth of the cave. Per our guide’s haunting opening line, that was the last bit of natural light we’ll be seeing for the next four hours. Oh. Perfect. After climbing onto some type of surface along the wall of the cave, we’re instructed to turn our head lamps on, and we officially begin our tour, wading through neck high water and into the abyss of the cave. Still terrified. We’ve now reached what obviously (and forebodingly) appears to be the narrowest part of the cave. If we’re talking size, think about the length of your (my) neck and also think about Final Destination 1,2, 3, and/or 4 (is there a 4?) because that is all I could think about. I have to go first because I have to get this over with and meet my inevitable doom. It is at this point that I realize that my own thirst for thrill and adventure has basically beat me at my own game. I need to take a normal vacation. If it weren’t for my underwater Go Pro camera, I would have zero recollection of me actually making it past this segment of the tour, due to the obvious ten seconds of solid blackout. I watch my two girlfriends make it past this crevice and all three of us give each other a look that says, “What. Just. Happened.” and, “I peed that entire time”.
Martin, our guide, continued to stop at monumental pockets of the cave, offering every bit of historical Maya knowledge that he knew, but all I could think was, “I’m 500 feet below ground right now and THAT is a full blown skeleton”. And indeed, there were human remains as well as ancient artifacts scattered throughout every level of the cave, along with crystal textured walls like you’ve probably seen on the Discovery Channel. The last bone chilling (pun halfway intended) chapter of our tour involved turning our headlamps completely off, and walking through a segment of the cave in pitch black, as a means of simulating how the ancient Maya worshiped their gods in this unilluminated environment. Linked by our hands, we carried on for a solid twenty minutes in total darkness, while I continued to dodge invisible creatures and Indiana Jones-sized boulders (all of which were not really there). Natural light began to seep through some 400 feet above us, and we all breathed a sigh of relief knowing that not only did we conquer the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, but that we could add that to the books, labeling it as,”The Coolest Thing Any Of Us Have Ever Done.”
While our cave experience was, by far, the highlight of our trip, there is a whole slew of other stories to be told about our other (ad)ventures we had along the course of ten days. Antigua, a small, colonial type of town in Guatemala, provided an unforgettable volcano hike where we roasted marshmallows in between pockets of lava-hot air, and we also discovered a dangerously easy-to-drink version of Tequila called Mezcal that our favorite bartender introduced us to. He also showed us how to light our fingers on fire with it, but that’s a whole other story that’s cooler/funnier to us than it would ever be to you. Tikal, Guatemala, satisfied our historical thirsts as we explored ancient ruins and sort-of giggled while watching monkeys swing from tree to tree like a legitimate cartoon. Lastly, Caye Caulker, Belize, catered to our actual vacation needs as we sipped on frozen banana drinks and snorkeled around a shipwreck, all while getting the best tans of our lives. While our Belize puns got old, (“Unbelizable”, “I can’t Belize this place”, “Don’t stop Belizin’”) having the best, close to dread-locked, beach hair did not.
Collectively, all of these places provided memories that I will sift through for the rest of my life. No duh. You’re welcome for your next vacation idea.