After I posted the “day 7” entry, I went to my little cabin (see below) and tried to write for few hours but didn’t manage to. It’s soooo peaceful here. You can only hear the sounds of the jungle (and infrequently some annoying dogs… I have nothing against dogs… It’s just that they spoil the rest of the sounds :-) Well, the beers I had didn’t allow me to really concentrate. I must had been really tired. I slept for 10 hours.
In the morning, I headed towards Xunantunich, one of the local Maya sites. The ferry to cross the river was great :-) An American I picked up on the way back, even tried to help.
The site was beautiful, at the top of a hill. The view from the top of the pyramid, which was much easier to climb than others I visited, was fantastic. Since we are very very close the Guatemalan borders, there were army patrols even inside the site. Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to change lenses in order to take a photo when two solders emerged for a bit through the ruins.
After Xunantunich, I decided to head towards the Chechem Ha cave. The road was unbelievable difficult due the rain earlier in the month. A girl hitchhiked a ride. The road had opened for the tracks and workers going to the dam that is being built. Before that, the farmers over there had to walks 2 1/2 – 3 hours. Her name was Mealy Martinez. She was 22 years old and the youngest of 14 brothers and sisters. She has 35 nephews and nieces. Her older niece is 26, 4 years older than her :-) It was fun talking to her. I drove her all the way to her farm, about 10 mins beyond my turn.
At the farm where the cave was supposed to be I met William, the owner (apparently Mealy’s cousin). I was his 5th visit this month, so it’s not a popular tourist destination, most probably because of the road’s bad state. He asked for US$50, which is the price for two people but then we agreed on BZL$80 (US$40). At the end I gave him BLZ$100 anyway :-)
The way it works is that William takes visitors for a 3 hour hike. We climb the mountain and then get into the cave, which he discovered in 1989 while looking for leaves for his roof and not while looking for his cows, as my guide said. The entrance to the cave is located within the borders of his farm.
William is 36 years old and he already has 18 and 13 year old daughters. His life story has been sad but he doesn’t complain. He seems happy in his farm, taking care of his animals, working the land, and being very proud of the cave, which he says he visits even on his own. Recently, the cave was the subject of a documentary.
The cave itself goes 200m into the mountain and it’s deep. It has been kept in its original state so I don’t think it’s for the average tourist. No lightning (we had to carry flashlights), no pathways, no “you have to crawl” signs :-) Lots of Maya artifacts have been left behind by the archeologists while the most important ones were moved for safe-keeping.
At the very bottom of the cave, we turned off our flashlights and just stayed in complete darkness, with the bats flying around us. No source of light whatsoever so no matter how hard your eyes try, they cannot adjust. William shared an interesting thought of his then. He told me that that he once decided to stay in the cave, in complete darkness, for an entire night. A friend took his flashlight and promised to return the next day. I don’t know whether it’s a tourist story or he’s actually done it but he said that he came to the realization that our minds create an imaginary world with our eyes being the source of the truth. The two together can keep us sane. I liked the poetry of what he was saying and the passion in his voice, there in the complete darkness. So I decided not to spoil it by bringing up the fact that there are blind people in this world who are capable of living an ordinary life without the use of their eyes. Anyway… a moment there to remember.
He laughed with my attempts to take a photograph of the complete darkness. I switched my camera to manual and tried to take a photo of nothing. I know I can take a black photograph anytime I want but I wanted it to be from down there, from that moment because I’d know. Well, my camera failed me. I couldn’t set it up in the dark to take a photograph. I kept trying but I gave up at the end because it was embarrassing.
I sweated a lot due to the humidity in the jungle. That t-shirt is normally light-gray :-)
On the way back I picked up another hitchhiker, Jose Martinez (the same last name was just a coincidence). His life story completely different from that of Mealy’s; it is a very sad one. His father was killed at the Guatemalan borders, he had to support the entire family through the farm, he was involved in an accident with a drunken driver few days ago so his car was destroyed, etc. :-(
I returned to the Trek Stop exhausted. I tried to do some writing but Rebecca and Naa, two Americans who also stay at the Trek Stop, came to say “hi”. We arranged to go to San Ignacio for food and some drinks.