After our terrific and educational trip to the ancient Mayan city of Caracol, a refreshing adult beverage and an amusing, delicious dinner overlooking the bountiful Blancaneaux garden, we got a good night’s sleep in anticipation of another fascinating day in Belize.
Our destination, on day two, was Barton Creek Cave and our guide, once again, was the incomparable Andres Gilberto Lucero. Sarah (my wife) along with Susan and Bob (my in-laws) were very much looking forward to this trip. Because it involved a number of things that give me the heebie-jeebies (water, darkness, tales of human sacrifice and bats!) I was not. But heck, it’s vacation and thousands of people have preceded me into the mouth of the single passage, resurging stream cave and came out to tell the tale so how bad could it be? That’s a rhetorical question by the way. We greeted “Hill” and were escorted into a another, different, slightly older, Toyota Land Cruiser.
We went a different direction than the day before but we travelled over an equally bumpy, narrow, dirt road. The previous day our tour guide pointed out bushes and trees that produced all spice, lemon grass and other assorted natural wonders. On this trip “Hill” was quick to point out different flowers, fruits and fauna. The most interesting section of the trip to the cave was when we navigated our way through a Mennonite village and marveled at the size and scope of the livestock and crops. Gilberto informed us that these people, farming this land, fed a huge percentage of the population of Belize. We bounced and bucked toward our ultimately destination and finally arrived.
We would be dispatched in two separate kayaks, Bob, Susan and Gilberto in one; Sarah and me in the other. Sarah wanted to paddle and that was A-Okay with me. The only problem is that meant I was going to be sitting at the front of the kayak with no physical means with which to defend myself. We donned both helmets and life jackets, boarded our tiny vessels and headed into the belly of the beast.
The first thing you (I) notice is how dark it is inside. You don’t go far before the natural light emanating from the entrance to the one-way cave disappears. “Hill” has equipped us with powerful flashlights and I switch mine on immediately. Now I am moderately reminded of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, except there is no gift shop or cotton candy waiting at the other end of this boat ride. The beams of flashlights held by Gilberto, Susan and Bob light up parts of the cavern revealing massive stalactites and ever-growing, constantly evolving stalagmites. The drip, drip, drip of the water seeping through the porous rocky walls is a constant, slightly creepy, reminder of the ever-changing landscape inside the cave. And then there is the naturally amplified sound of the fluttering of bat wings followed by the flash of a flying mammals.
“Don’t worry,” Gilberto says surely sensing my dread, “only a few of them are vampire bats.” Then, of course, he chuckles. I sit, in the front of the kayak, statue still except for my right hand that carefully, moves the beam from the flashlight over the walls and ceiling of the cave. “Hill” points out carefully placed pieces of pottery found inside the cave by archaeologists searching for clues, trying to learn about the lives of the Mayans who once treated this place as a sacred site. In addition to the pieces of clay Gilberto was also more than happy to show is skulls and bones because, as was tradition, human sacrifices were performed inside. As we travelled deeper and deeper into the cave my heart race rose and my desire to be heading the other way heightened. At one point we all had to duck under the stalactites in order to keep going and then, finally, we reached a wall of rock that was impassable unless we abandoned the kayaks and swam. Time to turn around, I thought. :”Time to turn around,” said “Hill”.
On the way back toward the entrance we passed a number of groups, in kayaks of their own, heading deeper and deeper into the cave. They looked like they were having fun, I wondered what they thought I looked like. Then Bob decided it would be cool to turn off all of our flashlights to find out “just how dark it really is”. Off went the beams, mine last, and off they stayed for exactly one second. Mine came back on first. A successful exit was followed by a bumpy car ride back to Blancaneaux, our heads filled with memories and impressions of our time inside the earth.
We had lunch and then Sarah, Bob and I decided to hike to Big Rock Falls, about an hour walk from Blancaneaux. Susan decided the “hot pool” sounded better so she stayed behind. A basket, by the door of our casita, was filled with umbrellas and walking sticks and, as a lark, I grabbed a staff for each of us on the way out. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. The resort staff informed us that the trail to Big Rock Falls was “flat”. In hindsight they may have been right if there is some pack mule in your ancestry.com biography. Either that or “flat” is actually Belizean Creole for “sucker” and they all enjoyed a good laugh at our expense. In their defense the trail did start out flat and stayed that way for about a minute.
Along the way the terrain turned rocky and muddy and the walking sticks came in more than handy. Small bridges, fashioned from wood, logs and stones did their best to keep out feet free of water and mud save for one puddle that caught me by surprise. The hike was beautiful, at points hugging the, very western United States looking, Privassion River and at other points winding its way up through pine trees and scrub brush, and demanding. We reached the halfway mark and started to descend back toward the water.
That descent involved a series of small, steep, unevenly placed wooden steps that made that part of the hike an extra adventure. The three of us finally reached the end of the trail, decided we’d opt for taking the road route back to the resort, and spent several peaceful moments enjoying the 150 foot waterfall.
The road back, while quite a bit more boring, was much easier to navigate. We met up with Susan who informed us she very much enjoyed her pool time and we got ready for cocktails and then dinner during our final night at Blancaneaux. After dinner I enjoyed two fingers of a very good Belizean rum and we retrieved the game Clue from a bookshelf in the main lobby. Upon opening the box we discovered a few of the cards (Miss Scarlett, The Library, The Candlestick among them) were missing so we attempted to play the game without them. It was mostly a success. Susan ended up “winning” even though I forgot to mention that The Theatre was also one of the cards we did not have. If there was one suggestion I might make to the fine folks at Blancaneaux to make the experience there even more enjoyable it would be to invest in a few more games, just in case.
We would spend one last night in the comfort of our casita and packed, getting ready for the next day of our Belizean adventure… a trip to The Turtle Inn and the beach. And that’s a tale for another day.