Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's a Small World After All

Getting to the Cayo jungle district of Belize was no small feat; after we took a flight to Houston (during which Matt had to fend off his neighbor’s elbow and body spillage for 3 ½ hours), a 3 hour flight to Belize City (during which I sat next to a man whose pores leaked booze and nicotine), we still had a 2 hour drive to our lodge in the Pine Ridge Mountains. We chose a 12 shack/bungalow/room resort about 25 minutes outside of town. The idea was to take several day trips and enjoy the isolated, beautiful grounds, so as soon as we settled in, we told the manager to sign us up for our first excursion: exploring the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. Nestled in the jungle, the cave was distinctive for its vast array of preserved Mayan artifacts like pots, as well as human skeletons—relics from sacrifices.

The next morning our guide picks us up, and then we stop in town to round out our group. One woman is from Alaska, one couple used to live in New York, and the other couple live on Upper West Side. Amazing—we go all the way to Central America and are still surrounded by not just Americans, but New Yorkers. And, even more coincidental? The New York couple? He’s a lawyer and she’s a writer. It really is a small world after all.

During our 45 minute hike through the jungle (in order to reach the cave), our barefoot guide, a half-Mayan, half-African 4th generation explorer named Patrick Warrior, points out interesting factoids: this tree is where the active ingredient in Visine is found; when needing a natural rain repellant, cut this plant and spread it over yourself. Bugs bothering you? Place a termites’ nest (like the one over there) over a fire and they’ll eat all the approaching bugs. And that smell, that marijuana-type smell? That’s what a big snake smells like. Trying to ignore the fact that a big snake is looming nearby, I concentrate on staying on the small path and avoiding the rain, although I figure it’s only fitting that it’s raining—after all, we are in the rainforest.

Before we enter the cave, Patrick collets items for his waterproof pack—-everyone hands over their shirts (we had been told to wear bathing suits) and digital cameras. You see, a river runs through the cave, a river we need to swim and walk through. Wearing my brand new sneakers was such a bad idea, but Matt’s footwear choice was ever worse—rather than wear his hiking boots, he decided to walk through the jungle in his brand news aquasox so during the cave exploration he would have an advantage against the slippery rocks. Walking through a jungle in aquasox meant that by the time we reach the cave he has some nice, big ankle blisters and considers just going barefoot like our guide. Deciding not to lose the shoes, he does, however, manage to lose our underwater camera within the first minute of entering the river. Excellent start to the trip.

At several junctures we're able to take a break from scrambling over wet rocks and swimming through the chilly water to oooh and aaah over Mayan pots, learn about the skeletons, and admire the seemingly never-ending array of stalactites and stalagmites, glistening with water. It’s all humbling, daunting, and very pretty, but I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen this before. Have I been in a cave with stalactites and stalagmites before? And why does the jungle seem so unimpressive? And that’s when I realize why this is all so familiar—it’s EPCOT. I’ve been on the Disneyfied version of this trip before, down to the misting in the jungle and the plasticine stalagmites and tites. How am I supposed to be wowed by the significance of this cave when, as a kid, I already traipsed through it, glassy-eyed and bored, my mind wandering to the singing, animatronic bears. Traveling to another country, I still can't escape the Disney influence of my youth--crap, it most certainly is a small world after all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention that I did go barefoot at the end of the cave hike when everyone else was wearing socks. Next time, when my fourth-generation half-Mayan half-African rainforest warrior guide goes barefoot, so do I. I mean, c'mon, skinny Jewish lawyers from Long Island are tough too, right? Right?

2:14 PM, December 20, 2006


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