A Mayan surprise!

A Mayan surprise!

My husband Thejas and I were tracking Belize, a small country in Central America, for months together. We discovered that this beauty has one foot in the jungle and the other in the Atlantic Ocean. It seemed to have all the right elements  for adventure with a culture of its own. Soon enough, we decided to visit this amazing country.

We started our week-long vacation from the beautiful little village of Hopkins in southern Belize. Hopkins is a friendly, slightly scruffy coastal village providing a perfect taste of local Garifuna culture.  Our accommodation was at a local B&B run by a very charismatic and passionate Garifuna business woman.

On the first day, we went snorkelling with Captain Breeze, a grizzly old local fisherman who looked like he had spent all his life in the sun and the ocean. This was our first glimpse of the Barrier Reef.

On the second day Uhwanie, our host, guided us through a half-day cultural immersion. We dressed  ourselves up in traditional Garifuna attire and harvested our coconuts and planktons from the trees. These were going to be our ingredients for cooking their traditional meals.

That was not all. We took drumming lessons from the local drummer who took us through the most popular Garifuna beats. Soon it was time to take memories from our time in Hopkins and drive to San Ignacio.

San Ignacio is vibrant and one of the bigger cities in Belize. We had booked a farm house on Airbnb, away from the city centre. This farm was located in the Spanish lookout area which is a thriving Mennonite community. One could see people still commuting  on horses and in carts.

Our classy log cabin was in the middle of lush green farm with cattle and forest land adjoining it. It was a peaceful and a beautiful place. Once inn San Ignacio, we went to this spectacular Maya archaeological site called Xunantanuich. This site may have been occupied by the ancient Mayans as early as 1,000 BC as a village. From the top of EI Castilo, we saw a spectacular 360-degree-view of the surrounding region.

What we were going to see next was the highlight of our vacation. It was the Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves, commonly known as the ATM caves. This was the most unforgettable and adventurous experience of our life.

We along with four other Canadians and a guide went on  for an underground tour into what the ancient Mayans called Xibalba. The entrance to this three-mile-long cave is in the foothills of the Maya Mountains.

We started our tour with a 45-minute-hike through lush jungle and had to swim across three roaring rivers to get to the cave entrance. From this point, to get into the cave, we started with a frosty swim across a deep pool. The cave is darker than any darkness I have ever seen in my life.

The only source of light is from the headlamps on our helmets. After walking, climbing, sliding, twisting and turning through the rocks in neck deep water and on slippery slopes for an hour or so, we reached a massive opening where we saw the remains of a once thriving ritualistic site used by the Mayans.

We saw sites used for the ceremonial fire littered with hundreds of pottery vessels and other accessories that were used for the ceremonies. Much more shockingly, we saw dozens of human remains  -- skulls, bones from the sacrifices that were done to please the gods during times of drought and other calamities. We returned feeling a sense of accomplishment.

We also got a chance to visit the local Mayan Chocolate Factory and Blue Hole National Park and strolled through the streets of San Ignacio's man market street.Our final destination of the journey was the laidback island of Caye Caulker. This tiny island is probably six to seven kilometres long. The only traffic signs in the island instructs golf carts and bicycles to 'go slow', and these instructions are taken seriously!

We went snorkelling at two sites close to Caye Caulker – Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, both of which promised exquisite marine life. It was incredibly beautiful with mindblowing visibility. We swam in the deep open ocean with turtles, sharks, sting rays, manatees  and eels. We even saw a shipwreck from the 1960s underwater! Being in the water and looking at the incredible coral reefs and marine life, taking deep breaths through  our snorkel gear, time started to pause and everything seemed even more beautiful, one breath at a time.

This trip, to say the least, was an 'un–Belizable' experience for us.

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