"Postcard from aBroad"
I've been hooked on caves since I first visited Che Chem Ha Cave in Vaca in the Cayo
district. Since then, I've spent many days climbing and crawling thru these limestone
tunnels, each one unique and offering something of interest.
I found myself craving a new caving experience and had heard talk about another
fabulous cave in Cayo. As it turned out, fabulous was an understatement. Even for jadite
cavers, excuse the pun.
Our trip began from San Ignacio with caving guide Emilio Awe, whose uncle, Jaime
Awe, was the archeologist in charge of mapping the cave. Transportation and logistics were professionally provided by Chaa Creek Cottages. We drove east on the Western
Hywy (because you can't drive west on the Eastern Hywy), parked the vehicles and
walked 40 easy min walk along jungle trails, crisscrossing the river 4 times before
arriving at the cave mouth.
First thing you notice is the rush of cool air emanating from the cave interior. Feels great
after the walk. Next thing you notice is the cold cold water flowing from the cave. Next
thing you'll realize is that there's no way to enter the cave, other than to jump into that
cold water and swim 20 ft or so to your first piece of dry footing. Baptismal for me,
possibly dismal for others. You'll spend the next 40 mins wading, walking, swimming
and climbing to the spot where you ascend a boulder step ladder of sorts, to the cavern
where the ancient Mayas deposited their sacrificial artifacts and conducted ceremonies.
Before we entered the main chamber, Emilio asked us to remove our shoes so that we
would walk about more carefully than usual and not render any damage to the artifacts
on the ground. Once you get inside, you understand fully why this is necessary. Follow
meébut take your shoes off first please.
Pots, plates and pieces of pots and plates lie everywhere. Carved jadite stones under
rocks and on ledges. A pot with the bas relief of a monkey figure, similar to what was
found in Che Chem Ha Cave 11 plus yrs ago. But lots of them. And all over the place.
This alone would have been enough, so imagine how breathtaking and astonishing it was
to see the skeleton. And then another skeleton. Then the skull with the filed teeth. Then
the 3 other skeletons, one of which had belonged to a child of 1.5 yrs. Another to a
woman, obviously sacrificed for religious purposes. There's wasn't a virgin amongst us
at that moment. So many questions going thru our very good brains. Only theories for
answers. It'll have to do, as the history and facts are as elusive as the jaguars that roam
On a separate ledge, we found the artifacts for which the cave (actun in Maya) has been
named. There, gathered together and standing upright, were two pieces of sculpted slate
(probably came from Slate Creek area near the entrance to the Mtn Pine Ridge). One was
fashioned into the shape of the obsidian blade and the other carved to resemble the
stingray spine. Both of used items were used in blood letting ceremonies and right
behind them both, was the bloodletting plate. And hence, the English name: Cave of the
Emilio Awe was very impressive. He knows his cave ecology as well the suppositions
the archeologists and mayanologists have arrived at. His interpretations and explanations
are interesting and intriguing. He engaged our curiosity and shared whatever information
he gathered working with the archeologists.
So, how difficult is it? A tough 5 yr old kid would do fine, although young children aren't
allowed into the cave. Too many fragile objects, you need to be very aware of where
you're stepping. We spent more than 5 hrs in the cave. I wore lightweight shorts and
tshirt over my bathing suit, but the less clothes the better as the water weights it down and
you'll get cold if you just stand around and don't move much. Footwear should protect
your feet, but again, not weigh you down.
Interested? Wanna go on the next trip? Best to contact Belize Trips and get all the details. The only caveat? Do not attempt to find the cave or enter it without one of the few guides authorized to guide folks thru safely.
Images courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography