Archive for the ‘Adventure Travel’ category

Belize Maya Ruin Cave: Actun Tunichil Muknal

November 16th, 2013

Actun Tunichil Muknal, (pronounced “Awk-toon Toon-each-EEL Mook-nal”), translated, it means “Cave of the Stone Sepulchre” and is sometimes (simply) referred to as the ATM Cave. This cave is an incredible network of subterranean spaces that descend over three miles into the earth and were used between 1000-2000 years ago by the Maya for religious ceremonies that included grisly human sacrifices. Caves were churches for the Maya, and indeed, some of the caverns rival the greatest cathedrals on earth today with all of their immense volume and transcendent beauty.

An Actun Tunichil Muknal adventure will start in San Ignacio town, Cayo District, with a 45 minute walk through the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve. This walk will take you through the forest and four rivers will need to be crossed to reach the entrance to this cave. Be prepared to get wet as you will walk through these rivers. Along the way one can learned how to identify several trees and plants, as well as their commercial and medicinal uses. The hike alone is truly a fascinating experience. At the cave’s entrance one must ready the lamps on your helmets, put your cameras and dry clothes into a waterproof bag.

The portal into the Mayan underworld is shaped like an hourglass. Enter into this mouth and sink into a turquoise pool fifteen feet deep filled with fish and then bid farewell to the light of the world for the next three hours as one must rely on headlamps to illuminate your way through total darkness.

During this journey one steps in and out of water, sometimes waist deep and sometimes swimming. Occasionally one will need to climb or crouch, often using four contact points to navigate over fields of fallen boulders or twist through narrow passages.

Helmets are essential to protect heads against overhangs that appeared just above the headlamp’s beam.

You will emerge from the water into a large cavern at about the half mile point. Then you must ascend a series of rocks and ledges to reach the main ceremonial center. To respect the hallowed ground and to protect the pottery strewn about the cave’s floor all shoes must be removed.

Religious pots are still intact, left untouched for a millennium although most have been intentionally punctured or smashed, to release the spirit of what they once contained whether it be water, food, blood, bones or ashes.

One of the pots contain a carving of a monkey, which the Maya considered to be the gods’ third attempt at creating humans. First came Man of Mud, who didn’t work out for various reasons. Next came Man of Wood, who tended to catch on fire a little too easily. Third came Monkey Man, who was too playful and disrespectful of the gods. Finally, there appeared humans, who apparently were deemed just good enough.

Walking deeper into the cavern the tall ceiling and enormous stalagmite and stalactite formations makes one gasp in awe. These were believed to be the roots of the Yaxche, the sacred Maya Tree of Life whose high, axial branches were believed to touch the celestial realm of stars and glorified ancestor spirits and its roots were believed to have extended through the nine layers of the underworld, Xibalba.

It is in this area that one begins to see the remains of the 7 adults and 7 children that have been discovered in this cave. The Maya did not sacrifice slaves or common people; only the best people in society were offered to the gods. One of the skulls had filed teeth carefully inlaid with jade. The forehead had been shaped and flattened by a board since birth. Most likely this was a male who also had a bead suspended above his nose, so that he could stare at it and permanently cross his eyes. According to ancient Maya he was royalty and a rather attractive guy. No doubt he was most likely clubbed and/or choked to death by his priest. » Read more: Belize Maya Ruin Cave: Actun Tunichil Muknal

Belize Maya Ruins: Cerro Maya

November 16th, 2013

From 400 B.C. to 100 A.D., Cerros, or Cerro Maya, or “Maya Hill” was a pivotal coastal trading center. Cerro gives us an opportunity to look at a time in Maya past and that being the pre-classic period. Cerro Maya was first occupied around 500 B.C., and development continued into the first century after Christ, in the time that we call the late pre-classic period. Cerros Maya is one of only two pre-classic sites in Belize. There were no later additions to this site nor to its structures. Cerros gives you the opportunity to look at what the Maya were during that time period.

Maya civilization was fully developed before the birth of Christ, Maya writing is already being used before the birth of Christ, mathematics, calendrics, studies in astronomy and other scientific achievements, all made before the birth of Christ, and Cerros is one of those places where this comes to light. The Maya were way ahead of their times in terms of their achievements, more so than anybody had previously thought. Belize boasts hundreds of Mayan sites, but archaeologists have discovered that Cerros is one of the few pre-classic sites with ball courts, indicating its prestige at such an early time. For much of its history the site was an important trading center probably based on this sea-borne import of jade and obsidian. The early decline of Cerros was possibly slow due to the general shift of trade routes connecting the highlands and lowlands in the early classic.

Cerro Maya is located at the mouth of the New River, on a peninsula across from the town of Corozal and in the Bay of Chetumal. Archaeologists believe Cerros must not have survived long because of a shift in trade routes. At the height of its day, the city distributed salt from mining communities and traded chert tools. Today, Cerros is partially underwater, but what remains is stunning – including five temples (one that is 72 feet high) and related plazas, a large canal system and a beautiful panoramic viewed from the top of the temples.

Cerro Maya reserve comprises a total of 52 acres and includes 3 large architectural complexes dominating several plazas flanked by pyramidal like structures. Tombs and ball courts have been excavated and artifacts found within them attest to the importance of the site between 400 BC and A.D. 100. This site’s proximity to the sea has resulted in the erosion of two large structures. » Read more: Belize Maya Ruins: Cerro Maya