San Ignacaio, Belize

December 23, 2017:

We all loaded into a van headed to Belize today. I was sad to have to say goodbye to Guatemala, as the visit was so short and there is so much more I wanted to show my family. We had a driver and a guide. Our guide spoke fluent English, and was very passionate about his country and history. He told us all about his mother, her passion for cooking, helping her open a small restaurant in Peten and how he grew up in the kitchen gaining an appreciation for local food. He told us about the Guatemalans who were moved to the area of Flores/Peten from the south and given land to turn into farms. We also  discussed the civil war. Guatemalans have never made any sort of amends after the war, they just changed the name of their guardia civil, and moved on as if nothing happened.  There was never any closure and it is still felt among the civilians.

As we talked and passed through small towns, we grew hungry. So eventually we stopped at a small gas station where a young woman had set up a burrito stand. Many times, the "chicken buses" will stop here to let the passengers get a bite to eat and use the bathroom. The woman at the stand made fresh tortillas and fresh stewed chicken. She slathered in the stewed chicken with some root vegetables into the tortillas and then drenched it with her homemade hot sauce. It was delicious. The freshness was noticeable and the salsa picante burned with a delicious sweet and pepper taste. The chicken had an underlying orange taste
and all of the flavors just molded together so richly. I could've eaten about 5 more and wish I could find those type of roadside stands in the states.

We moved quickly through the rest of Guatemala until we arrived at the border and went through customs and onto San Ignacio Belize. I was amazed at how quickly the scenery changed from very Latin American to Caribbean.  The homes went from dull colors to brightly colored, many homes now sat on stilts, off the ground. The demographics of the community changed right away as well. I had never been to Belize and was excited to learn more.

Orange groves at the Table Rock Belize Hotel
Once we arrived to our hotel, Table Rock Belize, we were greeted immediately at the parking lot. The staff knew our names, took our luggage and escorted each family group to their rooms. Once inside the rooms, the staff went ahead and explained everything about the room, the hotel and the hotel amenities. Such a nice personal touch. They told us about the working farm, we could eat the fruit growing, play with the chickens and donkeys on sight. They told us about the river and the canoeing and tubing we could do. They also told us about the trails we could hike right across the street from the hotel. The hotel had a small restaurant that offered all meals and bar "snacks" in between lunch and dinner. The dining area was outdoor with a thatched roof over top, surrounded by trees and a nice deck. The food was fresh with nice twists on local flavors. It was really a wonderful area to eat and relax and listen to the wildlife, the birds in the morning and day and the bats in the evening.
Hummingbird outside dining area
The rooms, only had screens on the windows and the roofs were thatched. We were warned to check our shoes and

Bats on the windows of our room
Our bungalow
Resident Burrow
the bed for critters at night and morning and to keep our bags closed. They also offered laundry service and the price was really reasonable and was done same day. We did take advantage of this, as a family of five produces a lot of laundry and where you can find cheap laundry, take advantage. We also noticed the bats hanging out on our porch and windows, their constant arguing with each other made for an awesome experience. The kids right away ran for the donkeys and chickens. They spent hours chasing and picking up chickens.  I strolled through the orange grove and my husband and youngest went tubing down the river. I left the kids headed for the dining room for a drink and just to sit and lookout towards the jungle. Some of my family were there playing board games and relaxing as well.  It was so nice to just have time to sit and reflect on the trip thus far and know that my kids were unplugged and doing what kids should do.  Exploring, running free, having fun and making memories.

December 24, 2017: The Cave of Sacrafice

Road to the ATM Cave
Today was the exciting  Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave tour.  It is a cave in Belize in the jungle where Mayan ceremonies and sacrifices had been performed for the Mayan Gods. I had read up about this cave tour before I left as I wasn't sure my 70+year old parents could do it. The reviews were not very re-assuring and I was on the fence about bringing my parents, but they are in shape and I decided to chance it.
We were not permitted to bring cameras into the cave as someone had dropped a camera on an ancient skull a number of years ago and cracked it. We were told to wear clothes that dried quickly and water shoes. We all wore keens. We were also told to bring a pair of socks in sealed bag because at a certain point we would have to take our shoes off, but would want the socks to walk in the cave. The drive was about 40 minutes from our hotel and upon arrival to the parking area we were given our helmets and head lamps and told to use the bathroom. The very first part of the tour was swim through a river holding onto a rope. This was not going to be easy. That was only the first river. There were two more rivers to crossalong with a 40 minute hike. The kids LOVED it, I worried about my parents and we kept walking. Along the hike, our guide told us about the history of the cave and how we are so lucky to be stepping into the cave and experiencing this history. Both National Geographic and The Discovery Channel have done documentaries on it, and what amazes me is it is open to the public.
First river cross

When we arrived to an area right before we were about to enter the cave, we were given one last chance to go to the bathroom, in nature, before continuing. Our journey continued and we jumped right into a pool of water that led right into the entrance of the cave. For the next 2.5 km we would mostly be swimming or wading through water. There were moments of slipping through extremely tight spaces and rock climbing without anything to hold on to. We saw bats, beautiful stalactites, staglacmites as well as crystal formations that had been untouched for centuries Our kids flew through the cave as if it were an American Ninja Warrior course, no hesitation at all. Finally we came across an 18 foot boulder that we had to climb up and then leap onto a ledge that would take us to a cavernous, cathedral like area of the cave.

We were finally out of the water, but we had to stop and take our shoes off and put on our socks. As we continued, we entered a massive cathedral like chamber and started to see the Mayan relics; pots used for ceremonial offering for the Gods, skeletons left from human sacrifices. There were even structures created by the Mayans that when you flashed a light on them the shadows created stories depicting the life of the Mayans. The kids were soaking it all in and amazed that what they were seeing was "roped" off by red tape. Literally, one wrong step and you would step right onto a piece of pottery or a human remain. We continued to traverse over rocks and boulders until we finally came to a 20 foot ladder help up by rope that was tied off somewhere. Once we all climbed it, we were at a section where we saw the famous Crystal Maiden. A full skeleton that was coated in mineral deposits to give it a crystalized appearance. Most of the artifacts have remained untouched, the way they were left hundreds of years ago. It is extraordinary and rare to see a ceremonial sight so
Surprise guest after the ATM Cave
up close and so untouched.

We headed back the way we came, a bit more confident and very excited and fulfilled with what we had just accomplished and seen. This was truly a unique experience. I'm not sure how much longer people will be able to visit this cave as of the fragile environment. I'm happy I was able to see it with my family. My parents made it and immediately searched out youtube videos on the cave to post on social media to show what they had done. I couldn't tell who was more excited the kids or my70 something year old parents.

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