“Do one thing a day that scares you” is the sort of suggestion I usually ignore because it doesn’t fit into my cocoon of books, Netflix and chips. But I definitely saw the value in it on my vacation to Belize in March.
Belize is a wonderful country to visit because it has so much to offer—if you like the beach, there are the sunny Cayes. There is ample opportunity to snorkel, scuba dive and kayak. The inland offers beautifully preserved jungle, fresh-water swimming holes, Maya ruin sites and a vast cave system.
|Friezes on El Castillo at Maya ruin site Xunantunich|
In the ten days I was there, I did many fun and exciting things I’ve done before, like swim in the ocean, read on the beach, explore new cities and eat at least four times my weight in local food (if you visit Belize, be sure to try the fryjack, the papaya, the rice and beans, the stew chicken, the conch curry…). And for the whole trip I had been looking forward to one particular expedition. Well, sort of.
It was with a degree of fearful excitement that I had been describing the ATM tour to others before I left for Belize. ATM, or Actun Tunichil Muknal, is a large cave an hour from San Ignacio, in the Cayo district. It is believed to be a Maya sacrifice site and is home to calcified human bones (including a nearly intact skeleton called The Crystal Maiden), pieces of ceremonial pottery and cave formations that were apparently modified into altars or carved in certain ways to create silhouettes and cast shadows of faces, figures and animals.
No cameras are allowed inside (thanks to one tourist who dropped theirs during the tour a few years ago, breaking a thousand-year-old skull), but that turned out to be fine with me! Because after a forty-five-minute hike through the jungle and shallow rivers, as well as a swim into the mouth of the cave, I needed both hands and all of my energy in the next three hours to squeeze through tight spaces, climb down into tunnels of rushing water and scale slippery rocks as we made our way around.
When we weren’t swimming through the cave’s river system, we took off our water shoes to walk the dry chamber areas in stocking feet to get up close to the artifacts. It was dark, damp and cool and we occasionally shared the space with some cute little bats…and a huge spider that I studiously avoided. I was grateful for my headlamp!
While wildly outside of my comfort zone, the ATM tour was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
In the spirit of pushing limits, what’s a story idea you’ve always wanted to explore but were too afraid to? Please tell me in the comments!
And if you’re interested in learning more about ATM and seeing some photos, here’s a good resource.