Monday, July 30, 2012

Cave Tour - A Reflection by Carol Beckel

When I am in Belize it is often difficult for me to step back and take some time to enjoy my surroundings. So much work to be done. But, this past week I took part in the Hillside Cultural Day for the first time. The clinic puts this day together to help students and volunteers learn more about the many cultures of Belize.

The early part of the day included a trip to Nim Li Punit which is a site of an ancient Mayan city. The secret history major in me really enjoyed learning more about the ancient Mayan culture and the views of southern Belize from the top of this mountain were breathtaking. Next, we visited the Ixchel Women’s Group where Mayan women are trained in the many arts and handcrafts from the Mayan tradition. We learned a great deal and had an incredible lunch. I even spied a gray cat lounging on a chair hanging up in the rafters so, BONUS!

The next part was a tour of Blue Creek Cave. Please pause for a moment, Dad, you might not want to read this part out loud to Mom. I’ve been on many cave tours in America neatly choreographed with lighting, clear pathways, and of course, a gift shop at the end for those lovely bat souvenirs. This was not that kind of cave tour. A tour of Blue Creek Cave begins with an approximately 1 mile hike/climb/wade through water just to reach the opening. When I say climb, I really mean climbing but not with the appropriate equipment over nice dry rocks. No, I mean climbing over jagged rocks covered in moss with my close toed sandals that are ideal for water…but not climbing! Have I mentioned I’m about 20 years older than all the other students and volunteers?

I was by far the slowest mover as I had to predict which leg was best to lead so that I could get my stronger left leg in the best position and avoid greater stressors on my right leg with the “bad knee”. This was fairly impossible unless I just took to hopping from one rock to the next. The lovely part was that the students and Stacy, the other PT here, were very encouraging and lent a hand as necessary. Our tour guide also quickly identified me as “the weakest link” and always seemed to be right where I needed him for tough spots.

When we reached the mouth of the cave, it was breathtaking. The river flowed out and over a short waterfall within about 50 yards of the entrance. This cave is frequently not accessible during the rainy season but fortunately, the water was low enough and not too fast moving. We stripped down to our swim suits. “No shoes allowed” was not what we expected but we decided we had come this far so no quitting now. Our guide assured us the rocks were very smooth in the cave. We also put on our Cyclopes like head lamps and into the water we went.

When your very experienced cave guide says “You must stay to the right!” it really is best to follow his directions. We crept along the wall of the cave on the right recognizing quickly that the life preservers we wore around our waist was not just some exercise in safety, these were necessary to help combat the strong flow of the river and the delightful little undertows that occurred in certain places along the way. Why did we wear traditional around the neck life preservers around our waist…again, just trust the cave guide.

I have to thank my parents at this point for the many, many, many hours of swim practices they endured. At different points we would cross the flow of the river once in the cave and my strong kick really came in handy. We all worked together to catch each other and make sure we made it back safely to one side of the cave.

At one point we had to exit the water, climb over a short path before descending a fairly steep rock wall to re-enter the water. Remember the part about the “smooth rocks in the cave”? That really only relates to those rocks that have millions of gallons of water pouring over them day after day for thousands of years. Those other rocks above the water line were sharp, jaggy, and yes, still slippery. I definitely do not walk barefoot on rough surfaces at home enough to develop the calluses necessary to be a future cave guide.

We reached a point where the current was truly too swift so we had to turn back. Wow, it is much easier to move WITH the current rather than AGAINST the current. We emerged from the cave cooler and happier. At least I was until I realized it was now time to go back down the path! I am happy to report I made my way back down the path only twisting one ankle slightly and jamming my right knee just once. Even though I did skip the rope swings and jumping off the platform into the river, I chalked this up to succeeding at another physical challenge. I was very happy to be 30 pounds lighter and to have much stronger cycling legs for this trek.


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