Exploring the CheChem Ha Cave
Our first full day in Belize started off with a trip to the closest cave from the jungle dome.
+ Nature Lesson: The name translates into “Cave of poison wood water” which referes to the CheChem Ha tree and there are two kinds. The white and the black. The difference between the trees is that the white che chem is safe to touch in case you ever touch it – accidentally or not. The black che chem’s sap is always seeping but the sap is poisonous in both trees. The milky sap is like acid – if touched it gets into your pores and is very itchy. However the antidote , the Gumbo limbo tree is usually close by . Both trees usually grow side by side!… funny how nature works.
After a 30-45 minute drive past San Ignacio, we arrived at the home of William Plates Morales and his wife. He introduced himself to us and said that three of his dogs will be accompanying us on the hike. It ended up being just the two of us on the tour so it was like having our own private guide!
William actually discovered the caves in 1989 at the age of 17/18. He was looking for his dog after it chased a gibnut into a small opening of a dirt covered mount. After the official archaeology dig, the Belize museum took seven artifacts to display and kept the rest intact. William is now officially the tour guide owner of the Chechem Ha Caves.
We began the 45 minute hike into the rain forest. The weather was more cloudy and cooler than usual. If it had been more wet, the trail would have been super muddy and more treacherous. Along the trail, William and Mynor pointed out the wildlife and special plants of Belize. Thank goodness for the walking sticks given to us to help the trek. It also has to be said that William and Mynor did not need walking sticks and rather just hopped along the trail like it was nothing. I felt like a slow lumbering American after we reached the entrance to the caves!
After a gulp of water + putting on our headlamps, we headed into the dark unknown. The cave is divided into “9 layers” or 9 sections. Ironic because the Mayans also believed that there are 9 entrances/layers into the underworld.
The cave is considered dry although because of the stalagcites and dripping water, the ground was wet and very very sticky. It was like walking with glue sticks on the bottom of your shoe. We explored all 9 layers of the cave, squeezed in some very narrow spots + climbed up precarious makeshift ladders, and shimmied down slippery ropes during the steep descents.
We saw plenty of original Mayan pottery left behind + sleeping fruit bats and lots of creepy crawly bugs such as the scorpion spider!
At the 9th cave/layer, we came upon a large chamber with a high ceiling and a circle of stones set in the middle of the chamber. William explained this was the largest chamber where sacrifices were made and showed us where they placed the torches to light up the room.
He got us to all turn off our headlamps and stand in complete darkness and silence. This was how it was for the Mayans thousands of years ago. Standing in complete darkness and underground was amazing….until it gave me the creeps especially with William teasing us in a scary voice. After five minutes, I had to turn back on my headlamp which got a laugh out of the guys.
The hike back was much more tiring since it was uphill and after the exploration of the cave. After getting back, we settled down for a hearty lunch of..what else?! rice & beans with stew chicken and side salad. Delicious home made Mayan/Belizean cooking really hit the spot afterwards.
To digest, we explored his grounds which are set atop a cliff with great views on both sides. We petted our guard dogs and said our goodbyes. Onto the Xunantunich ruins!
How did I ever do this after a hiking/cave expedition? I will never know. It was a very emerald green view though.
Here I am saying farewell to the dogs who walked with us on the trail to keep the jaguars away. (not kidding either).
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