♫ “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” ♫
As we prepared to leave for our honeymoon, we faced one common reaction amongst our friends.
“You’re doing what!?”.
And I understood. While many prefer romantic days on the beach: massages by the ocean, dinner in the sand, my husband and I agreed that weeks of this on end would get a little tedious. We planned for a bit of this along the way but, after throughly scouring the internet, beach-time took second place to a most exciting excursion.
Zip-lining, cave tubing, horseback riding: the list of activities available while staying in a luxury treehouse at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Lodge was alluring enough (and… WOW. If I could live in that treehouse tomorrow, I’d up and move everything — so serene and fantastic).
But when I reached their offering of an overnight adventure which included repelling into a black hole and sleeping in an ancient, crystal, Mayan burial cave, the tickets nearly booked themselves. I wanted something “cool and unusual” — sleeping in a mystical cave fit the bill.
Recognizing the challenge and physical exertion a cave overnight would take, we saved it for our final night in the jungle, planning nothing but relaxation on San Pedro afterwards. When the day came, we were presented packs to carry with all of our repelling gear, camping gear, water, food, etc., and off we went in a genuine, open-air safari bus. Feeling the weight of the bag, the heat of day and hearing of the three hour hike ahead of us, I felt just a bit of trepidation…
But we were off. The hiking was invigorating, filling us with the sense that every fat cell must have officially melted off our bodies as we became personified puddles, but it was also gorgeous and exotic, listening to the monkeys in the trees and chasing armadillo deep within the palms. Before we knew it, our first hike was over, and we’d reached the “Black Hole Drop”.
The Black Hole Drop falls into the category of “something I’m glad I did, but need not ever do again”. An over 200 foot repel from a cliff down into the cave area, we spent the first part of the drop trying to support ourselves on the cliff wall — usually a much more challenging and fearsome task than simply dangling the rest of the way… however, my rope was a bit loose, and I kept going during the dangle whether I wanted to or not. This terrified me, as well; the pain and pressure in my hand from trying to stop myself from free-falling nearly made it give out.
Between each and every picture our guide captured of me looking up and smiling there were periods of whining, near tears and sheer terror. It was actually quite comical, in a way. “I don’t want to… I don’t think I… whimper whimper whine whine…”
“Hey, Elizabeth. Look up for the camera!”
There’d be a *GRIN*, then I’d go right back to begging for my life. Were my husband not waiting at the bottom, brave enough to go first, I would have definitely backed out.
At the top, brilliantly, I slipped and fell — ended up sitting Indian-style on the cliff edge, the strength completely seeped from my legs and unable to get back up. This was the highest scale of fear I’ve felt in quite awhile.
But after this drowning of adrenaline and some spectacular views, we made it to the bottom feeling like complete bad-asses. And off we went, again.
Our cave and home for the night was magnificent. Above us there were crystal formations, completely awe-inspiring, and the ground below us echoed our footsteps in a hollow, pumpkin-thumping kind of way, indicating yet another cave below, now closed off to the world. The guides told that tens of thousands of years ago this cave, already massive in size, was much larger, and collapsed in on itself, creating this hollow rock ground and separation. The whole thing just fascinated me.
We set up camp for the night, enclosed hammocks tied from the cave wall to supporting trees outside, and our guide began to share stories. He spoke of giving a tour of the caves to Leonardo DiCaprio and Bradley Cooper, who had helicoptered in together to explore the area and were highly appreciative of him for not wanting to talk about their movies the whole time. Carlos was amused, because he hadn’t even known who Bradley Cooper was.
He also explained a sight we’d seen that Sunday: cars and crowds of people lining the road into town, many of them rushing into the brush with machetes, clearing the land with these as they went. Carlos explained that the government was actually giving away the land, and people had been out there marking territory and staking their claims. Belize, in general, seemed have much more of a communal attitude than the individualistic, “striving to get ahead of the next guy” United States — I can only guess that a land giveaway such as this would have resulted in bloodshed and litigation, here.
There was only a bit more time to explore the caves, the jungle getting dark at about 7pm. Carlos waited until we were scoping our way out in the pitch dark with head lanterns to tell us the area’s ghost stories.
Months prior, Carlos and one of his fellow guides were camping in the exact same area and had made plans with their friend, Maurice, to potentially meet up for dinner. It grew dark and, as the pair went to extinguish their fire for the night, they heard someone begin to come down the tall, aluminum ladder we’d use the next day to climb out of the cavern. Carlos and his friend decided to be mischievous, running and crouching behind a rock in the cave to scare Maurice when he arrived.
They listened as the man cleared the ladder and began to run across the hollow ground I described earlier. He slowed as he came to the entrance of the cave, and the friends believed that Maurice shared their same idea, trying to sneak up on and scare them. They counted down from five and jumped out at the approaching figure.
Yet no one was there. No one at all. Whoever had scaled the ladder and crossed the rocks had completely disappeared.
He spoke also of guides tying up their hammocks with Navy-style knots, just to go falling to the ground in the middle of the night, the ropes on each end absolutely untied. This thought didn’t sit well with me at all, since there was a sharp rock under my head, and we were sharing the cave with poisonous devil spiders. I have to admit to being a bit uneasy falling asleep that night — not because of the insects and creatures rustling about the jungle, outside our hammocks, but because of the strange, creepy energy emitting from the cave. I swear there was even a ghoulish face staring at me for awhile, statue like from the rocks.
But we slept, and slept well in our hammock tents, scaled the gigantic ladder out of the canyon the next morning, chased aardvarks on the way back and felt one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment we’d ever felt. Absolutely invigorating and unlike anything you can experience anywhere, I can’t recommend the “overnight in the cave” at Ian Anderson’s Cave Branch enough. For those with an adventurous spirit (even those with Celiac — the Chef Jay was OUTSTANDING), this has to be among the best places to honeymoon.