Day three was…..
- One of the most frightening days of my life.
- The day that Nic said he was very proud of me.
- The day that made me really appreciate sunlight.
Let’s see why.
We started the day with a huge breakfast, full of fruit and homemade bread with local honey at The Pickled Onion. Then we went to Uxmal, which was less than 15 minutes down the road from Santa Elena, where we were staying. Uxmal was pretty cool. I had heard a lot about it because it is one of the more popular Mayan ruin sites in the Yucatan. It costs 177 pesos a person and then another 22 pesos to park. We expected there to be a lot of tourists, and indeed there was, but the place was so huge that you could escape to quiet places if you wanted. We opted to explore without a map or a guide. It took about 2 hours to see the whole place (who knows if we saw it all). The views from the top of the pyramids were great. You could see for miles. It was so hot there and the sun was really strong. We kept picturing scenes from Apocalypto while walking around (It is a must see before you check out the Mayan ruins). It is amazing to think that such an ancient culture could build these huge buildings.
Our next stop of the day was to visit these caves that I have read a little bit about online.
- The Yucatan is filled with caves (grutas) and cenotes because of the limestone that is the base of the peninsula. Cenotes are sinkholes. They are caused when the groundwater erodes the limestone underneath the ground. Sometimes they can collapse and be exposed and filled with water. They can be very deep with clear freshwater. But most of them are hidden under the ground. There are also cenotes without any water in them (caves) and even some underwater rivers in Mexico.
Most of the caves in Mexico that you search for online, are lit up and look pretty easy to walk around in from the pictures. Some of them even have music and restaurants in them. These ones were a little different…They were called the Calcehtok Caves and they were on property owned by the same family for many generations. There wasn’t too much info online, but you could easily follow the signs on the road to them. The roads were terrible! There were GIANT potholes. Nic even had to back up and go around one. There was oil all over the road. Somebody obviously bottomed out and busted their oil pan! Oops! I was on edge the whole time while Nic was driving down this road.
When we got the the site of the caves, there were 3 men laying in hammocks. They did not speak any English but Daniel, this younger guy (25 or so), said he would take us in the grutas. I had to translate everything to Nic. He gave us the option of tourista (0.5 hours), adventura (1.5-2 hours) and extreme adventura (5-7 hours). We picked the adventura option because we didn’t want to be sissies. It cost 300 pesos, but I only had 2 – 200’s and he had no change, so he got a nice tip.
We brought our own headlamps, but Daniel had some to use also. We climbed down the steep ladder to the exposed cave. It was so cool. There were vines everywhere and bats flying around. Sunlight was peeking in through holes in the limestone ceiling. Then, Daniel asked us to follow him into the darkness. First we were walking, then the ceiling got lower and we were ducking, then the ceiling got lower and we were crouching. The floor was covered in bat guano. We had to use our headlamps at this point because the sunlight was gone.
THEN Daniel pointed out a tiny little tunnel the size of a steering wheel and said “Aqui” (here). This is about the point where I turned around and gave Nic the death stare. “What did you get me into?!?!”. Daniel laid on his belly and somehow slithered through the little hole that was lined with bat shit. I hesitantly went next and Nic followed. I do not know how I fit in that hole, but I am just glad that I am not very fat. Nic and I discussed later how they screen people to allow them into the caves. Because there is no way that someone larger than us would fit!!! It would be dangerous if you got stuck!
We continued squeezing and contorting our bodies through tunnel after tunnel. Every so often, the tunnels would open up into huge caves that were 30-60 feet tall. Daniel showed us quartz and explained to us about the stalactites and stalagmites. The formations were out of this world. I wish the camera took better pictures but the humidity caused fog in the air. We saw some creepy spiders and worms that glowed in the headlamp. Gross.
We had to use our rock climbing skills inside the caves too because we were climbing up some pretty steep stuff. There were ropes sometimes but they were slippery and covered in guano and mud. At one point, I fell while hanging on the rope and slammed into the rock. It must have been pretty hard because Nic’s face looked worried and I had a massive bruise. You also had to sit on your butt and slide down the bat shit covered rocks. It would have been easy to get hurt in there. Then the anxiety set in that if you did get hurt in this cave; how would you get out? You could slip 30 feet into the rocks below and break your neck or leg. I do not know how you could crawl through the small tunnels if this happened. I actually started to hyperventilate at this realization and asked the guide where the exit was and how far. I needed a break, so we stopped and drank some water and Nic tried to console me and told me how proud he was of me for doing this. This is not what we signed up for!
I wanted out of those caves, so we moved on. More tunnels, more big caves, little caves, sliding, climbing…Then we reached the biggest cave and Daniel was explaining to us (me translating) that this is where the Mayan priests sacrificed hundreds of people. We looked up to the ceiling and our headlamps fixated on a mummy and hieroglyphs carved into the rocks. Panic attack number two! I was scared. This was like a horror movie. I was just waiting for people to come out of the shadows and sacrifice Nic and I to the gods. Haha. Get me out of here!
25 minutes after the sacrifice cave, Daniel asked us to turn off our lights. We did and we saw sunlight shining through a little hole! We made it! We are alive! I have never been so happy to see sunlight. We scrambled out and found a little puddle to rinse our hands off. We were covered in bat crap and we were all scratched up from the rocks. My clothes were ruined and I actually had to throw my shirt out afterwards. Daniel somehow had only two specks of mud on him. I also need to mention that he was in flip flops… He had been exploring the caves since he was 7, so he was obviously more experienced than us.
We said bye to Daniel and got in the car and sped back to the bed and breakfast. We were exhausted and spent the rest of the day cleaning ourselves and sleeping. What a day! I told Nic that he was never allowed to complain that I wasn’t adventurous or courageous enough after that event.
*click the pictures to enlarge