We awoke early to the sound of birds chirping loudly and the howlers off in the distance. Today we were going to Che Chem Ha, the Cave of the poison wood. Lucy’s cousin William had discovered the cave when he was just 18 when he was hiking for palm leaves with his dog. He wanted to get high atop a hill, where people rarely went, so he climbed up the valley and his dog ended up chasing a critter into a hole. This had behind it the cave!
Excited for our Mayan jungle cave experience, we headed into the jungle, leaving Williams house and small restaurant behind us. It was blazing hot, despite it being only 9:30 am, and we were drenched in sweat before we even descended into the jungle. The hike plummeted into a valley, then rose switchback style up the mountain. Thirty five blistering minutes later, we arrived at the mouth of the cave. Before entering, William retold the tale of discovery and had us on the edge of our seats. We were prepped and ready, so William unlocked the gate that kept wild animals out, and plunged into the cave.
Pre classic pottery was found, dating back almost 3,000 years, and the cave had plenty of it scattered without. William explained that the cave was used for ceremonial gatherings, to offer up things to the gods and ancestors ho had left the world for the under world.
As we traveled deeper and deeper into the mouth of the cave, light became scarce and we were glad to have brought our headlamps. William let us know when the archeologists came to inspect his discoveries, he helped them and learned much about what they used the caves for. Remnants of grain were found around the mouths of pots and carbon was discovered within the holes of the cave walls, allowing torches to be placed upright, shedding light in the cave. We crept deeper and deeper into the cave.
It was cool in Che Chem Ha, and there was an earthy dampness smell. Around each bend there were nooks and crannies, more broken pots, and a sticky clay floor that clutched onto your shoes. It was wide enough in the cave so we all stood upright and with much room around us. At some points in the cave, the ceiling stretched 30 feet above us and looking up, our headlamps cast shadows on the opposing walls.
After about 25 minutes, we reached the end of the cave and climbed down into a huge cavernous room. There was a ceremonial rock in the center, where rituals and offerings had been found. A small hole in one of the sides of the cave led to another room and Mike felt compelled (and brave enough!) to go through it. His 6ft 4′ frame barely made it, but he slid through then climbed up into the upper levels and back down to meet us. There was no way in HELL I was squeezing through, so we got ready to ascend into the light. William asked that we shut our lights off, just for a moment to truly feel the darkness. It was as if our eyes were closed and black filled everything. It was time to head into the fresh air!
When we hiked up to Williams, his dogs close at our heels, we all raved about the experience we had just had. Our guide books had explained the awesomeness but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. We paid and thanked him for the wonderful tour. Having sweated profusely (I mean, we were drenched) we opted for a shower break, since the cave was only a few miles from the house. Although I say that, so you’d ink it took us a few minutes to travel….well, the bumpy road was unpaved and extremely undulating, so a few short miles took 20 minutes!
Showers refreshed us, so we headed out to the Belize botanical gardens which were relatively close by and said to have a nice cafe. The guidebook told us to go to Duplooys jungle lodge and we’d find ourselves at the Botanical gardens. Down another extremely bumpy road and we were there!
The cafe was just beyond the main office for the jungle lodge, so we meandered back and ordered a delicious lunch amidst a tropical paradise. There was a back patio that had a long walkway that overlooked the jungle where we were able to see a number of birds flying about. The collared Aracari and the plain chachalaca were among the bunch and their coloring was gorgeous! The shade felt nice and while we ate we were thankful for the fans that blew overhead. We finished lunch and moseyed through the gardens; Mike was fascinated by all of the citrus, avocado and fruit trees. He plucked two lemons, the biggest I had ever seen by far, smelling the goodness of the sun kissed fruit, then putting them in our backpack.
With over 45 acres of plants, there was quite a lot to see and in the heat, we knew we wouldn’t last long, so we chose the medicine trail to follow, which led us to a replica of a Mayan dwelling, where there was a palm bed, what looked like a clay stove and handmade tools. The Mayans were a crafty people and they knew how to make use of nature. Pretty cool!
We wrapped up the botanical garden and headed back to Casa Santa Maria. Mike and I ventured out onto the river on the canoe that came with the house, hoping to catch sight of a crocodile. At dusk, the river was calm, quiet, full of bird songs and soft breezes. We paddled quietly hoping to catch glimpse of wild life enjoying the same breezes. Although no crocs were spotted, it was a lovely trip down the Macal with the sun setting and the jungle surrounding us.
Back up the switchbacks, we came to the house, where dinner of fish wrapped in grape leaves, coconut rice, and a zucchini medley awaited us. Scrumptious beyond words!!!