In the Belly of Belize

Tucked away deep in the jungles of Belize are a myriad of cave systems that are nothing less than spectacular. They have been explored for many years by local and international authorities, but the full extent of these systems has yet to be measured. Included in the amazing array of caves are dry caves and flooded caves. The flooded caves have underground rivers running through them, and are also called cenotes. There is a wonderful and somewhat dark history associated with these caves.

The Mayan civilization was prevalent in the Belize region. It stretched from north in the Yucatan Peninsula, through Belize, and south into Guatemala. The Mayans had a belief in the over-world and the underworld. The caves were symbolically and literally their underworld, and were used for specific purposes like reclusion and rituals.


Mayan Underworld

Xibalba is the name given to the Mayan Underworld. There have been claims that the entrance to this world was in Mexico, Guatemala and even in Belize. It is easy to see the idea behind this concept when you stand at the gaping mouth of any of the caves in Belize. St. Herman’s cave is one example. As you peer into the huge opening, you can almost smell the sacrificial smoke that was burning at the altar of the Mayan priests. Entering into the throat of the cave, light begins to fade and the feeling of entering another world is palpable. Smells shift from fresh jungle air into a damp, musty smell of mineral filled mud and guano. What started as a massive opening has squeezed into smaller passageways, where you must climb over the occasional boulder to get any farther. A few more step and the only light available is coming from your headlamp.

Mayan Underworld

flickr image by archer10 (Dennis)

You literally feel as though you are being passed through the bowels of the earth, which is a transformational process. Water is dripping all round you making splish and splatter sounds as the droplets hit stone or small pools of water that have collected. Careful footing is a must, as one wrong move and you will be injured for sure. Just as you realize that the outside world has finally gone for good, you round a corner and the walls open to expose an enormous cavern with cathedral ceilings. The whiteness of crystalline rocks reflects your headlamp, giving off an angelic feeling. The shadows dancing on the walls play tricks on your eyes, leaving you with the impression that there are moving spirits and energies in the room with your. It is so understandable at that moment how the Mayans would have attributed these gauntlets and caverns as anything less that a magical underworld.

To see and experience the spirit worlds, one must be able to move away from conventional thinking and seeing. They must be able to go into the recesses of their minds and explore the unexplored. These caves offer exactly that experience. It is possible to sit in the darkness of a small cramped slot between two rocks and feel the safety and solitude of quiet contemplation. It is also plausible to imagine torches with fires burning from them placed around the massive rooms, and the light from the flickering fires moving their luminescence over the stalactites and stalagmites on the floors and ceilings. If going deep to the inner realms of existence was the way into the underworld for the Mayan culture, then being in the belly of the Belizean caves was exactly where they would have fund their destination.

Date posted: 6th April, 2013

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