None of my children know how to ride a bike. Our neighborhood backs to a farm filled with wooded trails, streams and waterfalls. We’ve only explored the trails once. When we went to Great Falls Park last summer for a family hike we enjoyed a solid hour of whining and complaining.
Based on my children’s ages and their obvious love of adventure and exploration I had managed expectations of our excursions.
St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park features 575 acres of forest rich with wildlife, two cave systems and the Blue Hole, a sapphire-colored pool formed by the collapse of an underground limestone cave. The main attractions in the park, the St. Herman’s Cave and the Blue Hole, are connected by an underground stream. Julio, our guide, meets us at the park entrance and fits each of us with a helmet, headlamp and inner tube. As we walk the 200 yards through the forest to the cave entrance, Julio points out the national tree, termite nests and the path left by cutter ants. When we arrive at the cave entrance my children fall silent. Backlit by the depth and dark of the cave Julio begins telling us that the Maya believed that the Rain God, Chaak, lived in caves and therefore performed rituals and sacrifices within the caves. Maya also believed that many caves were entrances to the underworld, or Xibalba. Today many native Belizeans do not venture into the caves.
Oliver clutches my hand a little tighter and whispers, “Mommy, I want to go back.”
We float on the cave’s river in connected inner tubes looking in amazement of what nature has formed over thousands of years. Sometimes narrow, sometimes shallow and sometimes cathedral we go where the cave’s walls allow us. We are observers of a place where light doesn’t exist, in a different time, inhabited only by fruit bats. After spending over an hour in complete darkness, save our headlamps, we welcome the fresh, cool waters of the Blue Hole.
It is an easy thing to underestimate someone or something, to keep expectations low to avoid disappointment. As we adventured and explored I heard Lucas say over and over, “This is the best thing ever.” We marveled at the caves, pretending to be diamond explorers; we giggled at the chill of the water, watching fish swim through our legs; I looked at my children’s bright, happy faces free of any hesitation or complaint and embraced this perfect time in a perfect place.
The village of San Jose Succotz is located across the Mopan river from the Xunantunich reserve. A small hand-cranked ferry carries visitors across the Mopan River, where we continue our drive to reach the ruins.
Xunantunich, Maya for “Stone Woman”, is believed to have been inhabited as early as 600 BC and rose to prominence and declined between AD 700-1000. Significant excavation didn’t begin until 1924 with continuous excavations and restorations since 1990. Today Xunantunich is only 60% excavated.
From the top of the El Castillo pyramid we enjoy a cool breeze and stunning views. To the left, beyond the highway lies Guatemala.
Many tourists search high and low to catch a glimpse of a howler monkey. We hear their howls echo through the reserve as they claim their turf. As we leave we spot several active in the trees above us.