After a couple of days alone at the cottages, there are now two couples in the other cottages. Both American, both from the same part of the US: Oregon and the northern bit of California that is virtually Oregon. All of us wear glasses. All of us men have beards. It’s a beautiful thing. One of the men even shares my name; although his is spelt, rather bizarrely, Kraig. (His parents decided that all their children should have names beginning with K after naming him Craig; so it was changed when he was an infant). Kraig and his wife seem to be old hippies, and are thoroughly pleasant to be around. (I even enjoy the huge belches I can hear Kraig doing in their room next to mine.) The other couple arrived this evening and seem similarly pleasant.
One of the local tour guides was doing a day-long trip with a holidaying family today, and there was a spare place on the trip so I tagged along. The guide was called Bruno. A German from Stuttgart, he’s lived here for ten years; gave up a job in banking, married a local woman, and started a new life. Those of you who used to watch the Italian football on Channel Four in the UK will know what I mean when I say he looks a fair bit like James Richardson. We got talking about German football, and Bayern München in particular, and it turns out he knows Jürgen Klinsmann ’cause Bruno used to be a Bundesliga referee. He’s also got a very strange accent. It sounds like he’s learnt most of his English since he’s been in Belize, as he’s got a Germanic version of a West Indian accent.
The family I went on the trip with were from Oregon (again). An early-to-mid-forties couple with 17 and 15 year old sons. The mum, a chatty interior designer; the dad… I don’t know what he did, but he had a Disneyland cap on which was thoroughly out of keeping with the personality of him and his family. The younger son was taller than the older son, but he wore braces on his teeth. Death Cab for Cutie t-shirt. Both of them seemed like the sort of sons all parents would love to have: quiet, intelligent, interested in the places their parents were dragging them around.
We all got in Bruno’s minibus and trundled off along the dirty, bumpy roads to Nim Li Punit, a fairly small site of Mayan ruins. I know I should be impressed by all this stuff, but I’m just not feeling it. Yes, building these things on top of hills was impressive, but being told all the stuff that they think went on is, for me, a lot more impressive than the sites themselves. I’m not really a fan of ruins of any sort, really; but the speculation, and information that has been found is kinda cool.
More impressive for me was seeing the six-inch track of earth that had been cleared by leafcutter ants, as they went back and forth, presumably cutting leafs and taking them back to their big ol’ ant city.
Back in the bus, and we’re bumping along until we come to Coleman’s Cafe. Run by an East Indian man (with some gold teeth and an infectious smile) and his wife. Decent food, fantastic hand-written signs.
Half an hour or so of bumpy, bumpy, bumpy along a road of varying quality, past electricity-less villages, and we’re at Blue Creek. A beautiful, err, blue creek. Fifteen minutes of walking up along the side of the incredibly tempting river, and there in front of us was a big cave entrance.
One last smoke at the entrance, headlamp strapped on, and I’m taking tentative steps along the rocks the water, and I’m about to take my first ever breast-stroke of cave-swimming. And it was amazing. One of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. We went about half a mile into the cave. Swimming where it was deep enough; walking with knees bent, up to our necks in water, across the rocky cave floor when it wasn’t; and resting on rocks, or by holding onto rocks when necessary. All the while, the distant sound of rushing water was getting closer.
It was really nice to do it with these people. Bruno was a great guide. He made us all relaxed, with sparing warnings about possible dangers, but not making us too nervy. And the Oregonians were protective of each other, as you’d imagine, and we all helped each other out with “ooh, watch for that rock”-type stuff, and hands extended to pull people up across slimy rocks. It was a lot of fun.
When we reached our destination, there was a four metre high waterfall thundering into a big pool. There were gorgeous shapes where the power of the water has worn down the limestone: there were stalactites, of course, but also stunning curved and fluted areas; huge whale-tail shapes; bulbous stone icebergs.
All of this was still only illuminated by our headlamps, except if we turned them off, way up high in the cave was a tiny dot of light coming from another entrance. More experienced caver swimmers could go far deeper into the cave than we did, but that would involve packed lunches inside waterproof rucksacks as it’d be an all-day affair.
Back outside the cave, I had a little swim in a pool at the entrance. Catfish and some other little fish (which I forget the name of) all darting around. I sat there on a rock in the pool, up to my chin in water, as still as possible as the fish came within centimetres of me. How do you describe how wonderful that is?
Back at the minibus, there was that most simple of pleasures waiting for me: a set of clean, dry clothes, which I enjoyed all the way home while I wondered what I’ve been doing with my life so far. Why haven’t I been out kayaking, cave-swimming, and the like? And what the hell have I been thinking is so good about sitting at home watching television? On that note, I better go and get ready for today’s trip out to the Cayes to do some snorkeling.