The Mother of all Caves - Calcehtok

I have seen a few caves in my time here in the Yucatan, but todays' adventure takes the cake.

Accompanied by a family of three, an intrepid and über-calm guide named Rogelio, and a trio of 8 year olds, we opted for the three hour "medium" level adventure tour. This is as opposed to the one hour "family" tour where you remain upright throughout and the 5 hour "extreme" tour where much of the tour is done on your stomach, your body inching through crevices where you will take a look and think "there is no WAY I can fit myself through there". With the adventure tour, you do some of that, and for this puppy, that was enough.

Preparing to descend into the underworld

The cave itself is magnificent and proof that the entire hill that extends past Muna and towards Campeche state is a giant piece of swiss cheese. Rogelio commented that for you to see this particular cave in all it's winding and black hole glory, it would take at least a day and a half. 

It's a long hike down

The adventure tour has plenty of adventure! There are places where you are encouraged to simply sit and slide down a muddy embankment; others where you are forced to confront your latent fear of claustrophobia and crawl - or rather, worm - your way through tunnels and cracks in the rock, hands extended and pushing with your toes, all the while thinking about James Franco and his arm in the movie 127 hours.  

One of many sliding opportunities that present themselves

"Dear Chaac, do not let me get stuck here" goes through your mind as you twist and turn, using every muscle in your body to make it to the other side, where more fun awaits. The narrow passages have names like el caracol or corkscrew and the birth canal. Really. The 8 year olds are through in a minute, Rogelio in the lead and he patiently waits on you, ready with an encouraging word or a hand should you need some help. 

This hole is huge, compared to what comes next

You will see quartz formations that act like lamps encrusted in the rock when a flashlight is put up against them, stalactites and stalagmites everywhere, and dripping water from the roof above into stone receptacles carved by the Mayans who conducted their ceremonies and rituals (and sacrifices) here. The Mayans also left offerings and evidence in the form of pottery shards and petroglyphs are pointed out by our guide.

The precise moment when a drop of water drips into a hollowed out rock from above

In later years, during the caste war, the Mayans hid in these caves from the Spanish and you will see remains of defensive walls at several entrances. 

Rogelio will tell you stories of his adventures; on one trip a group of 12 were sliding down a muddy embankment resulting in a collision that knocked out everyone's flashlight, including Rogelio's. He had a hard time convincing them to remain there - in total blackness - while he went back for more lights to lead them back out.  Eventually he did and left them. When he returned two hours later most of them were crying and were sure he had left them there. You cannot appreciate the feeling of utter helplessness and desolation until you have turned off all the lights and are left standing there, in absolute, terrifying blackness with not a clue on how to find your way out.

There are also stories of the Mayan aluxes and the mischief they cause, from throwing pebbles to making strange moaning noises to scare you.

The most interesting part to me was the training that the guides, who are all family, undertake in order to really know the cave. They start very young, 8-9 years old and by the time they are 12 or so, must know the cave inside out. To prove that they are fit to guide others, the young boys are taken 80-100 meters into the cave and they must find their way out, without flashlight, food or water, within two hours. If they fail, they are not ready and must continue with their training. This is how Rogelio learned and his father before him. 

If you are interested in extreme adventure, then this is the tour for you! I am unable to provide photos of the more claustrophobic elements of this tour as my camera was packed away in a backpack that Rogelio and the boys took turns pushing through the more difficult passages.