Caving in Belize is a must for anyone with a penchant for adventure. Belize is home to some well-established and spectacular caves. With its concern for historical and environmental protection, Belize also has spelunking opportunities that have yet to be uncovered.
Our friend Franz (the same friend who captured the Belize zoo jaguar) and his wife Susanna, invited us to explore one of these still-secret caves. We would tell you where it is, but then–well, you know. 😀
Franz, a lumberjack by trade, suggested that Susanna and I could come along on the hike. He actually thought exploring the cave would prove too difficult for Susanna (his wife) and I.
Pshaw, I´d like to think of myself as a mama athlete, up for most any adventure. After all, it was just recently that I scaled the tall Mayan ruins of Xunantunich sporting a baby. As for Susanna, she lives in the jungle. She does her laundry by hand, maintains a huge garden, and drives a horse. For sure we tough ladies were NOT going to miss out on this great cave adventure. Franz, rugged but patient, agreed to ‘let’ us come. Brent, married longer, kept his thoughts quiet and smiled as we mighty mamas joined the parade.
Franz came around and decided that two babies in a cave would make for a rare picture, a now laughable thought. Overgrown grass completely covered four year-old Hadassah; we stayed close to keep from getting separated. Night was falling as we hiked.
We slapped mosquitoes, stepped over barbed wire, and crawled under a log that was blocking the tiny opening to the cave. Josiah (age 12) energetically climbed straight down into totaly dark cave. Hannah, our brave little adventurer quickly followed Josiah.
Franz said, “Your children have gall. Not too many children would be first to go into an unknown cave, in the dark. They are also strong to be able to do it.”
It was my turn next.
Stuck in the Cave
Susanna comforted me by asking seriously, “Franz do you think there would be jaguars in that cave?”
The children shouted from the first level of the cave below, “You can do it Momma!”
I peered down into the cave and saw only darkness and the shadows of my children. I began squeezing myself into the small cave entrance. A dry rotted ladder wobbled below. Josiah tried his best to hold it steady.
He suggested “A bigger person should hold it.” That was not possible. Franz was helping from above, Brent was holding the baby (Jeremiah) with plans of lowering him down to me. The lower rungs on the damp, dry rotted ladder were spaced about a full leg length apart. Sweating, I made it down the first and second rung.
I noticed that the fifth step was missing. My right knee was stuck between two rocks. I lowered my left leg.
“Down, down, down. Just a little further, Momma, you are almost there!” Josiah shouted.
Crack! My left leg was fully resting on the fourth rung as I wiggled my right knee free. The dry rotted step gave way and I was dangling by my arms with about an eight foot rocky drop below. Franz was the closest and grabbed hold of my arm with all of his might. We were both sweating; I was mortified, and I did what any woman would do just before she was going to die.
I started laughing.
I hoped he would not lose his grip. The children smartly stood on tip toes and did their best using finger tips to give me a boost up. The children pushed, Franz lifted and I pulled with all of my might. My thirty-seven years became evident in that moment. Four children later, I am no longer the skinny twenty year-old I once was. By a sheer moment of providence, with only my pride hurt, I did make it out of the cave opening.
After thanking Franz for saving my life, I was content to sit outside with the wild things in the jungle. Susanna went over and peered in, shocked that I had even attempted it. There was no way she was going down either. Franz limberly climbed down; Brent came right behind him. Josiah and Hannah were rearing to to go.
My Jeremiah wanted to nurse as did Susanna’s baby. With Hadassah snuggled in between us, we sat hunched down behind the log that blocked the cave entrance. We did our best to ignore the bats, termites, mosquitoes, and the dripping, muggy heat. Our babies nursed and fussed, letting us know that they were uncomfortable.
Susanna’s imagination got to working; I aided her. We yelled down to check on the men and children below but got no response. We wondered if they had enough oxygen. We chastened ourselves for not reminding them to light a flame in each new entrance, for not giving them a spool of yarn to mark their way. We had visions of running to get men from the community to rescue them all.
As our hearts pounded wildly, Susanna was sure she heard “vexed yellow jaws”, the most poisonous of all snakes. We hoped too that there were no hungry jaguars lurking. We did have one flashlight, but it had slipped. We were outside the cave entrance, on a incline, crouching under a fallen tree. That was the only spot cleared out enough where we could sit. I was not sure that if I got up to get it that I would be able to climb up again while holding the baby. We saw that Hadassah could do it. I clung to the back of her dress and asked the four year-old to get the light.
Her first response was, “I’m terrified.” Hmm, Can’t imagine why!
She said, “I was having fun but now I am not having fun.”
I bribed her with the promise of a milkshake, and she saved the day. I shined the light behind Susanna and discovered that instead of hissing snakes we were sitting right next to a huge termite mound.
Meanwhile, below, the men and children were having a wonderful time exploring. The children came back with amazing stories of stalactites dripping from the ceiling, stalagmites growing from the floor and did we know that a human touch stops their formation?
The children explained the scariest part of this cave was not the first drop at the entrance but the second. Each had to drop down–by rope–over another eight-foot rocky pit and climb over a slippery, mud-covered large rock.
This picture (below) showing Hannah’s feet at the top, (followed by Brent and then Josiah) is the steep climb down the second level.
They found old clay pots and skulls. Franz tells us that years ago– when he first found the cave–there were complete skeletons lying beside perfectly formed clay pots, some of which are now displayed at the Belize Museum. Here are a few skull pieces. The black, tarry material throughout is bat manure which, Franz told us, was fetching a high price.
They crawled, and climbed and enjoyed exploring. Franz left his light on a high rock so they could find their way back. While they explored, they found another spot where skulls and bone pieces lay gathered in one area. These skulls could be 2000 years old.
Hannah found a spot near the remains where clay cooking pots lay in pieces. We suspect these would have been pots of cooking medicinal herbs.
The fathers and two oldest children packed in an amazing bonding experience and emerged with a lifetime of memories. I am so happy for them. Although I may have failed the mighty woman test, our capable ten year-old daughter held her own.
I am relieved that we all left in one piece and that we mothers and babies were not eaten by wild things in the dark. 😉
Would you explore an unexplored cave at night with your children?