Nov
24
2008
0

Holy batcave!

Went on a couple of great tours from El Retiro.
The first was to a cave known for it’s bats. You go in an hour before dusk, and watch them leaving by the thousands to go feed. It’s quite a sight. Literally hundreds of thousands of them whizzing past your head. They’re mostly silent, other than the whoosh of air. Despite waving my arms around, I only got lightly smacked once. Those things have got great echolocation.
The kid guide told us that the cave is 30 km deep, and has only the one entrance. It was the French who first explored it in the 50’s, and they could only go 20km before running out of oxygen! We only went about 500m in, which was good enough. Apparently the guano is 2 to 3 metres thick on the ground deep in the cave.
Amazing formations from the flow of water. Huge chambers, weird shapes.  Our guide dug into a crevice and pulled out an enormous spider for us to see. The only other animals living in there are opposums.
I was surprised how warm it was in the cave – I’d say at least 73 degrees F. It was difficult to get photos of all of this, but hopefully you can tell. The river exiting the cave is a beautiful blue-green from the limestone, apparently.
The cave (which used to be fairly white inside) is now blackened from all the Mayan sacrifices through the years. Today they no longer sacrifice animals, but they do still hold ritual burnings.

Here is a video of the bats flying overhead

The next day I went on a day-long adventure that was a definite highlight of my trip thus far. There was so much in one day.. First, a bouncing in a pickup 10km down the road to Semuc Champey. Then a rope swing into the river, whereupon my sandals came flying off. Struggling to catch them in the current and toss them onto shore then get myself back onto shore, whence I discovered I had been swept 100m downstream!
Only then did the real adventure begin. I wish I had brought my camera, since I do have a nice waterproof case for it.. but we were told to only bring our footwear, bathing suit, and a headlamp if we had it; otherwise we were given candles. [Here is a photo I found on the web, since I don’t have any of my own!]
We spent the next couple of hours obediently following our hot guide through crazy situations – through crevices lit by candlelight, pools of unknown depths and contents, past nesting bats.. many times having to swim for 50 ft or so, the pools were so deep. It’s freaky to be walking along and have the ground drop out from under you, suddenly having to tread water to keep breathing! But I didn’t have time to be scared, we kept moving. Climbing up and down ropes with waterfalls pouring over our heads.. the whole thing was so dangerous and thrilling. In any developed nation, we would have been wearing helmets and signed our lives away.. but not here! I was happy to discover that my headlamp is in fact waterproof, since it definitely took a soaking throughout the day.
I kept thinking how some days it is so annoying to be bipedal. To be so top-heavy when scooting around on unsure footing.

After emerging from the caves and replenishing our hungry bodies, we took a hike up a mountain to overlook the famous emerald pools. Along the way, we were given an opportunity to jump from a 9m bridge into the river. I abstained, but took photos for others. The hike was nice, it was good to get some real excercise. We then had a couple of hours free to swim and play in the pools. Limestone is an amazing thing. In this place, the river splits in half. Half of it chunnels underground for 500m, you can watch it disappear into the earth. Meanwhile, the other half continues above ground and has formed beautiful blue-green natural pools. Some people climbed a tree about 30′ up and jumped into the pools. Not me..
Later, our guide fixed a rope ladder to a rock and we descended (through a waterfall, natch) to see where the bottom half of the river finally exited the dark chasm and rejoined with the rest of itself.

After walking back down, we donned inner tubes and went tubing down the river. I only wish it had been sunny and warmer – we were all a bit cold all day. But I definitely reccommend the trip as a highlight of Guatemala. Here is a blog entry that gives a nice take on the pools, and another with good photos.

WordPress is being dense today with the captions, so I’ll just explain the photos below here:
The first shot is of cacao (that chocolate is made from). I had no idea how large it was. It also doesn’t taste like chocolate.
The next shot is an overview of the pools. The other half of the river is running under all of this.
The third shot is of the river entering the chasm, and the fourth shot is of it exiting. How terrifying would it be to get swept into that. Apparently the Discovery Channel sent cameras down the passage, but gave up after all four of them came out broken.
The fifth shot is of our hot guide.
Finally, the last one is of the rope ladder through the waterfall. We had a similar situation inside the caves, only it was just a rope, no ladder.

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