Exploring the underworld – Caving in San Ignacio, Belize

I don’t tend to consider myself an adrenaline junkie, however, I can be pretty fearless and willing to try things that I have never considered before. Caving was one of those things. Definitely not an adventure for claustrophobic people, I didn’t think it was something I would want to do. However, the opportunity presented itself and I leaped at the chance to explore the Mayan underworld, even though my superstitious self was terrified.

The caves in San Ignacio are very special, an ancient ritual site which can only be descended into through the mouth of a cave at the top of a jungle. Only 10% of these caves have been mapped out, and in order for you to visit or explore you need to be accompanied by experts with licenses that are specifically for these caverns. Only 20 or so people have these licenses, so we knew we were in expert hands, but also very aware that we were not in a very explore territory.

You start your adventure by hiking the jungle for 45 minutes to the entrance of the cave. Here you are given numerous warnings and instructions not to touch any plants, trees or rocks, as you can get cuts, infections and allergic reactions – what a fantastic way to freak us all out! At the end of ascent and muddy path, you are greeted by a large cave entrance into which you descend. Here the adventure begins, head torches on and ready to deal with the clay filled ground which makes this a very slippery experience.

Once inside you are welcomed by the most mesmerising formations of stalactites and stalagmites, endless paths into other chambers, crystalline cavern skies shining down on you and endless darkness. The whole combination is entrancing and exhilarating, leaving you feeling powerless in the Mayan territory and giving you an Indiana Jones adventure kind of feeling.

The caves are dark, and you crawl through some very tight spaces in order to get further into the site and explore more chambers. The soil is rich in clay and extremely slippery, it is easy to see that people might get lost, stuck or have panic attacks. We rest in each section, admiring the pottery, both intact and broken, that shows another story to add to the great narrative of the Mayan civilisation. We are also told of supernatural events that have taken place in this area. It is truly enchanting and terrifying. The cave system demands your utmost respect, as you step and slide through holy ground, sacred land, where many have died, been sacrificed and have prayed to their Gods. We are intruders, and therefore must not upset the balance of this territory. We continue on further deep before starting our ascendance back to the mountains and fresh air.

Sweat drips down our whole bodies. “Who knew you could sweat in darkness?” I think to my self. We take it slowly, one step at the time, as we are guided through the underworld, the land of the dead and the Gods back to where the living breathe. The experience is truly incredible, a gift from the Mayans to have let us find this site and allow us to wander and explore its caves. Here, you get the feeling that we are truly not alone in this universe, and that there are beings superior to us, it is almost palpable in the air, the presence of something more. Or perhaps, the exhaustion speaks too loudly.

We are rewarded at the end by a relaxing swim in a natural pool, a sinkhole. Yet, the strength and intensity of the location is not lost on me and I feel we are still somewhat subject to the location we just visited. A place touched by a force, Gods if you will, but curious, fascinating and intimidating. I have to say, caution is key when trudging in the underworld.

17352375_10155145025942658_988153418156874611_n

Death Road, Bolivia – a story of survival

​There we were, climbing to the peak of the mountain at 4800 metres in preparation for the exhilarating descent. The oxygen deprivation was slowly becoming visible as some of us panted for air at every word, others talked and walked slower to avoid exhaustion and some stopped every few steps to try and take a deep breath. We had been told never to try taking deep breaths in such thin air, but it’s the natural reaction. As we arrived we saw the two wheeled instruments laid out according to height, suits and helmets in front of them and most importantly a picnic of tea, bread and jam. We tucked into the marvellous feast before getting dressed and finding our allocated bicycles. We tried and tested them, looked at breaks, re adjusted seats and looked down at the long road that we were about to face. 56 km of road, downhill winding routes, meeting with other vehicles, waterfalls, narrow paths and cliffs so steep but beautiful that plunging to your death was not even a thought as we admired the breath taking views.

We straddled the two wheeled speed machines, posed for a few photos as we were poised and prepared for the descent. The guide started 10 metres in front of us. And off we went. The first section of road is smooth tarmac for 20 km which allowed us to reach speeds of nearly 50 km per hour on the bikes. The wind swept past each of us as we practically flew down the mountains. We didn’t show any signs of slowing down, not even for curves. It was seemless, it felt like we could go on forever on that road. Some of us howled in excitement, taking some of the paths with jumps, screaming in ecstasy, the adrenaline urging us to go faster and faster. It was freedom. At this point all the fear swept away. No one cared if they fell off the mountain, the only thing that mattered was the velocity that we could reach as we continued down the mountain.

The effortless ride soon gave way to the gravel path. The mountain bikes were more than prepared, good suspension and responsive breaks. However, the riders were tricked. We were comfortable on our tarmac descent only to be met by huge stones, landslides and a whole 36 km of road that made each of us sound like red Indians ahh-ing and tapping our mouths at the same time for effect. Our wrists soon began to ache with the continuous impact and struggle to break on the slippery gravel. The previous night’s storm began to show its remains, huge puddles, muddy paths, and all of us looked like we had an untimely accident on the bikes as the brown slime dripped from the top of our backs to the wheels of the bikes. We were not discouraged. This was going to be the most scenic part. We rode on.

Some of us started feeling aches on previous injuries, dislocated shoulders, bad knees, weak backs and broken coccyx, everything slowly but surely started to twinge as the suspension seemed to do little each time to ease the pain. Many couldn’t get up for long periods of time on the bike any longer. Others kept hitting big rocks which swerved the bikes slightly. Yet we were determined, all damned if we were to give up now so close to the end and so close to the buffet lunch and swimming pool we were promised at the start of this adventure. We continued, riding through waterfalls, getting absolutely drenched and dry within instants. We took each corner carefully this time, as the unpredictable nature of the road made us all slow down in pace. The last 10 km or so were flat, forcing us to pedal after all the hard work downhill. It was picturesque, sunny and the lush green mountains covered the path that was once upon a time brought death to many cyclists. Up until 2014 an average of 300 a year used to die on bikes and larger road vehicles. We paid our respects as we calmly made our way to the final stop. Exhausted and completely overwhelmed by the ride we stopped. We survived. We were death road survivors. 3 to 4 hours of cycling later and we were stood looking back at our challenge, a challenge we had overcome with sweat and what looked like shit on our backs. We did it.

**********

Woah, this is a very different post to what I have written before, and even if you didn’t like it I enjoyed it thoroghly. Combining my love of travel and writing into a creative piece was quite fun.

I have to say, some advice as always: if you are not a confident cyclist this could be quite tasking and at points intimidating. So do your research and watch some videos and see some photos.

Finally, if you are but still want to try it, hell just do it!

Lastly, this is from personal experience, if you had a case of travel tummy and the runs the night before, either be sure you can control yourself and are hydrated enough for it, or don’t do it. I was so determined to finish it that even feeling like death on death road (ha!) I still carried on.

2015 in Discoveries

Can you guys believe that 2015 is coming to an end? I feel this year has absolutely flown by and so much has happened and taken place, so much that I have yet had the opportunity to share with you all. I feel like this year has really shaped me as a person, from personal development and overcoming turbulent situations, to simply discovering things about myself through some experiences and adventures I have had. I wanted to share with you how I feel that instead of planning new year’s resolutions that may or may not come to be, reflecting in the year that has just passed is always an important ritual for me. It is an opportunity for me to really think about all the things that I am grateful for this year, grateful to have worked my hardest to be able to experience as much of the world as possible and to see that another little section of my complete person has been chiseled.

Travel

This is very exciting! As you all know I am a lover of all things travel! I had the opportunity to go back home to Macau which was lovely, but the highlight of Asia for me was discovering another corner of the Philippines that I did not know. I LOVED Cebu! It is honestly stunning and the cross of cultures is brilliant.

I also had the chance to go to France twice! And Paris really did take my breath away. I knew that it was beautiful, I mean there are thousands, millions, billions of photos of Paris roaming the internet, plastered across travel brochures and travel memorabilia, it is one of those cities with so much iconography everywhere that it is used for everything and anything used with travelling. Still, after knowing this and seeing these images everywhere, I was still in awe of how beautiful it was, and it really is the city of love. I was such a melt the entire time!

I discovered that I really actually enjoy staycations/weekend trips within your country. It is so important to explore and love the place you live and I LOVE England.

Finally, and although you won’t hear about this until 2016, I am going to Mozambique on the 27th of December! How exciting! A post will follow on how to travel from winter to summer, and what to pack, but the trip low down will come afterwards upon my return in January. This is really exciting! I have never been anywhere in Africa, and am so excited that the first country I will be visiting there has a rich cultural heritage and Portuguese influence.

Theatre

My theatrical highlight of 2015 has to be… Mamma Mia! I know I know, it’s like saying a blockbuster film should have won best script at the Oscars, HOWEVER, I was completely overjoyed at this musical, I loved every second of it. This was pre-blog so I never wrote a review of it, but I will give you a Throwback or Flashback one of these days for you to know what it was like.

I also loved Memphis, more than I can say! I know I criticised a few of the choices, but I am quite a critical person when it comes to things like this, I like to analyse and understand and that is why I question things. You can read my full review of this awesome musical here.

Activities

I have done some things this year that I really didn’t expect to be doing. From returning to pantomime as a spectator, to joining an amateur dramatics society and performing, to going to the Adnams Brewery to taste beer! It has been a year of adventures, but by far my favourite activity, which will be featured soon, was an indoor skydive! It was ridiculously cool, I loved every second of it and was so upset that my partner was not allowed to do it due an injury, but I will do it again with him one day. Keep your eyes peeled, this is coming to the blog very soon.

Hidden Treasures

Some true little gems have been discovered, from recently speaking about the wonderful everything of Mulled Wine – not mould, I have made that mistake quite a few times – to a huge discovery which was the little village of Lavenham. Lots of hidden little treasures that I had no idea I would love or even existed have occurred.

I absolutely fell in love with a restaurant in London, Covent Garden area, called Sarastro. That was one of my favourite discoveries, I booked it for my mother’s birthday surprise that my sister and I organised, but I ended up being mostly surprised myself. It is a theatre restaurant, and you will only really get what I mean by looking at it. Tables are sat in their own little theatre boxes, and the restaurant is famous for their performances during the week. Let me not forget the FOOD! Which is just absolutely incredible and delicious, the Turkish oriented menu, with flavoursome Mediterranean dishes is absolutely divine, so much choice and it is not as costly as expected!

Mostly, I think my favourite discovery of the year, was that I learnt I don’t have to sacrifice my career or my passion for travel to see the world. You can read all about this in one of my very early blog articles, ‘Travelling on a time limit’. I have found a very healthy balance and am really enjoying my trips and staycations, discovering England has been a huge thing for me and I really want to go to Jersey next year and maybe even Scotland. I won’t let anyone name my wanderlust ‘tourism’ because my desire to have a healthy life balance does not make me less of an explorer, it just makes me practical. I think it has been a huge learning curve for me, as it has been my first year in full time employment and I have learnt that actually this profession has opened a lot more doors for me rather than shutting away my life. I am currently in the process of requesting a sabbatical from work to see if I can travel for 3 months in 2017, and if that goes through I still have my job in hand for my return as well as enjoying the trip of a lifetime in South America, hopefully.

2015 has been an incredible year and a stepping stone for me. I can tell that this is a strong foundation for the way I want to build my life and I have so many more lessons to learn. I am already dying of excitement to discover 2016 and share it all with you guys. How was your 2015?