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.

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What a whale of a time! – Tales of Travel Gone Wrong

I LOVE food! I am a real worldly foodie and am a true believer that tasting the food of country I am visiting is key to immersing myself in the adventure. The culture that comes from food, the history that food possesses. It may seem like I am reading into it but I am not, I know that food and eating habits change historically and it is one certain way to explore the culture.

Now, this was a particularly tricky one for me. Norway is one of the only countries in the world who is still legally allowed to hunt whales. Whaling has been largely banned because of the decreasing number of whales on our oceans, this beautiful creature that is becoming extinct has to stop being sought after for its meat and oil. So bearing these things in mind and the fact that I give to the WWF every month to help protect and rehabilitate a lot of animals, this goes against all my gut instincts to eat whale steak.

How can I, a self admitted lover of animals (except spiders and scorpions, who likes those?!) actually eat a whale? It was a moment of travel exception. I am a true believer that if you are abroad you should fully integrate into the life and culture of that country. We were in the middle of a fish market and whales everywhere, we could not miss out on this opportunity.

Looking back on it now, I feel slightly itchy inside every time I think that I chewed a whale steak and devoured it. I don’t think it will ever happen again. Regardless, it was a fascinating experience and if you ever get the opportunity… try it without any guilt.

Hiking the Ulriken

So the national past time in Norway has to be hiking. 

My partner and I donned our really unfashionable but sturdy hiking boots to trek the Ulriken, a stunning mountain that you can see from the centre of Bergen. The peak is about 645 metres up and the hike takes on various curves that make you fall in love with the shapely mountain.

The trek we took crosses over with some cycle paths, so be sure not to get slammed on by a mountain bike, and it took us around 2 to 2 and a half hours to hike up, with lots of stops for photos, snacks and water breaks. I would also say that the path at times is not very clear, you are pretty much winging your way up the mountain through difficult and ever changing terrain, but it is stunning and totally worth it. It is also the best work out in the world.

Overall, the trek is meant to take around an hour to an hour and a half for those with more experience, know the path and haven’t carried a crappy back pack. I can tell you now, the correct back pack with lumber support is key! Lesson learned. None of this fashionable pretty looking business for any type of trek in the future. Make sure you always take a rain coat of sorts because Norway is temperamental and renowned for having the most consecutive days of rain… 295 in 2015.

This was a fantastic way to break my hiking boots in preparation for the treks in South America. I think it would have been great if the trek was better signed but it was still do-able as you can see the end line throughout the trek. You walk through some really great locations, it is so refreshing and helps clear your mind. You won’t get to see many people on your hike either, but the few you do will be like mountain goats. This is no joke. The national past time must be hiking, they fly up and down the mountain as if they have no fear of falling off the face of the rock. We saw children hiking too! It was amazing, such a healthy way of living and it made me want to do it so much more. Inspiring really.

Once you get to the top enjoy the mesmerising views and make sure you give yourself a well earned sit down, a hot drink and some food. It was just breath taking. After all the sweat, slipping on a few rocks and the heavens opening up and drenching us head to toe, we reached the summit and it was so worth the work. It was the most beautiful experience, and I wish we had had more time to trek other mountains but sadly we did not. I cannot wait for our next Norwegian adventure and to hike some well known paths in Stavanger next time. For now, enjoy some photos of our trek up the Ulriken.

Happy reading, writing and travelling!

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View from the top

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