I booked another excursion with St. Leonard’s Tours, this time, involving tubing at the Cave’s Branch. Elio was my tour guide yet again. He is such a wealth of knowledge of history and has witty sense of humour and a warm and gracious heart.
Elio picked me up at the Lodge at Chaa Creek where I was staying, with two other couples already in the van. They had just finished touring Xunantunich, which I had already seen two days prior. So I basically met up with an already formed group.
First stop was the grocery store in San Ignacio where guests were given an opportunity to pick up beer and snacks for the drive (drinking as a passenger is allowed here, so civilized). We then drove for about an hour to Caves Branch National Park where we chowed down on a plate lunch, involving a simple but tasty chicken dish, a rice and bean medley, and a salad.
Lunch consumed, we procured our equipment - life jackets and helmets with headlights - before hiking down a long winding trail (about half an hour in length, maybe a bit more), beneath a canopy of trees in the rainforest, slowly making our way towards the river. The forest was lush and green, packed with scents and sounds I have never experienced before. (By the way, the other guests carried their tubes with them along the trail, however I had made arrangements in advance to have my tube waiting for me at the river’s edge).
We stopped several times along the way (crossing/wading through the river at various junction points) to sample some of the medicinal habitat, including Cojones de Caballo (a ball shaped fruit with an interior flesh tasting like coconut), another medicinal leafy plant that tasted like plums, and we even crunched down on some termites - yes, that’s right termites, they actually tasted like carrots. All of this was optional of course. So much to learn from the healing and medicinal properties of the bountiful forests.
At the last river crossing, I picked up my tube and we all floated down the river, eventually arriving at the mouth of the cave (Crystal Cave), where we had the opportunity to cool off and swim before hopping back onto our tubes, where we finally entered the cave.
This is where we explored the stunning underworld, traversing through large chambers, sliding down mud ramps, climbing up and down rocks, squeezing through some pretty tight spaces (the cave ceiling at points just a few inches above our heads, requiring us to back float beneath them) and swimming through lagoons and cenotes. The cave system is adorned with shimmering rock and crystalline formations and strewn with ancient Mayan artifacts, including some broken clay pots that were left as sacrifices (along with humans) to the gods, in hopes of garnering their good favour. We also met on our underworld path bats flapping overhead, others clinging to the cave ceilings. As per Elio’s explanation, over the years, the bats have worn deep holes into the ceiling surface from the circular motion of their wings.
The whole experience, including the leisurely tube float back down the river was absolutely incredible and left me spell bound.
After our tubing adventure, we disembarked at the river’s edge and headed back to the parking stall where different vendors were selling their wares, including art and cocktails. So if you’re interested in picking up some souvenirs, phone pouches, water shoes, drinks, etc., you can do that here, just bring some cash with you. After refreshing ourselves with some pineapple and rum cocktails, we headed back to our respective lodgings, where I relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Again, I highly recommend booking with St. Leonard’s Tours, even if you are staying at a lodging that offers their own excursions. I know that I will definitely be returning and requesting Elio as my guide.
By the way, they offer customized trips and are very flexible, going out of their way to make your trip a memorable one.