Jun 212013

**** This is the second part of the story started yesterday, click here to start there****

So, I decided to go into the cave. Even in the first chamber, the light from the door fell off before you could see through to the back of it. I tried to take a photo in here, but even after exposing for a full minute and trying to light paint with the inadequate flashlight I’d rented all I got was a black rectangle. It was clear that I would not be taking photos in this cave. So, I pushed forward.

It was pretty slippery and I was glad I was wearing hiking boots rather than flip-flops. As I entered the second chamber it was clear that, if the flashlight went out, I’d be in absolute darkness. There were signs pointing me deeper into the cave and towards the exit. There were also signs naming the formations in the cave, in Spanish I rarely understood. Light fixtures void of light bulbs were spread about. I’m guessing saving money on electricity and renting crappy flashlights is more lucrative.

As I began to walk through the cavern, I was startled by a snake two feet in front of me. Then, I realized it was just an old cable for the lights. Already, my mind was playing tricks on me. Then, I started thinking, “There could probably be snakes in this cave, sheltering from the heat.”

After recovering from that shot of adrenaline, I started looking around. There were black spots on the ceiling that could only be bats. After shining the flashlight up there and letting my eyes focus I realized they were just black dots. By the time I’d entered the third chamber, my mind was already running wild.

I started to think that if I encountered another person in the darkness I’d most likely scream. Then, there they were, a pair of legs, eerily stationary in the corner of the cave. I didn’t scream, but I did stop breathing. I focused the dim circle of light on them and followed them up. They were actually the legs of a formation eerily reminiscent of an Egyptian mummy.

In the fourth chamber I didn’t find much to look at, but it dawned on me that this would be a great way to rob tourists. All they have to do is wait until some idiot with a bunch of camera gear wanders in, with a faulty flashlight, then call their buddies to relieve you of your goods.

I pushed into the fifth chamber. This one was large and my flashlight wouldn’t light the far end. Maybe they’re waiting for me in here, I thought. Then, I shined my light towards the ceiling. More black dots, and by now I’d convinced myself I could see things flying out of the corners of my eyes, but of course, the view out the corners of my eyes were complete darkness. At this point, I decided pushing on any further would be really, really stupid. I searched nervously for a “salida” sign and carefully made my way back to the entrance. The whole way, I was on edge and just hoping I wouldn’t encounter another person until I reached the light.

Fortunately, when I did find people it was as I approached the exit – two pairs of legs stood exactly where I had as I contemplated whether or not to enter. I called out to try not to startle them as I appeared. They were an Australian couple, also holding a dodgy rented flashlight. I told them what I’d found and we decided to head into the cave, feeling comfort from the fact we had two dodgy flashlights. In the second chamber we discovered their flashlight was worse then mine as it flicked on and off occasionally. They were in flip flops so moved a bit more cautiously than me through to the third chamber. Here, I paused to look at the ceilings. This time, one of the black dots moved. I got excited as I’d finally confirmed there were bats in this cave. I shone the light upwards at them until the one I’d awoken took flight. This startled me and I dropped my flashlight and a metal lens cap from my camera. An expletive echoed through the cave followed by a nervous, Australian, female voice yelling,”What happened?”

I explained I’d just been startled by a bat. We continued to push on into the cave. By the time we reached the fourth chamber, the Australians were suitably freaked out as their flashlight misbehaved more and more. We made for the exit.

I didn’t want to leave this place without a single photo from inside Actun Kan, so when we neared the entrance I paused to take today’s picture. My new accomplices were kind enough to wait with me as I took long exposure after long exposure for what must have been 15 minutes. They even held my water bottle and other bits and pieces for me.

Just as I snapped the last shot a handful of bats flew past us and out the cave. I asked what time it was. Then, confirmed it was getting close to sunset. Realizing that as the sun goes down, bats leave their caves, we made a hasty exit.

After returning our flashlights we began the walk back into town, but found a taxi a short way up the road.

Looking up the path out of the cave entrance to Aktun Kan, Guatemala

Jun 202013

After aimlessly wandering up and down the incredibly steep hills of San Jose, on Lake Peten Itza, in intense heat, I decided it was time to go somewhere a little cooler. The cave near Flores, called Aktun Kan, or la Cueva Del Serpiente, seemed like a great idea.

I boarded a minibus to take me back to town and began flicking through photos from the past couple of days on my camera. At this point a local woman, of Mayan descent, sat down next to me. We had a quick conversation about where I was from and what I was doing there. At this point I was shocked at how well my basic Spanish skills, which had lay dormant for ten years, were doing at carrying on a conversation. I almost understood most of what she said. Then, when I ran out of Spanish, I decided to show her my photos. She smiled broadly as I flicked through images of the temples at Tikal and some spider monkeys I’d found the day before.

As we approached the bus station in San Benito she asked where I was going.  At that point I couldn’t remember the name of the caves so just said Flores. She said that I could hop off in the next market and grab a tuk tuk there. As we piled off the packed minibus she recommended I protect my bag, but the tuk tuks were lined up ready.

I hopped aboard one and the little old lady told him I was heading to Flores – cue a confusing conversation where I try to tell the driver I don’t want to go to Flores, without actually knowing the name of the place I want to go to. I remembered La Cueva del Serpiente, but as it turns out, the locals have never heard of that name. Out came the guide book and off we went to Aktun Kan. On the way to the caves I snapped the photo of the view from a tuk tuk featured a couple of weeks ago.

The road took us off through the back of town and out into the hills. When we arrived I asked the driver to come back for me in an hour. He wasn’t sure he could do that. He kept telling me to call but had no phone number for me. Then, he gestured at the gate. As I turned to look at it, he sped off. So, there I was, stranded on the outskirts of town.

Upon approaching the desk, and paying to enter the cave, the lady there asked me if I had a flashlight. Now, I have an excellent flashlight, first purchased for camping on the lower Zambezi. This flashlight was designed for combat – it’s compact, with a metal casing, and beveled end. This flashlight will light up a hippos eyes in pitch dark from half a mile away. If you point it up on a cloudy night this flashlight will brighten the clouds. However, this flashlight was back in my room, in the hostel, on the floor – good planning on my part.

As it turns out, the price for renting a flashlight is exactly the same as the cost of entry – that’s a neat little trick. The flashlight I was given could definitely not light up a hippos eyes at half a mile.

When I got to the caves entrance, I had doubts. First of all, this system was pretty complex, as you can see on the map below. On top of that, it had no “you are here” dot on it. On top of that, the little orange dots you see marking the formations listed on the right, did not have numbers on them. If this untested, untrustworthy, dim flashlight decided to die on me, I was stuck in there.

This is what the cave looked like from the outside, I spent a good 10 to 15 minutes debating whether or not to enter. In the end, I decided it would be too embarrassing to go back that quickly, and return the flashlight, because I was scared. So, I entered.

Check back tomorrow to find out about the inside of Aktun Khan and see the one photo I was able to take in there.

The outside of Actun Kan or la Cueva del Serpiente (caves) in Flores, Guatemala

Jul 102012

“Warning, rocks have fallen from the ceiling before and they will fall again”, the sign read.

Could this small hole in the side of this immense lava flow, near Lake Myvatn, really be the entrance to the underground hot springs we’d been hearing about. If it wasn’t, and we were brained by falling rocks that really wouldn’t have felt worth it. Venturing further in we saw water. Then we recognized the familiar sulfur smell of a hot spring. Venturing inside we found a small cavern, beneath the basalt, housing a pool of hot water. Upon shining a light on it we discovered that it was crystal blue, much like the water in the caves here in Bermuda, but it was steaming.

At this point I wanted to tell you what it’s called but can’t find the name (I did find this video showing the entrance though, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qj8Fu-si19Q )! I really need to start carrying a notebook. What I do know is that there were two caves. one is used by men, the other by women. We didn’t know which one we were in. In summer, the men’s is too hot to swim in. As we didn’t know which one we were in, we decided not to risk it.

*** Edit: Check out the comments, Charlotte has found the name for me! ***

Grjótagjá cave underground hot springs beneath the basalt rocks with a pool of crystal clear turquoise hot water in Myvatn, Iceland.

Jan 102012

This is another Bermuda picture taken in Blue Hole Park. There’s another cave here you can swim in. I’ve lived here my whole life and only found out about it this summer. We swam into the back where there’s a much smaller cave, or so it seems. You lower yourself into the water which puts you into what’s probably a 5 cubic foot space. It’s pretty claustrophobic. Then we shined our flashlights down and discovered we were swimming in a huge cavern. You could also see ropes set up by cave divers that seemed to go on forever. I’m planning on going back there to try to take a picture in the small cave. It’ll be interesting to see if I can show how it expands underwater.

Blue Hole Cave in Bermuda with turquoise water and limestone stalagmites.