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.