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Cave Tubing In Belize

(February 2002)

Over the past decade, a renewed concern for the environment has created a demand for eco-friendly adventures. Activities like cave tubing—where you explore underground waterways by floating on inner tubes—have sprung up in many natural tourist areas, and are now becoming increasingly popular with travelers wishing to explore off-the-beaten-track destinations.

Belize, a tiny Central American nation bordered by Mexico and Guatemala, has the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, and is best known for its sea adventures. Today, the country is touting ecologically friendly adventure escapes within its jungle environment.

If you're looking for a unique ecotourism experience, consider cave tubing in Belize's 215-acre jungle resort of Jaguar Paw. There you can explore isolated caves connected by ancient waterways where the ancient Mayans once held religious ceremonies. (The Mayans had a special reverence for caves since they considered them to be entrances to "Xibalba," the underworld.)

Cave tubing has only become popular in Belize during the past few years, as many of the caves were only recently discovered. This is the case with Jaguar Paw, where owners Cy and Donna Young had been living on the property five years before accidentally discovering the caves. In all probability, they were the first people to enter the caves since the ancient Mayans.

Cave tubing may sound like a strange activity; however, as you walk down slippery red-clay jungle paths like I did, you'll come to appreciate that the experience is more than just a float ride.

My Descent into the Mayan Underworld

"Go ahead, jump in," urged our guide Caesar. One by one, members of our group took the plunge into the icy water—shocking but refreshing after our hot jungle trek. Clinging to each other's tubes, we formed a large flotilla (fleet of boats). With headlamps strapped on, we entered the subterranean world and let the current take us to the mouth of the cave.

As our eyes adjusted to the dimming light, vistas sprung into view around each corner. We came upon massive pottery jars that have stayed intact for more than 1,000 years. The Mayans placed these jars beneath stalactites to collect sacred "pure" water that never touched the ground.

Paddling backwards upstream, we swirled past several natural crevices that looked like side windows filtering in light through the mist. Pointing our headlamp beams towards the holes, we often found groups of bats huddled together. Some people shrieked, but Caesar reminded us that these bats eat only fruits and bugs, and would not fly in our hair or suck our blood.

One of the best moments came when we shut off our lamps and floated downstream in the darkness, losing all sense of place and direction. We could hear the resounding rush of water. As we picked up speed, many of us thought we were heading down rapids. Actually, we were passing underground waterfalls. As we rounded a final corner, daylight streamed into the cave to reveal a massive chamber known as the "Crystal Cathedral," a Mayan spiritual center.

The brightness of the outside world stung our eyes as we emerged from hours underground. Ancient secrets and all, we couldn't help but enjoy the underworld come to life.

If you go:

Visit the Jaguar Paw Jungle Resort website for all the details.

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