Growing up as a Marine Biologist, living in a very small town surrounded by caves, woods, and

rocks, and always looking for the next big adventure, it was no surprise that I would find myself

seeking unique adrenaline activities around the world. I learned to free climb, hike, and camp at

a very young age. Most of my weekend trips during high school involved rock climbing and

swimming in rivers and lakes within the freshwaters of Pennsylvania, USA.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The Marine Biologist in me loves the water and after exploring 62+ countries and 48 US states

and counting, I find myself trekking around the globe in search of wet caving expeditions. The

best caving experiences have been in the North America, Africa, Europe, and South America.

The most memorable caving excursion was in Belize located in Central America.

My Central America adventure tour had me plummeting, abseiling, white water rafting, boarding

volcanoes, submerging underwater in submarines, free climbing, snorkeling, hiking, diving, and exploring

the countries of Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

As I started my solo adventures in Belize, I was intrigued by the Mayan civilization that once

encompassed a good portion of Central America. Fortunately, I stayed in a town called San

Ignacio and quickly was persuaded to do both a wet and dry caving expedition. The wet Actun

Tunichil Muknal (ATM) tour was fantastic and should not be missed! Actun Tunichil Muknal

means “cave of the crystal sepulcher” in Mayan.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Photographs were not allowed and for very good reasons! I found myself climbing on the wet

layers of the cave and helping others keep their balance on the sharp rocks below that were

engulfed by cold rushing water. Once we were midway through the cave, there was an increase

of smaller dark holes that my body had to carefully crawl through and a series of narrow

passages ahead, claustrophobia was certainly not an issue anymore. After battling my way 100m

up slippery rocks, holding tightly on the non-crystalized portion of the cave, and meticulously

planting my feet with every step that I took, I reached an opening that appeared right out of a

scene of an Indiana Jones’s film. A light crept through the top of the cave revealing ancient

artifacts of Mayan skulls and old shattered pieces of pottery in the distance. After such an

extreme caving expedition, I was prepared to trek through the jungle, abseil in a secluded cave,

and discover a part of myself that I never knew existed.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

The following day I met up with an avid bird conservationist and experienced caver, Diego. He

and I would embark on a 4 hour journey deep within the jungle and explore a world where cave

crystallizations were plentiful. After hiking in the mosquito driven jungle for 20 minutes, we

finally laid eyes on the cave that for the first time, I would abseil into and reach the very bottom

of her mouth. Ironically, the jungle hike was to take 45 minutes, but with all the mosquitoes

buzzing around me and biting me through my heavier clothes, I decided to jog most of the hike.

Diego quickly tied a rope around the “perfect” tree that he had decided to use as our base to

abseil. Though I am coined a “world traveler” and adore caving, I had never abseiled into a cave.

 

This was my moment, where I pushed myself off the ledge and slowly walked down the side of

the cave. I wish I could say that I gracefully plunged myself into the 200ft cave below, but the

mist off the rocks made my leap into the cave slipper and gave me less control over my descent.

Finally I reached the bottom and watched Diego blissfully propel flawlessly into the mouth of

the cave and land right beside me. I took a few minutes before continuing and brushed off a few

cuts and scrapes that I had accumulated during my jump in the cave.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Once I recollected my thoughts and noticed where I was, I felt a wave of goosebumps and

excitement take over my body. I was about to discover 1,500ft of this ginormous dark cave with

just a head torch and a thrill for adventure. I followed Diego through a maze of boulders that

outstretched the sides of the cave. Then he disappeared in a small dark opening with a sharp rock

pointing upwards. I gazed ahead of me, turned on my torch, and looked around the cave. The

cave was silent; the only sound that caught my attention was a few drops of water alongside the

cave. The silence was interrupted when Diego yelled, “Jessica, come down here, you are going

to love this!” Glancing at this tiny hole, I had begun to push my limbs in directions that I did not

know that they could bend. As soon as I lowered my body into this hole, my right foot kicked

forward and I could feel a rather slippery rock underneath my grip. I held on tightly to the rock

above and slid my left foot outwards, catching on to a dry rock where I pushed most of my

weight on. I positioned my left hand behind me and kept my right hand latched on the rock

above, slithering myself down the rock and following the torch light with every move that I

made.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I found Diego nestled up against one of the inactive or “dead” crystallizations with a huge smile

on his face as he hovered over a smaller rock on the ground. As I approached him, he said that

this expedition will be like no other, that I will feel the presence of the Mayans that once

accompanied this cave. His words certainly made me eager for what was in store in the next few

hours exploring this cave. A piece of clay was embedded into the side of the cave, as I got closer;

I noticed etchings on several sections of the old pottery. Diego had begun to tell me the story of

how Mayans broke the pots at the end of a ceremony to release the pot’s spirit–otherwise the

spirit would be eternally trapped. The knowledge that Diego knew about Mayans and caves was

astonishing, and though I was excited to be in that moment listening to him, I remember

experiencing an eerie feeling of solitude deep within the cave walls.

 

As we walked deeper into the cave, more “active” crystallizations were present and further

interesting Mayan artifacts were found. There was an area called the “jellyfish” lair and it was

beaming with active crystals and was one of my favorite formations in the cave. I crawled on my

hands and knees and pushed myself under a rock to get a better view of it – I was amazed that

this shape had carved itself out of droplets of water and crystals. I heard Diego echo further

beneath me telling me that he has saved the best piece of Mayan culture for last. We were at the

very bottom of the cave; he grabs my video camera and starts filming a long segment about the

Mayans.

I slid myself down a rock to get a better image of what footage he was gathering, and to

my surprise here was a Mayan skull carefully surfaced into the ground with a small hole revealed

in the center of the skull. As I sat there thinking about all that I have learned during my wet and

dry caving expeditions, a tear ran down my cheek and I finally understood the sacrifices that the

Mayans had made to keep their culture thriving and their blessings met. I have been in many

cave systems around the world, but have never felt a combination of accomplishment and

sadness at the same time. Perhaps at that moment, I knew that this caving expedition was so

much more than just adventure and adrenaline, but it was about understanding a culture and

being in a place where only few had been before. A cave of hope, pride, and love surrounded me

in the darkest place that I have ever experienced.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

We made our way out of the cave, free climbing on “dead” crystallizations, and securing my feet

in places to hoist myself over the large boulders that laid before me. With no rope and a head

lamp that flickered, I climbed 250ft out of the most difficult exit of the cave. I reached the top,

sat down, and looked over the edge – a bright shimmering cave rested beneath me and a world

that others only ever dreamt about.

 

As I continue to drive my Jeep around the world on “The Voyage of Discovery,” I know that I

will definitely venture on this same cave tour again with Diego. During this cave expedition

dozens of photographs and several videos were made. These can be found on my website,

www.travelingmarinebiologist.com.

 

If you are keen to join the adventure and scope out other adrenaline activities that I have done,

please check out the following social media platforms:

Facebook: International Travelingmarinebiologist

Youtube Channel: Travelingmarinebiologist

Twitter: Travelmarinebio

 

Hello! My name is Jessica and I have been coined the term “World Traveler.” I have trekked to 60+ countries, 48 US states, and even started driving my Jeep around the world on “The Voyage of Discovery!” I suppose you can say I am a bit addicted to global travels! My career as a Marine Mammal Scientist allows me to spend a few months researching whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks, fish, and endangered species within various international regions. I am a conservationist, thrill seeker, and constantly showing the world how awesome it is, both above and beneath the surface! Feel free to come along for the adventure!

Dream. Explore. Live.

Please feel free to follow, tweet, or virtually share the love with your peeps!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *