Monday, September 17, 2007

Akil 8

Lol-tun is a fascinating place and very unusual in that the Mayan people did not usually live underground. They actually only used the first three rooms as living quarters but evidence of them being in other areas had been found. They collected water, a very precious resource in the Yucatan since all rivers here run underground, in stone containers from the dripping stalactites.

So on we went, making our way over more slippery, poorly lit flooring from chamber to chamber. This was not made any easier by the attendant who followed along behind us turning out the lights as we passed. This cave had originally been an underground river, emptied when the great meteor crashed into the Yucatan many years before. There was evidence of this everywhere. Rocks worn smooth by rushing water and rocks with ripples in them from years of water flowing over them. The size of this cave is incredible. The ceiling rose, in places, hundreds of feet above us. There were no narrow passages and no feeling of claustrophobia. The journey kept taking us on a downward path, picking our way sometimes around or through giant rocks. The descent was actually very gradual and only in places did one actually realize that we were continuing to go down, not flat. We finally entered a small chamber to the side and found out how the caves got their name.

There were two stalactites that had dripped down enough to have actually joined together with the two stalagmites they created beneath them. These formed two columns which were hollow. How the Mayan discovered this is another long lost secret. If one were to pound on the left one, the sound it made resembled the Mayan word for flower. The one on the right, stone. Thus, in Mayan and Spanish, flower stone. We were all allowed the chance to pound our fist on them to recreate the sound. Since I speak English, I hit the one on the right first, changing the name to Tun-Lol, or Stone Flower. The guide was perplexed but B, Juan and I enjoyed the little language trick. Juan was to repeat this story many times later!

From there we entered into the largest chamber yet. It was purely dazzling. The guide announced that we were now at the lowest spot in the cave and that we were 350 feet underground! That is a lot of rock and dirt over your head! As we left this chamber, we did notice that the pathway started to ascend. It was an easy walk, except for the darkness and slipperiness of it. My legs were started to hurt by this point. Combination of old, out of shape and nerves still being messed up to them. We entered into a small cavern area and in front of us was a large wall of fallen boulders that had broken off the ceiling. The guide told us that this was the first of three large climbs to get to the exit and back to ground level. I mentally groaned as I looked at the path in the dim light. It was clearly going to be a challenge. We let the rest of the group go ahead and B, Juan, Lizzie and I made our way slowly and painfully up. At the top, which you could not see from the bottom because of the many boulders and twists and turns, a very irritated group and guide were waiting for us so they could continue.

We made a short detour into a side room that contained an enormous hole in the ceiling. The guide said that they had found all kinds of bones at the base of it, including mastodons. He claimed that the Mayans, being so smart, had driven animals to the edge, allowing them to plunge to their deaths. I think his history may have been a little off. I think the Mayans followed the mastodons by many years. At any rate, we left this room and started up our second of three agonizing climbs. By the time I reached the top, my legs were burning and my back was starting to throb. I was getting worried but no turning back.

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