It's hard to write a review for what ended up being a life-changing experience.
I'd been to Actun Tunichil Muknal before with Francisco (aka Pancho), and it was such an extraordinary experience that I came back to Belize specifically for the cave, to see it again...and again...and again. The last time I went, I signed up for the special overnight tour. I was expecting to go into the cave at night, which would be magical all on its own; but the trip that PACZ planned far, far exceeded my expectations (so much so that I'm coming back AGAIN next spring to re-visit all the places I saw on the overnight tour).
First, it must be said that Francisco is the consummate guide. He is kind, patient, good-humored, and has years upon years of experience. After a shopping trip for camping goodies, and the walk to "Hotel Xibalba"--the clearing just uphill from the cave--we set out, not to enter the cave through its mouth as usual, but hiking far above a sinkhole and rappelling down into it. I've never rappelled before. I'm also afraid of heights. But Pancho has handled all types in his career--including shaky neophytes--and so actually, I felt perfectly safe.
The cave itself is a miraculous experience, so much so that I'm writing an entire novel about it, so that'll be some 90,000 words down the line. But what I want to focus on here is what made the overnight trip so special. All of our needs were seen to: tent, food, safety, libations, warmth from a fire. I slept much more soundly than I expected to. In the morning, after breakfast, Pancho led us on a hike through the jungle. The area around Actun Tunichil Muknal is full of Maya temples and other habitations, now overgrown; it was like being on another planet, or somehow outside of time. We went to Actun Nak Beh, a very different cave from ATM, in that it was dry, with narrow labyrinthine passages, like a giant natural playground. We crossed the river and went to Actun Uayazba Kab, which commanded a kingly view of the jungle below, and is pocked with caves that are filled with human markings, most especially handprints. All throughout, Pancho was patient, helpful, and eager to share his encyclopedic knowledge of everything around us, whether it be native birds, Maya custom, or archaeological research.
When we packed up and left, my head was spinning. I felt euphoric; it was so much to take in. If you have the means--or heck, even if you don't, because you're in Belize and you only live once--inquire with PACZ about their overnight tours, and ask for Pancho. I recommend him, and PACZ, with nothing but the highest regard.
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