There’s this Brit horror movie called “The Descent.” In it, a group of women venture into an unnamed cave, only to be attacked and devoured by albino creatures in full-on blood and guts. This was my movie of choice weeks before heading to Belize, where caving is a tourist necessity.
Blue Creek Cave, a good half-hour drive from Machaca Hill Lodge, is caving for the masses, no repelling or unwieldy gear required. On the hike up, you tread over rocks and boulders, splash through Blue Creek waters, and pull yourself up by sturdy tree roots. But with a guide like Sylvano to point out the hazardous surfaces and offer his hand for leverage, falling would be difficult to accomplish.
The wide cave opened to a gaping abyss, light blue water rushing out its mouth. Dense foliage caressed its borders; clouded sunlight illuminated feet within before dissolving into a dense black. I dipped a toe into the chilled creek for a temperature test before allowing it to engulf my body. This was the rainy season, and the strong center current was to be avoided. After realizing the doggy paddle was not the appropriate swimming technique, I clutched the cave walls to regain my breath. My feet felt the depths for a ledge, a crevice, anything. A leech against the rock, I waited for Sylano’s signal. We made our way within, but most of the group fell back against the current: it was a straining but doable swim if you sought out resting spots. By the time we hit the corner that would plunge us into darkness (except for two limited head lights), out of ten, it was down to four: Jim from Machaca; Sylvano; another young woman, Victoria; and me.
A gulp of water shoved its way down my throat, but I forced it out just as fast. Jim and Sylvano warned that that current would pound faster farther in, but Victoria and I heard, and wanted to see, a waterfall crashing up ahead. I couldn’t hold onto the walls anymore, now covered in a slick slime. To help us around the last curve before the falls, the boys created a human chain off a ledge. I jetted off the opposite wall but floated back the first time. My arms ached and doubt had sprung into my head. One more try. I grabbed Jim’s hand, pulled myself to his other arm, and then caught onto Sylvano, who heaved me onto the stones. Victoria came, and we leaned there laughing and gasping—the waterfall we had struggled for couldn’t have been more than a few feet high.
We jumped in and let the current guide us to the opening. I glanced back, only to glimpse a flapping bat as Sylvano told me he smelled bat excrement—like I recognized such a scent. A sizeable fish (coincidentally, a machaca) even spooked seasoned Sylvano, who once spent a week in the cave, as it glided against his leg. At the cave’s mouth, we detached ourselves from the current, and I lingered in the water, now speckled by the sun. The morning clouds had departed, along with any lingering albino fears.
Sylvano said that March is the season to explore the cave’s depths, when the current is light enough to go an easy 2 miles within.