Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cruise with Toulouse: Cave Tubing in Belize

“Belize has some of the best cave tubing in the world!” Nina said gleefully to me in our stateroom aboard the Carnival Dream. That was supposed to make me feel better? Can you visualize me—the cool travel cat—roaring down some underground river, getting soaking wet, fur a tangle and not even seeing where we’re going? I gave her my best scowl but she wasn’t looking; she’d dropped her gaze to study her papers.

There was no way out of it. I knew. She’d booked us on what’s become the “most popular shore excursion in Belize” and the ship had just anchored off the port of Belize City.

“Come on!” she said. “You don’t want to miss the adventure of a lifetime!” That’s what I was worried about. I wasn’t ready for my life to be over just yet. Nina seized me by the tail, like she always does when she’s excited, and stuffed me into her day pack. Maybe she’d have the compassion to leave me inside the backpack that would be left behind in the bus. That was wishful thinking.

We left our sanctuary behind and met our bus near the pier at Belize City. Our tour guide was a native Rastafarian, who looked far too cheerful and whose first words were, “Are we flexible?” My little pile stomach turned. This wasn’t going to be my day, I thought.

As the bus wove through the milling traffic of Belize City, Jack cheerfully described the rather turbulent history of this major port and financial and industrial hub of Belize. Belize City was once a small Maya town called Holzuz. Because of its location by the sea and because the Belize River empties there, the British found Belize City ideal for shipping logwood and mahogany.  The city was real popular with hurricanes too, it seems. One came through in 1931 and more recently Hurricane Hattie swept through the city in 1961, destroying huge portions. “Are we flexible?”

The bus parked at the Caves Branch Archeological Reserve. Grinning like a fool, Nina pulled me out of her pack and stuffed me into her pocket. I had one last longing look at her blue backpack before she leapt out of the bus to join the others.

After we received our giant orange tube (of death) Nina joined the rest of our party on a hike through Belize jungle in the Reserve. I didn’t see any naughty monkeys, poisonous snakes, or jaguars thankfully. That didn’t mean they weren’t there. We climbed stone staircases that wound into deep caves, known to house hundreds—if not thousands—of bats. I didn’t look up.

That was bad enough… then Nina decided to check out the acoustics inside the cave with her signature Olympic Elk call. No one should be subjected to that kind of torture, especially a poor cat about to get drenched. A few blazing stares from fellow adventurers soon quieted her down.
When I saw my first glimpse of the Sibun Caves Branch River, my tiny heart went pitter patter. I knew it was even worse when I caught sight of a rope tautly stretched across the river at human hip level. “No problem, Toulouse!” Nina assured me as she plunged into the river and waded across, tube slung over her left shoulder and rope clutched in her right hand. My heart raced like a Ferrari at an Indi race when she slipped on a slippery rock and wavered. But she recovered with a giddy laugh and patted me on the head. “Are we flexible?”

We wove around tangles of buttressed roots and vines, rich with the pungent scents of exotic flowers, to our final destination: a quiescent bend in the river before it narrowed and churned toward the yawning mouth of a cave. The cave entrance dripped with Spanish moss and epiphytes harboring snakes and heaven knows what else. My little heart beat like a tiny drum. If stuffed cats could scream this was the time to do it.

Nina grinned down at me and jammed me further into her pocket. Once she’d determined that I was safely tucked inside, she slapped her tube into the water and waded in, poised over it. Then, in a rather ungraceful halting move she let herself “fall” into the tube with a bounce and we were launched. Hulario, our guide got a dozen of us to link together, intertwining feet and elbows, into a long snake that would meander down the river through the inky blackness of these sodden caverns. Everyone wore a little headlight on their head. It’s not what you think. The light they give off in the black cavern is too miniscule to make a difference to the bearer, Hulario informed us. The purpose of the light was so he could see us (in case one of us got separated from the human “snake”. Sweet, as Nina would say (it’s all in the tone of voice).

Toulouse dries off...
Then, we were off, careering down the river, the spray of turbid grey-green water splashing my lovely fur coat, and Nina hollering with glee (I hate it when she gets like that). The first cave yawned ahead like giant jaws of Hell as the tube pitched over foot-high standing waves toward it. In no time we were sucked into the cave; we’d entered the bowels of hell. I noticed that the lights made absolutely no difference to our ability to see. The cave was pitch dark and the currents pulled us here and there on a whim.

Hulario's voice echoed in the watery cave: he told us that these spectacular cave systems were regarded by the ancient Mayans as a sacred underworld and home to many powerful gods. I sighed as we emerged into the daylight toward the last leg of our tubing adventure.

"Butts UP!" shouted Hulario, as we glided over the shallows. Several tubes shoaled up on gravel shallows and one of the human snakes broke up.

A few renegade tubers, who'd broken off from the human snake, found themselves flying into the fast part of the river (Nina called it the "thalweg" of the river--smart aleck limnologist!) where the current pulled them effortlessly into the thorny bushes. I heard a POP! One young "genius" seized an overhanging thorny branch to slow him down and cut his hand: "OW!" Followed by a POP! It was a Three Stooges show for the rest of us as we glided by the mayhem of wet sods as they negotiated the river's challenging shoreline, carrying their deflated tubes and egos.

Our tubing adventure was over at last. Back onboard the Carnival Dream, Nina dried me off with her hair dryer then consoled me with several French martinis.

Ah, the life of a COOL travel cat...

No comments:

Post a Comment