Answer: They are all found in the diversity of the Cayo District of Belize.
The Cayo district in Belize is full of an incredible mix of history, culture and sites to explore. Today we delved into the Mayan underworld at Barton Creek Cave. But to get to the Barton Creek Cave, we drove past beautiful citrus fields and Mennonite country.
Driving to the Caves
The Barton Creek cave isn’t that far from downtown San Ignacio, but the condition of the poorly maintained government roads makes it over one hour away. They are beyond bumpy and only got better when we reached the Mennonite community. The Mennonites take care of their own roads and do a much better job than the Belizian government.
The drive took us past citrus groves owned by a US company and filled with sweet, sweet Valencia oranges. Most of these oranges are transported to Dangriga where they get processed into concentrate for Minute Maid, Sunny Delight, and other large companies. Eddie, our guide, explains to us the hard work that these orange pickers do. Every orange is picked by hand and the workers earn $0.62 bzd ($0.32 cents US) for every bag picked. The minimum wage in Belize for a days wage is $22.50 bzd ($11.25 US) per day! So, next time you feel like you don’t earn enough…think of this and get a perspective.
These large bags of oranges sell for $8 bzd ($4 US) in San Ignacio. On Ambergris Caye, oranges sell for 4/$1 bzd.
After the citrus groves, we came upon the Mennonite community. The Mennonites are great farmers and have helped improve the agriculture in Belize. They are quiet and peaceful people who live off the land. We stop along the way to taste various fruits from trees, to say hello to farmers and allow this horse and buggy to pass us.
We drove through a shallow river, after which the cave was 5 minutes away.
Canoeing Barton Creek Cave with Kids
Entering the cave, we canoe into complete darkness. The temperature drops to a cool air conditioned level as we paddle further into the cave. Our guide, Eddie, turns on the lamp and we are able to see the vastness of this cave and the beautiful formations of stalactites hanging from the walls and ceiling. Eddie explains the significance of caves in the Maya culture. Caves were sacred to the Maya. Maya used caves for a variety of purposes including agricultural rituals, fertility rituals, bloodletting and human sacrifice to appease gods. It is believed that these caves were used more often during the time of a great drought, which may have led to the end of the Maya civilization.
We rowed about 500 meters into the cave, turning off the lamp at various points to imagine what it must have been like for the Maya to enter the caves with torches burning. It was completely black. Black, cool and very mystical. It’s no wonder why the Maya considered this the Spiritual dwellings of the Gods. The air we breathed in deeply seemed to be charged with a special, clean energy. It was very refreshing.
The ceiling of the cave is surprisingly high, yet there were points where we had to duck down in our canoe to pass the stalactites that were hanging low enough to nearly touch the water. At various points, what appeared to be stalactite chandeliers hung from the ceiling. It was beautiful.
The formations are unique. They vary from sparkly crystalline structures to black Manganese formations. We played a game with the kids to guess what they looked like. This was a perfect tour to do with kids. The canoe ride lasted about one hour, which was a perfect time frame for child attention spans. G loved working the spotlight to illuminate the geology of the cave and create shadows. When the stalactites became too low we turned around and headed back towards the light.
Stopping at the Mennonite Store on the way back
On the way back, we stopped at the simple Mennonite store where they were packaging beautiful, perfect looking produce into boxes to take to the San Ignacio market. We buy some delicious celery and on our way out of the store, Mr. King notices a box of fresh baked cinnamon rolls and donuts. We purchase some and devour their sweetness. Eddie, who refused the celery, accepted the rolls and donuts!
We continue back along the bumpy road and to San Ignacio and don’t mind the drive, since our guide Eddie is so knowledgeable about the whole area. We decide to rest up and head to the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich for the afternoon.
We booked our tour with Chelo (aka Sergio) of Destiny Tours located inside Flayva’s Restaurant (located in the heart of downtown). The tour cost $55 US per person with no charge for our children. Chelo can be reached at 604.4345 or 501.804.2267