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Subterranean not-so-homesick blues

The cashpoint in the rainforest

BELIZE | Sunday, 26 April 2015 | Views [1250] | Scholarship Entry

That feeling of a hundred thousand tonnes of limestone hanging over your head. Of the sheer power of water carving the very path you are following. That feeling of the gods of the underworld awaiting their next tribute.
We are on a trip to Xibalba, a place ruled by ancient gods sullenly awaiting human sacrifice in return for good crop yields and the health of the masses. It certainly feels this way entering the chandelier ballroom of Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave(or ATM as it is locally known).
The torches on our helmets provide little light in the giant cavern, with the beams sucked into the darkness providing only slight glimmers of the underground decorations awaiting our adjusting eyes.
Wandering further into the darkness the enormity of the hollow becomes more apparent; Huge, glittering stalagmites and stalactites, towering white columns and frozen waterfalls of limestone; that eerie feeling of time standing still.
Around our feet there are momentums of the past; ancient pots smashed and scattered between the stumps of stunted stalagmites, little gnomes watching over the debris.

We press on. After the sweltering heat of the Central American rainforest, the lengthy hike up through the mountains, crossing rivers and the onslaught of mosquitoes complimentary with the rainforest, the cool air and water in the cave are a rather welcome break.
The unforgiving demands of solid limestone on knees and elbows, perhaps not so welcome. Swimming against the current of the subterranean river again, a fairly pressing battle.

A small, rusty ladder ahead scales a sheer calcite face, a wall so wet and smooth it seems impossible to climb without aid. A quick scramble up the (slightly dodgy looking) scaffold and we are in a small passage.
Before us, emerging from the limestone floor she lies, as if she has been waiting for our arrival. Her head and shoulders are slightly propped up, she's looking toward us. Her bones glitter with thousands of years of calcite and gypsum crystallising her sacrifice, preserving her in stone for all eternity.
I can't help but wonder, did the Crystal Maiden's delivery to Xibulba serve it's purpose; did her sacrifice prove worthy enough for a good yield? Did she keep them safe? A girl of 15 chosen to be the saviour of the Maya; was she scared? Proud?

One thing is certain: she is eternal. A woman of crystal and rock, preserved for all time, the elusive reward awaiting a visit from only the most adventurous and the gods.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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