Archive | February, 2012

The End of the Beginning

Something strange has happened to us recently. When we first set out on our trip, roughly two years ago, we’d answer the common question of “how long are you planning to RV?” by saying, “until we’re done.” Rather than being flip, that answer is as close to the truth as we could get. We simply didn’t know how long, we just figured we’d keep doing it until we didn’t want to do it any longer.

As we set out on this particular chapter, we never really tried to look over the horizon. We didn’t know where it would lead, and didn’t really care. We always knew at some point we’d have to start drafting a script for the next chapter, but we didn’t spend too much time thinking about it. That is until now.

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ATM: Hell’s Tale of an Empire’s Fall

Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave, Belize

After an hour long drive and a forty minute hike we arrived at a place that might have been Eden. The entrance to Belize’s Actun Tunichil Muknal cave is submerged in a pool of water made ice blue by dissolved minerals. The morning sun flickered through the trees, illuminating the vibrant greens of the jungle trees and moss covered rocks. It was peaceful, lovely and alive.

Appearances are deceiving, though. This wasn’t the entrance to paradise. It was the opening to Xibalba (”shi-ball-bah”), the underworld of the ancient Mayan people. The story told here is not one of creation, but of sadness, desperation, and decline.

We went to Actun Tunichil Muknal to simply explore another cave system, the fifth of our recent travels. What we found instead was something unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

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Mayan Mystery Solved

Cahal Pech, Mayan Site, San Ignacio Belize

We’ve accomplished something scores of archeologists, with a lifetime of study, have failed to do. With a single visit to a single Mayan site, we’ve solved the enduring mystery of what caused the collapse of a once great civilization.

Over some 3,000 years of development, the Mayan people progressed into a populous and intellectually advanced society. At their peak, around 800 A.D., they had acquired an advanced understanding of mathematics, astronomy, agriculture and architecture. They built elaborate city states with magnificent palaces and soaring temples that supported a population of millions.

And then, sometime around the 8th century, this great society went into decline. Its city states were eventually abandoned; its population dispersed. The reasons for the collapse are still unexplained. That is until know.

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Lessons Learned

This is the wake of our southwardly bound water taxi. Only we intended to head north. $25 and three hours out of our lives is the price we pay for not asking a simple question.

Lesson Learned: If the boat (or bus) is on time in Central America, it is probably not the ride you’re waiting for.

Shark Bait

Caye Caulker Snorkling

I sat on the edge of the boat, clutching the side and staring at the nurse sharks and south rays circling in the water below—lured by our guide, who threw sardines to entice them to swarm en masse for our benefit. I might have stayed in the boat, foregoing the snorkeling, if Brian hadn’t thrown down the gauntlet with his post How to Become Fearless. So I jumped in…and lived to tell the tale.

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