Did you hear? I went to Hell on Saturday.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

{Sorry if you've already read this in an email. Or on my Facebook status.}

Last weekend we piled into a 14 seater van with AC {ohmyheckbestthingever} and roadtripped back into the mountains of Belize to the caves of ATM -- what the ancient Mayans believed to be the underworld. With helmets and headlamps, we jumped one by one into the river and swam upstream into the caves. Honestly I think we all were feeling a slight amount of terror, but we doggie paddled until Aaron, our tour guide, led us to a shallow spot.

He launched into some of the cave history, telling us about how only the royals were allowed to visit Hell, and when they came, they changed into their spirit animal. It sounds far-fetched, but these people were kind of out there.

"You need to change into your spirit animal before you enter any farther," he said. We went around the circle and named our spirit animals. We were everything from lion to zebra. I chose horse. Not the ideal animal for spelunking, but hey, I only had a couple seconds to choose.

We closed our eyes and imagined ourselves changing into our spirit animals. Aaron told us the Mayans actually had drugs a thousand years ago and used them before descending into Hell, which probably assisted in the changing-into-spirit-animal thing.

"We offer that tour too," he said with a smirk. "But not to you guys."

Aaron led us up through the dark belly of the cave; we swam through dark water, jumped from rock to rock, shimmied through passageways, and squeezed our heads through crevasses only a few inches wide with the rest of our bodies completely submerged in water. Imagine it like an Indiana Jones adventure. We saw bat holes, scorpion spiders, and cave crickets, who have antenna that are 5 inches long.

A few times, pressed in the crack of a massive broken boulder, we all shut off our lights and found ourselves in complete blackness. We held hands and a few of us giggled in fear.

"Shhh," tour guide Aaron said. "Listen. Listen to the cave."

So we did. I heard rushing water and felt it around my legs. I felt the rocks pressing in from every direction. I felt the energy from the others and the curiosity and wonder radiating from us all. I tried to imagine the Hell the Mayans saw.

After wading and swimming for an hour or so, we climbed up and up and up and took off our shoes so we wouldn't damage whatever was around the corner. In sock feet, we stepped gingerly on the ground the Mayans walked, on the ground they brought pots full of food and other offerings for the gods of the underworld.

We saw pots, broken and whole, scattered around the huge room. They had never been moved or rearranged from their original positions -- they were in the exact places the Mayans put them.

It was amazing in an eerie way.

We saw skeletons of sacrifices, including one of a teenage girl who was likely a captured royal from another tribe. Her spine is in half; researchers say they probably stabbed her or broke her back and left her there, still alive.

That's one girl I want to meet in the next life, I'll tell you that.

Ancient Mayan Hell was different than I imagine Hell to be. But with some mushrooms, a good fire torch, and a vivid imagination, maybe I could have experienced it a bit more like they did. But really, I thought it was incredible.


  1. that is so amazing!! i wish i could do something like that.

  2. Wow! I am insanely jealous. I've considered my spirit animal before.. somehow I decided that I would be an owl. Not sure why.

  3. This sounds incredible! And you are just the best writer in the whole wide world.

  4. your writing is beautiful. please keep sharing stories of your adventures! What an irreplaceable experience...

  5. Wow! Sounds so interesting! very cool that you got to see that. :-)