Just Back: the Crystal Maiden of Belize

The skeleton glistens in the torchlight, years of calcite deposits decorating the skull and cementing the bones to the cave floor. This young man once made the same underground journey we have just completed. But when he got here, he was sacrificed to Chaak and his body left where it still lies.

The river that formed Belize’s Actun Tunichil Muknal cave still flows, pooling as it emerges into the dawn sunlight and necessitating a swim to start our journey into the Mayan underworld. Our guide has insisted on an early start and no one else is around as we take the plunge. The view back from inside is amazing, the rock arch framing a view of water, jungle and sky; the view the other way is black.

That river is always with us. The water is strangely warm, sometimes around our ankles, then about our necks, but always pushing against us. Above, bats hang in their holes and tiny seedlings grow from their droppings, atrophying in the dark.

Huge crystal formations slide down the walls, running over boulders, swallowing stalagmites and damming the river. The surfaces shimmer in the torches and are reflected in the water, but it’s the stillness enveloping everything that mesmerises.

Standing stones mark where the Maya would thrust stingrays’ spines through their own tongues in bloodletting ceremonies. Hearing this, we shiver for the first time, the ghost stories all the more powerful for the darkness, the whispers we naturally fall to, the fact they are true.

Read more: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

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