No Way Out

This is a series of posts about Belize and Guatemala that starts here.

Mike’s Place is a tourist complex where we would go kayaking or canoeing—it wasn’t  clear—in caves. Mike’s also featured “zip lining, hiking/swimming/rock climbing, food/drink/picnic/BBQ, and Wifi.”

Wifi, in case you wanted to watch a movie set in a jungle after hiking through a jungle.

Mike’s had been founded by a Canadian guy named Mike.  Here is a picture of him when he arrived in Belize.

Mike no longer looked like this.  He had probably partaken of a lot more food/drink/picnic/BBQ than hiking/swimming/rock climbing.  But never mind, he had a beautiful Belizean wife about 30 years younger than him.  She did the cooking and serving, and she seemed to adore Mike.

After 30 minutes of milling about, discussing vital questions such as “Should I bring a water bottle into the cave?” “Are there bats in the cave?” “Is there a place to go to the bathroom in the cave?” Jose our guide finally corralled us at the water’s edge and gave us a five-minute background on the history, geology, and safety concerns of canoeing in caves.

I live in Minnesota so I have done a lot of canoeing on rivers, in lakes, and in wilderness areas near the Canadian border.  I know how to steer; it’s really simple.  But I had no idea what to expect of canoeing in a cave. I had questions too, but I kept my mouth shut in hopes we would get going sooner and just find out once we were in inside what was involved. Would the water be calm or would there be currents?  How deep would it be?

These questions were not answered on the Wilderness Adventure website, and that’s okay—I don’t want to know everything in advance or it wouldn’t have been an adventure. When Mark and I had talked on the phone he hadn’t known anything about the canoeing either, since he had never been to Belize.  The packing list had recommended water gear as though it would be a serious canoe trip, and I had jettisoned mine after moving twice in three months the previous year.  I had gone shopping for water shoes and water-repellant clothes, none of which are cheap or findable in second-hand stores.  I browsed the water shoes and dropped them like they were red hot when I saw the price tags.  In the end, I brought some cheap Sketchers sandals I found at TJ Maxx.  Worst case scenario, I would throw them away if this canoe adventure turned out to be rigorous.

It was extremely tame.  They made us wear life jackets and helmets—because it was a cave with some low hanging outcrops—but we never paddled faster than two miles per hour.

Here is the cave entrance and the canoes.

As we paddled into the silent cave, the hooting of a barn owl that sat in a niche high above the entrance echoed in the darkness, which closed on us as soon as we were a few meters in.

A second guide, Alex, had been called in from his Sunday off because Mike hadn’t been expecting our group.  We drifted along at a leisurely pace, looking at the formations and ancient pots left by the Maya (maybe).  We paddled about a mile into the interior, and I asked Alex about his life.

He was 25 and from El Salvador, from whence his family had fled during the civil war.  He lived with his mother; his father had gone north to California, where he had a successful business.  Alex’s siblings had followed his father one by one and wanted him to join them.  He hadn’t seen his father in over 20 years.  He had no future in Belize.  But he was the youngest child, and his mother wanted to stay in Belize.

“Last month,” he said, “My father got me a visa and I was prepared to go.  But I just couldn’t leave my mother.”

I groaned internally.  Donald Trump had just issued a decree ordering the number of refugees admitted to the US in 2017 be cut in half.  Alex had probably missed his last chance.

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