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BELIZE
San Ignacio, Belize
Lat: 17°9′36.45″N Lon: 89°3′35.99″W
Love a good cave. What’s possibly cooler than descending into the darkness to scamper over boulders, rock faces, and crystal clear waters that flow straight from the earth? (nothing; that’s a rhetorical question) Some of my favorite caves are in Belize--because I love the history that’s deep inside of them.

Belize is all wrapped up with the Mayans. There’s still a lot of undiscovered Mayan archaeology down there, and plenty of discovered stuff they choose not to dig up. While it’s great touring all the government-sanctioned Pyramid-and-Plaza sites like Caracol and Tikal, that’s gazing up, scaling steep steps to the skies where the Mayan rulers and priests commanded from atop their kingdoms, famously sacrificing chickens and humans without compunction.

But when the bad times came, Mayans went below, to the caves. Throughout the 9th and 10th centuries A.D., as Mayan society moved inexorably towards its breakdown, desperate priests sought to appease the gods of the underworld by moving deeper into the caves, praying and sacrificing along the way. One such cave that provides macabre evidence of this practice is known as Che Chem Ha (cheh-chem-ha, just like it looks) and sits not on public lands but rather on the private ranch property of William Playtez, who found the cave by chance.

The cave stretches 820 feet down and diagrams the Mayan theory of afterlife. They believed the universe existed in 23 levels: 13 above the Earth, one that we inhabit, and nine cold, dark ones below. As we descended past collections of ancient ceremonial pots and remnants of ritual sacrifice, it was easy to imagine the terrified people making the same journey more than a millennium ago, to the scary depths where the gods were waiting. Just watch the video. It’s worth about, hmm, a thousand of my words.

Somewhere else in the forests of Belize—probably weeks earlier—my friend and crewmember, Trevor, encountered a botfly. Before this I’d never heard of a botfly but in that part of the world such an insect is common. Inconveniently, it elects to deposit its eggs onto the skin of warm-blooded creatures…like human beings wandering through the forest. The heat from the host-body hatches the egg and a little white-yellow worm hastily burrows its gnarly-ness into the skin where it proceeds to gestate for a period of 1-2 months (gross!!). You don’t even know it happened until it begins to grow, causing an itchy red-welt reaction. Then, swift action must be taken or the bot-larva transforms into a full-fledged fly that crawls out of you--and, oh, the resulting infection.

My personal lesson in botfly surgery happened at a bar that night with tequila as the anesthetic. Trevor grew up in Belize and has known many a botfly and, though it displeased him, he had a remarkable sense of humor about the agonizing pinch his brother, Aaron, would soon deliver upon him. It was the only way; one must apply profound, painful pressure to the welt in order to fully dislodge the stubborn larva from its warm, happy home. It was an arduous process to watch demanding several tequila rounds along the way. But eventually a small glossy tail (or head? who knows) emerged and much to the disgust and admiration of our whole crew, Aaron forced out the full, squirming length of the thing and we all cheered in abject horror--and drank some more.

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