Visiting Che Chem Ha Waterfall & Cave – awsome sites in Belize

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With the first workshop day behind us, we have Sunday to explore.  It’s only about an hour drive from Cahal Pech to the Che Chem Ha waterfall, and even better the Che Chem Ha Cave, an ancient Maya sacred ceremonial site.

Che Chem Ha Waterfall, Cayo, Belize

We first visited the waterfall. It was beautiful and very powerful, a bit scary to stand under, but oh-so refreshing on a hot, humid Belizean day.

 

 

We enjoyed it so much, we couldn’t think of anything that would be more fun, but after an hour’s hike through the jungle, we duck into the small opening of Che Chem Ha cave….

 Che Chem Ha Cave

The cave was discovered in 1989, by a dog named Pepito.  Perhaps he knew of it long before the day he let his 16-year-old master, William Morales in on the secret.  William’s family owns the land and he was out cutting thatch for roofs with a worker when Pepito chased an animal into the cave. William is now very knowledgeable about the cave and gives many of the tours himself.

 

William’s family did the right thing and told the cultural authorities about the cave on their property.  They did not disclose the exact location until the authorites agreed to allow many of the artifact to remain in the cave so they could use it for responsible tourism.  In the end, it worked out well for everyone. Archaeologist studied and tagged the artifacts – most notably huge vessels from the Maya pre-classic period and a stela used for blood letting and other rituals.  They have been sitting intact in the dark cave for nearly 2,000 years.

 

We enter the cave through a small opening wearing headlamps.  We stop periodically to climb rusty ladders handmade from lengths of rebar welded together. That’s the only way to see most of the artifacts, which are high up on ledges.

 

no, it’s not bright in the cave, even though it looks like it is from the flash :-)

Che Chem Ha Cave, Cayo, Belize

so easy, even three year old Sophie can climb up :-)

There probably isn’t an agency in charge of public safety that inspects the ladders…but then if there were, we may not have been allowed to come face to face with artifacts that tell the story of secret rituals that took place over hundreds of years.  Most Maya’s probably never saw the inside of the cave because it was probably only open to the most elite Mayans, and those were there to be sacrificed.
 

I was surprised when, most of the way up the ladder, the top of it pulled away from the wall. After that, I was careful to make sure it didn’t come away from the wall enough to send me falling through the darkness onto the hard rock floor.  .

 

The pictures look like broad daylight because of the flash, but it was so dark that I had to point the camera in the general direction of the subjects and take the picture, only seeing afterward if I had captured them in the image.

 

There are nine levels of the cave, which may have represented the nine levels of the Maya underworld. At the very end of the cave there is an incredible room with elaborate stalactite formations and a ritual circle with a stela in the center.

Who knows how many ceremonies were performed here before the Maya civilization fell into ruin and the place was forgotten for almost two thousand years.  I wonder what other spectacular treasures lie underground, awaiting excavation so that we can learn more about those who created them.

 

All in all the Che Chem Ha waterfall and cave are worth a visit. You will have fun while learning more about the way the Maya collected water, conducted ceremonies, and designed their collection pots and ritual stele. 

 

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Posted on: June 29, 2012 | Categories: AFAR, Archaeology, Belize, Fun Facts - Cultures and Countries, recreation, Service Learning, Service Learning US & Belize teens, Travel Tips, Videos

 


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