Get hands on with the local Maya women of San Antonio Village in making their staple corn foods. You’ll be overwhelmed with a timeless feeling evoked by their thatched kitchen, smokey fire hart and ancient tortilla-making methods.
Rio On Pools has gorgeous pools of water running through ancient boulders. You won’t regret stopping by to take a nice cold swim, which you will definitely enjoy.
Starts: 8:00AM Ends: 11:30AM
Getting There: Since this tour is normally done in combination with another tour (in this case Chechem Ha Cave), your journey will commence with a pick up at your hotel and then a 45 minute’s drive onto the Modern Mayan Village of San Antonio near the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.
At the site: The site’s parking lot is located just off the main road in San Antonio Village just in front of the host family’s house. A little gift shop welcomes you but you may want to contain your excitement to buy the priceless souvenirs until after the culinary tour. Once welcomed and settled in, the leader of the women’s group gives you a brief history of their cultural heritage as well as their personal family history. She’ll explain what the culinary tour will cover before we move on into the kitchen area where the fire hart and Metate (grinding stone) awaits us.
The kitchen is an open thatch-roofed space (made of dried Cohune leaves and bush sticks) reminiscent of a structure from a scene of Mel Gibson’s Apolcalypto Movie. Under its roof there is fire hart made of limestone and sticks, a table with a Metate (ancient grinding stone), a modern “Molino” manual corn grinder, and a dining table with seats.
The Culinary Experience: How to make corn tortillas the Ancient Mayan way.
- The process begins with an explanation of how the corn is prepared and hydrated to get it ready for grinding.
- Next, and this is where the fun starts as you get hands-on in the process, place a cup full of hydrated corn on the Metate (a flat, slightly curved grinding stone made of volcanic rock or granite).
- Next, you proceed to grinding the corn by pressing a “Mano” (almost cylindrical/ flat-ish stone) to crush the corn into a paste.
- An alternative method involves the use of the modern manual corn grinder which is faster and but still strenuous.
- The paste is the collected and then molded by dexterous hands into a flat circular shape of about 4 to 5 inches in radius. It is safe to call this a raw tortilla at this point.
- The tortilla is then placed on the “Comal” (in essence, a metal griddle) previously heated by the open flames of the fire hart.
- Once flipped over and done, the tortilla is then place inside dried pumpkin lined with a cloth to keep it warm.
- When all tortillas are done, they’re ready to be served with a half spoon of coconut oil and a pinch of salt. It’s so delicious it’s to die for.
Another delicacy produced from this corn is the “Atole de Maiz” or Corn porridge. You’ll want to keep asking for more but be polite, you don’t want to seem greedy. Save some space for dinner up ahead.
Once you feel like you’ve master the art of making tortillas the ancient Mayan way and you’ve gotten your fix of tortilla and porridge treats, its time for an early dinner. The food served is a homemade stewed chicken with corn tortilla or rice (menu options may vary). For dessert, a homemade papaya stew (mind you, its extra sweet).
Departure: After having your fill, saying your goodbyes, and purchasing your souvenirs, it’s time to head out of San Antonio Village and onto your second adventure for the day (Chechem Ha Cave).
Duration: Approx. 2 – 2.5 hours (at the San Antonio Women’s Group)
Difficulty level: Easy
What to bring: Bug repellent, cameras, good manners, and an open-minded attitude towards embracing a different culture.
Provided: Lunch at a local Mayan household & waters.
Chechem Ha (Poison Water Cave), is a Mayan Ceremonial Cave, known to be a major tourist destination. It is located 8 miles southeast of Benque at the start of the Maya Mountains of Belize. – Wikipedia
Chechem Ha Cave consists of a main chamber filled with rocks lined up which is believed to have been used for sacred Mayan rituals dating from the middle preclassic period (900-300BC) to the late classic period (700-850AD). Also, there are many chambers found high up within the cave which contain many large pottery vessels which may have been used to collect ‘pure water’ to be used for their rituals.
The Cave lies within a private farmland belonging to the Moralez family. One fateful day, Mr. Moralez was out on the field with his sons and dog when they stumbled upon the cave system which would change their lives forever. One story has it that they were out in search of cohune leaves (used for building thatched roofs) when they made the discovery. Another has it that their dog fell into a hole and upon jumping in to rescue him, they found it to be a sacrificial cave.
They found that the cave lead deeper inside with many broken potteries which the Ancient Maya used in their sacred ceremonies. The Maya believed that these caves were the entrance to Xibalba – the “Underworld” and that it (the underworld) encompassed 9 of the 22 layers of life which made up the world in which they lived. Here, they would leave offerings to their gods (presumably to their rain god Chaac during times of drought), sometimes even in the form of human sacrifices. One astonishing example of this can be seen at the ATM Cave where many human remains lay preserved by natural calcification, one in particular – the Crystal Maiden.
Today, the site is managed by the Archaeological department of Belize and since the site is within a private property, it can only be accessed through the Moralez Family, accompanied by their resident guide.
Starts: 1:00PM Ends: 5:00PM
Getting There: Since you’ll be doing this tour in combination with the Maya Culinary Tour, your adventure begins around 1:00 PM with an approx. 35 minutes’ drive which leads you through the westernmost Town of Benque Viejo, along the Arenal Road (the road the the Vaca Falls Dam), then onto a cut-off road through farmlands and onto the Moralez’s farm within which the cave system lies.
At the cave entrance: Upon reaching the Moralez’s farm, you will un-board the vehicle to embark on a 45 minutes hike through the jungle trail that leads to the cave entrance. At the cave entrance, you’ll notice that the mouth of the cave has been decorated with a Maya motif and has been reinforced with metal bars to keep any looters away.
As you enter the cave you will start to see broken pieces of ancient clay pots and will also notice a change towards a fresher and more moist atmosphere. This cave is not as spectacular in terms of its formations (stalactites & stalagmites) as other caves in Belize, however; what makes this cave truly amazing is the size of the pots left behind by the Maya (some of which were used to collect water seeping through the limestone to use in their rituals), their intactness and their numbers in this cave.
As you progress deeper into the cave you will come upon ladders that lead to higher chambers within the main cave system. This is where the most impressive Maya relics can be appreciated. It’s amazing how upfront and close you will have these ancient relics, almost at the tip of your finger. However, you are cautioned not to touch any of these relics as they are understandably fragile and priceless.
Enjoy the enchantment of this Indiana-Jones-like adventure as you explore this wonderful Ancient Maya World, a most worthwhile experience.
Departure: Upon completion of your tour, you’ll head back through the trail and back onto the Moralez’s farm where you’ll board the vehicle back through Benque Viejo Town and onto San Ignacio for drop off at your hotel.
Duration: Approx. 4 hours
Difficulty level: Active
What to Bring: Sneakers with good traction or hiking boots, preferably long trouser pants, hat, camera, water.
Provided: Waters and snacks.
Note: This tour is not for persons with disabilities, heart conditions, back or leg problems, or claustrophobia. All guests must be in good physical conditions & able to walk in a jungle setting.
Chechem Ha Cave Bze
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Chechem Ha Cave pots intact
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