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Old 11-21-2009   #1 (permalink)
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Ruins, sweat, blood and bat guano. Uxmal and Calcehtok report

I promised to bring you a quick trip report of our extreme tour of the Calcehtok caves south of Merida and i have finally uploaded the images.

Day 1:

Me and 4 of my friends/colleagues decided to make a two day trip to Calcehtok and explore the cave system there. One of us had been there before and done the "wife" tour which takes about an hour in total. The cave was found around 150 years ago by members of the "Cuy" family. They are still in charge of the operations in these caves and know them like their back of their hand. Calcehtok Cave was named in 1875 after a sculpted stone with the form of a deer. Calcehtok is a combination of the Mayan cal (neck), ceh (deer) and tok (flint). The sculpture was discovered in a cenote which was also the entrance to the cave. The cave is also known as Aktun Spukil or Xpukil Caves.

So anyway my alarm went of at 6am this beautiful Sunday morning. I was so excited that I practically jumped out of bed, and trust me, that's something that only happens every 10 years or so, I'm not a mornings person. I was really looking forward to going on this little adventure! And, yes, at the current time I'm calling it a "little" adventure, I was not prepared for the upcoming trials.. I hit the shower and picked up my bags with the equipment (helmet, headlamp, two extra flashlights with extra batteries, 2 liters of water and 2 liters of Gatorade, cookies, some dried fruit, some food, long jeans, sturdy shoes, knee pads and a towel, bathroom stuff etc.) and was ready to head out to our meeting point at work. I can add that there was a lot of running around to find all the stuff that was recommended that we bring. Back and forth between Walmart, Martis and Chedraui to find the stuff. I'm missing a "cave exploring" store in Playa!

So, meet up at work at 7am, call the people that are not there, go and pick them up due to them not being awake, and finally we hit the road at around 7.30am. First stop: Pemex and Oxxo at the highway! Whew, first part of the trip done!



After we filled up the car with gas, bought some coffee and breakfast we headed off towards Tulum for the scenic route to Valldolid and then Merida. Something like this:



The trip went well, not much traffic and I think it took around 5 hours in total. We did a few rest stops on the way but not really anything exciting.
We arrived in the vicinity of the caves, got slightly lost and hit a detour of a couple of miles. But after asking for direction (remember this is a car with 5 guys in it, and we still did this) from a security guard we found at a pigfarm he told us to turn around and drive for a short bit and we would find it. Said and done we arrived at the caves and checked it out and found a guide that we could talk to. He was very helpful and explained that they had three tours: The "wife" tour (1h), the adventure tour (3h) and the extreme tour(6-8h). We told him that we wanted to do the extreme one and we agreed to meet at 7am the next day. He said that that was no problem and said that either he or his father would meet us there. Now we had heard some different stories regarding the prices, some said 200mxn / hour, but I guess that is for the short tour. We thought that perhaps we could negotiate this down to 1000mxn / person for the long tour. But no, he wanted 150mxn / person from us... FOR THE WHOLE TOUR OF 6-8h! We thought we had misheard, but no, 150 mxn / person it was..





Our guide:


Ladder down:


Down the ladder, through this opening and then the caves starts after those trees:


We asked him where we could find a hotel nearby and he directed us to village of Calcehtok. We drove down there (5 minutes away max) and found the village only hotel. Authentic, rustic and charming little place:




Parking lot:



We found the manager of the place and it was apparently closed at the time. But after some discussion and haggling he said that we could stay in the cabañas they had there anyway. Price: I think we got it down to 250mxn for a nights stay. We agreed that breakfast would be served at 6am the next day and after everything was settled we got into the car to go and check out Uxmal which was nearby.

We arrive at Uxmal and park the car, get some late lunch (at 3pm ish) and then go to the ruin area. I forgot to bring my FM3 (with FM3 or Mexian ID you get in for free) so I had to pay 111mxn for the entrance fee, but this also includes a pass to the light show later that night. A guide approached us and greeted us in German, guess germans and swedes look alike. He could also speak English so we decided to hire him so that the trip would be more then "Oh, look, a stone. Oh, here's another one!".

We walked around and the guide was amazing, he was really passionate about the history of his people and you could really tell that he liked to tell people about it. In my opinion Uxmal beats Chichén Itzá by far, this was more natural, closer and all-in-all more authentic then the more famous ruin.

The main pyramid that contains of five temples.




The guide explained how the Temples were built:





The main plaza. The buildings are placed at the cardinal points, north, south, west, east and the carvings on the north and south are of science and the east and west are of the gods. Or if it was the other way around, not sure. Anyway, according to the Mayans you need two things to lead an empire: knowledge and religion. The knowledge is represented by the calendar that is carved in one of the buildings and the religion is represented by the chak-masks carved into the other one. In the middle there was said to be a Sava-tree, a tree that stands for balance and life.




The football field at Uxmal:


There seems to be many photos taken of the girls here. Must be my mistake I think..


Don't wear high heels when looking at ruins..


The sun is on it's way down.



We went out and had some dinner at this point. There are some restaurants just outside the ruin area. We then went back in at 6.30pm to see the light show that starts at 7pm. They have rigged the whole place with LED-lamps and are telling a story of some princess or something like that, my Spanish was to bad to get it all..






I was not that impressed with the show to be honest. But we did not really have anything else to do.

We then went back to the hotel and tried to get some sleep. Set the alarm at 5:45am and then quickly fell asleep.

More coming up when we go to Day 2!

//Dalle



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Old 11-21-2009   #2 (permalink)
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Day 2:

So I had a fairly good nights sleep, woke up when the alarm went off at 5:45. Get up, do morning stuff, check the gear and make sure that all the lamps are working. Good, everything seems to be in order! I had to make a hole in the helmet to fasten the strap on the headlamp but it was easily done.

Off to breakfast, chaya omelette and chaya juice, coffee and some toasts. Didn't get a pic at the food, my mind does not work at 6am.. But it all tasted very good and gave us the needed energy.

We got into the car and went up to the caves and arrived just before 7am. Our guide and his father met us at the parking lot and we put on our helmets and said goodbye to sunlight for the next 7 hours. At this time we still did not know exactly what we had gotten ourselves into, nor how long time it would take. But the guide had said 6-8 hours so we hoped that nothing would happen and that we could keep that timetable.

I thought it would be a good joke to have a Xplor t-shirt.. All clean and excited (and tired!) before entering the caves:





Down the ladder we go:





It's a short trek down to the bottom:






After you have climbed down you come to a tunnel that marks the entrance to the caves. So far so good.. The mayans had built walls here as protection when they were fighting in the caste war. This is the last daylight we will see for many hours.



Starting now I have to apologize for the images, it's hard to get good pictures in the darkness and tight spaces. But you may get some idea at least.

The guide quickly crawled through a passage and told us to follow.



It was lucky that we brought the helmets..


There were amazing formations everywhere you turned, lots of crystals and fun looking stalactites.





Example of the orange rock that much of the caves consists of:



We went further and further down. A lot of crawling, sliding, climbing, tripping, jumping and squeezing was involved. Luckily the family had put some ropes in the most difficult passages, without them we would not have made it. And please note that this is Mexico, all the safety regulations that I think other countries have are non-existent here. There were several occasions where we side-stepped or climbed and if we had slipped once we would have fallen 4-10 meters down and probably hurt ourselves really bad. Having a safety rope was more an exception then the norm. The guide saved us more then once when we slipped and almost lost our hand-holds. It was scary at some points, one mistake and you were done for.

I can also add that most of the cave was covered in bat guano, that plus moisture makes a very slippery surface. It's hard to climb a slope when where ever you put your feet you risk slipping and falling. In several of the caves there were so much moisture that you saw the water drops in the air, almost like a fog. That plus 28-30 degree heat and less oxygen that we are used to really sapped your energy.

I also have to say that the guide was something out of this world. He told us (he only spoke spanish) that he had been there exploring for 8 years now. He was like spider man when it came to navigating the caves. I did not see him slip once, and this was in flip-flops.. And as you will see later he was hardly even dirty when we came out! He did not bring any supplies at all, no water, no food, nothing except his headlamp, a larger LED lamp and his clothes. We offered him some water and cookies when we had breaks and he reluctantly accepted a few of the times. He was passionate about the history of the place and he told us many stories about the Mayans who had lived here and also about the exploration his family had done. A really amazing person, always with a smile (he probably smiled at us, not with us though ) and a helping hand. We could not have made this trip without him.

The guide showed us lot's of broken ceramics that was left there from the Mayans and there was several jars that had "grown" attached to a stalagmite. One of these was around half a meter high (not 100% sure about the height, but around there) and the jar was stuck in the base of it. Since the stalagmites grow around 1 mm / year the jar left there was pretty old (~500 years). Since the caves are relatively free from running water the Mayans had to bring water from the surface down through narrow passages to the caves where they actually lived. An amazing feat!

I can hear you say "Enough text already! We want to see pictures!". So here are some more pictures of the formations that can be found here:











The "Medusa":


A buried alien, this is only the head, but you could clearly see the whole body, including arms, legs and feets. If this was a real alien they are huge!



Corazón (Heart):




Squeezing through small cracks in the stone is hard work!





Here we are taking a well deserved break. At this point I was ready to give up. If you could get magically transported out of the cave from there I would have done it in an instant. I had literally zero energy left and was really hot, almost fever like. To give you an example; I was ready to lie down to sleep in the bat guano covered cave floor.



I can also say that I was amazed that we did not see that much life down here. We saw some creepy looking cave spiders, lots of 5-10 cm long centipedes, lots of bats and lots of worms. The guano was literally moving from all the worms and centipedes that was working their way through it. But other then that it was pretty dead.

After a long and hard journey through the underground we finally came back to the surface. I was happy, awestruck and totally exhausted and I don't think I've ever been so glad to see sunlight again.

As you can see we are covered in guano and dirt (except the guide! crazy guy.. ) and we are even too tired to smile. I can guarantee you that we were smiling on the inside though!





I just love this picture!



We had ice cold beers in the car, and damn, beer has never tasted that good!

We drove back to the hotel for a well deserved shower and a quick lunch, paid our bills and then started the trip back to Playa. We were going to take the toll-road from Merida to Cancun since it's a fast and good road. On the way there we did a small detour and stopped for a coffee break at Hacienda Santa Rosa, a really charming colonial hacienda that now is a pretty expensive hotel (250 USD / night).

Some pics of that:















We finally got home to Playa after an exhausting but really fun two days and I think I fell asleep 5 minutes after I got home. The next day I could hardly move, my whole body was just destroyed.. I had to roll off bed.

Well, that was a quick recap of our trip. I can definitely recommend anyone to go to Uxmal and also to visit the caves, but perhaps do the shorter tour. I will probably not do this again but I extremely glad I did it!

If you have any questions feel free to post them and I will answer to the best of my knowledge.

//Dalle

Last edited by Dalle; 11-24-2009 at 10:15 AM..
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Old 11-21-2009   #3 (permalink)
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VERY exciting, looking forward to more!!! Uxmal looks incredible.
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Old 11-22-2009   #4 (permalink)
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Uxmal does look amazing....we have to get there one day.

Thanks for this Dalle, looking forward to seeing and hearing more.



(I gotta say ...the 'wife' tour?? (I am sure it wasn't your name for it, but geez!))
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Old 11-22-2009   #5 (permalink)
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Great trip!! Uxmal is a wonderful, big site. We were there in Mid-December last year. Not crowded, not vendors approaching you on the site - it was great.
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Old 11-22-2009   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rissask View Post
(I gotta say ...the 'wife' tour?? (I am sure it wasn't your name for it, but geez!))
Haha! Yeah.. Think mexican women in high heels and you know why they call it that. I don't think it's the "official" name either..
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Old 11-22-2009   #7 (permalink)
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Updated with day 2.
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Old 11-22-2009   #8 (permalink)
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Very, very cool, Dalle..I loved the pictures AND the text story...what a fantastic adventure..thanks for posting!
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Old 11-22-2009   #9 (permalink)
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wow what an adventureThanks for sharing!
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Old 11-14-2012   #10 (permalink)
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Wink I want to do the same tour

Hi guys,

What a great story.

I'm going on a small roundtrip in Yucatan.
And was looking for some sports activities...

i want your guide :-) do you have any name? or number or adress or tip of how to get there, i'm traveling by bus

Thanks

Magali
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Old 11-14-2012   #11 (permalink)
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Wow! That was exciting and something I would never do!! Glad you enjoyed it, you and your friends are very brave!
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Old 11-14-2012   #12 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by magaliVDB View Post
Hi guys,

What a great story.

I'm going on a small roundtrip in Yucatan.
And was looking for some sports activities...

i want your guide :-) do you have any name? or number or adress or tip of how to get there, i'm traveling by bus

Thanks

Magali
I have, unfortunately, forgotten his name. However, it's only one family that runs the expeditions and I'm sure that whomever you get as a guide it will be fantastic. They have been crawling around in the caves since they were kids and know all the ins and outs of them like the back of their hand.

Unfortunately I do not have any contact information for the Cuy family that runs the cave, but it's located close to the town of Opichén if I remember correctly. We went there by car, so I have no idea how to get there by bus.

I'm sure you could get the contact info if you talk to tour agencies in Merida.

Best of luck! I can definitely recommend it!
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Old 11-14-2012   #13 (permalink)
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Seems some of the pics are screwed. Since I'm lazy I'll just post the link to the full album instead: https://picasaweb.google.com/1133406.../CalcehtokTrip
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Old 11-14-2012   #14 (permalink)
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Missed this report first time around. That was quite an adventure! I'd love to get to Uxmal sometime, but I think I'll skip the cave.
Pretty cool, though.
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Old 11-14-2012   #15 (permalink)
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Thanks a lot for responding, the pix look great
i'll try to find the place :-)

thanks
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