About an hour outside of Mérida on the highway heading towards Campeche, rest the caves of Calcehtok, guarded by the descendants of their discoverer. Alejandro’s great-grandfather was the first person to create modern human paths through the rocky underworld, squeezing his short, thick body through the holes between monstrous rocks, uncovering ancient trails.
Today, a small group of local guides offers eco-touristic treks into the caves, as they’ve done their entire lives. Alejandro offers us headlamps and the option of three different types of tours: a “tourist” expedition, two hours where you can walk and take a camera, safe for kids; an “intense” tour, three hours with some squeezes and tough ups and downs; and finally the “extreme” tour, four hours spent crawling through claustrophobic-style situations.
My three friends and I looked at one another, and (almost) without hesitation we decided to go extreme. Lowering into the underworld, we began a journey that left us changed. As we advance, the cave’s architecture evolves dramatically, from huge sanctuary-like spaces to tiny rooms of rock, all under the tranquil spell of complete and total darkness.
Alejandro coaxes us through, stopping to explain different features. He takes his flashlight and aims it at the rocky ceiling. The light makes the whole rock glow, and Alejandro explains, “all of this is quartz.” We gasp, taking in the rippling qualities of the beautiful crystals. Antonio explains that people from all over the world visit Calcehtok just to sit in these “quartz chambers,” believed to have healing properties, dozens of meters inside the earth.
We advance slowly, and Alejandro shows us the generations-old altar dedicated to the “aluxes,” who live in the caves and protect them. We each leave an offering – bracelets and pesos, moving forward several meters before Alejandro begins to point out ancient artifacts, like stone tools and ceramic vases completely intact.
We all support each another through the physical challenges: “Remember to breathe,” and “You can do it; just a little more.” After a while, we stop feeling fearful, and feel excitement as the caves reveal a new surprise after we pass each physical test.
After a challenging passageway, Antonio tells us to lie on the rocks and turn off our lamps in order to experience absolute darkness. I don’t remember where my body starts and ends as Alejandro’s voice appears, “In order to become a guide, you have to be able to navigate the caves in darkness.”
Darkness looks like silence sounds, I think, as the cool air presses on my skin. I feel electric. My legs and upper arms vibrate from exhaustion, like jelly, and my feet dangle over the abyss, with no fear of falling.
Prices vary between $100 – $200 pesos per person depending on the number of people in your group, season, and your style. There are guides at the caves available every day. Reservations are not necessary, but you can reach Alejandro at cel. 9971 01 07 36.
Editorial by Amanda Strickland
Photos by LoboLuna Producciones for use in Yucatán Today
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