My brain is screaming at my legs to move, yet my knees are locked up, my thighs are clenched tight and my feet refuse to lift.
“Just put your right foot over that root and make the arch rest right over it,” says a very patient Esperansa. She has guided our group of 11 adventurers 600 feet above sea level, through bushes and rocks, thorny trees and green canopied forest, all to land at this one spot, where an errant root stands between me and…well, it can only be describes as a gaping chasm. And now I’m immobile at its edge, tethered to a number of cables and ropes, yet I’m immobile.
How did I get in this position?
Two days before, I had gotten an email from Julie at Tropic Air, inviting one of The San Pedro Sun/My Beautiful Belize staff to go on a familiarization (FAM) trip to Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch, and experience the thrilling Black Hole Drop (real name: Actun Loch Tunich). Bucket List item Alert! I may have begged and squirreled my way into being assigned to it (ha) but I certainly wasn’t laughing now.
At the time of the email, the one-hour hike through rugged terrain up into a mountain was my biggest fear. I bragged that I wasn’t worried about the drop. Oh no, I was only concerned about the hike, seeing as the last time I hiked UP somewhere longer than five minutes, I just about passed out from exhaustion. Well, it seemed that the hike was a cakewalk compared to getting my feet to move away from the ledge. They were not moving, and every time I tried to look behind and below, all I could see was the dark, unknown territory below.
I had heard the squeals and “oh my god…ahhhhh!!!!” coming from my companions before me as they descended, but now I was alone at the top. I was supposed to rappel 200 feet below where lunch (and everyone else) waited for me. Poor Esperansa – she was such a patient and kind guide. Carlos, another guide who held one of the ropes for me, watched me as I shook my head “no” over and over again. I closed my eyes, and gave myself a good talking to. Somehow, by some miracle, my right foot moved, and even though my body tried to sway forward, I forced myself to lean back like I had been told and in the least graceful way possible, managed to totter over the edge, fully trusting every rope tied to me to prevent my fall.
One tiny step at a time, I rappelled the sheer face of the cliff I was on, until there was no rock to step on, and I was simply hanging in the air. I screamed for a quick stop, and without even looking through the screen, snapped a few pictures (I was on assignment!) and prayed one would be good (they were all blurry). Far below I could hear everyone else shouting my name, encouraging me to hurry down (they were probably really hungry), and so I did. My hands were so thankful for the gloves that protected me from the rope as I slid down through tree branches and into a cool cavern. When I landed, it was all I could do to not bend over and kiss solid ground.
Was it scary? Let’s put it this way, when I processed the photos, there was one shot taken from the spot where I froze, and my stomach flip-flopped. Would I do it again? Yes. I really would, and this time, I’d enjoy the views as I go down, instead of closing my eyes half of the way (I really did that). I also would try and go first or somewhere in between, but not last. Sitting there and watching everyone just disappear from the ledge, then hearing their squeals and shouts for five agonizing minutes really can mess with your head. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, heck, it wouldn’t matter what order you went in.
But for those who want to conquer that teeny bit of fear, and who do enjoy pushing their boundaries, this drop is fantastic. Even standing at the edge and looking outwards – what incredible views await you!
Even the hike back up is fun, as tired as your legs may be, scrambling like goats over big rocks and chattering away in between breaths to your companions in a place of isolation makes the return to civilization fun. Not easy, but certainly fun!
About the Black Hole Drop
Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Adventure Company offers ‘intense’ inside the Maya Mountains to what it calls the “mother of all caves” with Actun Loch Tunich (a 300 foot deep sinkhole). A steep, vigorous hike uphill leads to the upper edge of the sinkhole which stands 200 feet above the rainforest canopy growing within.
Knowledgeable guides set you up with a system of rappelling ropes and then it’s adventure time down the basin, where a delicious picnic style lunch awaits you! Don’t overdo the lunch, because you have to climb right back up out of the basin. Just, you know, not the way you came in!! Prepare to climb a ladder, scale rocks and much hiking uphill again until you exit the foot of the mountain and get back on your tour bus to go to the lodge where a pool awaits (and possibly many cold beverages).
This tour is recommended for anyone 10 and up, and it is quite intense. Wear comfortable lightweight clothing that you don’t mind getting wet, and for your feet: proper hiking boots or well-treaded sneakers. Most of all, bring your spirit of adventure!
Tropic Air Belize’s motto is “We Can Take You There”, and they can certainly ensure that you get to enjoy this adventure!! Fly directly from San Pedro Town to Belmopan, where a shuttle awaits to take you to Caves Branch. The ride is smooth and scenic, and certainly convenient if you wish to simply enjoy the adventure and only spend the day on the mainland. Contact them to book a tour or for more details at [email protected]