The cave was a long and bouncy drive from the lodge requiring fording two rivers. Luckily the lodge has a four wheel drive Toyota and our Mayan guide Rene was driving. The site is very pretty – set in to the edge of a hillside. The cave was known to the local owner, but only became public knowledge when he sold the properties in the 1980s and was explored and researched in more depth. It is about 4.5 miles long, although we could not go all that way due to the low ceiling.
We have been to a number of amazing caves in our travels, so it takes a pretty neat cave to impress us. What was fun about this cave was that is was flooded and so we explored it by canoe (I paddled Kelly, Aaron and myself in one boat and Rene paddled another canoe with a newly wed couple in the other). The formations were interesting, especially the natural bridges, but what made this cave unique for us was that it had been a Mayan ritual sacrificial site. We got to see evidence of human bones and pottery. Apparently the victims were sacrificed somewhere else then their bones and blood brought here into the underworld. They used the stone bridge to cross from one side to the other and one can easily see how one could associate the place with a spirit world. Some jade jewelry with an inscription from the Mayan city of Caracol was also found, so there was obviously some trade or connection between the sites.
Rene’s canoe exited the cave first after we had spent about an hour exploring. As we came out a little behind, I noticed a snake, about 5 or 6 feet long swimming in the pool ahead of us outside the cave. It was moving pretty fast and having watched my fair share of snake related programs on Discovery’s Animal Planet channel, I made a few assumptions. First, noticing that it had a triangular shaped head that it was probably a member of the viper family and poisonous (which it was) and second that like most snakes, as long as we didn’t antagonize it, it would be more afraid of us and swim away from us (which it didn’t!)
The snake actually turned and swam very close to our canoe and even seemed to raise itself up a bit in the water. For a moment, we were afraid that it might strike Kelly who was in front of me, so I quickly took my paddle and put it between Kelly and the snake, it then continued to turn towards me, took a quick look and swam past the end of our canoe and quickly off into the bush on the opposing bank. All in all a pretty hair raising few moments. Aaron managed to grab a few shots of the snake in the water, but unfortunately my camera wasn’t ideally setup for this kind of shot. After we returned the canoes I talked to Rene and the local caretaker and they identified the snake from the photo as a Fer de Lance. They had not seen it at all and had no other reports of a recent siting.
I realized this was a very poisonous snake and from my conversation with Rene and some later internet research found out that this is the snake most likely to cause bites in Central America and responsible most fatal snake bites, although most victims do not in fact die if bitten, as long as they get antivenin within about 4 hours.
They can also spit their venom up to 6 feet away, but I am told this isn’t harmful to humans. Getting bitten is another matter.
Because the environment is so wet (there has been quite a bit of recent rain), apparently the snakes are more active. The Fer de Lance is a particularly aggressive snake and when it feels threatened, it tends not to back down and go away. Most people get bitten because its camouflage is so good that they inadvertently step on it before they knew it was there.
In retrospect, I suspect that the snake was just making its way across the river when we happened to come along. Either we got in its intended path, or it perceived us as a threat and did what its biological program told it to do. It never opened its mouth or actually entered the canoe, but it got too close for comfort.
I suppose that since we ultimately weren’t harmed I feel that we were both lucky and unlucky at the same time. Lucky to see a creature in the wild that most other people will never see (yes I know there are many of you who have no wish to see such an animal without glass in between you!) and unlucky in that we seemed to be very close to the wrong place at the wrong time. Hopefully that will be our last close encounter with a snake, except for our upcoming visit to the Belize Zoo. However, Aaron came across the biggest spider we’ve ever seen, which you can read about in an upcoming post.
So, so far in Belize we’ve had Sharks, moray eels, ROUS (rodents of unusual size), snakes, huge insects, and enormous spiders. Fun in the jungle.