May 19, 2011
One of the many focuses of our trip is experiencing the ecotourism that Belize has to offer due to the low level of development in the country. On Tuesday we spent our day hiking towards a true gem of the country, a cave called Yok Balun, which is Mopan for Jaguar Paw. The journey to the cave included a beautiful hike through the seasonal rainforest. Along the way we were educated about numerous plants that are extremely useful for medical uses including “Grandpa’s Paws”, which was useful for one of my companions, because of its ability to heal skin irritations in a very short time. We also came across a plant called “Jackass Bitters” (the real name I swear) that is used in the malaria medication the group is using; the plant also kills many parasites which shows the great resources that the environment can provide for human beings.
In addition, we passed by a few spots that had recently been cleared for future farming using “swidden” or slash and burn agriculture, which the native people have been using the Mayan empire over two thousand years ago. The ancestors of the Maya people are able to use this technique in a sustainable way by observing a fallow period of about five to twenty years to ensure the soil quality is not degraded.
After arriving at the entrance of Yok Balun, we were able to enjoy a guided tour through the entire cave. Not only was the cave an amazing sight for the eyes with massive stalactites, stalagmites, and columns, but it also serves as a tool for climate research. Due to the lack of human disturbance, samples of isotopes of carbon and oxygen from the cave can be used as proxies for changes in the amount of rainfall in the nearby area. Speculation regarding the Mayan collapse following the classical period between 750 and 900 A.D. includes draught so the data collected from Yok Balun can help supplement other research.
Traveling through the cave was a life changing experience. Throughout the whole tour, we stared in awe of the massive crystalized structures that encompassed us (check out the pictures!). Such experiences really make you appreciate the natural wonders of the world. I will never forget my tour of Yok Balum, and I cannot wait to see the other experiences this trip will offer!