The sheer number of pots, dark and brown pottery of all sizes, was staggering. Early explorers say more than 1,400 pots were found just laying in plain sight in the flowstone pools, visible to the naked eye with no need for excavation. Thousands more are likely buried under layers of calcite, each one begging Chac for “rain, rain, please bring the rain.”
We all slinked along the ridges of the pool, inches away from artifacts that had survived for centuries in the dark.
“Look down,” said Ian.
It took me a second to realize I was staring down at a skull, its yellowed jaw missing its two front teeth like some cheerful toddler. Several years before, a photographer’s long lens knocked the teeth out as he bent over too far for that perfect picture.
Above and past the ladder of doom, another skull laid face down. A large hole in the back of the skull made me think this soul was bludgeoned, but I was wrong.
A man, holding his own and his wife’s digital camera, had struggled for a couple of shots, and he accidentally dropped his wife’s camera, which burst through the cranium.
For the powers that be in Belize, that was nearly the last straw. Terrified of the continued damage to the relics and remains, the government planned to close the cave, but the official guides begged and pleaded, and a compromise was made.
No photos. No cameras. No gear. So far, that rule has worked, and no other major incidents of damage have occurred since, Ian said.
“This is our livelihood,” he said. “We fought to keep the cave open for tours. We go through a long training to become guides. It’s an honor.”
Staring at my crystallized boy, it was an honor for me to be in the dark with him, to remember him in some small way for what he gave up to try to save his people.
His death wasn’t enough for Chac. The rains didn’t come. Massive cities were left abandoned for the jungle to reclaim, and his people scattered defeated and lost across Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
But still, The Crystal Maiden remains silent and still and glowing under the eyes of tourists curious for a glimpse of immortality. For me, the dangers of the underworld were worth the chance to slip back into history and honor the dead.
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